NIGERIAN NATION AGAINST GENERAL BUHARI By Wole SOYINKA

[b]This intervention has been provoked, not so much by the ambitions of General Buhari to
return to power at the head of a democratic Nigeria, as by declarations of support from directions that leave one totally dumbfounded. It would appear that some, myself among them, had been overcomplacent about the magnitude of an ambition that seemed as preposterous as the late effort of General Ibrahim Babangida to
aspire yet again to the honour of presiding over a society that truly seeks a democratic future. What one had dismissed was a rash of illusions, brought about by other political improbabilities that surround us, however, is being given an air of plausibility by individuals and groupings to which one had earlier attributed a sense of relevance of historic actualities. Recently, I published an article in the media, invoking the possible recourse to psychiatric explanation for some of the incongruities in conduct within national leadership. Now, to tell the truth, I have begun to seriously address the issue of which section of society requires the services of a psychiatrist. The contest for a seizure of rationality is now so polarized that I am quite reconciled to the fact it could be those of us on this side, not the opposing school of thought that ought to declare ourselves candidates for a lunatic asylum So be it. While that decision hangs in the balance however, the forum is open. Let both sides continue to address our cases to the electorate, but also prepare to submit ourselves for psychiatric examination.[/b]

The time being so close to electoral decision,
we can understand the haste of some to
resort to shortcuts. In the process however,
we should not commit the error of opening
the political space to any alternative whose
curative touch to national afflictions have
proven more deadly than the disease. In
order to reduce the clutter in our options
towards the forthcoming elections, we urge a
beginning from what we do know, what we
have undergone, what millions can verify,
what can be sustained by evidence accessible
even to the school pupil, the street hawker
or a just-come visitor from outer space.
Leaving Buhari aside for now, I propose a
commencing exercise that should guide us
along the path of elimination as we examine
the existing register of would-be president.
That initial exercise can be summed up in
the following speculation: “If it were possible
for Olusegun Obasanjo, the actual
incumbent, to stand again for election,
would you vote for him?”

.

[b]If the answer is “yes”, then of course all
discussion is at an end. If the answer is ‘No’
however, then it follows that a choice of a
successor made by Obasanjo should be
assessed as hovering between extremely
dangerous and an outright kiss of death. The
degree of acceptability of such a candidate
should also be inversely proportionate to the
passion with which he or she is promoted by
the would-be ‘godfather’. We do not lack for
open evidence about Obasanjo’s passion in
this respect. From Lagos to the USA, he has
taken great pains to assure the nation and
the world that the anointed NPN presidential
flag bearer is guaranteed, in his judgment, to
carry out his policies. Such an endorsement/
anointment is more than sufficient, in my
view, for public acceptance or rejection.
Yar’Adua’s candidature amounts to a
terminal kiss from a moribund regime.
Nothing against the person of this – I am
informed – personable governor, but let him
understand that in addition to the direct
source of his emergence, the PDP, on whose
platform he stands, represents the most
harrowing of this nation’s nightmares over
and beyond even the horrors of the Abacha
regime. If he wishes to be considered on his
own merit, now is time for him, as well as
others similarly enmeshed, to exercise the
moral courage that goes with his repudiation
of that party, a dissociation from its past,
and a pledge to reverse its menacing future.
We shall find him an alternative platform on
which to stand, and then have him present
his credentials along those of other
candidates engaged in forging a credible
opposition alliance. Until then, let us bury
this particular proposition and move on to a
far graver, looming danger, personified in
the history of General Buhari.[/b]

The grounds on which General Buhari
is being promoted as the alternative choice are not only shaky, but pitifully naive. History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future. Of course, we know that human beings change. What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances. Public offence, crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not in caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change. On the contrary, all evident suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order.

[b]Buhari – need one remind anyone – was one
of the generals who treated a Commission of
Enquiry, the Oputa Panel, with unconcealed
disdain. Like Babangida and Abdusalami, he
refused to put in appearance even though complaints that were tabled against him involved a career of gross abuses of power and blatant assault on the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizenry. Prominent against these charges was an act that amounted to nothing less than judicial
murder, the execution of a citizen under a
retroactive decree. Does Decree 20 ring a
bell? If not, then, perhaps the names of
three youths – Lawal Ojuolape (30), Bernard
Ogedengbe (29) and Bartholomew Owoh (26)
do. To put it quite plainly, one of those three
– Ogedengbe – was executed for a crime that
did not carry a capital forfeit at the time it
was committed. This was an unconscionable
crime, carried out in defiance of the pleas
and protests of nearly every sector of the
Nigerian and international community –
religious, civil rights, political, trade unions
etc. Buhari and his sidekick and his partner-
in-crime, Tunde Idiagbon persisted in this
inhuman act for one reason and one reason
only: to place Nigerians on notice that they
were now under an iron, inflexible rule,
under governance by fear.[/b]

The execution of that youthful innocent – for
so he was, since the punishment did not exist
at the time of commission – was nothing
short of premeditated murder, for which the
perpetrators should normally stand trial
upon their loss of immunity. Are we truly
expected to forget this violation of our
entitlement to security as provided under
existing laws? And even if our sensibilities
have become blunted by succeeding seasons
of cruelty and brutality, if power itself had
so coarsened the sensibilities also of rulers
and corrupted their judgment, what should
one rightly expect after they have been
rescued from the snare of power” At the very
least, a revaluation, leading hopefully to
remorse, and its expression to a wronged
society. At the very least, such a revaluation
should engender reticence, silence. In the
case of Buhari, it was the opposite. Since
leaving office he has declared in the most
categorical terms that he had no regrets over
this murder and would do so again.

[b]Human life is inviolate. The right to life
is the uniquely fundamental right on
which all other rights are based. The
crime that General Buhari committed
against the entire nation went further
however, inconceivable as it might first
appear. That crime is one of the most
profound negations of civic being. Not
content with hammering down the
freedom of expression in general
terms, Buhari specifically forbade all
public discussion of a return to
civilian, democratic rule. Let us
constantly applaud our media – those
battle scarred professionals did not
completely knuckle down. They
resorted to cartoons and oblique,
elliptical references to sustain the
people’s campaign for a time-table to
democratic rule. Overt agitation for a
democratic time table however remained rigorously suppressed –military dictatorship, and a specifically incorporated in Buhari and Idiagbon was here to stay. To deprive a people of volition in their own political direction is to turn a nation into a colony of slaves. Buhari enslaved the nation. He gloated and gloried in a master-slave relation to the millions of its inhabitants. It is astonishing to find that the same former slaves, now free of their chains, should clamour to be ruled by one who not only turned their nation into a slave plantation, but forbade them any discussion of their
condition.[/b]

So Tai Solarin is already forgotten? Tai who
stood at street corners, fearlessly
distributing leaflets that took up the gauntlet
where the media had dropped it. Tai who was
incarcerated by that regime and denied even
the medication for his asthmatic condition?
Tai did not ask to be sent for treatment
overseas; all he asked was his traditional
medicine that had proved so effective after
years of struggle with asthma!

.

Nor must we omit the manner of Buhari
coming to power and the pattern of his
‘corrective’ rule. Shagari’s NPN had already
run out of steam and was near universally
detested – except of course by the handful
that still benefited from that regime of
profligacy and rabid fascism. Responsibility
for the national condition lay squarely at the
door of the ruling party, obviously, but
against whom was Buhari’s coup staged?
Judging by the conduct of that regime, it was
not against Shagari’s government but against
the opposition. The head of government, on
whom primary responsibility lay, was Shehu
Shagari. Yet that individual was kept in cozy
house detention in Ikoyi while his powerless
deputy, Alex Ekwueme, was locked up in Kiri-
kiri prisons. Such was the Buhari notion of
equitable apportionment of guilt and/or
responsibility.

And then the cascade of escapes of the
wanted, and culpable politicians.
Manhunts across the length and
breadth of the nation, roadblocks
everywhere and borders tight as steel
zip locks. Lo and behold, the chairman
of the party, Chief Akinloye, strolled
out coolly across the border. Richard
Akinji de, Legal Protector of the ruling
party, slipped out with equal ease. The
Rice Minister, Umaru Dikko, who
declared that Nigerians were yet to eat
from dustbins – escaped through the
same airtight dragnet. The clumsy
attempt to crate him home was
punishment for his ingratitude, since
he went berserk when, after waiting in
vain, he concluded that the coup had
not been staged, after all, for the
immediate consolidation of the party of
extreme right-wing vultures, but for
the military hyenas.

[b]The case of the overbearing Secretary-
General of the party, Uba Ahmed, was even
more noxious. Uba Ahmed was out of the
country at the time. Despite the closure of
the Nigerian airspace, he compelled the pilot
of his plane to demand special landing
permission, since his passenger load
included the almighty Uba Ahmed. Of course,
he had not known of the change in his status
since he was airborne. The delighted airport
commandant, realizing that he had a much
valued fish swimming willingly into a
waiting net, approved the request. Uba
Ahmed disembarked into the arms of a
military guard and was promptly clamped in
detention. Incredibly, he vanished a few days
after and reappeared in safety overseas.
Those whose memories have become
calcified should explore the media coverage
of that saga. Buhari was asked to explain the
vanished act of this much prized quarry and
his response was one of the most arrogant
levity. Coming from one who had shot his
way into power on the slogan of ‘dis’pline’, it
was nothing short of impudent.[/b]

[b]Shall we revisit the tragicomic series of trials that landed several politicians several lifetimes in prison? Recall, if you please, the ‘judicial’ processes undergone by the septuagenarian Chief Adekunle Ajasin. He was arraigned and tried before Buhari’s punitive tribunal but acquitted. Dissatisfied, Buhari ordered his re-trial. Again, the Tribunal could not find this man guilty of a single crime, so once again he was returned for trial, only to be acquitted of all charges of corruption or abuse of office. Was Chief Ajasin thereby released? No! He was ordered detained indefinitely, simply for the crime of winning an election and refusing to knuckle under Shagari’s reign of terror. The conduct of the Buhari regime after
his coup was not merely one of double,
triple, multiple standards but a cynical
travesty of justice. Audu Ogbeh, currently chairman of the Action Congress was one of the few figures of rectitude within the NPN. Just as he has done in recent times with the PDP, he played the role of an internal critic and
reformer, warning, dissenting, and setting an example of probity within his ministry. For that crime he spent months in unjust incarceration. Guilty by association? Well, if that was the
motivating yardstick of the administration of the Buhari justice, then it was most selectively applied. The utmost severity of the Buhari-
Idiagbon justice was especially reserved either for the opposition in general, or for those within the ruling party who had showed the sheerest
sense of responsibility and patriotism.[/b]

Shall I remind this nation of Buhari’s
deliberate humiliating treatment of the Emir
of Kano and the Oni of Ife over their visit to
the state of Israel? I hold no brief for
traditional rulers and their relationship with
governments, but insist on regarding them as
entitled to all the rights, privileges and
responsibilities of any Nigerian citizen. This
royal duo went to Israel on their private
steam and private business. Simply because
the Buhari regime was pursuing some
antagonistic foreign policy towards Israel, a
policy of which these traditional rulers were
not a part, they were subjected on their
return to a treatment that could only be described as a head masterly chastisement of errant pupils. Since when, may one ask, did free citizen of the Nigerian nation require the permission of a head of state to visit a foreign nation that was willing to offer that
tourist a visa.?

One is only too aware that some Nigerians love to point to Buhari’s agenda of discipline as the shining jewel in his scrap-iron crown. To inculcate discipline however, one must lead by example, obeying laws set down as guides to public probity. Example speaks louder than declarations, and rulers cannot exempt themselves from the disciplinary strictures imposed on the overall polity, especially on any issue that seeks to establish a policy for public well-being. The story of the thirty something suitcases – it would appear that they were even closer to fifty -found unavoidable mention in my recent memoirs, YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DOWN, written long before Buhari became spoken of as a credible candidate. For the exercise of a changeover of the national currency, the Nigerian borders – air, sea and land – had been shut tight. Nothing was supposed to move in or out, not even cattle egrets.

Yet a prominent camel was allowed through
that needle’s eye. Not only did Buhari
dispatch his aide-de-camp, Jokolo – later to
become an emir – to facilitate the entry of
those cases, he ordered the redeployment –
as I later discovered – of the Customs Officer who stood firmly against the entry of the contravening baggage. That officer, the incumbent Vice-president is now a rival candidate to Buhari, but has somehow, in the meantime, earned a reputation that totally contradicts his conduct at the time. Wherever the truth lies, it does not redound to the credibility of the dictator of that time, General Buhari whose word was law, but whose allegiances were clearly negotiable

LEAVE A REPLY