Still on Soyinka's warning over Buhari
By Matthew Adejoh
Nearly eight years ago, Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka sounded the alarm over the attempt by former military strongman, General Muhammadu Buhari, to return to the nation's leadership as elected President. In writing what went for a treatise on Buhari's repressive tenure as military leader, Soyinka said he was provoked, not so much by the man's effrontery but by the actions of those from whom he had found support and willing alliance.
To the literary sage, a man who is not known to make public commentary in vain, such declarations of support from otherwise knowledgeable quarters left him totally dumbfounded. In admitting that many of the Nigerian elite, himself included, hitherto treated the Buhari ambition with complacence, his wake-up call emphasized the magnitude of what the Buhari ambition portends for the country. His warning, aptly titled “The Crimes Of Buhari”, was as relevant in 2007 as it is today. Conversely, Buhari who last month indicated interest once more in vying for the nation's presidency after failed attempts in 2003, 2007 and 2011, has bluntly refused to address salient issues in his past.
We must revisit those warnings because we must not tire of keeping vigil over the nation's hard-won democracy, and those who profess lately to have become converts to democratic norms. Considering his antecedents, many would consider the general's ambitions as an insult to our collective sensibilities. The 'looming danger' -that is what Soyinka referred to as a possible Buhari presidency – is in committing “the error of opening the political space to an alternative whose curative touch to national afflictions has proven more deadly than the disease.”
In recalling historical facts to underline that Buhari, like the leopard, has not changed from the tough-talking sadist that he is, Soyinka says the grounds on which he is being promoted as the alternative choice are not only shaky, but also pitifully naive. Among his crimes, Soyinka reminds us of the draconian laws of his regime, exemplified by Decree 20 under which the judicial murder of Nigerian citizens, Lawal Ojuolape (30), Bernard Ogedengbe (29) and Bartholomew Owoh (26) was permitted. Ogedengbe, particularly, was executed for a crime that did not carry a capital punishment at the time it was committed.
This, Soyinka says, was an unconscionable crime, carried out in defiance of the pleas and protestations of nearly every sector of the Nigerian and international community. Buhari, years later, was summoned before the Oputa Panel to answer to a litany of gross abuses of power and blatant assaults on the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian citizenry; but he refused to appear. Till now, he has neither shown remorse for his indiscretions nor apologized for that criminal misdeed for which he ought to have been tried upon leaving office.
Buhari's crimes against the Nigerian nation included curtailing freedom of expression. Even the vibrant Nigerian media was not spared this rights abridgment as public discussions of a return to democratic rule were forbidden. To him, such issues are non-issues and he expects Nigerians to sweep them under the carpet and move on as if we all suffer from collective amnesia.
If Soyinka had frowned at Buhari's policies, he had the harshest words for the agenda of his 'corrective' rule and the selective treatment he meted out to politicians of Southern extraction upon taking power. Stories were told about how Alhaji Shehu Shagari whom he overthrew as Head of State was kept in cozy house arrest in Ikoyi and prominent Northerners like Umaru Dikko and National Secretary of his party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Uba Ahmed, were allowed to escape to freedom overseas. Paradoxically, prominent Southerners like Shagari's powerless Vice President Alex Ekwueme, was locked up in Kirikiri prisons.
A preponderance of the 500 odd politicians, officials and businessmen whom his regime tried and rolled out jail sentences that were twice their life and times, were mostly Southerners or scapegoats that played peripheral roles in the government he accused of waste and corruption. The big boys walked away into exile or were handed light sentences. It was the same selective treatment on the basis of ethnicity when he headed the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), with a certain area of Nigeria favored in choice allocations of projects.
Beyond the usual rhetoric on good governance, discipline and his appeal to base sentiments, Buhari has usually been hypocritical. With the benefit of his past actions, it is easy to understand why he is usually the butt of criticism. Someone who would mount the totem pole of discipline and exemplary leadership must necessarily lead by example, but leading by example was not, and is still not, Buhari's strong point.
Since his foray into politics, he has built the essence of his aspiration for the presidency of this country solely on the high ground of moral rectitude; but he had long failed that test by the hypocritical manner he handled the 53 suitcases, believed to have been stuffed with currency, at a time he had closed Nigeria's air, sea and land borders for a change of the national currency. Under Buhari's watch, not only were those 53 prominent camels allowed to pass through that needle's eye that was the air-tight national borders, he personally dispatched his Aide-De-Camp, Major Mustapha Jokolo, to oversee the easy passage of those suitcases to their owner in the north. It was the height of irresponsibility and impunity. Till now his promise to banish corruption and institute discipline in national affairs if elected president is seen simply as empty campaign rhetoric.
Even as a politician, Buhari has been no less controversial. Many criticize him for holding bigoted views on religion and ethnicity. A Muslim from Daura in Katsina State, he has consistently battled the perception that he harboured a radical Islamist agenda. At a time he was beginning to sound believable, he betrayed his real nature by singularly lending support to the controversial introduction of Sharia law in the North. Though then President Olusegun Obasanjo sidestepped the issue which clearly impinged on the Nigerian constitution, it contributed immensely to Buhari's woeful performance among Christians at the 2003 polls. Also, he may not have founded Boko Haram as a group but his actions and incendiary utterances after the loss of the 2011 presidential election, cannot be divorced from the violence that has engulfed the North Eastern part of the country ever since.
Today, ironically, Bola Tinubu, an otherwise pro-democracy activist and many others who paid personal sacrifices during Buhari's better-forgotten years, are collaborating with him to return as president of Nigeria. Some, who were witnesses to the controversy caused by his support for Sharia, even promote his proposed Muslim/Muslim ticket. Have we all forgotten where we are coming from? Have we forgotten so soon, how one single man then turned our nation to a slave camp? Like Soyinka, many of us cannot but be astonished 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.”
Our democracy, even with all its imperfections, must not be thrown to the dogs. On this score, therefore, one must shudder at the negative potentialities that a Buhari presidency holds. The likelihood -even if remote – that he may yet again mount the nation's leadership saddle portends great danger to our democracy with the possibility that some of the dividends of 15 years may be rolled back or permanently wiped away by his deep-seated attitude of vindictiveness.
Mr Adejoh contributed this piece from Abuja through [email protected]
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