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The Many Crimes of Buhari – By Wole Soyinka

June 26, 2013

The grounds on which General Buhari is
promoted as the alternative choice are
not only
shaky, but pitifully naive. History
matters. Records
are not kept simply to assist the
weakness of
memory, but to operate as guides to the
future. Of
course, we know that human beings
change. What
the claims of personality change or
impose on us is a rigorous inspection of
evidence, not wishful speculation or
scenes assurances. Public offence,
crimes against a
polity, must be answered in the public
space, not in
caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we
have been
offered no evidence of the sheerest
prospect of
change. On the contrary, all evident
suggests that
this is one individual who remains
convinced that
this is one ex-ruler that the nation
cannot call to
Buhari � need one remind anyone – was
one of the
generals who treated a Commission of
Enquiry, the
Oputa Panel, with unconcealed disdain.
Babangida and Abdusalami, he refused
to put in
appearance even though complaints
that were
tabled against him involved a career of
abuses of power and blatant assault on
fundamental human rights of the
Nigerian citizenry.
Prominent against these charges was an
act that
amounted to nothing less than judicial
murder, the
execution of a citizen under a retroactive
Does Decree 20 ring a bell? If not, then,
the names of three youths – Lawal
Ojuolape (30),
Bernard Ogedengbe (29) and
Bartholomew Owoh
(26) do. To put it quite plainly, one of
those three
Ogedengbe – was executed for a crime
that did not
carry a capital forfeit at the time it was
This was an unconscionable crime,
carried out in
defiance of the pleas and protests of
nearly every
sector of the Nigerian and international
religious, civil rights, political, trade
unions etc.
Buhari and his sidekick and his partner-
Tunde Idiagbon persisted in this
inhuman act for
one reason and one reason only: to place
on notice that they were now under an
inflexible rule, under governance by fear.
The execution of that youthful innocent
for so he
was, since the punishment did not exist
at the time
of commission – was nothing short of
murder, for which the perpetrators
should normally
stand trial upon their loss of immunity.
Are we truly
expected to forget this violation of our
to security as provided under existing
laws? And
even if our sensibilities have become
blunted by
succeeding seasons of cruelty and
brutality, if
power itself had so coarsened the
sensibilities also
of rulers and corrupted their judgment,
should one rightly expect after they
have been
rescued from the snare of power. At the
very least,
a revaluation, leading hopefully to
remorse, and its
expression to a wronged society. At the
very least,
such a revaluation should engender
silence. In the case of Buhari, it was the
Since leaving office he has declared in
the most
categorical terms that he had no regrets
over this
murder and would do so again.
Human life is inviolate. The right to life is
uniquely fundamental right on which all
rights are based. The crime that General
committed against the entire nation
went further
however, inconceivable as it might first
That crime is one of the most profound
negations of
civic being. Not content with hammering
down the
freedom of expression in general terms,
specifically forbade all public discussion
of a return
to civilian, democratic rule. Let us
applaud our media those battle scarred
professionals did not completely knuckle
They resorted to cartoons and oblique,
references to sustain the people’s
campaign for a
time-table to democratic rule. Overt
agitation for a
democratic time table however remained
suppressed military dictatorship, and a
incorporated in Buhari and Idiagbon was
here to
stay. To deprive a people of volition in
their own
political direction is to turn a nation into
a colony of
slaves. Buhari enslaved the nation. He
gloated and
gloried in a master-slave relation to the
millions of
its inhabitants. It is astonishing to find
that the
same former slaves, now free of their
chains, should
clamour to be ruled by one who not only
their nation into a slave plantation, but
them any discussion of their condition.
So Tai Solarin is already forgotten? Tai
who stood at
street corners, fearlessly distributing
leaflets that
took up the gauntlet where the media
had dropped
it. Tai who was incarcerated by that
regime and
denied even the medication for his
condition? Tai did not ask to be sent for
overseas; all he asked was his traditional
that had proved so effective after years
of struggle
with asthma!
Nor must we omit the manner of Buhari
coming to
power and the pattern of his corrective
Shagari’s NPN had already run out of
steam and
was near universally detested except of
course by
the handful that still benefited from that
regime of
profligacy and rabid fascism.
Responsibility for the
national condition lay squarely at the
door of the
ruling party, obviously, but against
whom was
Buharis coup staged? Judging by the
conduct of
that regime, it was not against Shagaris
government but against the opposition.
The head of
government, on whom primary
responsibility lay,
was Shehu Shagari. Yet that individual
was kept in
cozy house detention in Ikoyi while his
deputy, Alex Ekwueme, was locked up in
prisons. Such was the Buhari notion of
apportionment of guilt and/or
And then the cascade of escapes of the
wanted, and
culpable politicians. Manhunts across the
and breadth of the nation, roadblocks
and borders tight as steel zip locks. Lo
and behold,
the chairman of the party, Chief
Akinloye, strolled
out coolly across the border. Richard
Legal Protector of the ruling party,
slipped out with
equal ease. The Rice Minister, Umaru
Dikko, who
declared that Nigerians were yet to eat
dustbins – escaped through the same
dragnet. The clumsy attempt to crate
him home
was punishment for his ingratitude,
since he went
berserk when, after waiting in vain, he
that the coup had not been staged, after
all, for the
immediate consolidation of the party of
right-wing vultures, but for the military
The case of the overbearing Secretary-
General of
the party, Uba Ahmed, was even more
noxious. Uba
Ahmed was out of the country at the
time. Despite
the closure of the Nigerian airspace, he
the pilot of his plane to demand special
permission, since his passenger load
included the
almighty Uba Ahmed. Of course, he had
not known
of the change in his status since he was
The delighted airport commandant,
realizing that
he had a much valued fish swimming
willingly into a
waiting net, approved the request. Uba
disembarked into the arms of a military
guard and
was promptly clamped in detention.
Incredibly, he
vanished a few days after and
reappeared in safety
overseas. Those whose memories have
calcified should explore the media
coverage of that
saga. Buhari was asked to explain the
vanished act
of this much prized quarry and his
response was
one of the most arrogant levity. Coming
from one
who had shot his way into power on the
slogan of
displine, it was nothing short of
Shall we revisit the tragicomic series of
trials that
landed several politicians several
lifetimes in
prison? Recall, if you please, the judicial
undergone by the septuagenarian Chief
Ajasin. He was arraigned and tried
before Buhari’s
punitive tribunal but acquitted.
Dissatisfied, Buhari
ordered his re-trial. Again, the Tribunal
could not
find this man guilty of a single crime, so
once again
he was returned for trial, only to be
acquitted of all
charges of corruption or abuse of office.
Was Chief
Ajasin thereby released? No! He was
detained indefinitely, simply for the
crime of
winning an election and refusing to
knuckle under
Shagari’s reign of terror.
The conduct of the Buhari regime after
his coup
was not merely one of double, triple,
standards but a cynical travesty of
justice. Audu
Ogbeh, currently chairman of the Action
was one of the few figures of rectitude
within the
NPN. Just as he has done in recent times
with the
PDP, he played the role of an internal
critic and
reformer, warning, dissenting, and
setting an
example of probity within his ministry.
For that
crime he spent months in unjust
Guilty by association? Well, if that was
motivating yardstick of the
administration of the
Buhari justice, then it was most
selectively applied.
The utmost severity of the Buhari-
Idiagbon justice
was especially reserved either for the
opposition in
general, or for those within the ruling
party who
had showed the sheerest sense of
responsibility and
Shall I remind this nation of Buhari’s
humiliating treatment of the Emir of
Kano and the
Oni of Ife over their visit to the state of
Israel? I
hold no brief for traditional rulers and
relationship with governments, but insist
regarding them as entitled to all the
privileges and responsibilities of any
citizen. This royal duo went to Israel on
private steam and private business.
Simply because
the Buhari regime was pursuing some
foreign policy towards Israel, a policy of
these traditional rulers were not a part,
they were
subjected on their return to a treatment
that could
only be described as a head masterly
of errant pupils. Since when, may one
ask, did a
free citizen of the Nigerian nation require
permission of a head of state to visit a
nation that was willing to offer that
tourist a visa.?
One is only too aware that some
Nigerians love to
point to Buhari’s agenda of discipline as
the shining
jewel in his scrap-iron crown. To
discipline however, one must lead by
obeying laws set down as guides to
public probity.
Example speaks louder than
declarations, and
rulers cannot exempt themselves from
disciplinary strictures imposed on the
overall polity,
especially on any issue that seeks to
establish a
policy for public well-being. The story of
the thirty
something suitcases it would appear
that they were
even closer to fifty – found unavoidable
mention in
my recent memoirs, YOU MUST SET
DOWN, written long before Buhari
became spoken
of as a credible candidate. For the
exercise of a
changeover of the national currency, the
borders air, sea and land had been shut
Nothing was supposed to move in or out,
not even
cattle egrets.
Yet a prominent camel was allowed
through that
needles eye. Not only did Buhari
dispatch his aide-
de-camp, Jokolo later to become an emir
– to
facilitate the entry of those cases, he
ordered the
redeployment as I later discovered – of
the Customs
Officer who stood firmly against the
entry of the
contravening baggage. That officer, the
Vice-president is now a rival candidate to
but has somehow, in the meantime,
earned a
reputation that totally contradicts his
conduct at
the time. Wherever the truth lies, it does
redound to the credibility of the dictator
of that
time, General Buhari whose word was
law, but
whose allegiances were clearly
On the theme of double, triple, multiple
in the enforcement of the law, and
indeed of the
decrees passed by the Buhari regime at
the time,
let us recall the notorious case of Triple A
Alhaji Alhaji, then Permanent Secretary
in the
Ministry of Finance. Who was caught,
literally, with
his pants down in distant Austria. That
was not the
crime however, and private conduct
should always
remain restricted to the domain of
private censure.
There was no decree against civil
servants proving
just as hormone driven as anyone else,
outside the nation’s borders. However,
there was a
clear decree against the keeping of
accounts, and this was what emerged
from the
Austrian escapade. Alhaji Alhaji kept, not
one, but
several undeclared foreign accounts, and
he had no
business being in possession of the large
amount of
foreign currency of which he was robbed
by his
overnight companion. The media
screamed for an
even application of the law, but Buhari
had turned
suddenly deaf.
By contrast, Fela Anikulapo languished
in goal for
years, sentenced under that very
decree. His crime was being in
possession of
foreign exchange that he had
legitimately received
for the immediate upkeep of his band as
they set off
for an international engagement. A
vicious sentence
was slapped down on Fela by a judge
who later
became so remorse stricken at least
after Buhari’s
overthrow that he went to the King of
Afro-beat and
Lesser known was the traumatic
experience of the
director of an international
communication agency,
an affiliate of UNESCO. Akin Fatoyinbo
arrived at
the airport in complete ignorance of the
currency decree. He was thrown in gaol
especially brutal condition, an
experience from
which he never fully recovered. It took
months of high-level intervention before
innocent man was eventually freed.
These were not
exceptional but mere sample cases from
hundreds of others, victims of a decree
that was
selectively applied, a decree that
penalized innocents and ruined the
careers and
businesses of many.
What else? What does one choose to
include or
leave out? What precisely was Ebenezer
Babatope’s crime that he should have
spent the
entire tenure of General Buhari in
Nothing beyond the fact that he once
warned in the
media that Buhari was an ambitious
soldier who
would bear watching through the lenses
of a coup-
detat. Babatope’s father died while he
was in
Buhari’s custody, the dictator remained
deaf to
every plea that he be at least released to
attend his
father’s funeral, even under guard. I
wrote an
article at the time, denouncing this
insensitivity. So little to demand by a
man who was
never accused of, nor tried for any crime,
much less
found guilty. Such a load of
vindictiveness that
smothered all traces of basic human
deserves no further comment in a nation
values its traditions.
But then, speaking the truth was not
what Buhari,
as a self-imposed leader, was especially
of enquire of Tunde Thompson and
Nduka Irabor
both of whom, faithful to their
journalistic calling,
published nothing but the truth, yet
ended up
sentenced under Buhari’s decree. Mind
you, no one
can say that Buhari was not true to his
word. shall
tamper with the freedom of the press
swore the
dictator immediately on grabbing office,
and this
was exactly what he did. And so on, and
on, and on.


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