Archives on an Ex-Governor, 4

President's hand in Oyo crisis is blatant, says Wole Soyinka

A statement by Prof. Wole Soyinka yesterday at a press conference in Lagos in
reaction to his earlier comment on the crisis in Oyo State in which he was said
to have demanded that President Olusegun Obasanjo should speak up.

I SHALL immediately start by denying a statement attributed to me in a report
of the brief press encounter that followed the opening event of the Development
Policy Centre Workshop on Corruption in Ibadan this Monday the 17th. That
statement claimed that regarding the ongoing Oyo crisis, I demanded that the
President of the nation, Olusegun Obasanjo, should speak up. I could not have
made such a demand, and the reason is simple: I am not deaf. President Olusegun
Obasanjo has already spoken. He has spoken loud and clear over the Oyo crisis,
and that is left is for the people to respond. Actions speak louder than words
- that's common wisdom. And for those who try to suggest that there has been no
overt action by the President before, during, and after the Oyo State crisis, I
can only respond that there are times when inaction, speaks even louder than
both action and words. Inaction becomes eloquent when it involves a deliberate
avoidance of duty, a failure, in the case of any citizen in a responsible
position, to take preventive action to head off anarchy and disaster. Inaction
becomes even criminal where such an individual, by virtue of his or her special
position is saddled with that very special responsibility.

However, it would be pure self- deception to propose that Obasanjo's conduct
lies in inaction, in a failure to arrest the state of anomie into which Oyo
State has now plunged. He has been active, propulsive and unabashedly partisan
participant in the formulation of that crisis, so the burden of guilt that
rests on the presidential shoulders is not simply one of failing to act, but of
instigating, stoking an guaranteeing the state of chaos.

This is no time to beat about the bush. The presidential hand in this affair is
blatant. Obasanjo has openly endorsed violence as a means of governance,
embraced and empowered individuals whose avowed declarations, confessions and
acts are cynically contrary to the democratic mandate that alone upholds the
legitimacy and dignity of his office. Let me repeat this: the contempt of
President Obasanjo for the demands for a democratic self-realisation by the
electorate is no longer in doubt, and can be proved, chapter and verse - from
Anambra to Oyo.

For Nigerians who may be somewhat befuddled by the legal issues involved in the
impeachment saga of Oyo State, let another layman provide an illustration. You
will know that legislators constantly travel out of this country for various
causes - some purposeful and productive, others purely opportunistic jamborees.
Well, imagine that 12 out 20 legislators take off to attend a Trade Exhibition
abroad any rich individual can even offer to underwrite their expenses if the
stakes are high enough - the goal is simply to ensure their absence for the
execution of some political conspiracy. Well then, in their absence, the
remaining colleagues impeach their governor, claiming that they have two-thirds
majority among the sitting members. This, in the simplest terms is the
constitutional issue at stake. This is why certain safeguards have been
implanted within such procedures to ensure that the elected representatives of
the polity do not act frivolously, mischievously - or at least, ensure that
they do not have an easy time doing so. If 'suspension by causes' this time,
believe me, the next proceeding will be absenteeism through deception. We are
moving towards a total mockery of constitutionalism.

First with Anambra, and now Oyo State, the President has crossed the line of
political toleration. You failed in Anambra, but you felt you had learnt
certain lessons in the use of state coercion. Hence the armed take-over of
Bayelsa's state radio by federal might during the Bayelsa impeachment saga an
illegal and unnecessary act that merely pandered to presidential ego and lust
for domination. You felt that you had been too subtle in Anambra in the use of
the police - poor Ige was a mere fall guy - and so in Oyo you decided to go the
brutal distance with what overt state power can do. If you succeed in Oyo, the
nation will be at your feet. The nation? No, the state maybe, but not the
nation. And even less likely, the people. Do not be fooled by appearances.

The authorship of the ongoing illegalities ad abuse of the Nigerian
constitution in Oyo State - this being the latest of such manipulations - lies
squarely within the presidency. There are only two relevant questions: has the
police, by its actions, not flagrantly set itself above and against he
judiciary, whose decisions it is lawfully bound to enforce? And the second
question follows from this: who gives the Inspector-General his orders? The
finger points in only one direction - President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo's
misuse of the Police to enforce his private political vendettas has become a
notorious governance perfidy that screams for remedial action.

I am no acquaintance or partisan of Governor Ladoja. The intra-party politics
of any political organisation is none of the business of non-members of the
party. They became the business of one and all however, indeed a life-and -
death issue, when the protocols that binds us together as a nation are flouted,
mocked and debased. Those protocols are not articles of convenience, to be
cited as guiding authority when convenient, then discarded at will whenever
they prove an obstacle to misgovernance. Obasanjo has mangled the constitution
and turned its polluted pulp into a weapon of offence against the rights and
legitimate expectations of the people. We are confronted by a mind that has
gone awry, a mind that is subject to no order except that of the crudest, most
despotic notions of dominance in a primitive society. Nigeria is not a
primitive or private fiefdom. It is governed by law. The respectful 'Baba'
accolade has turned to be yet another Baabuism, mimics the culture of the
'dons,' literally actualised by Obasanjo as that of a Mafia godfather whose
hand you either bow and kiss, or receive the kiss of death.

Let me ask this of our president: are you proud of what you have unleashed?
When the chairman of your political party insults the Nigerian people by
referring to a state as a garrison, and instructs elected representatives to
obey orders, do you voice any disapproval? And was Chairman Ali's pronouncement
merely the arrogant advance notice of a well-laid conspiracy to destabilise
that state? Did you watch, by any chance, yesterday's NTA news at 9 p.m. -
Wednesday January 18? Did you watch the raucous debate on the Oyo State
imbroglio? Is this what you planned? Is this what you wanted? Is this the
crowning glory of the politics of your second term in office? The perennial
battle of Conscience and Corruption, played out in seamy corridors of power.
Till today, we have yet to sort out the origin of N70 million bribes offered to
legislators in the House of Representative with a hundred million promised to
senators for promotion of the scramble for a Third Term agenda. These
accusations are in the public domain, outlined with details of place and time,
and we await in vain the probing of this and other signal contradictions of
high-profile exposures with their commendable punishments for corrupt acts.
Have you publicly denounced the givers? Have you let loose the agencies of
investigation on them? The EFCC especially? These are not faceless saboteurs of
the political will-is their purported act criminal, or is not? Why is there
deafening silence from the man who would have benefited from these corrupt
practices? Are the moves over, or is there still a constitutional joker to

I met former President Arap Moi a few years before his 'retirement' from
office. At that time, he was still in that now painfully familiar phase when
the incumbent cannot imagine life after power. We met at his request, and I
ensured that I was accompanied by a Nigerian who was then working for a UN
Agency - I was afraid that the civilian dictator might later use our encounter
as some kind of photo-op for boosting his then ongoing last-ditch intrigues to
cling on to power. When our conversation offered the desired opening, I said to
him, Mr. President, what are your plans after you quit office? He was taken
aback and mumbled something about returning to his village and doing some
farming etc. Good, I said, I shall come and visit you. The final and lasting
service African leaders can provide future generations is just a manner of
departure that would make it possible for one to visit them in retirement and
drink from their wisdom and experience. Arap Moi appeared to relax, brightened
up somewhat at the idea, and assured me I would be most welcome... and we
parted, promising to keep in touch.

I was never an acquaintance of Arap Moi, but the nation knows that I can claim
some kind of friendly relations-albeit quirky-based on mutual though critical
respect. I thus feel that, in your case, I can claim a sense of personal
commitment to your well being. In your heart of hearts, you cannot evidence of
this. And my urging today is the same as that offered to Arap Moi: Leave
quietly, peacefully, take your quite considerable successes in governance
policies with you. Make it possible for us to call on you in retirement as a
respected elder statesman. Do not leave the nation with such lacerating
memories, with such a bad taste in the mouth that the people dismiss even your
successes as mere accidents, as flashes in the pan or the work of others. Leave
now, pleading governance, exhaustion, age, betrayal, resentment at the
ingratitude of the governed, anything at all but-leave. Leave today, right now.

If you do wish to serve out your term however, which is predictable, then you
must begin a reversal of unconstitutional acts. You must begin by obeying the
decisions of the courts to the letter. No hedging, no trimming, no renewed
delaying tactics-just obey them, and get on with the positives of your
administration. Anything less will be unacceptable. It is time to remind the
Nigerian people that in the mad days of Sani Abacha, a march on Aso Rock was
actually planned. Those who were in the know can attest as to why that march
was eventually aborted. You will recall that the strategy was mapped out at
Mayflower School Ikenne, even as the Mobile Police surrounded the assembly
hall, fully armed and kilted, noisy. Restless and menacing, awaiting orders. At
that point, Abacha had not yet reached the absolute height of impunity, and
there was indecision at the top. Heaven alone knows what the result would have
been if the likely orders had been given and carried out, but they were not.
After that conference, pressure was mounted on us to abandon the march on the
grounds that too many innocents would be needlessly slaughtered by a demented
dictator. Why do I nurse that feeling in my stomach that, under this regime,
those orders would be given, and they would be carried out with a sickening
brutality? Well perhaps it is time to put it to the test.

The instrument for the removal of a sitting president, is however laid out-
impeachment. If this presidential conduct persists, we have an obligation to
call on our legislatures to rescue that instrument of constitutional remedy
from current debasement and apply it to the author of our present predicament.
And so I urge the nation to commence plans for an orderly convergence on our
elected representatives from all parts of the nation to compel them to act. We
know that the instruments for coercion are in the hands of one man, whose
rationality we now have every cause to question, but the present presidential
rampage must be stopped. If anyone has more effective ideas, we would gladly
consider them, and would most contentedly follow any lead, as long as such a
lead takes into consideration the daily consolidation of anti-people power by
one who is now convinced of his divine immunity and blatantly tramples on the
conditions of association that hold this nation together. A campaign of civil
disobedience is another option-it remains a legitimate instrument of resistance
against governance by illegalities.

We must exhort the Nigerian Bar Association, the civil rights movements but
especially the NLC-you have made a good beginning, but do not let us down. Do
not back down, or the consequences of any recourse to extreme, uncoordinated
responses will be on your head. You are the best placed to undertake the
leadership for the containment of this rampaging bull-oh, what jokes history
plays on us! Was this not the same individual who, during Babangida's
discreditable ploys to cling to power used words to the following effect: 'When
you see a mad bull in a China shop, you must find ways of leading it out gently
so as to avoid destroying the contents of the shop'-words that effect by
Olusegun Obasanjo. Our situation today is identical, and the question I ask the
NLC is simply this: can you accept the responsibility of leading this bull,
through peaceful action, out of the China shop that is called Nigeria? It is
not the responsibility of the Labour movement alone however, but that of all
the civil rights movements, the professionals, student organisations, the
clergy of every faith, women movements...indeed of every citizen who cherishes
decency and justice in governance.

We know what risks we run, and when people ask us sometimes-why do you not
rest? At your age, why do you continue to confront these ogres? Well, the
answer to that is obvious. If another old man of 70 can muster the energy to
conspire against a nation, there should be enough old men of 70 to say no? So,
desist, I urge, so we can all go into peaceful retirement. Retire, so I can
visit you in your farm and resume our days of both harmless and pungent
controversies over pounded yam and egusi. But your conduct robs me of sleep,
deprives me of my planned retirement, encroaches on my normal preoccupations,
plays havoc on my concentration within my own field but most of all-desecrates
all I have ever believed in, fought for all my life, including those years when
you had one foot at the very edge of the grave. In the name of that very God
whom you thank for yanking you back from the abyss, I implore you-Go! Go while
it is still possible to forgive you for robbing us all of our earned
retirement. Go! Just go!


This is no time to beat about the bush. The presidential hand in this affair is
blatant. Obasanjo has openly endorsed violence as a means of governance,
embraced and empowered individuals whose avowed declarations, confessions and
acts are cynically contrary to the democratic mandate that alone upholds the
legitimacy and dignity of his office. Let me repeat this: the contempt of
President Obasanjo for the demands for a democratic self-realisation by the
electorate is no longer in doubt, and can be proved, chapter and verse - from
Anambra to Oyo.

The Guardian Newspaper, January 20, 2006