Quit Today, Even Now
Nobel Laureate Literature 1986
Friday, January 20, 2006
This is one of the gravest encounters I have ever requested with you.
I would like to make yet again that demand which, to some of you, may have
become a boring preamble to these sessions, but I must make it
Let me simply add that perhaps, at no time as ever before in our numerous
exchanges, has this request taken on a more critical
importance: I demand that you report my words with the greatest sense of
accuracy and responsibility. It is only out of this same sense of
responsibility towards our nation, and our people that I have summoned this
meeting. Do not misquote me. Do not put words in my
Within that context, I shall immediately start by denying a statement attributed
to me in a report of the brief press encounter that followed the opening event
of the Development Policy Centre Workshop on Corruption in Ibadan this last
Monday, the 17th.
That statement claimed that, regarding the on-going Oyo crisis, I demanded that
the President of the nation, Olusegun Obasanjo, should speak up. I could not
have made such a demand, and the reason is quite simple: I am not deaf.
President Olusegun Obasanjo has already spoken. He has spoken loud and clear
over the Oyo crisis, and all that is left is for the people to respond. Actions
speak louder than words that's common wisdom. And for those who try to suggest
that there has been no overt action by the president before, during, and after
the Oyo State crisis, I can only respond that there are times when inaction,
speaks even louder than both action and words.
Inaction becomes eloquent when it involves a deliberate avoidance of duty, a
failure, in the case of any citizen in a responsible position, to take
preventive action to head off anarchy and disaster. Inaction becomes even
criminal where such an individual, by virtue of his or her special position, is
saddled with that very special responsibility.
However, it would be pure self-deception to propose that Obasanjo's conduct lies
in inaction, in a failure to arrest the state of anomie into which Oyo State is
now plunged. He has been an active, propulsive and unabashedly partisan
participant in the formulation of that crisis, so the burden of guilt that rests
on the presidential shoulders is not simply one of failing to act, but of
instigating, stoking and guaranteeing the state of chaos.
This is no time to beat around the bush. The presidential hand in this affair is
blatant. Obasanjo has openly endorsed violence as a means of governance,
embraced and empowered individuals whose avowed declarations, confessions and
acts are cynically contrary to the democratic mandate, that alone upholds the
legitimacy and dignity of his office. Let me repeat this: The contempt of
President Obasanjo for the demands for a democratic self-realisation by the
electorate is no longer in doubt and can be proved., chapter and verse from
Anambra to Oyo.
For Nigerians who may be somewhat befuddled by the legal issues involved in the
impeachment saga of Oyo State, let another layman provides an illustration. You
all know that legislators constantly travel out of this country for various
causes some purposeful and productive, others purely opportunistic jamboree.
Well, imagine that twelve out of twenty legislators take off to attend a trade
exhibition abroad. Any rich individual can even offer to underwrite their
expenses if the stakes are high enough the goal is simply to ensure their
absence for the execution of some political conspiracy. Well then, in their
absence, the remaining colleagues impeach their governor, claiming that they
have a two-thirds majority among the sitting members.
This, in the simplest terms, is the constitutional issue at stake.
This is why certain safeguards have been implanted within such procedures to
ensure that the elected representatives of the polity do not act frivolously,
mischievously or, at least, ensure that they do not have an easy time doing
so. If `suspension by caucus' this time, believe me, the next proceeding will be
absenteeism through deception. We are moving towards a total mockery of
First with Anambra, and now with Oyo State, the president has crossed the line
of political toleration. You failed in Anambra, but you felt you had learnt
certain lessons in the use of state coercion. Hence the armed takeover of
Bayelsa's state radio by federal might during the Bayelsa impeachment saga, an
illegal and unnecessary act that merely pandered to presidential ego and lust
for domination. You felt that you had been too subtle in Anambra in the use of
the police poor Ige was a mere fall guy and so, in Oyo, you decided to go
the brutal distance with what overt state power can do. If you succeed in Oyo,
the nation will be at your feet. The nation? No, the state maybe, but not the
nation. And even less likely, the people. Do not be fooled by appearances.
The authorship of the on-going illegalities and abuse of the Nigerian
Constitution in Oyo State this being only the latest of such manipulations
lies squarely within the presidency. There are only two relevant questions: Has
the police, by its actions, not flagrantly set itself above and against the
judiciary, whose decisions it is lawfully bound to enforce? And the second
question follows from this: Who gives the Inspector-General his orders? The
finger points in only one direction President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo's
misuse of the police to enforce his private political vendettas has become a
notorious governance perfidy that screams for remedial action.
I am no acquaintance or partisan of Governor Ladoja. The intra-party politics of
any political organisation is none of the business of non-members of the party.
They became the business of one and all however, indeed, a life-and-death issue,
when the protocols that bind us together as a nation are flouted, mocked and
Those protocols are not articles of convenience, to be cited as guiding
authority when convenient, then discarded at will whenever they prove an
obstacle to misgovernance. Obasanjo has mangled the constitution and turned its
polluted pulp into a weapon of offence against the rights and legitimate
expectations of the people. We are confronted by a mind that has gone awry, a
mind that is subject to no order except that of the crudest, most despotic
notions of dominance in a primitive society. Nigeria is not a primitive, or
private fiefdom. It is governed by law. The respectful `Baba' accolade has
turned to be yet another Baabuism, mimics the culture of the `dons', literally
actualised by Obasanjo as that of a Mafia godfather whose hand you either bow
and kiss, or receive the kiss of death.
Let me ask this of our president: Are you proud of what you have unleashed? When
the chairman of your political party insults the Nigerian people by referring to
a state as a garrison, and instructs elected representatives to obey orders, do
you voice any disapproval? And was Chairman Ali's pronouncement merely the
arrogant advance notice of the well-laid conspiracy to destabilise that state?
Did you watch, by any chance, yesterday's NTA news at 9p.m. Wednesday, January
18? Did you watch the raucous debate on the Oyo State imbroglio? Is this what
you planned? Is this what you wanted? Is this the crowning glory of the politics
of your second term in office? The perennial battle of conscience and
corruption, played out in seamy corridors of power.
Till today, we have yet to sort out the origin of seventy million Naira bribes
offered to legislators in the House of Representatives, with a hundred million
promised to senators for promotion of the scramble for Third Term agenda. These
accusations are in the public domain, outlined with details of place and time
and we await in vain the probing of this and other signal contradictions of
high-profile exposures with their commendable punishments for corrupt acts. Have
you publicly denounced the givers? Have you let loose the agencies of
investigation on them?
The EFCC especially? These are not faceless saboteurs of the political will is
their purported act criminal, or is it not? Why is there such deafening silence
from the man who would have benefited from these corrupt practices? Are the
moves over, or is there still a constitutional joker to come?
I met former President Arap Moi a few years before his `retirement' from office.
At that time, he was still in that now painfully familiar phase when the
incumbent cannot imagine life after power.
We met at his request, and I ensured that I was accompanied by a Nigerian, who
was then working for a UN Agency I was afraid that the civilian dictator might
later use our encounter as some kind of photo-op for boosting his then ongoing
last-ditch intrigues to cling on to power. When our conversation offered the
desired opening, I said to him, Mr president, what are your plans after you quit
He was taken aback and mumbled something about returning to his village and
doing some farming etc. etc.
Good, I said, I shall come and visit you. The final and lasting service African
leaders can provide future generations is just a manner of departure that would
make it possible for one to visit them in retirement and drink from their wisdom
and experience. Arap Moi appeared to relax, brightened up somewhat at the idea,
and assured me I would be most welcome and we parted, promising to keep in
I was never an acquaintance of Arap Moi, but the nation knows very well that I
can claim some kind of friendly relations albeit quirky-based on mutual though
critical respect. I thus feel that, in your case, Mr President, I may claim a
sense of personal commitment to your well being.
In your heart of hearts, you cannot deny evidence of this. And my urging today
is the same as that offered to Arap Moi: Leave quietly, peacefully, take your
quite considerable successes in governance with you. Make it possible for us to
call on you in retirement as a respected elder statesman. Do not leave the
nation with such lacerating memories, with such a bad taste in the mouth that
the people dismiss even your successes as mere accidents, as flashes in the pan
or the work of others. Leave now, pleading governance exhaustion, age, betrayal,
resentment at the ingratitude of the governed, anything at all but leave. Leave
today, right now.
If you do wish to serve out your term, however, which is predictable, then you
must begin a reversal of unconstitutional acts. You must begin by obeying the
decisions of the courts to the letter. No hedging, no trimming, no renewed
delaying tactics just obey them, and get on with the positives of your
Anything less will be unacceptable. It is time to remind the Nigerian people
that in the mad days of Sani Abacha, a march on Aso Rock was actually planned.
Those who were in the know can attest as to why that march was eventually
aborted. You will recalled that the strategy was mapped out at Mayflower School,
Ikenne, even as the Mobile Police surrounded the assembly hall, fully armed and
kilted, noisy, restless and menacing, awaiting orders.
At that point, Abacha had not yet reached the absolute height of impunity, and
there was indecision at the top. Heaven alone knows what the result would have
been if the likely orders had been given and carried out, but they were not.
After that conference, pressure was mounted on us to abandon the march on the
grounds that too many innocents would be needlessly, slaughtered by a demented
Why do I nurse that feeling in my stomach that, under this regime, those order
would be given, and they would be carried out with a sickening brutality? Well,
perhaps it is time to put it to the test.
The instrument for the removal of a sitting president, is, however, laid
out-impeachment. If this presidential conduct persists, we have an obligation to
call on our legislatures to rescue that instrument of constitutional remedy from
current debasement and apply it to the author of our present predicament. And so
I urge the nation to commence plans for an orderly convergence on our elected
representatives from all parts of the nation to compel them to act.
We know that the instruments for coercion are in the hands of one man, whose
rationality we now have every cause to question, but the
present presidential rampage must be stopped. If anyone has more effective
ideas, we would gladly consider them, and would most contentedly follow any
lead, as long as such a lead takes into consideration the daily consolidation of
anti-people power by one who is now convinced of his divine immunity and
blatantly tramples on the conditions of association that hold this nation
A campaign of civil disobedience is an another option it remains a legitimate
instrument of resistance against governance by illegalities.
We must exhort the Nigerian Bar Association, the civil rights movements but
especially the NLC you have made a good beginning, but do not let us down. Do
not back down, or the consequences of any recourse to extreme, uncoordinated
responses will be on your head.
You are best placed to undertake for the containment of this rampaging bull-oh,
what jokes history plays on us! Was this not the same individual who, during
Babangida's discreditable ploys to cling to power used words to the following
effect: "When you see a mad bull in a China shop, you must find ways of leading
it out gently so as to avoid destroying the contents of the shop" words to
that effect, by Olusegun Obasanjo.
Our situation today is identical, and the question I ask the NLC is simply this:
Can you accept the responsibility of leading this bull, through peaceful mass
action, out of the china shop that is called Nigeria? It is not the
responsibility of the Labour movement alone, however, but that of all the civil
rights movements, the professionals, student organizations, the clergy of every
faith, women movements
indeed of every citizen who cherishes decency and
justice in governance.
We know what risks we run, and when people ask us sometimes, - why do you not
rest? At your age, why do you continue to confront these ogres? Well, the answer
to that is obvious. If another old man of seventy can muster the energy to
conspire against a nation, there should be enough old men of seventy to say No?
So, desist, I urge, so we can all go into peaceful retirement.
Retire, so I can visit you in your farm and resume our days of both harmless and
pungent controversies over pounded yam and egusi. But your conduct robs me of
sleep, deprives me of my planned retirement, encroaches on my normal
preoccupations, plays havoc on my concentration within my own field but most of
all desecrates all I have ever believed in, fought for all my life, including
those years when you had one foot at the very edge of the grave.
In the name of that very God whom you thank for yanking you back from the abyss,
I implore you Go! Go while it is still possible to forgive you for robbing us
all of our earned retirement. Go! Go Just go!