Quit Today, Even Now


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Quit Today, Even Now




Wole Soyinka

Nobel Laureate Literature 1986

Friday, January 20, 2006


Gentlemen of the Press,

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 again.

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 mouth.

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 constitutionalism.

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 debased.

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 office?
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 touch.

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 administration.

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 dictator.
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 together.

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!


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