June 12 And The Imperative Of History

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June 12 And The Imperative Of History
 

By

 

Segun Gbadegesin

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, June 22, 2005

 

In this piece I bring together three episodes relating to June 12 and its aftermath to make a general point about the imperative of history. The first episode occurred on October 22, 1995, when Chief Tony Anenih and Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu visited Washington, DC under the sponsorship of Shiller Institute but in reality on behalf of the Abacha military junta.

 

They met with the Nigerian community, including the pro-democracy movement. The two gentlemen were articulate in their defence of Abacha and his policies. The question of the continued incarceration of Abiola, Obasanjo, Yar 'Adua, Beko Kuti, and others was put to them.

 

They both defended Abacha. They were asked whether they thought that Obasanjo and others got a fair trial: Chief Ojukwu rejected the notion that Abacha was responsible for incarcerating of his political enemies without trial. He insisted that what General Obasanjo was going through was only a continuation of a policy that General Obasanjo initiated as head of state. In other words, according to Ojukwu, General Obasanjo started the policy of detention without trial and that it was a military regime anyway, in which the niceties of a fair trial are not bound to be observed.

 

Therefore, Obasanjo had no right to complain. Chief Anenih did not offer a contrary opinion, even when he had the opportunity to counter. He concurred in silence. On Abiola, Chief Anenih vehemently rejected the charge that he (Anenih) was a betrayer of trust, having been the chairman of Abiola's party. He insisted that Abiola did not seem to be serious about claiming his mandate until he visited South Africa and met Mandela as president.

 

The second episode was a radio broadcast. On March 30, 1997, Radio Kudirat, the voice of pro-democracy movement, aired a commentary in Yoruba by Alarape Ayegboyin. In the next three paragraphs, I want to share with readers an English translation of excerpts from that commentary.

 

"The military is the most dangerous culprit of the crime of undermining the principles of separation of powers in government. The first action of agents of any military coup d'etat is to decree the legislature out of existence and this paves the way for the junta to take over the legislature and the executive. Of course, it pays lip service to the sanctity of the judiciary, but that is only as long as it is happy with the rulings of the courts. In the matter of Abiola's detention, the court has ruled that the Abacha government must bring Abiola before the judge. Abacha ignored the ruling.

 

"Yet when a journalist from Washington Times asked Abacha about Abiola's fate, he never hesitated a second before saying that Abiola's fate was with the court. He did not tell the journalist that Abiola's fate was with him. We also know that Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Mr. Femi Falana made courageous efforts to enforce the court ruling only to be rebuffed by the Abacha government.

 

"That is the way of the military. It is certainly the way of Abacha. Imagine what happened this past week. We read in the papers that the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, Mohammed Lawal Uwais, has intervened in a matter that is capable of ridiculing the judiciary. His mission was to prevent the Abacha junta from quashing and trashing the judiciary.

 

"Justice Belgore had issued an order that General Bamaiyi must vacate the premises of two motor companies in Lagos. The General refused to comply with the judgment on the ground that he (Bamaiyi) did not agree with the judgment; therefore, he was not going to comply. In pursuit of his right as a judge, Justice Belgore wrote to the Chief Judge, complaining about Bamaiyi's flagrant disobedience of a court ruling. The Chief Judge himself approached those he thought were close to make Abacha appeal to Bamaiyi.

 

"Isn't it clear that our country is hopeless? A country where the executive branch can trash the judiciary at will is built on sand. Where judges cannot be sure that the public or the government will obey their judgment, we have the ingredients of anarchy. Bamaiyi used his position as a soldier to ignore the judgment that affected him. Numerous members of the military had done the same. This kind of attitude cannot assure innocent and civilised citizens to have confidence in our system of justice.

 

"This is because if judges have no independence, they cannot judge justly. We have numerous instances in this Abacha government. We can refer to what happened in the case of Ken Saro Wiwa and his Ogoni compatriots. We can refer to what happened in the case of Abiola, Obasanjo, Yar 'Adua, Beko Kuti, and others. They were all victims of an executive power trashing the judiciary and making itself an overbearing Leviathan".

 

Again, the last three paragraphs were excerpts from a commentary that was aired on Radio Kudirat on March 30, 1997. Finally, here comes the third episode. After his release from jail in 1998, General Obasanjo visited Washington, DC. The CSIS organised a forum for him to meet with the Washington community, including Nigerians.

 

Toward the end of the session, the charge of Ojukwu and Anenih that he (Obasanjo) started the policy of detention without trial was put to him and he was given the opportunity to defend himself. Though he denied the charge, members of the audience were not impressed as some gave names of those who suffered that fate under his administration, the most prominent of whom was Gani Fawehinmi.

 

Why have I gone into this archive of events in our recent past? What Obasanjo allegedly started as Head of State between 1975 and 1979 was visited on him between 1995 and 1999, a 20-year interval. So Chief Ojukwu said, with the silent concurrence of Chief Anenih. Our people say that a pounded yam that is 20 years old can still burn the fingers. Abacha's trashing of the judiciary between 1994 and 1999 to which the 1997 Radio Kudirat commentary referred had its antecedent or precedent in Obasanjo's first military administration. Now, Obasanjo's civilian administration is setting another inglorious example of trashing the judiciary, this time for subsequent civilian administrations to follow. There is no other way to understand his intransigence with regard to the withholding of the Lagos statutory allocation in spite of the Supreme Court ruling.

 

The example that is being set at the federal level is already being emulated at the state levels. Thus state governors are flagrantly disobeying the rulings of electoral tribunals when such rulings are against their party. Civilised people are expected to think that this can only happen in a military administration and they would be right, especially now that we appear to have a military administration with democratic pretensions. Our transition to a democratic administration has not really started and we have to live with this until we have an administration that is truly civil and truly democratic. When can that be? Your guess is as good as mine, with the present line-up of presidential candidates.

 

June 12, 1993 offered us the best chance for enduring democracy. It showed that Nigerians can be truly united and civil without coercion. It gave us the hope of a gentle nurturing of democratic norms. It gave the poor the hope of a blissful future. It promised a genuine democratic and truly federal republic. The forces of darkness in this country shattered that dream and killed the hope of lovers of freedom. We lost numerous patriotic citizens in the struggle, including the bearers of the hope and the initiators of the dream.

 

Yet none of the culprits has apologised for his or her involvement. None of them has paid for his or her crime. Instead they have been recipients of honours and awards and official tenants of state houses. They wield enormous power as party leaders and officers of the National Assembly. They are commissioners, ministers and advisers. Yet no one, including the president, who is the beneficiary of Abiola's supreme sacrifice, has been persuaded that Abiola deserves his due. Why would any reasonable person be surprised about the unfortunate experience of the past six years? It seems clear that Abacha is alive and well in the hearts and actions of those who sustained his evil regime.

 

However, one thing is certain. If history is anything to go by, the precedent that is being set now will also come back full circle and those who are now exercising brute power with impunity will have to bow to the judgment of almighty history, which always has the last laugh. Those who do not learn from history are surely bound to repeat it.

 

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Gbadegesin is professor of philosophy at Howard University, Washington, DC, United States.

 

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