Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2015
Volume 26
Issue 4
Page Numbers 182-86
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project Muse
external View Citation

Nigeria

On July 22, newly elected president Muhammadu Buhari delivered a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., highlighting the successes of Nigeria’s March 28 general elections and the challenges ahead. Excerpts from his speech appear below:

As far as the critics and doomsday merchants were concerned, Nigeria’s end was the 2015 general elections. Nigeria was not expected to make it. The general perception was that Nigeria would be undone by violent and disputed elections riven with deep ethnic and religious divisions.

You all know what happened. Nigeria confounded the pessimists and its critics. All those who predicted the worst possible postelection scenarios for Nigeria missed the mark by very wide margins, because the premises upon which their narratives were based were simply wrong.

The peaceful conduct and outcome of the 2015 general elections attest to the fact that elections in Africa can be conducted in a free, fair, and credible manner, just like in any other part of the world. Those elections were different from previous ones, not only because citizens were allowed to vote, but more importantly, because their votes counted. I must therefore salute the patriotism and commitment of the Nigerian people who conducted themselves peacefully and responsibly during and after the elections. Similarly, I must also commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the civil society organizations, and other nonstate actors for their various efforts at improving the electoral process and entrenching the democratic culture. I would like to seize this opportunity also to, once again, pay tribute to my predecessor Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for his uncommon display of statesmanship in setting the pace for Africa. His conduct and outlook in the aftermath of the elections have further proven that the African electoral system is gaining strength and maturity.

Important lessons are being learned from the successful conduct of [End Page 182] those elections. Our electoral processes are evolving. Nigerians of all political leanings recognize that there is much work to be done to improve electoral transparency and the integrity of elections. I feel confident that, going forward, our electoral body will apply lessons learned to improve its processes, including the use of appropriate technologies in the conduct of elections, and innovative approaches to voter education. To this end, I intend to raise the cost of impunity by working with the National Assembly to strengthen our electoral laws in ways that would provide stiffer penalties against all forms of electoral malpractices. The enforcement of the laws would equally be given greater impetus. …

As we ramp up our efforts to defeat Boko Haram, we know that winning this battle sustainably will require that we expand economic opportunities and create jobs for our teeming young population. We must also improve the quality of governance; ensure that governments at all levels are responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable, and that public institutions deliver services in a timely and efficient manner. We must win and sustain the trust of the people we govern.

The fight against corruption is a full time job that the Federal Government will carry with sustained resolve. I have always maintained zero tolerance for corruption. I am even more committed to fighting this number one enemy decisively because I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that the much needed impetus for our country’s survival is held back by corruption. …

I believe that the future of Nigeria, indeed the future of Africa, lies in democratic governance, not only because it is the expression of the will of the people, but because democracy can help us build fair, just, and inclusive societies. Only in a democracy can Africa’s numerous ethnic, cultural and religious diversities find harmonious expression, and the freedoms and opportunities that come with it.

Fixing Nigeria’s problems, as formidable as they are, is the responsibility of Nigerians. The international community can only assist, but the hard work belongs to Nigerians and their government.

The political opposition must see itself as an integral part in ensuring development and good governance for the citizenry. Governance in a democracy is always a shared responsibility, a fact underscored by the current power configuration in Nigeria, in which the opposition parties not only have a strong representation in the National Assembly, but also control 14 out of the 36 states in our federal arrangement. …

Nigeria’s commitment to good governance, anticorruption, democracy and security of lives and property remains firm. Similarly, I must reaffirm that despite the current challenges that we face domestically, we are ready and willing to face our duties to international peace, stability, security, and development as we have done in the past. We shall not shirk our international responsibilities and obligations; we shall do what is expected of us. [End Page 183]

Azerbaijan

On August 31, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova presented her final statement in a Baku court following her conviction on charges that are widely believed to have been falsified. Excerpts from her statement, translated by RFE/RL, appear below:

Many are familiar with the ability of Azerbaijan’s law-enforcement system to invent crimes. But for years the honest citizens of this country, its honest journalists (and I am not talking about the ones who have been kissing up to the prosecutor, of course), and its human rights defenders have been exposing the shame of our judicial system. They have forced the repression machine to cover its disgraceful acts with even more shame. The more lies that were exposed, the more they were forced to tell more lies. The prosecutor’s office and the court employees had to resort to more dishonesty to cover their lies. …

The government of Azerbaijan tried really hard and did all it could to accuse me of incitement to attempt suicide. But I came out stronger. They peeked into my personal life, but I didn’t break. They blackmailed me, but I did not bow. Now I won’t break under a 15- or even a 25-year sentence. …

But unlike the prosecutor, our reporting and writing was always based on concrete facts and documents and not on assumptions. In fact, unlike the charge against me, the hero of my stories, Ilham Aliyev, really squandered the state budget, and his family members were direct beneficiaries. This was proved in my work with company documents and copies of orders. …

I will just be one out of 500 other prisoners held at Prison No. 4. There I am going to have an opportunity to expose the legends of … the transparency of the penitentiary services. I am one of those people who knows how to turn a problem into an opportunity. It has always been this way. I will build homes from the stones thrown at me. …

My colleagues and I expose corruption and lawlessness. I won’t be able to carry out this work while in prison. But the initiative by 100 journalists from around the world getting together to start a global investigative reporting operation made me really happy. Yes, I might be in prison, but the work will continue. Because the work we do is very important. We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail. But I am still happy that I fulfilled my job. We, journalists, managed to stand for our people and our state. Corruption not only enriches some people, it also deprives others of opportunities, education, health services, and sometimes even life. …

Time won’t stop while I am in prison. Elections, stealing from the state budget, and cheating will continue. …

I am here in a good company. I am sharing the same fate as Leyla [End Page 184] [Yunus], Intigam [Aliyev], Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, Tofig Yagublu, Rashadat Akhundov, Ilkin Rustamzade, and religious folks who were arrested for their principles and beliefs, defenders of human rights, and journalists. Don’t worry about me.

China

Since July, more than 200 human-rights lawyers and defenders in China have been detained as part of a massive government crackdown. On August 13, at a rally in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., several Overseas Chinese organizations issued a statement condemning the political persecution of lawyers. Excerpts appear below:

Since it began in July, the Chinese Communist Party’s large-scale suppression of human rights lawyers has already gone on for more than a month. With the information we have at hand, we know that over 300 lawyers, law firm staff, and rights defenders have been summoned by police, criminally detained, secretly imprisoned, disappeared, or put under house arrest. And in many cases, their family members, coworkers, or even their own legal counsel were subject to all manner of threats by the police. Meanwhile, the authorities have used the media they control to judge the victims before trial, misleading the public with lies. It’s also clear that in the course of all this, the authorities themselves have deliberately violated many laws, including abuse of power and illegal detention.

All this has caused a tempest of anger both inside and outside China, bringing a flood of criticism of the Chinese government.

Given that many lawyers have been forced to “confess,” and in light of the Chinese government’s known modus operandi, we think it’s extremely likely that many of the lawyers and other rights defenders [who] have been captured may have been tortured.

As a matter of fact, in today’s China, rights lawyers are keeping vigil over the conscience and justice of society; and they’re a safety valve for social pressure and tensions. All along, they’ve been helping citizens to use legal channels to resolve conflicts, and to safeguard rights. The persecution of these lawyers is a persecution of all of China’s people—and it’s an assault on fairness and justice.

The Communist Party has continuously harassed and persecuted rights lawyers over the last decade or so since the onset of the rights defense movement—a movement in which citizens have sought justice through legal means—except that the situation has steadily gotten worse, and we are now at the nadir.

We have all cause to believe the following: that this nationwide suppression of rights lawyers was an organized, premeditated act by the Communist Party to purge and eliminate the rights defense profession. … [End Page 185]

Given the involvement of so many organs of the state in the crack-down, as well as its national scope, it’s clear that this attack is not limited to lawyers, but that it is a declaration of war upon China’s entire civil society. It’s no series of accidents, but the result of a carefully-engineered, long term plan. …

We also wish to issue an alert and an appeal to the international community: a regime that abuses its own people domestically will not live up to its promises abroad. As China’s internal contradictions continue to escalate, and the Party is unable to manipulate public opinion, it’s likely that the flag of populism will be hoisted to deceive the people, stirring up extreme nationalist sentiment. This will inevitably become a threat to global peace and stability.

To governments and organizations around the world, we make this request: Monitor closely the abuses of human rights of the Chinese government, and speak out in support of the persecuted and those who defend them!

On August 29, relatives of the recently disappeared lawyers and activists wrote an open letter to Guo Shengkun, China’s public security minister, calling for observance of the rule of law by security forces. Excerpts from this letter appear below:

Since July 9th, our loved ones have been disappeared, and they include 17 lawyers, their assistants, and law firm staffers, as well as 6 rights defenders. Their disappearances all followed the same pattern: the people who took them away, either in Beijing or Tianjin, claimed that they were “Tianjin police.” They were taken away for allegedly “provoking disturbances” or merely for “committing a crime” without any specifics; and following their forced disappearance we have had a hard time to get them lawyers. Lawyers who expressed a desire to represent them were visited by security police who threatened them against any involvement. …

In short, 23 PRC citizens have been disappeared, some for as long as 50 days by now, and the public security apparatus you head have had no intention to honor our lawful rights to information.

Why? Since China has been flaunting “governing the country according to the law,” we wonder: Is the law the government acts on the same as the promulgated law? Words fail to express our anxiety and helplessness. …

Even though China has long ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, we have little faith that the law will protect the safety of our loved ones when the authorities would not even acknowledge their whereabouts.

Such fear and panic do not beset these lawyers and their families only; they beset the entire Chinese society. We look forward to the public security system observing the law when handling cases. [End Page 186]

 

Copyright © 2015 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press