THE NATION
June 22, 2007


2007 Elections and the Gang of Four

by

WOLE SOYINKA

Let me begin by outlining the current phase of struggle. It is yet again one of those phases in a nation’s life when cruel choices confront a people, and it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to speak of absolutes.  Nevertheless, there do exist remedies for individuals and groups in their strategies of coping. And, for a start, we must all learn to distinguish between mental attitudes and political pragmatism, and ensure that the latter does not usurp the mandate, the autonomous realm, of the former. Of one’s mental attitude, it is obvious that this can be either positive or negative, combative or submissive. I have no time for a negative or submissive mental attitude, so let me speak what is of value to me  – the positive. A positive mental attitude is based on Principle, Conscience and Vision. Its complement or, to use a familiar expression, its  ‘running mate’, political pragmatism, is based on evasion and/or compromise, rationalization rather than rationality. It involves procrastination of the moment of truth. Let me hasten to state that, unfortunately, the latter – political pragmatism - sometimes has its arguments, and cannot be totally ignored or despised. Sometimes it actually makes acceptable such clichés as ‘the good of the nation’, ‘making progress’, ‘moving forward’ and other pietism’s that anesthetize a people’s ability for rigorous analysis. To accept it as the end-in-all however, as a nation mantra that defines the fullest mental reaches of the citizen - this is what diminishes us as human beings and obliterates our sense of welf-worth and dignity.

 Here is an example. We shall use the state of Anambra. Here is an instance where an adjudicating body, armed with limitless public expenditure, supposedly neutral, cleared the ground of all opposition in an election, despite the declaration of the Supreme Court, to ensure the victory of the minion of an outgoing President. In medieval times, yes, it is true, what was equivalent to what we would define today as entire states, would be offered as dowry, a down payment for the merging of two ruling houses through marriage. What has just happened in Anambra in the twenty-first century is the exact replica of that feudal tradition of down payment either for an impending or consumated wedding, only, this time, it constitutes ‘settlement’ for services rendered, or perhaps for services to come.

Nothing good ever comes out of evil – ever! The rites of inauguration may inaugurate more than the coronation of one uneasy head; it may inaugurate a reign of terror, of lawlessness  and impunity let loose,  once the foundation of such inauguration is bedevilled. It may even launch the end of other, and potentially self-cancelling inaugurations, such as recently happened in Osun State, where the Protem Governor, Oyinlola, acting true to corrupt foundations, engineered the provocative arrest of opposition legislators – twice in succession – in order to guarantee the required majority for sequent inauguration of lawlessness, indecency, dishonour and micro-dictatorship.

Oyo State, the acknowledged bastion of certified, boastful, self-preening hoodlums, recently witnessed the public dehumanization of a lawmaker by an aide of Lamidi Adedibu, where the dynasty of hoodlums was facilitated, openly blessed and celebrated by someone who held the reins of this nation in his hands, was supposedly trained in the culture of discipline, and could have directed the nation in laudable, lawful directions. There are numerous examples of this civic degeneration further afield. We are only witnessing the beginning, but already, the future is writ large, and the tracings are of fire and blood.

How Comrade Ola Oni, the radical militant no one appears to remember these days must be turning in his grave! For it was Ola Oni, with a handful of principled faithfuls who plotted the open humiliation of the current Godfather Enforcer in Oyo State, right under the nose of Sani Abacha. The consecration of Abacha in Ibadan as the peoples choice for life was engineered by Adedibu and his then comrade-in-perfidy, Arisekola.  Ola Oni and his motivated volunteers routed these reprobates and saw off the curs with their tails between their legs, slinking between the slums of Ibadan to negotiate their safety. It has taken another military general, albeit in civilian clothing, to rehabilitate the acknowledged King of Thugs. Along the way, a criminal indicted for murder was freed from prison ‘on orders’ and unleashed on the freedom-loving people of Oyo State, simply because only such  vermin could aid the sick ambition of one man to rule this nation for ever. Adedibu equally found a meeting of minds  with Sani Abacha whose rule Obasanjo once described as ‘unspeakably evil’.

So you see, Mr. Yar’ Adua, what happened in April in vast sections of this nation, is an evil portent for the future of the nation. It was evil at its most monstrous, most unconscionable, most contemptuous of a people. Premeditated and perpetrated by an Evil Quartet, the Gang of Four whose names must remain branded in the minds of our people, and for generations to come, it has succeeded in shocking the world, even those who had become inured to the nation’s capacity for the unthinkable.  Of course, there are many others.  You do not perpetrate a crime of this magnitude without a squad of hirelings. That clearly understood, let us proceed to name this treasonable quartet.

First, permit me to devote a few moments to is the exiting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, who actually effected what many had thought impossible, by improving on the record of his predecessor, Tafa Balogun, executioner of Miracle 2003. I have seized more than one opportunity to say this directly to my young friend Nuhu Ribadu: if you really want to wither the roots of political corruption in this nation, explore the sources of the vast sums that were found in Tafa Balogun’s account. Check the timing of those deposits in relation to the 2003 elections and make your findings public. Then you would have solved, and severed, in one fell woop, the relationship between political and material corruption.

Next, the Chairman of the ruling party, Colonel ‘Garrison’ Ali, the original  public megaphone for the right of Rule by Thuggery. The message that he delivered on that memorable day, when he urged the people of Oyo State to submit to the yoke of their garrison commander, Adedibu, was fleshed out when ballot boxes, property of a supposedly independent commission, were found in the latter’s private residence, long before elections. From Inspector-General Ehindero, all the way up to the presidency, not forgetting the man whose very integrity was directly at stake, the Chairman of INEC, all treated this blatant criminality with astonishing levity, as a mere incident not remotely worth fussing about.

Which leads straight to the third member of the quartet,  the Chairman of the so-called Independent Electoral Commission, Professor Iwu, about whose unsavory antecedents much was exposed by that tireless Internet Explorer, Sahara Reporters. This was a man, a supposed academic, charged with the most solemn undertaking with which any individual could hope to be honoured, the ascertaining of a people’s sovereign will and its actualization. Iwu was a man who contradicted himself almost as if this was the sole credential for his position, lied to the public without batting an eye, flouted the decisions of the Supreme Court at will and finally inaugurated the discipline of Anti-arithmetic, where figures contradict, scatter, vanish and regroup to conform with pre-destined results. The problem confronted by spirited investigators like Sahara Reporters was that they did not realize that the shadier the background of these public servants, the more their murky past was exposed and documented, the more they found favour in the eyes of their paymaster, the Capo di Capo Tutti of them all. This takes us naturally to the fourth member of the cabal, the principal of the Gang of Four, General Olusegun Obasanjo, to whom so much has been given by this nation, but who, on leaving, rewarded the people with a load of excrement.

I have openly admitted that I took a decision to let this lord of misrule leave in peace and quiet. Alas, he simply will not keep quiet and leave us alone. He has no regrets, he announces, for his past actions. He continues to call truth speakers, witnesses and voices of caution ‘professional critics’. He will not leave even the dead alone but must malign them, those who braved the umbrage of their own colleagues to serve under him, in what they saw, rightly or wrongly, as national interest. No, he must malign his own dead minister whose efforts to do the seemingly impossible with power supply he, Obasanjo, directly frustrated – indeed, sabotaged. However, more of that in another place as the veil of truth is progressively lifted on the past. We must not get distracted.

There are, of course, numerous others, but these four represent the principals. They form the core of a long hatched criminality that amounts to no less than a treasonable conspiracy against the nation, if we accept that the will of a people remains sovereign, no matter who holds the reins of power,

Somebody must answer this question: just what have we done to earn the contempt of such people? For, make no mistake about it, they hold us in contempt. No one commits a violation on this scale without a deep-seated contempt for the victims.  Only those with an incurable disdain for others would be so brazen as take huge chunks out of our commonly owned real estate and donate them to the undeserving – self-acclaimed thugs and sons, daughters, nephews and in-laws – an agenda to create dynasties of misfits in some cases, convicted felons in others,  extortionists and enforcers,  killers etc in yet others but above all, simply the undesired and unelected. I take a look around me, in this very hall, and I ask myself that question: just what virtues do they boast, what mental or spiritual assets do they manifest that make them believe that they are superior beings to a hundred million souls that they must conspire against and thwart a people’s right to express their choice, heaping scorn on their very civic existence? Perhaps I am blind, but I do not see it. And that goes for their collaborators, their surrogates across the nation, those who directly unleashed such unprecedented violence on their own people, so that for a few days in this dark April, one became unsure whether the elections were taking place in a nation space called Nigeria,  or in the infernal space known as present-day Iraq.

 However, the elections are far from over. The Tribunals have yet to complete their work and the results must be patiently awaited. What we say here is intended to call the minds of the Nigerian people to order. To reawaken your civic worth and urge each and everyone to understand that a positive and pro-active mental attitude is a prerequisite for the nation’s salvation, whenever that moment comes upon us – and it will. The testimony that I gave recently at the hearing of the United States Congressional caucus – on the invitation of the organizers by the way, not stemming from my own initiative - was motivated by the same .consideration. I stress this point, that I merely responded to an invitation, because I do not wish to leave anyone under the illusion that I have begun to, or intend to undertake the kind of frenzied rounds of international mobilization that I undertook during the reign of terror of the late Sani Abacha. That phase is over. I am not enamoured of repetition and the dynamics of the international community shift so rapidly that different methods are required to gain and retain its attention.  I may or may not respond to similar invitations in the future, but it is my belief today – and I have been evolving over time – it is my assessment that perhaps the automatic expectation from a limited number of people to induce change only produces negative effects, that it breeds a proneness to inertia in the calculations of many others, most especially among the younger generation. In other words, that some of  us may be promoting an attitude of  dependency. Thus, it is quite possible that some of us stand in the way of just and resolute remedial action. It is possible, quite possible, that some of us have become obstacles to legitimate response. It is time to put an end to all that, and end any assumptions of what we can and will do. The resolve of  civic society in general must not be made contingent on any fanciful presumptions.

To the protem President, Yar’Adua – for such my mental attitude  designates you for now - I have only this to say: differentiate between Power and Authority. Any means can lead to power but, the route to Authority passes through the people themselves, and the people only, and it is a commodity that must be earned. To acquire and exercise power is possible by most means but, lacking authority, you only dig a hole into which you fall sooner or later – of your own volition, or into which you are pushed. You have very limited time and then, you will discover that time has indeed run out. You have an opportunity to write history and end the present contrary motion of the nation clock.

In practical terms, this involves a frank admission to yourself that you lack legitimacy. While this will be near impossible to remedy, since any effort will be contradicted by hard facts, you do have room to manoeuver. One recourse is to institute an interim arrangement for governance – of limited duration - through negotiations with the opposition, with all agreeing that this is without prejudice to the ongoing challenges lodged for the restoration of their electoral rights. Such an administering structure would have, I repeat, a limited duration, negotiated, would be responsible for reconstituting a new Electoral Commission and overseeing its activities every inch of the way.

Again, as I declared during the Washington hearings, the constitution remains a bone in the throat of national cohesion, and one of the primary tasks of the interim arrangement would be to set in motion a genuine conference to debate a new constitution. If you have access to the Draft PRONACO constitution, and in all objectivity, you could not hope for a more rational document as a working basis. The present constitution is a sham, a militarist contraption against a people’s sovereignty and long overdue for the garbage truck. Obasanjo tried unseriously to tinker with it, but of course, he lacked sincerity, and his purpose of manipulating that charade towards self-extension was obvious from the very inception of his so-called National Conference for Political Reforms. You know the antecedent of what passes for a constitution. This was a document that was so bashful, so self-retiring that it hid under Abdulsalami’s bed throughout his tenure and transition and could not even be brought out to light the way to the elections of 1999. So, just what were the people voting for? Nothing but an illusion. A constitution defines a nation, so just what nation did the people vote to enshrine and empower? None whatsoever. Just a figment of militarist imagination. A palpaple aggression against civic existence and thus, deserving of no allegiance from the people. A dish-rag has more validity that the document that now passes for the Nigerian constitution.  No wonder the last presidential incumbent turned it into a piece of tissue on which to blow his nose whenever he caught a chill from the winds of Aso Rock.

Next , again as I stated at the hearing of the Congressional caucus, this nation demands a Commission that would sit in public and take evidence on the conduct of the recent elections. Let us be blunt about it – this electoral exercise constituted a hideous betrayal of a people’s trust. It shamed us as a nation, and as a people. It took us back to pre-history and dragged us down to civic uncouthness. Those who have marvelled that a talented nation like Nigeria could produce such a demeaning form of international racket now known world-wide as the 419 Scam, comment that 419 is all in the national character, since what transpired here for a democratic election was the political equivalent of the economic 419. (On a lighter note, I was in Basel, Switzerland only a few days ago, lodged - at my hosts’ expense, let me hasten to add - in perhaps the most luxurious hotel in that city. When I found myself assigned Suite 419, I could not help asking the management if that room was routinely assigned to visiting Nigerians, the kind who, I am certain, would not dream of lodging themselves in anything less expensive!)

Back to the Commission - there is no reason why such a commission cannot commence work the moment that the bulk of the work of the Tribunals are evidently done, but the Tribunals must have absolute priority. The Commission would utilize evidence offered on oath from the Tribunals as a springboard for its own investigative mission, have the power to subpoena witnesses and, as it progresses, recommend criminal prosecution for those it considers culpable.

It may interest you to know that, when I mooted such an agenda during meeting with a group of policy experts at the Elie Wiesel Foundation in New York, a meeting that included some monitors and observers of our recent elections, one of them expressed the view that you would never agree to set up such a commission. His reason? He was stationed in Katsina state and witnessed what transpired there. He provided a detailed eye-witness account, So, it would appear that, in your own state, the image of Mr.Clean, the diffident candidate, has suffered a severe denting. It would be in the interest of both your own reputation and the nation’s future, that you proceed to give the lie to that witness by setting up that commission and ensuring its autonomy. Anything less would certainly tend to confirm what now exists in the findings of several monitoring groups.

Those who value experiences of others as sources of instruction do not have far to look. We are surrounded by instructive histories of others all across the world. Yugoslavia should be a sobering thought for the concerned. We know where it led, and we know the fate of Milesovic. Another that comes readily to mind as pertinent is that of the Dominican Republic whose 1994 elections were so fraudulent that President Belaguer was compelled to step down after just two years in office as public dissent gathered strength. Much better to negotiate now than wait for the build-up of resentment and upsurge of violence whose only predictable end is that it scars the nation for life. Illegitimate power is totally devoid of authority and can only be maintained by declaring war on the people. No one escapes the trauma of such a contest, not even those who believe that they enjoy the advantage of state power. Let us learn to learn from history.

Of course, you may choose to ally with the impoverished aristocracy of other lands, such as our Rent-a-Baroness Lynda Chalker, with whose activities we are all familiar, both during the Ghana dictatorships and our own vicious experience under Sani Abacha. That would be within your rights. Experts come in all shades, and ultimately, it is our responsibility to choose whom to believe, based on what we know as mature people, and can objectively evaluate. You may choose however to realize that it is not given to everyone to make history by blazing paths through formerly unyielding terrain, by joining hands with others in straightening out the stubborn kinks of Nigerian experience.

If you do not, history will judge you harshly. More perilous still, the people may not wait on the judgment of history.

 


 



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