Have We Been Here Before?

by Wole Soyinka

I address the following question directly to General Olusegun Obasanjo: do you declare before this nation that you could not deliver Governor Alamieyesiegha a knockout punch without first knocking out the state radio-television service? If you could not, then, for a trained soldier, you are an inept strategist. If however you did have access to alternatives, yet chose to recourse to extra-legal, unconstitutional means, then you have another agenda that extends beyond the cauterisation of a cancerous growth in the national body. It smacks of opportunism. That agenda clearly necessitates trampling on the civic rights of the people, of reducing us once again to a plantation of slaves. In such a case, we must accuse you of plotting to restore dictatorial rule. Any political leader who defies the law so persistently, arrogantly and with such impunity reveals only too clearly that he is on a one-way track to a one-man rule, an open-ended one. Assaulting the freedom of expression in this manner is a certain guarantee of a veritable Tower of Babel, since it will lead to not one, but a dozen or more Radio Kudirats, and don’t imagine it is this speaker who will be found behind its operations.

What now do we do? Here, I direct myself to the judiciary. You have openly acknowledged that there is a new sinister force in the nation that has emasculated your authority. Very good. We, the civic body have decided to take up the gauntlet. And it is not simply because the head of your institution, the Chief Justice of the Federation, has been forced to cry out that we must begin to act, but because the conduct of the state has attained a critical mass of sheer effrontery, brutality and callousness. The state has declared itself to be above and beyond the rule of law, even as it does not hesitate to co-opt the machinery of the law for its own ends. This contradiction, this strategy of having its cake and eating it, cannot be allowed to endure. It must be tackled now and wrestled into submission, or else we accede to a pattern that will prove irresistibly to the next power holder in the nation. He will trample on civic rights in broad day light and respond to our now enfeebled protests: Shut your mouths. Democracy has been re-defined.

If the state elects to break the law, the citizenry, in who resides the ultimate sovereignty, is being implicitly invited to break the law. Civil society has been shown by example, that the law exists, not to sustain society, but a lottery, and not even a where each player makes his own rules, where the dice are loaded permanently against one side. We know however that this is a recipe for anarchy and the destabilization of the society. Unlike the present state, we are not promoters of anarchy. Thus, our only choice is to embark on a campaign of organised defiance of what only purports to be law; since the law is totally compromised by the state, and its custodians are treated as the asses of Pumblechook.

To the judiciary, we say clearly, you cannot save us, so it is up to us to attempt to save you, since in so doing, we shall restore the integrity of our protective agency. We have lost confidence in the state, but we wish to reinstate the law in which surely, you hold primacy of interest. And so, today, I ask you this question: if as an increasingly compelling plan of action, we decide to march on Aso Rock, to demand a restoration of that, without which neither the state nor the judiciary has any foundation, will you march with us? Will you link arm with us? Will you abandon your now degraded, emasculated chambers, abandon the masquerade of authority, and reintegrate yourselves in the foundation of your existence? The last bastion of citizens recourse, whose guardianship was entrusted to you, has been reduced to rubble, so what do you have to loose? After you, I repeat yet again, there is either chaos or dictatorship, or both.

We seek neither. And so, if the people move out, it would be only to restore your own integrity and give meaning to your existence. It is a time to choose, and we are calling all democratic forces to prepare – if we must go back to the trenches, then so be it, so let the preparation begin now. All structures of resistance of Abacha years must begin to reconstitute themselves. We are back to Ground Zero in the collective effort to raise a citadel that will be unmistakable as – democracy. We did not seek this contest, it has been forced upon us, but we embrace it just the same, and must begin to gird our loins in readiness.

Let me take this opportunity to remind all agencies of state that it is a crime – I repeat that word – crime – to carry out orders that are unlawful. Do recall the once self-designated givers of life and death who are currently standing trial in International Courts of Justice, from The Hague in Amsterdam, to the genocidaires of Rwanda. The world no longer accepts the self-exonerating plea of – I was merely carrying out orders. No, says the world, you are not creatures of Fela’s Anikulapo’s Zombie. Maybe not now, maybe not immediately, but whenever humanity reasserts itself, speaks and demands explanations, you will be forced to answer.

Is it, you think, by accident that the word ‘treason’ has been exhumed from forgotten and immediate post-colonial archives, dusted and flaunted at the slightest provocation? Why is that the complaints against Uwazurike, Asari Dokubo, Frederick Fasehun and Ganiyu Adams have been framed in these charges and none other? The answer, in case you have not noticed, is that these charges are non-bailable. The habeas corpus has been conveniently circumvented. So now, tomorrow, you and I can be charged with treason – for any utterance or attribution of intent. After all, the former chairman of the ruling party was accused of treason merely for warning that treasonable acts were being committed in the state of Anambra, and that such treason might call to a far more violent, and more tenacious structure of treasonable dominance. Never in the history of Nigeria has the charge of treason been so prodigally deployed as under this regime. Soon, merely to speak of a strict adherence to the constitution will amount to a charge of treason.

By contrast, I invite you to recall how a self-convicted felon – from the accounts of a Head of State, no less – confessed to having subverted the electoral will of a people. That treasonable felon Chris Uba, however still walks around, not merely a free man, but surrounded by the full security apparatus of the state. After a token rustication, he was recently re-admitted into the bosom of the ruling party, elevated to the lofty position of trustee, to the accomp

animent of drums and trumpets and full-page laudations in the media. The highest act of treason of which any individual is capable is surely to thwart the sovereign will of the people, and that is one crime that was boldly admitted by this felon.

And yet the Uwazurike, the Fasheun, the Gani Adams languish in goal. Is it simply my imagination or do I decry a hideous manipulation of standards?

We must act, and do take that conviction as an invitation to join in whatever motion is decided upon to demonstrate to a dictatorship that our civic dignity has been more than sufficiently abused. If we must march, at the head of than human wave should be the institution in which a people have no choice but to invest, since it remains the sole guarantee of their civic dignity within an equitable environment. There is nothing left to understand. Nothing left to decry. Nothing remains untainted. Even the EFCC, whose achievements are justly lauded and celebrated both nationally and abroad – except of course among the cowering ranks of the guilty is being tainted by improprieties and unconstitutional conduct of its overseers. It is time that we move to safeguard the autonomy of such agencies as long missing enforcers of fiscal discipline and accountability.

Let us remind the EFCC that its very effectiveness and integrity require an independent, fearless judiciary. If judicial pronouncement has been rendered meaningless, consider how, even what we say here today will be dismissed with contempt by the abductors of our civil will. And so, enough of rhetoric. We serve notice on all civic and ethics-minded organisations – academic, labour, religious, student, professional, market women, private enterprise and all others – enough of this executive lawlessness. It is time to head back towards the trenches.

In attendance upon that moment, Mr Chairman and my much abused, eternally betrayed compatriots, betrayed again and again, I have the honour to present this book of reflection and recollection, a compendium of past and present realities, pungent and instructive, permanently relevant and provocative, yet not without reminders that life need not be grim, disordered and humourless. If you wish to understand why you are where you are today, not where you fought to be, take it with you as companion reading, as you take up our your new residence in the strategic trenches of your choice.

Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s and Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in literature, delivered this speech at the presentation of The Whole Truth: Selected Editorials of The Guardian (1983-2003) on Thursday, 15 December, 2005.

From www.farafina-online.com

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1 comment

concerned January 31, 2006 - 4:11 am

Wole Shoyinka has my respect anytime. My dear senior, you might not understand these Ijaw youths. You should see what they did to the Itsekiri. You should also remember that the Urhobo owned news paper is not being as objective as you might imagine.

In as much as you might have a good argument against the government, you might need to stare clear of those youths and their leaders. Many Nigerians have their greviances……but Nigeria is not the wild west…your point exactly. Respect and thanks


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