There is a new code of conduct many Nigerians now live by: it’s the conspiracy of silence that has enveloped the land. Nigeria’s vocal human rights activists, lawyers and other advocacy groups have suddenly grown silent in the face of serious dereliction of duty by government at all levels to protect lives and secure properties. Where are the social critics-cum-activists? Where are the human rights lawyers – the defenders of public good and the conscience of our country? They used to hold press conferences on the state of the nation to vent their anger on the establishment but have all lost their voices; they are now blind to the impunity and all the ills they once vigorously condemned in the past. A friend joked recently that they are on leave of absence from activism.
From the lawless Department of State Services (DSS or is it Daura Security Service), which now regularly invades state government houses, state Houses of Assembly of the opposition party, and even directly incites ethno-religious tension to the anti-graft busting agency which regularly flouts court orders, the human rights community, made up of lawyers and social critics appears to have now embraced what looks like a code of silence to the growing impunities in a supposed era of change. Even as Fulani herdsmen have now become a major national security issue – engaging in all sorts of criminal activities, viz, kidnapping, armed robbery, murder and maiming hundreds of people in a lawless orgy of violence. The herdsmen have simply stepped up their nefarious activities in what looks like an insidious desire to compete with Boko Haram in blood thirstiness in recent times.
In the face of all these unprovoked acts of violence, President Muhammadu Buhari, who had largely remained aloof, did not utter a word of condemnation about the activities of the herdsmen, or offer assurances of protection to the people, especially to those who voted 95 per cent for him, until just last week when he spoke through Lai Mohammed. That singular act is the height of utmost insensitivity, contempt and disdain for the victims of the herdsmen. Except for Femi Falana and Wole Soyinka who just recently spoke out against the activities of the herdsmen, no other activist has found his voice.
Imagine for a moment, if it were some elements of Ijaw people that perpetrated these dastardly acts under the immediate-past government, all hell would have broken loose with fake and insincere activists competing for media space to outdo each other, issuing threats and condemnation of the government’s inaction. Where are they now that the herdsmen have opened another front in terrorism? Where is our president – the man rebranded as the face of change?
This is the very same man Soyinka told Nigerians had changed; that he had been “chastened by intervening experience and a vastly transformed environment”. In all honesty, I was aghast by this particular claim, because the evidence all around us did not support the assertion. Yes, the environment around Buhari has greatly transformed, but the man himself has neither changed nor shown any inclination or desire to evolve with time and the environment – both the localised and the global. Except for the willfully blind, Buhari has remained impenetrable to change.
In this condensed redux statement endorsing Buhari in the run-up to the presidential election, the literary legend lamented that Nigeria under former President Goodluck Jonathan had been subjected to “acts of outright fascism in a dispensation that is supposedly democratic”.
He had argued then with persuasive vigour, that it was “pointlessly, and dangerously provocative to present General Buhari as something that he provably was not. It is however just as purblind to insist that he has not demonstrably striven to become what he most glaringly was not, to insist that he has not been chastened by intervening experience and – most critically – by a vastly transformed environment – both the localised and the global…I have studied him from a distance, questioned those who have closely interacted with him, including his former running mate, Pastor Bakare, and dissected his key utterances past and current.
“And my findings? A plausible transformation that comes close to that of another ex-military dictator, Mathew Kerekou of the Benin Republic. Despite such encouraging precedents however, I continue to insist that the bridge into any future expectation remains a sheer leap of faith. Such a leap I find impossible to concede to his close rival, since we are living in President Jonathan’s present, in an environment that his six years in office have created and now seek to consolidate. That is the frightening prospect. It requires more than a superhuman effort to concede to the present incumbent a springboard for a people’s critical leap.
“I address only those who require no further persuasion that the present is untenable and intolerable – and from virtually every aspect of national life. All men and women of discerning can separate actualities from their exaggerated rendition, can peel off the distracting gloss that is smeared all over our social condition by those who seek to blind us to an unjust and avoidable social predicament. We have tasted the condiments of an incipient police state. We recognise acts of outright fascism in a dispensation that is supposedly democratic. We have endured a season of stagnation in development and a drastic deterioration in the quality of existence. We are force-fed the burgeoning culture of impunity, blatantly manifested in massive corruption. We feel insulted by the courtship and indulgence of common criminals by the machinery of power. The list is endless but above it all, we understand when there is a failure of leadership, resulting in a near total collapse of society. We are now brought to a confrontation with choice, when we must make a leap of faith, to open up avenues of restoration.
“…Has the campaign in itself thrown up any portents for the future? Let all beware. The predator walks stealthily on padded feet, but we all know now with what lightning speed the claws flash into action. We have learnt to expect, deplore and confront certain acts in military dictatorship, but to find them manifested under supposedly democratic governance? Of course the tendency did not begin with this regime, but how eagerly the seeming meek have aspired to surpass their mentors!”
The more I read this statement to grasp the meaning of every word and sentence this fiery legend of our time penned before the election, the more I am tempted to believe it was written ahead of its time. The entire content, except for the aspect he mentioned corruption seems to be describing the present leadership and not the immediate-past administration which was essentially the focus of Soyinka’s awesome descriptive power of words.
Now, which key utterance of Buhari was Soyinka talking about that he listened and dissected? Was it Buhari’s statement to Lam Adesina, “Why are your people killing my people?” Was it the threat that “if what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God the dog and the baboon will be soaked in blood”? Or was it Buhari’s statement in 2013 when a state of emergency was declared in parts of the North-east in an attempt to contain Boko Haram that the “declaration of a state of emergency was an attack on the North and that while Boko Haram members were being killed and their houses demolished, Niger Delta militants were being given special treatment?” It is imperative that he makes public the key utterances of Buhari that convinced him he had changed, to earn his endorsement for the 2015 election. I am sure our revered professor missed those key statements because if they were part of his deep voyage of reflection, maybe, just maybe his findings would have been different. It could also be that Soyinka was deliberately misled by those he interacted with about Buhari which ultimately led him to an embarrassingly flawed conclusion.
But the truth here as I see it is that Soyinka knew that Buhari hadn’t changed one bit but was looking for a reason and justification to join the bandwagon. And he jumped on the weak premise that Buhari had undergone a “plausible transformation” when in fact, what was apparent was an improbable transformation. Put to a basic test, that premise of “plausible transformation” is unravelling like a pack of cards. And our revered professor may be cringing in private in consternation at how, if I may borrow and paraphrase his words, the predator has walked stealthily on padded feet, to fool nearly everybody that he had changed and the lightning speed the claws have flashed into action.
I refuse to believe that a man of Soyinka’s standing and experience in life would make such a seismic shift in position on the strength of the information gleaned from partisan third party sources. I am unconvinced that his endorsement had nothing to do with solidarity with his political friends’ pitch. Of truth people change but Soyinka provided the public no evidence that Buhari had changed as he himself had once demanded in 2007 from Buhari’s supporters when he wrote: “The grounds on which General Buhari is being promoted as the alternative choice are not only shaky, but pitifully naive. History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future.
Of course, we know that human beings change. What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances. Public offence, crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not in caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order.” It appears even Soyinka fell short of his own standard of rigorous inspection of the evidence that Buhari had changed.
Last August when it was becoming clear that the economy was headed for the abyss, our literary icon moved his love relationship with Buhari several notches up, pouring lavish praise on him by describing him as a “born again phenomenon”. He was however careful enough to add a caveat to it. But if one may ask, what impressed Soyinka so much then to be gushing out such praise on a man he admitted he only studied from a distance and whose first few months in office were characterised by indecision and poor handling of the economy?
Just as I was struggling to figure out what could have impressed our intellectual hero and wordsmith, I stumbled on a news report in the Vanguard Newspaper where he claimed the nation had made progress: “There is no doubt the country has made progress. We are not where we were before this new administration took over.” Which progress has Nigeria made in the last 11 months? Is it in the area of electricity generation and supply? Is it in the regular supply of fuel? Or is it in the aspect of managing the economy? Is it in building national cohesion? Is it in deepening democracy further with INEC now synonymous with inconclusive elections? Which progress has Nigeria made in the last 12 months? Oh, how could I have forgotten? We have made some progress in the area of fighting corruption even though it’s half-heartedly and selectively done.
Recall that just a few months after praising the president, Soyinka apparently alarmed by the state of the economy, called for an urgent economic summit to discuss the way forward. From the failing economy to the murderous reign of Fulani herdsmen, has reality finally dawned on those whose endorsement boosted and propelled Buhari to victory that he has not changed neither does he represent change?
The fundamental problem besetting our country, which is structural is clearly not part of this change that has been foisted on us. This is where leadership comes into play – which unfortunately has consistently failed the nation. It appears the understanding of change to many is simplistically based on personalities rather than serious issues of how we co-exist in this flawed federation. The truth here is: the structure of Nigeria as we have it now which has been tried and tested is not working. It is actually hindering the country’s development and march towards achieving its dreams. If it is not working, why not CHANGE it? That to me is the change we need and the change we believe.