Discounting The Electorate

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Discounting The Electorate

By

Wole Soyinka

wsoyinka@yahoo.com

Nobel Laureate Literature 1986

 

August 12, 2003

I was very recently, and most reluctantly drawn into a running battle of private correspondence with some shakers and movers in this government, stemming from a recent article by me regarding the aftermath of Bola Ige's murder. It has been a distasteful and totally unwanted imposition. A rather critical issue was involved in those exchanges, an issue of ongoing public interest. I intend to share that concern with you this morning.

Let me reassure our politicians rightaway that I would be the last person to suggest that they, in any way, discount the electorate, that is, do not reckon with them. The evidence to the contrary is simply overwhelming. Candidates stomp cities and villages. They canvass workers and farmers, teachers and students, royalty and commoner. When they promise heaven and earth, their words are addressed not to heaven and earth but to palpable human beings - the electorate. No one can doubt that the electorate is the politician's primary constituency. Those who are already convinced supporters need to be reinforced in their conviction. The waverers must be cajoled or bribed, and the die-hard antagonists bludgeoned into submission, harassed out of employment or, of course, abducted in play daylight. Even when a particular micro constituency is ignored, it is sentient beings of flesh and blood that are ignored, not phantoms. Thus, we dare not claim that the electorate is discounted. At least, not in the normal usage of that word.

Unless you have not been raised in this part of the world, you must be familiar with that specialised use: ah, ah, my friend, make you give me discount now. All God's creatures love a bargain and the culture of haggling is well and alive. Even when you've haggled down the price of a commodity to its bare bones, as you take out the money to pay, your cultural inclination comes to the fore. You pull back you hand, re-examine the goods as if you're seeing them for the first time and then: but even so, my friend, you no go give me discount?

And now to political discounting. Let me begin with a note of caution. I am frankly exhausted by a now predictable response to claims - no matter from what quarter - that the last elections were heavily discounted, both in that specialist and general sense. Some votes were simply discountenanced, some were counted and, I suppose, then uncounted, but since that word is rather difficult to legitimise, we have to settle for, discounted. The response to such complaints, indeed accusations, be the from local or from international observers, be they from successful or unsuccessful candidates tends to take the form of: 'I have absolute confidence in the integrity of the Chairman of INEC'. This is purely diversionary response and merely begs the question.

Take an organisation like Express Discount Limited. Suppose a crooked employee decants some your customer's earned discount into his own account, and the customer raises a squawk. The Chairman of the Board of Governors does not go around stating that he has absolute confidence in the Director, he orders the Director to go after the neck of the offender - that is, if he has not already done so. It is not the neck of INEC's chairman that is at issue - it is the neck of numerous malefactors within the organisation. The issue of confidence or lack of confidence in the Chairman is totally irrelevant. To take it to a personal level, the Chairman of INEC is not only a personal friend but a former classmate and schoolmate. When he was ambassador in the Far East he treated me to a sumptuous reception. I retain nothing but the deepest respect and affection for him. Despite all that, we have taken his organisation to court because it failed to discharge its public duties towards us and our proposed party. When I write to a public office with a legitimate enquiry, and that letter is registered as received, I expect the courtesy of a reply. It is the duty of that office and my right as a citizen. Neither my friendship not my respect for the Chairman comes into it. A lapse has taken place, my civic rights have been discounted, and reparations must be made.

How much more serious, the case of those individuals who have expended huge quantities of time and money and then, in some far flung place from the Chairman's command outpost, a lapse or a criminal act is complained off. The question of the Chairman's personal integrity cannot be waved as a talisman to deflect detractors from the path of restitution. Errors and inadequacies occur even in the most efficient organisations and in the best made master plans. Those lapses, even doubts, are not pointed out and hammered upon for the sake of hearing one's own voice, or in order to obtain some kind of relevance, but to seek redress. Even more important is the other purpose, which is to ensure that those errors are not repeated during the next exercise.

If perfection were guaranteed in the conduct of an election, tribunals established for a second opinion would not have been required. Personally, I am looking forward to the day when there would be no need for tribunals, when the electoral commission would, on its own, enquire into complaints and, wherever a vital infringement of the rules is discovered, cancel the results in those areas. Then, having finished with the more orderly and equitable scenes of voting, it would muster the full weight of its organisation, as well as that of other state agencies, saturate the problematic area and then conduct new elections. That, however, is a long way away, and our rights and duties as the electorate demand that we continue to insist that all is not well, that the patterns we have witnessed augur ill for the future of democracy in this nation. The response that we expect is not a reiteration of confidence in an individual or even a group of individuals.

Yes, we do know that it is in nature of losers to complain. The commonest expression for them is 'bad losers'. But then, it all depends on how narrowly or broadly we define the loser. Is it only the candidate that is the loser, is this limited to his family, his supporters, his backers and also - assuming there are any - his godfathers? It all depends on whether or not we believe that we all have a stake in democracy and the democratic process. If we do, then, whenever electoral justice comes undone, or we perceive it to be undone, we are all losers. If complaining means that we are bad losers, so be it. Kindly register me at the top of the list of bad losers. However, when the Unregistered Party of Insurrection raises its bloody head and mows down both good winners and bad losers before its momentum, let there be no complaint, for then, it will be your turn to be labelled extremely bad losers.

After all, in the heydays of the NPN, as that party perfected its plans to steamroll its way over all opposition, a party stalwart was heard to boast that there were only two parties in Nigeria - the NPN and the Military. The Military took note, and robbed that party of its 'well-deserved' victory, its landslide, moonslide, seaslide etc, victory, in the colourful words of one notorious commentator who would later surface as praise singer for Sanni Abacha, One bad loser went abroad after that single party election and began to belly-ache, even launching a newspaper to promote his cause. The Military Party responded by preparing a first-class passenger crate within whose interior he was duly installed and proceeded to bring him home to repeat his charges on home ground. Fortunately that effort was thwarted and the unwilling returnee lived not only to tell the tale but to re-enter the political lists yet again, and even take his complaints to the Oputa Commission for Human Rights. He forgot that during the police state that was unleashed by the NPN government, Human Rights were more observed in the violent breach than in the observance.

That commentator of the NPN was wrong however. There was another party, more amorphous and more unpredictable - this is the already mentioned PPI, the party of Popular insurrection. We all have a stake in ensuring that such a party which, our experience has proved, is just as anarchic as the military, does not come to power. The only way to ensure this is by a rigid adherence to equity in the conduct of elections, a readiness to admit the truth when a process has been found wanting. If such a lapse is denied, then of course - give all complainants the lie, turn us into bad losers and shut us up permanently. Can the Electoral Commission do this, given all accumulation of evidence to the contrary?

Long before the Tribunals began to make their pronouncements, many people in this nation already knew where and how things had gone wrong. A few days ago, a tribunal confirmed what we already knew - that a successful candidate, victorious at the polls and with an INEC certificate to prove it, had never stood for election at all! In that constituency, even the candidates of the ruling party had rigged one another out of victory, with the machinery of the Electoral Commission. The judges found - and I want you all to understand the implications of this - the judges found that the name of the man who paraded himself as the elected legislator was not the name of the man who was issued a certificate. In other words, the Party at local level had, on its own, decided that even though one of its members had indeed won the election, someone else should go and represent the Party in Abuja. What the judges found - let me reemphasise this - was that this legislator, who had now been sworn in, never even contested elections.

So you see, when we speak of electoral manipulation, we are not even necessarily pointing a finger at INEC. We are saying that even the Party - and maybe this happened also in other parties - even the parties were conducting their own internal rigging, and a post-election one at that! It is rather like what happens in examinations. You engage someone to go and sit your examinations, posing as you...At the end, you pay him off and you collect your certificate. In the case of these elections, the party nominated someone who, perhaps, would be far acceptable to the public than the intended representative. He campaigns, wins the election and then, we don't know what goes on behind the scene, but the name of someone else, maybe a political genius, maybe an absolute moron, is sent to the party headquarters and duly takes his place in the House. Now, some people may suggest that this is a fraudulent act but, no, I do not see it as such. I think it is simply a case of applying the principle of discounts.

Here is how it operates, and really, when you understand how, you will accept that it is all in the public interest. You all know that it costs a lot more - I mean in real cash - to secure the success of an unpopular candidate. An unpopular or simply unknown candidate, one without a track record, is a hard sell anywhere. It would cost a lot more in inducements - money, essential commodities, contracts and of course, violence.

Do recall that it is the public that bears the brunt of electoral costs, never mind the fund raising rallies that precede campaigns and the generous donations from known and unknown sources. When the contestant becomes the elected, his first duty is to pay back his backers. Never has this procedure been clarified so dramatically and unambiguously as in the recent saga of Anambra state. Sign a cheque for three billion Naira before you go further, and of course the elected governor obliges. Where does that three billion come from? Of course, from the public purse. Now, suppose Ngige had been a popular candidate, wouldn't his election have cost a lot less? From what we learn, it was not even he who won the election but his opponent. The case of Anambra therefore transcends an issue of abduction, kidnapping, civilian coup etc. etc.

No, the crime that was committed by the god father in that state was one of economic ineptitude, amounting almost to sabotage. He should have applied the strategy of Awka in the same state which was far more patriotic and frugal, much kinder on the public purse. By choosing a contestant on whom less money was spent, some saving was made, and you all know that the nation's economy is in a bad shape. Chris Uba should have followed the other example, picked a popular candidate, obtained an easy win, obtained an INEC certificate for him, then forwarded the name of the man of his choice to the Party headquarters.

On the other hand, it could just be that we are all practising different electoral systems. There are countries where it is not the individuals but the Parties that contest against one another. I think we should begin to consider that approach to our electoral problems. The parties contest and the seats are then apportioned to them in ratio to the number of votes they have gathered. Thus, let's say Party 'A' wins a 120 votes, Party 'B' 40 votes and 'C' 20 votes. 'A' would be awarded half of the available seats, 'B' one-third and'C' one-sixth. And if there is a problem over fractions, in other words, if that division lands us with fractions, that constitutes only a minor challenge to which there is a ready solution. As I reminded our audience when we celebrated Professor Akinkugbe's birthday last week in Ibadan, there is always the Nigerian solution. In other words, if, let us say, there are 39 seats to be shared out instead of a far more convenient 36. Party 'A' would have earned 19 and a half seats. Party 'B' would obtain 12 and one-third of a seat, while Party 'C' made do with six plus one-sixth of a seat. I am very glad to be able to answer the obvious question as to how they would physically share their seat in parliament. The Yoruba have a convenient expression for an interim government which is equally apt for this situation -f'idi he e!

If however there are physiological obstacles to three politician sharing one seat in the proportion of 3:2:1, we could simply opt for the more prosaic solution and make them occupy that seat in rotation: 'A' would take that seat for three days, 'B' for two and 'C' for one. You see, where there's a will, there is a solution.

OR is there? I am afraid that in the case of Nigeria, once you find a solution, you very often have trigger off new complications. Anyone who has followed the affair of Ngige and Anambra will have realised by now that the end-game for that beleaguered governor was not actually played out, owing to a number of fortuitous factors, unforeseen by his abductors. Going by the various commentaries on this episode, I am not alone in believing that Ngige, by the time we read about it, would have signed his last billion-naira cheque, presided over his very last cabinet and instead have joined the ranks of those who have been violently discounted from the living world. The signals are that stark, and my fear is that the perpetrators would have got away with it. Now why should anyone in this nation entertain such a fear? That question brings us to the second part of this address.

The answer to that question is that we live in a lawless nation. If anyone was in any doubt about it, the Ngige affair should have settled such doubts by now. I shall not come to the actual event of the murder of Bola Ige just yet. Suffice it to say that we live in a nation where the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice is assaulted in broad daylight, then his assailant is absorbed into the party that controls the very government he has been serving dutifully as Minister. However, his sponsors do not stop there. An event of earth-shaking proportions follows, an event that created ripples around the world, for the victim of that event" we come now to the actual murder" that victim once served on several international bodies and was most recently a member of the United Nations Judicial Commission, a position to which he had been sponsored by the very incumbent government of which he was Minister of Justice. His death brought messages of condolence, as well as mourners from every part of the world. The nation stood still in tribute to him and eulogies poured on his absence like torrential rain. So much for the passing of that individual.

Now, I wish to pause and return to the beginning. The second part of this address is the direct result of a private exchange of letters with some powerful individuals in government. There exist prickly individuals in this nation, some of them occupying quite exalted positions, who believe that every remark that implies a negative against a serving government is personally addressed to them. They have reached a stage of paranoia where they believe that if, today, one were to indict Nigeria as a refuge for 419 scam artists, they have been personally indicted as fraudsters in their very individual capacities. Take your mind back to the remark I made at the beginning" this is not an issue of declaring one's confidence in this or that individual or one's loss of faith in another's integrity. We are speaking of a collapse of a system, a collapse of values, a collapse of sensibilities, indeed a collective blunting of a sense of obligations not only to the living but to the memory of the dead. And once again, let me emphasise this, we are not even touching upon the question of guilt or innocence.

Why is it necessary to make such an obvious statement? Simply because there exist those to whom this is not so obvious. Since the publication of my article, Dancing on Ige's Grave, I have received some truly scabrous letters from these highly placed individuals, the contents of which, frankly, still churn my stomach even as I speak. Here is one sample. The letter urges me to desist from:

'...sensationalism triviality and playing to the public gallery over an issue that is extremely sensitive, serious and volatile. This attitude which you continue to manifest in respect of this matter and which was well reflected in your recently published article titled 'Dancing on Bola Ige's Grave' is, to say the least, most uncharitable and unfair....'

That is a mild sampling. I am accused f triviality and sensationalism. But there is worse. In that same letter, motivations, such as failure to obtain craved favours from the government, are actually attributed to my pronouncements over this and other issues I have touched on in recent times. Well, perhaps it was in order to stuff my mouth with favours that my daughter was recommended for and given the position of Special Assistant to this government, I do not know. In this connection, may I appeal to the media to desist from writing such untenable rubbish as 'Professor Soyinka also benefited from this policy etc. etc. through the appointment of his daughter.'

One moment please, does that journal know the meaning of 'benefited'? Is the implication here that I have been jobless and starving and would now be fed by my daughter? Or perhaps that I would now have access to the loftier circles of government? Does it bestow on me some further national or international accolade? Could it be that perhaps, at long last, I can secure any contract I want? Just what benefit is this supposed to be? I find such expressions either careless or mischievous, in any case totally mindless and presumptuous. Such commentary constitutes a gratuitous act of public disinformation or deliberate manipulation, and redounds negatively to the professional integrity of the journal. After 21, and even often before then, any offspring who has been given a solid basis in mental application has a responsibility to himself or herself and must never be inhibited by the already established path of a parent.

To return to the exchange of letters however, the letter writers in question simply do not understand a thing about what motivates individuals. They also underestimate one's sensibilities to the impact of certain forms of conduct both within this nation and outside - internally, there is the sense of an erosion of a sense of security, internationally, a contempt for the many missteps that have followed this tragedy. Permit me to lay out that last statement in the clearest terms.

I do not expect miracles in any quest to seek what truth lies behind a well-hatched conspiracy. We can only try, and be seen to try our hardest. Months ago, I had cause to remind the public, in a published interview, that a number of high-profile assassinations, even in nations with some of the most tested crime detection experience, have simply never been solved - the John F. Kennedy murder being one of the best known. Tomes have been written, numerous theories propagated. Witnesses disappeared, one accused was shot in full glare of television cameras as he was led from prison to court, and the murderer himself later died mysteriously.

Indeed, so many deaths followed that assassination that I sometimes felt that they should have treated Kennedy like one of those ancient potentates in some cultures who were buried with a number of slaves, retainers, even spouses, then the spate of bloodshed would have been satisfied once for all. Till today, a new theory arises, a few thousand books are sold, and yet again, there remain so many gaps, so many unresolved details, that there exists no unanimity about the truth of that assassination, who were behind it, how high up it went, what international connections were involved etc. etc. It is possible that ours may be no different, but we dare not give up.

What we can confidently discuss, what we are duty bound to comment upon, if we cherish any social values that make us decent beings and members of the human community, is any form of conduct that impinges on our search for the truth, and our respect for the memory of the slain. This makes a demand on the way that we respond to those who are involved, or accused of being involved in the crime, never mind what the ultimate outcome of the investigations or trial. That is the issue. That is the heart of the matter. It touches not only on ethical sensibilities but on the very real probabilities regarding zones of culpability. If any individual, an association or indeed any entity is seen to exert itself to an abnormal extent in providing even a semblance of immunity to the accused, mere curiosity impels us to wonder: what is the reason behind it?

These are abnormal times where events that no one would ever have contemplated 10 years ago are fast becoming commonplace. Before our skin becomes innured to abnormality, let us continue to ask questions and issue challenges to conscience. And, praise be, these questions are coming in fast and furious, they are unrelenting. They come from individuals right across the social spectrum - from clerics, students, businessmen and women, young and old, workers and farmers, trade unionists and journalists, in markets, hairdressing salons, in motor parks, in bars, hotel lobbies, in offices and sports fields" they are all asking this simple question that I posed in Dancing on Ige's Grave: what is so special about the accused that he is not only sprung from gaol, not only sworn into office as a member of the highest legislative body in the land, but even made a chairman of a prestigious Senate committee?

Wada Nas, as you may all surmise, is not my favourite character. He was not only the late Sani Abacha's mouthpiece, he was that dictator's self-appointed stalking horse, who made this present speaker his personal responsibility. Wada Nas was the man who announced to the world that I was holding a meeting in next door Benin Republic where we completed military plans to invade this country and overthrow the regime of Abacha. He was precise as to the date, time and venue of that meeting. As it happened, I was actually in wintry Davos, Switzerland, together with Heads of States, at least one European queen, industrial magnates, Microsoft billionaires, a Nobel laureate for peace etc. etc. One does not amass an alibi as well attested as that. The most dangerous person at that meeting was Yasser Arafat, and the most lethal weapon around was a purely defensive one - Vodka, a protection against the cold of the Swiss mountain, less cumbersome than a hot water bottle under one's coat. Yet I was supposed to be in the Republic of Benin with a batch of guerillas. No matter, that was Nada Was of the Abacha days. I reminded you of this history only so you would understand that when Nada Was and I find ourselves on the same side of the barricade, it is time to sit up and take notice. In an interview with TELL magazine, published only a few days ago for the week July 28, in which, quite deliberately I am sure, my own article Dancing on Ige's Grave was re-published, Wada Nas had the following to say, in answer to a question on implications of the bail granted to Omisore, and I quote extensively.

'It is a bizarre testimony. It is a mockery of our court system.

The judiciary is being ridiculed and our confidence is being shaken in the system. As far as we are concerned, Omisore is guiltier than Bamaiyi, Mustapha and the rest combined, and is the least qualified morally to make laws for Nigeria. Any law made with the input of Omisore would have the imprint of blood. We are more convinced than ever before that Omisore may have after all killed on behalf of the powers that be and he is adequately being rewarded by being shielded from the law and made a senator...'

That is the crux of the matter: the 'imprint of blood.' Wada Nas and I part company on the issue of innocence or guilt. Not yet proven, that is my position. What Wada Nas says however, namely, that Omisore, at this point in his career, is 'least qualified morally to make laws for Nigeria' cannot be faulted. This is the truth, and we have a right to ask, and we shall continue to insist on a satisfactory answer that does not insult common intelligence: 'why is he being rewarded'? What or who is the compelling force behind this anomalous conduct of 'being rewarded' or indeed, 'being shielded'? If we persist in our question, if we succeed in penetrating their inner caucus of the ruling party, we may have found the answers to the larger question that is agitating all our minds.

Even if Omisore has no criminal case to answer, the PDP does have a moral case to answer. And that moral question will persist until it has the courage to do to this suspect what that body did to yet another senator during the last government" Senator Nzeribe who was suspended for a far lesser crime, one of inappropriate conduct. No one is witch-hunting the PDP, let me make that clear. As a matter of fact, I clearly envy the PDP - who would not love to be in the party whose initials actualise the goal of political contest" Party De Power. So we are only out to sanitise this party that is so nationally beloved that it sweeps the polls even where it has no candidates. And in this instance, we insist that the presence of Omisore in the hallowed halls of the Senate is an embarrassment to that party, to all notions of equitable dealing, and to the nation.

WADA Nas and all campaigners for the release of Bamaiyi and others are quite right, but they are woefully wrong in their strategy for obtaining bail for the accused. What they should do is as follows: get Bamaiyi to enrol in Party De Power. It would not matter what the official party leaders say or what they believe in. There are obviously forces within the same party that blithely contradict and overrule them, powerful forces which permit no minor thing like common decency to restrain them. In any case, we all know that party membership cards can be obtained even more easily than a voter's card. You'll see. These movers and shakers will personally deliver mint fresh membership cards to Bamaiyi and company. Next item, elections. There will be no need to wait for bye-elections. Two or three incumbents, either of a senatorial seat or even of a governor's lodge will simply have a change of heart and decide that they are not cut out for politics. Resignation letters will be presented, even videotaped affirmation of the resignation letters. The party will nominate their new members as sole candidates" needless to say, even without leaving prison, they will defeat the combined forces of APGA, AD, ANPP, JP etc. Naturally, they win.

Long before then of course, responding to an acute shortage of accommodation in Kirikiri, you ensure that all accused are placed in the same cell with their accusers, the prosecution witnesses. In fact, there is a sudden shortage of beds, so Al Mustapha shares the same bed with Sergeant Barnabas Jabilia alias Sergeant Rogers, while Bamaiyi dosses down with Alhaji Sofolahan. Now do remember that Sergeant Rogers is a born-again Christian, so what is more natural that he undergoes yet another conversion. He sees true light, discovers that everything he has ever uttered against his bosses was a lie, recants and asks for forgiveness on his knees.

Now of course, overcrowding in prison has more than one set of consequences. One of them is that you contract all kinds of diseases and so, coupled with the excitement of having won elections without stirring from their cells, Bamaiyi falls down in a dead faint. Al Mustapha has an epileptic fit, Sergeant Rogers has an attack of whooping cough while Alhaji Sofolahan develops an uncontrollable itch. Alarmed, their lawyer dashes to the courts for bail on health grounds and" that's it!" all are out on bail in time to be sworn into office, and everybody lives happily ever after.

Well, Wada Nas, there it is, in a nutshell. Always follow tried and tested routine. If something works the first time, it will work again and again until the opposition finds a way round that particular methodology. But it will work, I promise. Nigerians, I have had cause to remark in places, love to provoke Fate by what appears to be a habit of calling down ill luck on their own heads. 'If only Nigeria would undergo a major calamity', I have heard people say, usually in moments of helplessness, 'then perhaps we would discover a quick route to our salvation'. Prod them further and they refer to floods, as in the case of India, or earthquakes as in Japan, volcanoes as in Mexico or mud landslides as in some Latin American countries. Just a dose of such calamities, once in a while, then perhaps our respect for order and concern would be much higher, and Nigeria would be a moral example to the rest of the world.' Perhaps such people are also thinking of the flood wake-up call that appeared to have played a role in the ending of years of civil war in Mozambique.

The sum of reflection behind it all is that Nigeria is far too fortunate, being largely exempt from these destructive aspects of nature. Beyond the occasional tremor, there is no real convulsion of the earth. The rainy season, even at its heaviest does no real damage - apart from fraying the tempers of road users, and ensuring the seizure of traffic sometime for upwards of 18 hours. Except in some Northern parts, there is no extreme of climate, just wet season and dry, somewhat colder in the higher areas - like the Jos plateau. And of course there are no volcanoes, neither the history of one nor a suspect geological formation that might portend a hidden pot of lava waiting to boil over any time soon.

What such voices try to convey is simply that it is a lack of such major challenges that has contributed to our flabby moral muscles, to our habit of succumbing to the line of least resistance when faced with decisions that require the exertion of a moral will, the tendency to insist on a discount where a moral price must be paid, even where that price is no more than a temporary inconvenience. We are fast becoming a nation built on moral discounts, and it is this last, it appears, that has largely contributed to a questionable national character.

Ironically, we more than make up for this lack of nature's rigorous testing by man-made disasters, each of which becomes an index toward the determination of a national character. While questionable as a fixed value, I must insist that the expression 'national character' is not always misplaced, but it is a shifting one, quite malleable and capable of transformation. Its positive face can be seen in the manifestation of a survivalist will that follows an affliction, such as an epidemic or a civil war, a stubborn sense of community, an enterprising drive that transcends even the inefficiency or management failures of government. Its negatives are revealed in an ethical abandonment that trickles down from leadership, leading to the decay of social values and responsibility, and an embrace of the predatory ethic. Similarly, a national psyche can be said to exist. That psyche can be bruised by wars, debasement or environment, rendered insensitive by prolonged social neglect, repression and brutalisation. Yet it can be tended back to health through the transformation of environment, through governance by a genuine, popular involvement, and the restoration of the sense of human scale to policies and ventures.

Nigeria, I often feel, is yet an inchoate entity whose 'national character' is at a critical stage of formation, but with a national psyche already ravaged from civil war, religious and ethnic strife, and a pattern of conduct that panders to evil, encourages the cult of impunity and glorifies even potential criminality. It is the failure at critical times, of the national character that bruises the collective psyche and may lead to an irreparable psychotic condition, manifesting itself in all acts of social anomie, a breakdown of law, norm, and discipline.

Everyone has his or her watermark, the moment of an act or lack of it that defines and deforms a nation. For some, it might be the judicial murders of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight companions. For others, that defining moment was the murder of a woman, the wife of an elected president, Kudirat, in the streets of Lagos. For others, it was the murder of that elected president in goal. I somberly state mine; that moment for me was not even when Bola Ige was murdered, but the ensuing moment that his accused killer, still under trial, took his seat in the Senate House and was sworn into office. Wada Nas and I are uttering precisely the same sentiment, we have merely chosen our individual ways to express it.

Is ours a nation that treats morality as only another commodity that can be bargained for, and purchased at a discount? Let no one think that this is a passive question, or that morality is an indeterminate value that has no impact on real life. Anyone who imagines that a discernible pattern of conduct, endorsing the doctrine of impunity, as manifested in Ige's tragic event, is not directly related to the ongoing saga of Anambra that has brought this nation to ridicule, that event, that which some at first deemed a purely intra-party affair, should have a second think.

In the judgement just delivered by a judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and the immediate response of the earlier abducted governor in defiance of that decision, we are witnessing the beginning of full scale anomie, the clash of the judiciary and the executive, not unprecedented admittedly, but one whose antecedence of organised thuggery and criminality by officers of the law, empowered to keep order and peace, has made it a watershed experience in the history of this nation. I repeat: the fallout is yet unimaginable.

Let me end with a very simple illustration, one that is based on our most visible activity even on the streets - buying and selling. What happens in the market is most illustrative of our predicament. In the market or indeed on the streets, it is the norm to haggle over the price of a commodity. You beat down the first pronouncement and you continue to beat it down. There comes a point however when the salesman or woman turns and looks at you, gives you a prolonged hiss and tells you where your mother or father was raised.

The alternative scenario is this: there is a particular brand of that very commodity that you wish to purchase. When the bargaining goes beyond decent limits, the salesman quietly takes it from your hand, returns it to the shelves or the basket and picks up another brand, size or shape of the same item. Here, he says quietly, very gently, even sympathetically. There is no aggression. Look, I think you might prefer this. I can let you have it for the price you have just named. That is it. It is then up to you to return to the original brand that you truly want, possibly even need, or make do with a heavily discounted but cheap version of the same item, guaranteed to self-destruct, disintegrate before you have reached home with your prized possession. The choice is always yours.

The price of ethical rigour is not to be discounted, no, not when the consequences can extend to more than the principles. We shall watch and wait. Those who insist that we should be satisfied with a discounted ethic must know that they are consecrating a nation that is already so heavily discounted in the estimation of the world that any further damage to its psyche has placed it on the path of self-destruct.

A final word to my letter writers. You say that if I do know who were the brains behind the murder of Bola Ige, I should help the police with my information. As it happens, I never did say that I knew who the brains were, only where they are located, and for the avoidance of all doubt, I repeat that charge yet again" they form a highly placed, extremely ruthless cabal within the ruling party. That is what I claim, with every fibre of conviction. Much has happened since that claim however, and today, I shall go even further. We are gradually becoming even more assured of the identity of the master mind. We do not proceed rashly however, and since we are naturally apprehensive of the contrary use to which any premature information can be put, we shall leave the courts to complete their task. After all, we do have the advantage of some bitter but instructive experience from the past. We learnt a lot from the murder of Dele Giwa for which, if you recall, an organisation with which I am associated repeatedly advertised a modest sum for information that would lead to the unravelling of his murder. We followed this up with a mission of tracking down a vital witness, whom, I shall reveal today, was so terrified for his life that he fled to Italy and has only returned to this country once. I tried to bring him to testify before the Oputa Commission but did not succeed. He expressed fears for the new family that he has since acquired.

Whatever knowledge is unearthed, I ensure that it is shared among close, dependable political associates, just in case of 'accidents'. We have commenced, with all the resources at our disposal, and within our human capabilities, the task of bringing this individual, and any associates yet to be uncovered, to book. Our guiding principle is a simple one: Justice, must not be discounted.

 

August 2003

 

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