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When Wole Soyinka Craked The Whip

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When Wole Soyinka Craked The Whip

Nigeria’s security, economic and ethical challenges must energise its political elite into diligently resolving the country’s problems before it is too late, reports our Associate Editor Osasu Obayiuwana.

WHEN WOLE SOYINKA, the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, ascends a podium to deliver a keynote speech at a gathering where the great, the good and the political creatures in Nigeria assemble, one expects the 77-year-old, who has lost none of his dry, acerbic wit, to tell stinging truth to power. And that is exactly what “Kongi”, as Soyinka is known to his friends, did in the riverside town of Asaba, Delta State, at an economic summit organised by the BRACED Commission, a grouping of Nigeria’s six Niger Delta States (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta) in April, which took place at the exact time terrorists blew up the Abuja and Kaduna offices of This Day newspaper.

“There is… the affliction of [political] illegitimacy – the dubious legitimacy of a large percentage of representatives of the people’s supposed political will at the centre, at the federal and national assemblies and even in the lodges of executive governors,” Soyinka bluntly said, with the six host governors sitting in the front row.  

“Even in a 75% ‘perfect’ election, properly conducted, a vast number of the present ‘honourables’, senators and governors, could never have caught the sheerest whiff of the wood varnish on the seats they now occupy.”

You could see the “honourables” shifting in their seats. But it was Kongi’s comments on the growing menace of terrorism, particularly in Northern Nigeria, which were the most poignant.

“The rejects, even of hell, have indeed been let loose, but many prefer to shy away from the question: who let them loose? How long was the present scenario in preparation? For how long was the mindset of its direct perpetrators nurtured, for how long were impressionable minds doctored, warped and then homicidally refocused?  

“This is a basic enquiry that should precede all else. However, the nation has elected, in the main, to climb aboard the conveyance of evasion, bound for the bunker of denial.

“Those who unleashed the denizens of hell are among us, they did not come from outer space, they are known, and they know where their myrmidons retreat, while they prepare their next
outrage on the populace.”

Soyinka’s words were sharp enough to move retired General Andrew Azazi, the national security adviser (NSA) to President Goodluck Jonathan, who in a blunt manner uncharacteristic of men in his sensitive position, blamed undemocratic internal practices within the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) for stoking the searing furnace of terrorism.  

“The PDP got it wrong from the beginning, by saying Mr A can rule and Mr B cannot rule, according to the PDP convention rules and regulations, and not according to the [Nigerian] constitution. That created the climate of what is happening and manifesting in the country today,’’ Azazi boldly said, knowing he was going to ruffle several influential feathers.

“What we are experiencing today started several years ago but we did not realise it, but we have started to make sure that we take some fire-brigade approach to find the solution.”

Whilst several bigwigs in the PDP, unsurprisingly stung by Azazi’s statement, demanded that he resign or be summarily fired by President Jonathan, the latter was coy in his response to the furore triggered by the NSA’s words.

“I don’t believe undemocratic practices in the PDP could give rise to Boko Haram or any other groups. So, probably people need to ask the NSA to explain what he really meant,” Jonathan said.

But an informed source, with access to the president, told New African it was unlikely Azazi would have made such a provocative statement without clearing it first with his boss. “Azazi is a man that did not get to his position by speaking out of turn. I would be very surprised if the president did not tacitly approve of the message and just pretended not to have had foreknowledge of what he was going to say at the summit,” the source said.

The bombing of the Abuja and Kaduna offices of This Day on 26 April, whilst the BRACED conference was going on in Asaba, was the first time a Nigerian newspaper had been the subject of a terrorist attack, which led to the death of 12 people, with several others injured. “The suicide bomber came in a jeep,” Olusegun Adeniyi, the former spokesman of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and now the chairman of This Day’s editorial board, said. “[Security guards] opened the gate for them … The guy drove in through the gate and rammed into the building and exploded.”

Grace Chimezie, an intern in the newspaper’s Abuja office, was at work when the terrorists struck. “The privilege of reviewing the papers all through the week, preparatory to the next [editorial] meeting, fell on me… I browsed through a copy of our publication to see if my story was published… I went on to check my email and go through the papers…when I heard a loud explosion; I found myself on the floor, groaning in pain, apparently dazed. My thought pattern was disorganised. I was stunned and out of this world,” she said.

In Kaduna, officials of the State Security Service (SSS) claimed one of the suspects, Umaru Umaru Mustapha from Maiduguri, the town at the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, ran out of the car with a bomb, which he threw at two people. The blast killed them. He later “pulled out a pistol and fired several shots in the air in an attempt to escape. He was however caught and subdued
by brave members of the public, who refused to be intimidated and handed him over to security forces,” the SSS statement said.

A top official of the Kaduna State government told New African that the attack would not deter them and the federal government from trying to restore peace in the state and the country at large.

“Without doubt, these are very challenging times in the country and we have to deploy all means to bring these senseless killings to an end,” the official said, adding: “I can understand that many Nigerians are very critical of the performance of the security agencies, as they feel they are not doing enough to protect them from these attacks. But, from what I know first-hand, they are working tirelessly to confront this menace.

“But I still insist that we cannot rule out dialogue. All options to restore calm to the country must be explored.”

It is a feeling that is fast gaining ground amongst ordinary citizens, weary and browbeaten by the frequency and ferocity of the attacks in 2012, which began with the 20th January assault on Kano that left nearly 200 dead.

Ibori meets his Waterloo

Politicians that routinely plunder Nigeria’s wealth, whilst pretending to serve the people who elected them, have always relied on their societal clout and ill-gotten gains to insulate them from the long arm of justice, at least on home shores.

James Onanefe Ibori, the former governor of Delta State, who had powerful influence over the government of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, allegedly used it to wriggle out of what appeared to be a “slam-dunk” conviction for fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds, in a Federal High Court in Asaba.

After being acquitted, to the delight of his political associates and hangers-on, but to the fury and bewilderment of right-thinking Nigerians, it looked like Ibori had cocked yet another snook at justice.

“The judge who freed him of over 150 criminal charges here, in this very nation, pronounced him innocent of blasting the very future of the generations under his watch, by a career of systematic, unconscionable robbery?” said a bewildered Wole Soyinka.

As New African has reported in previous issues, Ibori was convicted, on two occasions, in UK courts, for petty theft and being in possession of a stolen credit card. This, under Nigerian law, statutorily barred him from becoming governor of Delta State. But he never declared his criminal convictions whilst filling out the electoral forms submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

It took, once again, British justice for the former store cashier at Wickes Building Supplies (where Ibori committed the initial act of petty theft) to be brought to book. The 49-year-old was extradited to the UK, from Dubai, where he unsuccessfully battled an extradition request, following his detention in the Middle Eastern country in December 2010.

Admitting to 10 counts of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering, at London’s Southwark Crown Court, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on 17 April.

His wife, Theresa Nkoyo, his sister Christine Ibori-Ibie, his girlfriend Udoamaka Okoronkwo, and his lawyer Bhadresh Gohil, had been previously imprisoned for aiding and abetting the illegal acts of the former Delta State governor.Sentencing him, Judge Anthony Pitts told Ibori: “You lived modestly in London in the 1990s and no-one, I think, at that time, would imagine the multi-millionaire high profile governor that you became some eight or nine years later.

“It was during those two terms [in office, from 1999-2007] that you turned yourself in short order into a multi-millionaire through corruption and theft in your powerful position as Delta state governor.”

From the proceeds of stolen/laundered money, Ibori allegedly bought the following: A house in Hampstead, north London; a property in Shaftesbury, Dorset; a mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa; a fleet of armoured Range Rovers; a Bentley; and a Mercedes Maybach.

An incensed Soyinka delivered this rebuke to the Niger Delta governors: “Do we need to point out that as a nation, we are covered with shame that it took an external court of justice, of the former colonial masters, to finally put an end to the costly shenanigans of another of your former brother governors?”

In his classic song, “Army Arrangement”, the late music icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, prophesied that the day of reckoning will eventually come for those who loot Nigeria’s treasury. With Ibori’s imprisonment, as he takes up new digs at Her Majesty’s pleasure, Fela has been proven right – which begs the question: What has become of Nigeria’s temple of justice?

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