Have We Been Here Before?

by Wole Soyinka

If this uncannily timed Guardian publication – The Whole Truth – has one lesson for us at all, it is in compelling us to answer that very question – haven’t we been here before? My insertion of that expression “uncannily timed” is more than sufficient to act as a trigger for activating chastening memories of the past five decades. And if anyone still fails to understand what is being pointed out here, I call your attention to the recent editorials of this same Guardian Newspapers, one of Monday December 12, and the other only yesterday, Wednesday December 14. I shall not direct your attention to the specific editorials in this volume whose present publication reminds us that nothing of what is now happening is new. It is all déjà vu – we have seen it all before. We cannot claim not to have been warned. The editorial of December 12 is entitled The Closure of Bayelsa State Radio, while that of December 14 carries the hurricane alert in the title, The Gale of Forceful Evictions. Are these two totally unrelated issues? Let the following extracts assist you in deciding that question. From the editorial on Bayelsa state radio, we encounter the following observation:

“The forceful closure of the Bayelsa State-owned radio station by security forces of the Federal Government is clearly high-handed and an abuse of power.Besides, this act is a violation of the constitutional rights of the government of Bayelsa State.and the people of the state, the audience, on the other.is a breach of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution.”

The editorial continues:

“.the right of Bayelsans and other citizens of Nigeria ‘to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’ has been trampled upon.”

Let us quickly summarise this pungent, timely and cautionary editorial in its own words:

“Without mincing words, there is much evidence of a calculated and systematic assault on the rule of law in this polity. Judicial pronouncements are wilfully ignored, the legislature is treated with disdain, security agencies have become more of tools for settling scores than for the security of the state and its citizens.”

Enough of December 12 – at least for now. Let us move on to yesterday, December 14, and the gale of forceful evictions where the following passages appear:

“Most unfortunately, and totally against the norms of the rule of law, transparency which the Federal Government professes to believe in, occupants of the Federal Government properties.are all being forcibly ejected by strong forces of armed soldiers and policemen, in some instances in clear defiance of orders of the High Courts and proceedings in such courts.”

This editorial continues:

“The Supreme Court’s epic judgement in the case of Military government of Lagos State vs Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu (1986) A.N.I.R 233 particularly at 239, 240 and 243 encapsulates and exposes the illegality in the present government sponsored or tolerated forceful eviction exercises.

Indeed, the present spate of forceful eviction of these Federal Government properties and those of the defunct Nigeria Airways are clearly illegal, unconstitutional and a subversion of the rule of law and, in some instances, a subversion of the entire judicial process. The active participation in or toleration of these eviction exercises by the Federal Government is so undisguised and blatant to the point of being nauseating.”

Dear compatriots, is there any possible failure to grasp the linkage between these two geographically separated events, and the wearisome cycle of illegalities, indiscipline and arrogance that the nation is compelled to tolerate at the hands of governments in whatever guise, military or civilian?

I am tempted to read both editorial in full but cannot for lack of time for my own editorial; nonetheless, I cannot resist the following passage that serves to remind us of the cynicism and arrogance of power in its relations to the ruled. Listen to the following:

“The Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa State, Mr Hafiz Ringim, is reported to have said – and this has not been refuted – that the closure of Bayelsa Radio was caused by a technical problem. This must rank as the most asinine statement of the year.

Pray, when did the police become a consultant on the diagnosis, and repair of broadcasting equipment.

I cite the report of this ‘asinine’ officialese because the closure of Bayelsa Radio is cruelly reminiscent of a number of state security actions under the demented reign of General Sani Abacha, such as the sealing off of the home of the late NADECO chieftain, Pa Ajasin, the military takeover of a private home where a former American ambassador was to have been hosted, or indeed the storming of a church service by Abacha troops where a microphone was forcibly snatched by the then Chief Of General Staff, General Diya before the commencement of a sermon. Was that perhaps in order to prevent the microphone from malfunctioning?

So, what is there left to unders

tand? What potential consequences are there left to grasp? What portents for the nation remain shrouded in mystery? What ambiguities do we continue to pretend still remain to puzzle us in the conduct of the power possessed? What further signals does the farmer require from the wolf that has just made off with his prized calf? Are we truly incapable of discerning the fate of thousands, hundreds of thousands, in the condition of an air pilot who, having put in 32 years of service in the Nigerian Airways, finds himself, despite an unambiguous court order, bulldozed out of his home, nothing left to show for a life time of specialised labour but the shirt on his back? Does this recall the dark fate of the Maroko settlement under the regime of Ibrahim Babangida? Shall we proceed to list the court orders, orders upon orders, all the way up to the decisions of thee Supreme Court that the democratic regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo has treated with utter contempt, disdain and defiance? Can we truly reassure ourselves that this sequence of encroachments on our collective rights is merely the momentary aberrations of a watchdog that can no longer distinguish between a villainous intruder and the law abiding household it is trained to defend? There comes a moment, surely when the household learns to distinguish between a diligent watchdog and the one that has turned rabid and commenced to savage the members of the household.

A Charles Dickens character once exploded in words – the law is a ass – throwing plain grammar to the winds. That character, aptly named Pumblechook was of course a creature of ridicule and was easily rendered harmless. We do have, presiding over this nation however, a character who appears resolved to make the law – a ass, and he is no laughing matter. His conduct treats the judiciary indeed as nothing less than an ass, reduces it to abject impotence and subservience in a manner so blatant that it insults the very regarding of the powerless and mocks their dependency on an independent, arbitrating body. Listen to the following cry from the pit of impotence:

“Those in authority and their agencies cannot pick and choose what court order to obey. If they feel aggrieved by the order, the only remedy is to appeal, but in the meantime, the order must be obeyed.”

Does this sound familiar? Take your minds back to the reign of Sani Abacha and similar cries for help from the judiciary of that time. Is there any difference? But one took place during a self-declared, non-hypocritical dictatorship. That regime did not pretend to follow a constitution, did not pretend to recognize the rule of law. It operated by decree, and what decrees had failed to foresee, it drove through by plain and simple force majeure, through mechanisms of arbitrary arrests, tortures and disappearances. The legal fraternity knows this only too well, indeed, it still suffers from the aftermath of that season of humiliation, where the overarching legality in the nation was the language of the gun.

A Yoruba proverb goes thus: a f’ete le, a npa lapalapa – we ignore the leprosy, and dedicate ourselves to the cure of the ringworm. Permit me to twist that saying around a few degrees. Our current national situation is more accurately captured if we proposed that in the process of treating the ringworm, we precede to contract the disease of leprosy. Or, as I expressed it at a brain storming session in Lagos this past Sunday, the surgeon operates on a cancer but ends up infecting the patient with HIV/AIDS. Is it a crime, or a love of cancer that makes us demand that the surgeon avoid the use of a contaminated scalpel? If the side effect is worse than the disease, wherein does this benefit the patient? Are there no alternative methods to the excision of the cancer of corruption except that the body be rendered immunity deficient to present and future attacks of the dictatorship virus?

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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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