Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue

Radio Kudirat Broadcast
January 1, 1999

Wole Soyinka
Nobel Prize Laureate
Emory University, Atlanta, U.S.A.

The year 1998 is not one that will be easily forgotten by most Nigerians. Depending on degrees of involvement with the events of the preceding years, every adult, and even a large proportion of juveniles, I am certain, has this year embossed on his or her mind with symbols of the hopes and despairs, traumas and triumphs, scars acquired from interrogating the meaning of existence within a nation such as ours. For some, the enduring image would be that of the parades of shame when adults - politicians, obas, obis, emirs, businessmen and women, and even some clergy - threw all dignity aside, and in an orgy of sycophancy, traipsed to Abuja to sing and dance and plead with a clearly demented dictator to bestride their necks for the rest of his natural life. Within the same category, others would claim it was the Year of YEAA - Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha, in reality, Youths Expire in the Abyss of Abasement. A few will fasten on the spectacle of the incinerated motorcade at the University of Ibadan, the arrogant status symbol of the Abacha contractor of Ibadan, Arisekola. There is however, also the sobering immolation of over eight hundred souls at Jesse, victims of governmental ineptitude and the paradox of resource and neglect. For the majority, I suspect, the image of 1998 is the conjured up image of an incontinent dictator expiring in the arms of prostitutes. One image which most of us will try to avoid, I am certain, is the death-mask of hope, the final moments of a President-Elect, Basorun Moshood Kasimawo Abiola .

For those who desperately seek an active image, something that can be built upon, an event to propel them, with a sense of purpose, into the future, there did take place a modest, yet remarkable event, one whose significance was perhaps smothered by the noise and furor of yet another attempt to take the nation back to civilian rule. Those who participated will therefore remember 1998 as the year when, for the first time since the amalgamation of two halves of the present nation in 1914, the nationalities that make up the Nigerian contrivance sent their representatives to Okota, a little suburb of its former capital, Lagos, to discuss the future of the nation of their own free will, ungoaded and unimpeded by any forces external or internal. They will recall the year 1998 as the first concrete step taken towards the convening of the now inevitable Sovereign National Conference on which the very survival of the Nigerian entity surely depends, however desperately, and no matter how long that logical proceeding is evaded, denigrated, and misrepresented.

The call for such a conference is not new; it reaches backwards into past dictatorships. It is true however that events since June 12 1993 have made this call even more clamorous, and unassailable, for the implicit denial of political equality to all the constituent parts of the nation, as clearly demonstrated by the annulment of that election, did unleash a chain of events that has affected every corner and every component part of Nigeria's nation entity. An interrogation of the very essence of nationhood has been inserted into daily consciousness, and it is an interrogation that will not be smothered. The advent of one megalomaniac, who swept aside all questions of nation existence by the simple process of arrogating the entire nation to himself, to his immediate family, and to a small circle of cronies, has of course further galvanised this thinking, inserting the possibility that maybe, just maybe one way to ensure that this aberration never again occurs, is to look into, and modify the very structures of nation being that made such a monstrosity possible. For if that unthinkable could happen once, and the internal arrangements of the nation are not drastically overhauled and rendered more equitable, then of course the temptations to repeat that phase of our history will remain with us, and we may wake up tomorrow to discover that a clone of what we now call an aberration has resurrected while we slept, or busied ourselves with the scramble for electoral power. Then commences, all over again, the doubly daunting task of mobilising and liberating ourselves.

Let no one take refuge in self-deception. This so-called aberration nearly put paid to the knowledge of ourselves as a free, independent minded people. We had nearly become a case to be written off, as outside nations pondered over this phenomenon of neo-enslavement and began surreptitiously to plan how to live with a perversion of governance, how to accommodate it, cut their losses and return to business as usual. The process of rationalisation had begun and was already swinging into full gear. After all, they reasoned, Nigeria was not Cambodia under Pol Pot, nor Uganda under Idi Amin. Among the apologists of Sani Abacha were intellectuals, professionals and technocrats whose voices were once associated with the cause of progress and even radicalism. And the masses of the nation appeared to have accepted their fate and withdrawn into the mundane preoccupations of daily survival.

It is important that we constantly recall the closeness of our enslavement. It took a while for the people to accept that, while they slept and dreamt, while they pursued the business of attempting to provide, against all economic odds, the material means of survival for themselves and their families, a huge pit had been dug underneath their feet into which they were being propelled, willy-nilly, by forces they could no longer comprehend. They had watched others - neighbours, colleagues, friends and relations - tumble into the darkness of that pit and vanish without a trace, never believing that it would be their turn. Now they woke up to the discovery that the pit had widened, that it had eroded the very foundations of their homes. There were no more hiding places. Nowhere was secure, and no one was immune. After the self-delusion that they could be saved by withdrawal, self-effacement and silence, they finally came to terms with that eternal warning. Remember, if they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night. And so, finally, they began to organise. Belatedly, they began to make sense of the outcries of those they had chosen to label spoilers, troublemakers, iconoclasts, malcontents, disgruntled elements and all the other dismissive epithets that merely serve as alibi for impotence, as camouflage for mental laziness and proneness to surrender to evil. Gradually the protestations and resistance of the Ogoni, the Civil Liberties Organisation, the CDHR, of CAN, of Student movements, the Campaign for Democracy, of NADECO, of NALICON, UDFN, the voices of courageous clergy, of isolated professionals, and most consistently of all - the embattled journalists - these resolute voices were swelled by new and unaccustomed newcomers to the barricades, the G18 then the G34 and others. The rout that was misnamed Local Government elections of December last year throughout the nation provided the testing-ground for this renewed popular resolve, inflicting a lasting humiliation on the confident tyrant and his cohorts - the YEAA cheer-leaders and their fictional Million-man assemblage, on the prostitutes of the political class who breakfast on their dignity before sauntering out of doors, not to forget the mendicant so-called royal fathers, those contract chasers whose thrones have been desecrated beyond redeeming and who must, surely, answer some day to the justice of the people they have betrayed.

Let us also give due place also to the roll-call of African leaders who betrayed us, who sold their souls and conscience to the demon of Abuja, who lied to defend Abacha's reign of terror at international gatherings and swore that they had yet to encounter a man of greater vision. Let us, in short, leave some space in our memory for all who sustained the machinery of terror, those who dismissed, distorted or trivialised the voices of the tortured, the bereaved, the violated and the pauperised, who took the side of brute power when they had a choice to champion the cause of humanity. The year 1998 has exposed them all. Every new revelation of the venality, the crimes against humanity that sustained the Abacha edifice is a millstone that sinks them deeper in that cesspit of history that will constitute their final resting-places.

Sani Abacha did not die on June 8, 1998. His end began from the moment when Nigerians finally came to a realisation, not only that he could, but that he must be stopped. Indeed, Abacha commenced his rendez-vous with an ignominious destiny even before he took over power; his imminent fate was recorded when, after the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections, he gave orders for his troops to open fire on unarmed demonstrators nation-wide, killing over a hundred and fifty in Lagos alone and nearly four hundred all over the nation. Abacha took over power in November of that same year and a few months later, marked himself down for death, in his own right, when he ordered the secret executions of some sixty-three officers and ranks at Lower Usman dam, on the mere allegation of expressing negative views of his dictatorship. It is now time, surely, that that mass grave be uncovered and the remains of the victims given a final voice in the reckoning of our recent history. Abacha moved on to affirm his impending demise when the trade unions, the students and politicians of conscience banded together to bring the nation to a halt for ten weeks in an effort to terminate his usurpation of power.

Sure, like the mythologised vampire, he appeared to obtain a new lease of existence, even potency. But he signed his own death warrant when he signed the orders to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni comrades after a mockery of judicial process, and in defiance of the conscience of the world. He watched his own death sequence each day that he watched the video of those hangings in the morbid sanctuary of Aso Rock, watched his own flesh being eaten by the very acid in which, on his orders, the bodies were dissolved. Abacha died each time his fears imprisoned him again and again, as he canceled nearly every single public engagement, usually at the last moment. Abacha died each day certain names within the opposition were mentioned within his hearing - mine among them, just to concede a tiny, personal footnote. We knew of this from intimate testimonies - he raved, ranted and went into apoplexies and died some more, for in those names he could only hear the annunciation of his imminent death. Abacha died each time his terrors led him to fabricate one coup against himself in order to rid himself of real and imagined opponents, he died even as Yar' Adua and numerous others expired in their dingy cells. He died every day he consulted his marabouts and was instructed in the measures he must take to ensure his longevity. He died as he followed those instructions to the letter, hugging and sacrificing on his prayer mat, hiding behind the wall of absence, refusing even to hold scheduled meetings with his own commanders, or honour his engagements with ambassadors and official visitors. He died within the terror of isolation that he was forced to keep, he died with the cows, rams, and other beings that were sacrificed by his marabouts to ensure his survival. Abacha's death was visibly accelerated when his self-perpetuation train, his Million-man march was countered by the defiant counter-rally in Lagos, despite all the attendant police brutality - the end, we knew, was near. He died some more at Ibadan Sports Stadium where his self-promotion rally was routed by progressive forces, and his obsequious servitors and promoters were forced to flee the wrath of the people. Let us, by the way, never forget the horrible crime committed by the goons of Arisekola Alao, the avowed enemy of the people, who later took out their frustrations on the innocent as they invaded an Ibadan hospital and gunned down the wounded, together with other patients and hospital staff. There can be no forgetting or forgiving until justice has taken its course, and the chain of impunity is permanently broken for unconscionable crimes such as these.

That massacre, alas, was only one of the many acts of the replenishment of the sump of blood that Abacha required, both symbolically and physically, to guarantee his survival and rejuvenate his existence. For he knew that he was a doomed man. Like the figure of Macbeth, he was so far steeped in blood that only a deeper immersion could provide him the illusion of respite, or survival.

It is necessary that we recall these various phases of progression in the death of a tyrant, so that our children are not taught to believe in fairy tales. We must not teach them to believe that, once upon a time there lived a tyrant who cheated, robbed, tortured and killed his people, but finally, thanks to divine intervention, was whisked away to meet his Maker. No, the true story is that once, there was a tyrant who successfully fooled some of the people some of the time, but never succeeded in fooling all of the people all the time. Yet even those whom he fooled eventually found out his true nature, and joined others in their revolt against his tyranny This process of revolt was never smooth, it recorded successes, losses, it underwent periods of despondency, even moods of surrender. Some profited by doing his bidding and singing his praises but others, consistently, despite enormous suffering and sacrifices, resisted his power, until, finally, bit by bit, they wore him down, and sent him to meet his Maker. That is the historic truth. If there was any divine intervention in this history, that is only as it should be, since the wisdom that has been imparted to us from childhood is: Heaven helps only those who help themselves.

1998. When all the events of this year are placed on the scales, however, I believe that we lost more than we gained. For the struggle for June 12 1993 was the struggle that informed 1994, 95, 96, 97 and 98, and we lost the symbol and the potential realisation of that struggle, the President-elect of the nation, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. It was a singularly cruel death. That four years of absence, of sadistic incarceration should end in a permanent absence and loss, is a fate that appears to mock our sense of justice or deserving. But yes, Moshood Abiola personified the cause, does this mean that, with his death, the cause has also been interred? Obviously not, and this, let no one be in doubt, this is why the nation is not yet at peace, will not be at peace until the issues that turned him into a sacrificial lamb, as they did his wife Kudirat, those issues that consumed Alfred Rewane, Shehu Yar' Adua, Bagauda Kaltho, the four Ogoni chiefs, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight companions, as well as numerous others, are brought to the surface, addressed and resolved. Those issues are direct and unambiguous: what sort of a nation should Nigeria be? How are its internal relationships to be ordered? How do we achieve that equitable pattern of the relationships of the parts to the whole that alone can guarantee its stability? When and how do we resolve the reality of marginalisation? How do we destroy hegemonic thinking and acting, and manipulating, and scheming? How do we destroy the hegemonic arrogance of a few before those few destroy the nation?

Those questions have been courageously tackled on various fora. They formed the basis of deliberations at the Round-table meeting that took place in London on August 29th and 30th 1998 by a widespread collection of democracy activists such as the Campaign for Democracy, MOSOP, Civil Liberties Organisation, the Eastern Mandate Union, Southern Minorities Organisation, NADECO, United Democratic Front of Nigeria etc. etc. The communiqué from that meeting was presented to the Head of the present ruling junta, who of course was free to utilise or reject its recommendations He has obviously made his choice. The goals of that meeting were further pursued at an enlarged meeting that took place in Lagos from December 17th to 19th, dubbed the Congress of Nigerian Nationalities. It was, in the view of independent observers, a focused meeting, unique in the history of Nigeria. It was the kind of meeting that should have taken place before our nations independence and, without a question, the issues that made that meeting inevitable constitute the inescapable agenda of the Nigerian nation for the immediate future. Let us not deceive ourselves, the question of restructuring the nation can no longer be evaded. The constitutive parts of that nation entity must now reconstitute themselves into an acceptable structure of collaboration, if there will be harmony and greatness. Those who choose to misunderstand and misrepresent the purposes of those meetings and the sincerity of the debates are creatures caught in the warp of time.

So much sweat and lather over power shift, a frankly bewildering distraction! Of course there are some background factors to this absorption with a power shift, but surely, everyone should recognise by now that power shift is simply an empty sop to the hard questions of society and national survival. Again and again, we are obliged to repeat: once the relations of the parts to one another and to the centre are consensually and equitably rearranged, once the arbitrary dictatorship and interference of the centre in areas of regional competence and developmental priorities is abrogated, it would not matter in the slightest what part of the nation produces the leadership at the top, or how frequently. In many societies, it is the leaders of local governments, the mayors or chairmen and women of local government councils who constitute the engines of development and social transformation. But those areas of competence and responsibility must be clearly defined and statutorily guaranteed. When the nations armed forces and security agencies genuinely reflect the plurality of the nationalities that make up the nation, we immediately eliminate the just fears of vulnerable sections from the ill motives of others. It then becomes secondary who is saddled with the grandiloquent titles of Head of State and Commander-in-Chief.

But we can no longer assume the good faith or good intentions in leadership. We need to have leadership circumscribed and bound by strict provisions of authority, consultation, and accountability. Beyond that, any region, state, city or hamlet should be free to seek power again and again, if such hunger for leadership supersedes all other productive ambitions. Now, what is the instrument for debating and entrenching these protocols of internal relations in a binding contract of association? We shall not weary of trumpeting the answer: a Sovereign National Conference! The just concluded Conference of Nationalities, earlier referred to, is a volunteered building block towards the edifice that must replace the present decertified structure. Let all would-be political leaders study its recommendations with objectivity and responsibility, and it may become possible for us to correct, once for all, the social distortions that have contributed, till today, in making a travesty of our nationhood.

And now, it is my duty to offer you, on behalf of the staff and contributors to Radio Kudirat, the ritualistic but sincere wishes for a Happier New Year than we have known hitherto, one that we hope will inaugurate an era purged definitively of dictatorship. I have something however - in the nature of a final food for thought - to leave with you, before Radio Kudirat goes off the air - together with this vanishing year - for its annual maintenance. This time, the maintenance period will be somewhat longer than usual, as it is a maintenance not only of technical equipment, but of human and other resources, and their replenishment. The tiny staff on whose shoulders transmission, production and research have rested day after day, almost without a break, also feel the need to recharge their batteries and renew physical contact with the social and political realities from which they were obliged to - beat a tactical retreat - during the present struggle! I am certain that you will join me in wishing them a Happy Reunion with all those that they left behind. But let no one take this tactical respite as abandonment. Radio Kudirat shall be back- stronger than ever.

So, finally, to that promised item, the food for thought for everyone, young and old, soldier and civilian, to chew over into 1999. It is contained in a speech delivered at the GAMJI Forum public lecture series on November 7, by the Secretary to the Federal Military government, Alhaji Idris Gidado. A speech by a top-ranking civil servant, the chief executive of government policies goes beyond the mere expression of a personal point of view, since anyone in such an exalted office is uniquely placed also in a position of consultation. He is called to advise and can influence, not merely implementation but government thinking and policy. He interacts with all branches of government, including the military and the police. Alhaji Gidado's statement must of course also be read against the background of Nigeria's recent history, the conclusion of which is still shrouded in mists of uncertainties and the enormous complexities of internal forces and political exigencies. I offer to the Nigerian people Alhaji Idris Gidados own words, without comment. I quote:

"Mankind needs government, but in areas and situations where anarchy has prevailed, or is being incited by ethnic chauvinists and demagogues, the people will first submit only to despotism and authoritarianism. Those who genuinely care about democracy, therefore seek first to preserve a
functioning government, even if despotic, and only when government has become habitual, can we hope to make it democratic."

Dear compatriots, with that - Gospel according to Gidado - I wish you all a Thoughtful, Deeply Reflective New Year.

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