|Join Nairaland / Login / Trending / Recent / New|
Stats: 1062381 members, 1234536 topics. Date: Thursday, 23 May 2013 at 04:54 AM
|Obasanjo Is A Political Robber – Soyinka by earTHMama: 7:41am On Jan 05, 2009|
Obasanjo is a political robber – Soyinka
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Professor Wole Soyinka is not a personality that any reporter tracks down at will for an interview, brief or extensive. He hardly spends a week in Nigeria though he keeps abreast of the country’s developments even as he trots the globe dispensing his literary knowledge. And when he ‘visits’ Nigeria, he comes in ready with reactions to various issues. So, what has become customary for the Nobel Laureate is a Soyinka press conference. Understandably too, the playwright is a very busy man.
But with persistent request, the silver-haired human rights activist accepted to carve out time from his tight schedule for the interview. It couldn’t hold on the scheduled day as another impromptu engagement took him to Abeokuta. When eventually in the second hour of waiting, communication was possible, Soyinka apologized profusely for not keeping the appointment. At a re-scheduled interview, the professor kept faith with the appointment.
Though he said he could spare only 30 minutes, Soyinka graciously fielded questions on various issues for over an hour. Expectedly, he threw grenades in several directions. As far as he is concerned, Nigeria is an exhibitionist nation, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a political robber who masterminded the greatest electoral robbery this nation has ever witnessed hence must be tried publicly.
Hear him: “Obasanjo inflicted a wound on democracy in this nation which will take years to heal… He was the most blatant rubbisher of the judiciary… he ruled outside the law… he is responsible for certain military excess… he encouraged police brutality…. He consecrated thugs, danced with thugs and praised known thugs. He handed over states to thugs. He must be put on public trial”.
For those who claim to be leaders, he has warned that the time for a change maybe shorter than they think. It sounds ominous but Prof Soyinka sure knows what he is saying: “To those leaders, all I can say is look very carefully around you; at the ordinary people – the masses in the street… look at the environment, their homes. Look into their eating possibilities. Look into their access to health… look into their eyes and read the sweat… look into the stress they undergo, They better understand that the breaking point may not be as far as they think. He had more to say.
You rejected a cash prize attached to the Nigerian National Merit Award you received recently. What is the implication of that action regarding the award?
Since I made the announcement that I would keep the certificate but return the cheque, I have been bombarded so much and you can’t imagine how much protests from a number of civil rights organisations, one NGO including my own colleagues within the Civic Forum, which I founded with Beko that I have received. So that situation is being re-thought and the principle will still be maintained because we want to say to them the likely group to receive the award.
The whole purpose was symbolic - let us assist the judiciary and the organisation which I have in mind actually that has a project - project of setting up a public tribunal. So, in a way, that will still be fulfilling the functions of the judiciary in assisting the judiciary in the public arena. It is quite likely that the Civic Forum will be the beneficiary of that prize and in any case, I think the president is too busy with other things like the Ribadu affair to attend to little things like assisting the Supreme Court.
What exactly do you mean by saying that the Supreme Court could not defend its integrity as an impeccable and an unbiased umpire?
I think you put some other words in my mouth. I have never used the expression unbiased or biased in my thesis on the Supreme Court decision so maybe, you are interpolating somebody else’s comment. However, the real hurt which this nation has suffered at the hands of the Supreme Court for its decision is this: There was an opportunity for a body considered to be impeccably objective to say to the nation, go back to school; go back and do your work. In other words, once an election is flawed and there is a supreme arbiter sitting in judgment, and it is flawed in such a fundamental way as to cast any doubt on the result of the election so long as evidence is laid before it, I believe that such a supreme arbiter has no choice but to say to the people, go back and re-do it. Go back and for once, fulfill the civic demands that this polity requires (I’m speaking as a layman now). We proved sometime as a nation that we can conduct and participate in elections peacefully and creditably. That was proved in 1993, so since then, we’ve been messing around like spoilt school children and it was an opportunity for this institution which is like a headmaster to say, you recalcitrant school children, take your spanking and go back and do your homework properly. Only the Supreme Court can really administer that shock. This nation needs a shock.
There were several other tribunals who from the evidence before them saw that regional elections, even local government were flawed and they said, go back and do it properly. Now, this is what this country needs and only the Supreme Court could administer that shock to let everybody know that if you go back and do it wrongly, you’ll come back and meet us here. Elections, especially at that level, must be so transparently fair and just that no kind of rationalization should be possible for accepting the unacceptable. This is my view to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in its decision sort of waffled here and there. It just trivialized what for me was a concept - crucial flaw in the election and there were so many crucial flaws hence my big disappointment.
You described the April 2007 elections as a sham. If you should score it over 100 per cent, what mark would you award it?
Minus 50, not even zero. I would have awarded it –50. It was an election that was polluted from the very top; from the machinery at the very top and where there were fair results as observed by both internal and international observers, it is because those candidates had to take what you might consider extrajudicial care. In other words, they really went all out. To use the phrase of one of the international observers who scored two states a pass, the only reason these results were accepted is that those people went out to defend their votes: It’s remarkable. Now, there are many ways you can defend your votes: by extra-vigilance or preparedness to go the whole length to ensure that the results are recorded and presented to the public as they were actually received.
So, there are two ways and the international observer said they went all out to defend their votes. In other words, efforts were made to subvert even the votes in those states, which they scored creditable pass. Now, the electorate should not have to do that. It should be sufficient for people to line up, vote in secret, have the result counted in the open and go home after the score sheets have been signed by party agents and to go home for their normal business without taking extra care. Any election, which requires such extra vigilance has already failed and that is why I score the election results not just a zero but minus.
Why do you believe that option A4 is the best electoral system for Nigeria
Because we saw it work. We saw it at work and it is amazing when something works in this nation, as the Americans say it, if it becomes broke, don’t mend it. Option A4 didn’t break. People were able to monitor one another. This is a method, which enables each voter to monitor his or her own votes and also to monitor the progress of the voting officer. Whether it is open or secret, you will know. You cast your vote in secret but everything is recorded and everybody sees you go into the booth. So it is a formula which I believe really suited the Nigerian electoral experience and so absolutely, there is no reason to discard it. To discard it, you’ve got to bring something which has a transparent improvement and you have to prove it to us otherwise, go ahead and mess around.
You support Yar’Adua’s call for the removal of immunity but you say that there should be some form of protection, how is this achievable
Absolutely, I support that but if a president doesn’t have immunity and is harassed right, left and center, he’s not going to perform his or her duties. But there are impeachable offences and the president cannot be protected from them. No way! The process is there for impeaching or removing the president. When I talk about a certain level of immunity for let’s say somebody in a presidential position, it is just to ensure that the right of access to the law is not abused and vexatious, frivolous, time wasting, and that distracting actions are not taken to stop the president doing his duty. I still remember for instance, the impeachment of Balarabe Musa for no perceptible offence simply because the rest of the people didn’t like his face. So, abuse is always possible even through judicial process as well as political processes. So, there has to be some element of protection to check that kind of vexation abuse of due process. That’s all.
You also said that President Yar’Adua is continuing Obasanjo’s undemocratic mentality. Was Obasanjo that bad? Would you sincerely say he was the worst thing that ever happened to Nigeria?
You are asking me to speak in hyperbole and I want to avoid it. I want to be as plain as possible. All I would say about Obasanjo (apart from that, I don’t really enjoy speaking it) is that he inflicted a wound on democracy in this nation, which will take years and years to heal. He was the most blatant rubbisher of the judiciary. He flouted judiciary decisions as if there was no consequence. He ruled outside the law. He is responsible for certain military excess during his reign. Remember Odi. Remember Zaki-Ibiam. He encouraged the police in their brutality towards the civil populace. It was under Obasanjo that civilians including women marching in solidarity with bereaved mothers to remember the plane crash victims were actually tear-gassed and batoned.
Beyond the grunt of, what a pity, this happened, we didn’t see any disciplining of the police with that outrageous act of abomination against freedom of movement. Colonial laws were used with impunity by the police even after the court had pronounced them to be totally non-viable and illegal. It was under Obasanjo that Anambra was sacked. The state organs and institutions were torched and burnt and the whole place handed over to thugs for over two days with the police doing absolutely nothing; innumerable anti-democratic even sordid acts. He consecrated thugs. He danced with thugs. He praised known thugs. He handed over states to thugs like Oyo State. I mean, where does one begin, where does one end? This is one of the reasons I say we must try this fellow. He must be put on public trial in order for people to know the extent of political trauma that he inflicted on the nation.
Now that there is no apparent move to probe that regime, what do you suggest?
This is what we are talking about. This is one of the projects of the Civic Forum: to put Obasajo on trial the same way Sani Abacha was put on trial in London by the opposition which invited jurists to actually preside over the case and present the case from the other side. We brought to London witnesses from Nigeria. Some came through NADECO, some came directly the same way as we had the trial for Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan for crimes against humanity in New York right opposite the United Nations building. These are symbolic trials but they are instructional trials. It’s a question of setting up a people’s court and letting witnesses come forward and give their testimonies and the other side be invited to respond to them. This nation desperately needs that kind of exercise. We’ve got to establish that tradition; that culture of public trial.
You called this same former President Obasanjo a chief robber. Don’t you think you were too harsh at that?
Political robber, I mean. He masterminded the greatest electoral robbery this nation has ever witnessed.
You said that President Yar’Adua is a president in limbo. What in your opinion should be done to wake him up?
No, no, I said he was. He was no longer a president in limbo once the Supreme Court has pronounced that he is the incumbent and once that is done, we all have to accept the fact that he is the president. Before then, I always said that the elections were not complete and all those who are still enjoying their positions in office, I consider them all, whether they are governors or chairmen or members of local governments or legislators and so on- as long as the final arbiter has not spoken of their elections, for me those elections are not complete. So, what applied to Yar’Adua apply also to them. But for now, the presidential elections are over as far as I’m concerned. This is the way I look at a process. Until that process reaches the very end, it is not over. So, the end is with all possible appeals. He is now comfortably seated and he now must be held more strictly to account for both his actions and inactions.
Some people were happy when 20 ministers were dropped at once because they said the federal cabinet was bogus but we’re seen the ministers come back and we have 41 of them sworn in so, are we making progress?
This country believes very much in ballooning. Everything has got to be larger than size one way or the other and unfortunately, size is not the same thing as proportion. Proportion is rational, logical; size is simply exhibitionist. This is a very exhibitionist nation and the exhibitionism sometimes has to do with political debts; political obligations which are not necessarily the best thing for the nation.
Was the cabinet reshuffle necessary in the first instance?
I never pronounce on things like that because it is the person who is the head of the cabinet that is the president or prime minister in some cases. That chief alone knows who he or she can work with. Let’s have a team that is capable so, was it necessary in the first place? I have no idea. Was the removal of certain individuals from their cabinet positions necessary? We’ll, we can’t go into that. All I need is your individual basis and certainly in my view, individuals should never have been moved from where they were because they were performing so creditably. They were being innovative and making an impression in the positions they held and already, some square pegs are being put in round holes in the reshuffle process so let’s wait and see. Maybe, there is something the president knows about the individuals that we do not know.
So put differently, can it be said that you are impressed with the new cabinet and the portfolios of the ministers?
Overall, I am not impressed by the attribution of portfolios to certain individuals.
How do you see the appointment of Prof. Akinyili as Minister of Information?
It is ridiculous. Why would she move from where she was before? Why transfer her to Ministry of Information? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Some people say that it is political positioning for a future political ambition but even if that should be, should this be the process to attain it?
Well, we are living in a country with mysteries including political mysteries. That’s all I can say. All I can tell you is that to remove Mrs. Akunyili from where she was before and put her in information, assign her information duties is an absurdity whatever the motive is. It is absurd.
What do you think will happen to the fake drugs war and all the sub-standard manufacturing that she fought so well now that she’s been removed and a replacement has not been named?
Well, we just wait and see whether President Yar’Adua had somebody in mind who he felt could deliver the goods even more robustly than Akunyili did. For all I think, most Nigerians are agreed that that will be quite a miracle because her achievements there are quite monumental. It will take some beating.
So much has been said about the Niger Delta struggle and a ministry has come up and a minister appointed but because of the multi ethnic nature of the region, maybe, a non-Niger Deltan should have been appointed minister. Who do you think should have best been the minister?
I’m not going to comment on the Niger Delta issue at this stage. I’m going to wait until after the meeting (the conference) which has been called for early January. I want to listen to the Deltans themselves more than me pronouncing on the situation there.
What do you make of the “bow and go” formula of the Senate president in screening political nominees?
Let’s leave that subject alone. Too many things make one not to know whether to laugh or to weep or just to shrug all shoulders and go one’s way. A very strange screening culture is being established in the Senate. Well, when you have people, many of them who are not really elected; who are just beneficiaries of a politically corrupt and murderous and violent system, what do you expect? They have no obligation to the genuine welfare of the people so one can say.
Ribadu is gone and Farida Waziri is there. Would you say Nigeria is winning the war on corruption?
Let me just say that it is a bad signal to the nation and to the world when someone who had proved so efficient in his duties is summarily removed and then his career is deliberately being rubbished before the eyes of the world. It is a very sad thing. There’s reality, there’s perception. In this case, we are confronted with both reality and perception and both indicate that the removal of Ribadu - the timing, the method, the cynical approach these are not calculated really for the ultimate attainment of what he was appointed to do in the first place. We’re witnessing a debasement of trust; a debasement of values as well as a debasement of the true civic worth of every Nigerian.
In Ribadu, we were being taught that this is what happened to anyone who exhibits his or duty with unusual zeal. All of us agreed that there were one or two excess in the approach of Ribadu to his work. I personally criticized him at his workshop in Abuja and those extra-ordinary tactics were abandoned. So, obviously, this is somebody also who listens to criticisms; who is able to analyse genuine criticisms and admit where maybe, a wrong step has been taken and then move unto new methods so what is the quarrel? What is the reason for his being removed and what constitutes the ongoing reasons for his mean and desperate prosecution? What is really behind it all? That is the Nigerian mystery for you.
The National Honours project is becoming more controversial by the day and rejections are following. First, it was Chinua Achebe and later Gani Fawehinmi. What do you make of the drama?
Well, it’s clear National Honours here is an embarrassment to the deserving. It’s a terrible thing to find yourself lumped together in certain company with clearly discredited individuals and I can understand why national honours are being rejected right left and centre. To speak personally, if you remember the circumstances of my own, I used the word, ambush. I was ambushed with it right at the airport but I went on to accept it simply because at that time, I was enjoying the honours of the entire world. I thought it would embarrass me enormously to have rejected it at the time and in any case, you noticed that I sent it back by courier.
Rejection is a legitimate weapon to be used. Certain individuals have to decide on their own but I really feel very sorry for those who had accepted national honours when it was still possible to do so when things had not really gone this bad and you find the same honours being given to people who are morally, professionally down in terms of achievement at the very opposite end of the scale to their own achievements and beliefs and principles. It must be very painful.
The Electoral Reform Committee has recommended the inclusion of independent candidates in further elections, what do you say to this development?
I think it is a good development. The party system has in so many instances been abused thoroughly and used in some cases as a weapon of violence and so there is nothing wrong with independence candidates anyway.
You are an academic and the education sector has degenerated so much in this country and our leaders are sending their children abroad; what has happened and how can the situation be redeemed?
I’m very glad that some universities realize that they are under threat and that the system is under threat and that their own immediate institutions are collapsing under them and have decided not to wait for government any longer and they are reaching out like American universities do to their alumni and seek help from them. I cite lfe as an example. I know there are others. I know Ife intimately simply because I’m right in there and I’ve participated in some of the fund raising efforts. I think these universities are beginning to understand that they have been sold down the drain deliberately by successive governments who hate the intellectual field; who hate thinkers; who consider them too independent, too radical, too arrogant; who see them as a threat to their own hegemonic conduct. So, the salvation of universities, I’m afraid lie in their hands but you are right, it is heart-breaking to see what has happened to some of our finest universities. It is heart breaking.
Having looked at the totality of the Nigerian life today, I want you to address the common citizenry of this country. What hope do you see? What frustration do you see as we get into the New Year?
Hm, hm, hm it’s not so much of the citizenry one should address as those who claim to lead them and to those leaders, all I can say is look very carefully around you. Look, very carefully at the very people you’re describing-the ordinary people; the masses in the street. Look very, very carefully. Look at the environment, their homes.
Look into their eating possibilities. Look into their access to health - the degradation of even basic medical delivery. Look into their eyes and read the sweats they struggle just to survive with their families day after day. Look into the level of stress that they undergo - the early deaths and make sure that those leaders look very carefully into their eyes and are able to read the catalogue of negativities that I’ve just touched briefly upon. They better understand that the breaking point may not be as far off as they think.
Sections: politics (1) business autos (1) jobs (1) career education (1) romance computers phones travel sports fashion health