On April 3, 2023, the Channels Television aired the interview it had with Dr. Yusuf-Datti Baba Ahmed, the Vice Presidential candidate of the Labour Party. While the politicians who hold Nigeria in political bondage seek treasonable charges against Peter Obi, the Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, in order to cripple his legal tussle to claim his stolen mandate, the Channels Television has been fined the sum of N5 million by the National Broadcasting Commission because during the interview Datti Ahmed said that swearing in Bola Tinubu as the president of Nigeria contrary to the constitution of Nigeria would put an end to Nigeria’s democracy. Mahmood Yakubu told the aggrieved to go to court. The aggrieved have gone to court. But it appears that the aggressor is not finding it easy in the court and so looks for a non-existent crime to act as an escape route. While the political mischief goes on, what has generated anger and bile on the social media is Prof. Wole Soyinka’s description of Datti’s statement as “fascistic language.”
Any Nigerian who claims he believes in Nigeria and loves Nigeria, who thinks he has any contribution to make for peace, unity and progress in Nigeria but decides that it is not yet time to make that contribution is a joker. Nigeria is collapsing and we are seeing it happening. It is collapsing because justice has been dethroned in the land and in its place we have enthroned injustice. It is collapsing because bad politicians have taken cover under the cloak of religion and tribe to divide us so much that even the mightiest of the mighty are beginning to play to their gallery. Nigeria is collapsing because the conscience of many who have what it takes to call stinking politicians to order have been tainted by falsehood and they can no longer face the reality, speak the truth and compel the devil to blush in shame. This is the time that we should do whatever is legitimate and possible to forestall the collapse of Nigeria. All of us have more to gain in a peaceful, united and progressive Nigeria than in a Nigeria that is eventually collapsed into some banana republics. I claim that I believe in Nigeria and love Nigeria.
For this reason I feel it is proper for me to put in writing what I think about the raging issue of fascism as a label on Datti’s statement. To start with, Prof. Wole Soyinka is our pride, the pride of Nigeria and the pride of the entire black race. He is the man whose literary genius won for him and for Nigeria a global acclaim as the first African winner of Nobel Prize for Literature. To the best of my knowledge, his position as the conscience of our nation is not and has never been in doubt until this matter of “fascistic language” popped up. As all of us know, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny” which is quoted by most of the people who criticize his referring to Datti’s language as being “fascistic” is taken from his book, “The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka.”
The book was written while he was in the prison during the Nigerian civil war because he spoke against the genocide that was being carried out against the Igbo. As a man who believes in truth and justice, a man who has always called a spade a spade and has suffered much for that, in the days of Sani Abacha, the only way he could save his life because he opposed Abacha’s dictatorship was by fleeing into exile. He did. While on exile a charge of treason punishable by death was put on him in absentia. As a young man he defended democracy to the point of bumping into the radio house and pointing a gun at the head a radio announcer to stop him from declaring a winner when an election process was still under heavy dispute. He is 88 years old today. No matter how much he has erred in this particular case, we must take his age and all that he has been doing for a better Nigeria into consideration. It is not an overstatement to say that Prof. Wole Soyinka has paid his dues as far as the struggle for a better Nigeria is concerned
As far as standing for truth and justice in Nigeria is concerned Soyinka is an oracle. Because of this, while everybody is entitled to his or her opinion, I beg to disagree with people who seem to be too hard on him over his use of the phrase “fascistic language.” This does not mean that I am comfortable with his application of that offending phrase, knowing the cause of Datti’s outburst as every honest Nigerian who saw what happened during the so-called 2023 elections will accept he knows. My opinion is that of all the criticisms of him I read on the social media, the one that I like most was written by Chief Malcolm Emokiniovo Omirhobo. For me Chief Malcolm gave a summary of the reasons a good number of Nigerians are not comfortable with tag of fascism. And he did that in a very cultured manner. Among other things Chief Malcolm said:
“I have painstakingly listened to Prof. Wole Soiyinka’s interviews on the Nigerian 2023 elections and I make bold to say that ‘The man dies in him who keeps silent when it matters most.’ I dare say that it is unfair and unholy of Prof. Wole Sonyinka to come out of the blue to apportion blames. Prof. kept silent when INEC deliberately refused to upload the presidential election results electronically. He kept silent when INEC breached the electoral Act and its own rules and regulations in the conduct of elections. He kept silent when Igbos and those suspected to be Igbos were being threatened by their Yoruba host. He was silent when the Oro rite was performed during elections throughout Lagos State to disenfranchise non natives and women. He was silent when Igbos and their look-alikes were being attacked by some Yorubas on election day. He kept silent when xenophobic and inflammatory statements were made on Igbos by Bayo Onanuga, Festus Keyamo, Femi Fani-Kayode and many others. He kept silent when APC was using the Nigerian police and other state operators to suppress Nigerians during elections. He kept silent when elections were massively rigged and democracy made a mess of. In all these if Prof had spoken a word or two it would have made a world of difference because his voice mattered then not his silence.”
I love the way Chief Malcolm has calmly expressed his own anger. I nurture the feeling that if Prof Soyinka reads this in his very quiet moment he will understand that something went wrong somewhere and then become sober. All these questions were asked based on who he is and what he is known for, a man who does not look the other way each time truth and justice are under attack; a man who has always raised his voice against the shenanigans of Nigeria’s political power-drunks; a man who is so principled in his approach to worrisome national issues that his voice is like a law; a man who is the nemesis of Nigeria’s election riggers and bad leaders.
More questions like the above can be raised without repeating what has been asked. Terrible things happened in Nigeria in the name of 2023 political elections. One thing I know for sure is that if the Oro rite which was performed publicly during the elections in Lagos State to disenfranchise non natives and women had taken place in a particular section of this country the Federal Government would have sent hundreds of military pythons to go and dance there and leave the place in carnage and desolation at the end of the dancing spree. Whether President Buhari, Mahmood Yakubu, APC and INEC accept it or not, the 2023 elections will go down in history as a show of shame and a catalogue of national disaster. The elections were bad in the extreme. The men who spearheaded that disaster must have forgotten that they were dealing with human beings.
Prof. Wole Soyinka’s voice would have doused the fire when it was raging because he is one of the outstanding Nigerians we hail as the conscience of the nation. Nigerians admire him with passion. They want to hear his voice each time Nigeria is at the periphery of the defining moment because he is one of the relatively few great men in Nigeria whose voices cannot be ignored. To substantiate this claim, I wish to make a brief review of the inestimable role he has been playing to save us from the political buccaneers who think that Nigeria is their personal property and so have reduced the rest of us to pawns in their political game of chess. Much of what I present in this review is the recollection of his very words. By the end of such a review it is hoped that we shall be in a better position to assess whether his description of Datti Ahmed’s statement as being fascistic is right or that it missed the mark.
To start with, as tyrannical as General Sani Abacha was as Nigeria’s military head of state, Prof. Wole Soyinka did not shy away from telling him some bitter truths. As stated earlier, he was compelled to go on exile in order to live to tell the story of Abacha’s lust for power, greed and ruthlessness. When Abacha died, June 8, 1998, he returned home. In his article, “A Year of Rapid Reverses”, the Nobel Laureate, revisited what we can call “The Last Days of Sani Abacha.”
His perception of the event of June 8, 1998 as he clearly stated in that article was that it was the culmination of a progression in death of the tyrant which started as far back as June 1993, when he ordered his troops to shoot to death hundreds of innocent Nigerians who protested against the criminal annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. From that day on, he said, Sani Abacha lived in the shadow of the infamous script written by dictators all over the world – that the only way to survive is to kill instead of being killed. In this way, every Nigerian who expressed any disagreement with his evil ways was given the bad name of security risk and was made to pay dearly for being branded so. This gave him the opportunity to kill as many people as he liked. But the more he killed was the more he was tormented by the ghost of those he killed so that at a stage he could hardly step out of the Aso Rock Villa which he had turned into a glorified prison yard. In the end, Abacha became a living example of the Shakespearean coward who dies many times before his death.
Prof. Soyinka continued, Abacha signed his own death warrant the day he signed the orders to hang Ken Saro Wiwa and his eight Ogoni compatriots in defiance of the conscience of the world. He died each time he could not get out of his Aso Rock glorified prison to attend public functions for fear that his life might be snuffed out of him. He died each time the fear for his life led him to fabricate one coup or the other against himself with the view of getting rid of his real and imagined enemies. He died each time he consulted his numerous marabouts in the hope of finding ways and means of perpetuating his life and dictatorship. Abacha’s death was not a sudden event that just came like a flash of light on June 8, 1998. His end was a gradual process which began from the moment when Nigerians finally came to a realization, not only that his morbid ambition to perpetuate himself as the country’s head of state could be stopped, but that he must be stopped. For fear that our children and the future generation might begin to think that the tyrant was able to fool every Nigerian and that he always had his way, Soyinka said:
“We must not teach them to believe that, once upon a time there lived a tyrant who cheated, robbed, tortured and killed his people, but finally, thanks to divine intervention, was whisked away to meet his Maker. No, the true story is that once, there was a tyrant who successfully fooled some of the people some of the time, but never succeeded in fooling all of the people all the time. Yet, even those whom he fooled eventually found out his true nature, and joined others in their revolt against his tyranny. This process of revolt was never smooth, it recorded success, losses, it underwent periods of despondency, even mood of surrender. Some profited by doing his bidding and singing his praises but others, consistently, despite enormous suffering and sacrifices, resisted his power, until finally, bit by bit, they wore him down, and sent him to meet his Maker. That is the historic truth. If there was any divine intervention in this history that is only as it should be, since the wisdom that has been imparted to us from childhood is: Heaven helps only those who help themselves.”
In the first part of my other write-up, “Where Do We Go From Here?” I said that the foundation of what has escalated to a full-fledged war in the name of political elections in the recent times was laid by the 2003 elections. The reader will recall that the terrible things that happened then gave rise to my book “This Madness Called Election 2003.” As at that time, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, also said that the so-called 2003 election was the worst in the history of Nigeria. In his very words, the 2003 elections “left the opposition reeling and international observers in awe at the sheer effrontery of it all. In terms of violence, it takes its place among the most bloody since independence. The scale and manner of ballot robbery, as revealed day after day, reveals a tightly centralized operation, not a sporadic series of electoral violations.” He continued: “When the arrogance of power, even where hidden, becomes institutionalized in politics to an extent that it glorifies, or even merely appears to glorify criminality, we recognize immediately the preliminary steps towards the enthronement of fascism.”
A Preamble: After the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had failed to register his party, the National Conscience Party (NCP), for the 2003 elections, the indefatigable Chief Gani Fawehinmi declared that Abel Guobadia who was then the Chairman of INEC, had broken the spinal cord of democracy in Nigeria. He was so shattered that according to Adegbenro Adebanjo and Dayo Aiyetan, the team of Tell magazine journalists that interviewed him, “At a point in the course of the interview, Gani broke down weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, to the embarrassment of the two Tell reporters conducting the interview. As he sobbed, slapping his head in lamentation, tears streamed down his face onto his cute blue shirt. It was for the reporters a unique moment, evoking empathy and confusion.”
The lamentation of the legal colossus and the voice of the voiceless called Gani Fawehinmi had nothing to do with himself as a person. Rather, it had everything to do with the people which the party he wanted the INEC to register represented. He sobbed, wept, lamented and then let tears flow freely from his eyes not because he was a poor man. He was not poor under any description. He had everything he needed to live a comfortable life. Yet, he was worried because people who consistently abused and subverted the constitution of the land in collaboration with their likes had their parties registered by the INEC while he was not allowed to register his own party. Gani cried because there is an unwritten law in Nigeria that is more powerful and more binding than the written law, which says that anybody who is good, who cares for good governance and has what it takes to restore the glory of Nigeria must not be given the chance to rule.
Gani cried because when most privileged Nigerians basked in their ability to use their position to make others suffer without a just cause, he chose to mourn for the misruled Nigerians, for our collective guilt, particularly that of our leaders and for the fate of the country which has been heedlessly heading for a fatal crash. He cried because INEC registered those who had perfected their plans to rig elections and remain in power to control our oil-money as they wish while he thought of the common man’s shattered hopes and dashed expectations. He thought of the unprecedented spate of insecurity of lives and property pervading the land. He thought of the ruthless religious bigotry, insensitive bloodletting, incessant assassinations, kidnappings and robberies that have combined to make life a monotony of misery for millions of Nigerians.
to be continued....