|Prof Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel Laurette|
When I say that the phenomenon has a very long history, I am talking about
a movement that relies on religion as a fuel for their operation, as a fuel for mobilisation, as the impetus, an augmentation of any other legitimate or illegitimate grievance that they might have against society. Because of that fuel, that irrational, very combustible fuel of religion of a particular strain, of a particular irredentist strain; because of the nature of that religious adherence, which involves the very lethal dimension of brain-washing from childhood, all a man needs to be told is that this is a religious cause. All they need to be told is that this is an enemy of religion and they are ready to kill. No matter the motivations, no mater the extra-motivations of those who send them out, they need only one motivation: that they are fighting the cause of that religion.
People wonder, sometimes, if they are fighting the cause of religion, why are they also killing fellow religionists? It is very important for us to understand that they have a very narrow view of even their faith. Anyone outside that narrow confine, narrow definition (in this case, we are talking about Islam), is already an infidel, an unbeliever, a hypocrite, an enemy of God (they use all these multifarious descriptions) and therefore is fit for elimination. If they believe that this environment contains any non-believer in their very narrow strain of Islam, that person or that very area is due for sanitation. And if there are those who also believe, who are confined within the very narrow limit of their arbitrary religion, any chance that there are such people, they consider them matyrs, who will be received in the bosom of Allah, with double credits as having been killed accidentally.
What I am saying is not any theorising; it is not any speculation. Examine this particular strain of Islam from Afghanistan, through Iran to Somalia to Mauritania. We are speaking in fact of a deviant arm of Islam, whose first line of enemies, in fact, are those who I call the orthodox Muslims with whom we move, interact, inter-marry, professional colleagues and so on. They don’t consider them true Muslims.
So the seeming paradox is explained in that. And this mind is bred right from infancy. We are talking about the madrasas, we are talking about the almajiris. They have only one line of command: their Mullah. If the Mullah says go, they go; come, they come; kill, they kill; beg, they beg. They don’t believe in leaving their narrow religion, which teaches them that they have to be catered for either by their immediate superior as an authority or by the community or sometimes an extension of that by the town. When they go out to beg, they believe that this mission of begging is divinely ordered and it is the responsibility of the person from whom they are begging to give them alms.
They sit before their Mullah or their Emir or their chief or whatever and memorise the Qu’ran. Their entire circumscription or mental formation is to be able to recite the Qu’ran from the beginning to the end. Outside of that, there is no educational horizon. So, I want us to distinguish very carefully. If you don’t distinguish, if you don’t narrow these things down to the specifics, we are likely to be misunderstood, as people like me have been misunderstood, because I have been against fundamentalism all my life, of any religion, whether it’s Christianity, Orisha worship, Buddhism, Hinduism or whatever. Any kind of extreme in faith that makes you feel that you are divinely authorised to be the executioner of your deity or that there is only one view of the world, or that only one view exists, for me, is pernicious and it is anti-human. That is why I am making this preliminary explanation.
The second elaboration I want to make is that I have never liked the expression, “the core North”. We are talking about North because the North is very much identified with Islam. And for one reason, there is no core South. I don’t know about the core East, I don’t know about the core West. So why that expression? For me it is too general, too loose and it confuses the dramatis personae of our political life.
I, however, identify hard-core northerners, as in hard core pornography. There exist hardcore northerners. They may be in the minority, but they believe that they are divinely endowed to run any society.
They are hardcore Northerners, whether you are talking about Sheikh Gumi and others. For a character like Sheikh Gumi, politics fuses with religion. A man who said Christianity is nothing, who said a Christian would rule this nation over his dead body. So, we have hardcore northerners, hardcore northern Islamists like the late Sheik Gumi. Among those that I describe as the hardcore northerners, (note I didn’t say Islamists), are people like Sani Ahmed Yerima, the former Zamfara State governor, who is now a legislator. There are hardcore northern Islamists. Why do I use Yerima? Because in him, you also encounter the fusion of a credo in Northernism and at the same time in Islamism. So you can see somebody like him as an opportunist. And I say this, you know, because he himself admitted to some of our people in NALICON during the immediate post-Abacha era, when he was asked why he decided to turn Zamfara into a theocratic state in a secular dispensation. He said, and I dare him to deny it, that it was the only weapon he had to snatch power. He said the PDP machinery was so strong that he needed something which would appeal to raw emotions, to mobilise and get the governorship.
If, periodically, I refer to this individual, it is because he represents to me, the opportunistic face of Islamism. And, of course, he had to deliver after he became governor. He is not the only one. I distinguish between him and Gumi because Gumi never sought political power. He was just a raw believer in raw Northernism and Islam. The two tributaries fuse in a personality like that.
In the case of Mr. Yerima and a number of others, Islam is just an instrument. I don’t consider them genuine Muslims. For them, however, they are willing to go the full length of Islam because it pays them politically. Having said that, I do not say for a moment that he is responsible for Boko Haram or that he has any hand in it. But I say that his school of thought and his school of opportunism is responsible for the birth of a movement like Boko Haram.
Now let’s get to the specifics. And I dare anybody to contradict what I am about to say. General Obasanjo came to power as a civilian ‘President’ on the platform of the Northern caucus. If you remember, there was a huge controversy: Did he sign? Didn’t he sign? Did that one sign, didn’t this sign?
Before the presidency was, shall we say ‘conceded’ to him, it’s quite true, and he’ll be the last to deny. In fact, he admitted that he was even brought a paper to sign but he refused.
The first signs that the sponsors of Obasanjo got that they made a mistake was when he dismissed military officers, who had held political offices. That was the first time those who sponsored Obasanjo, who were hardcore northerners, felt they had got themselves into trouble because as it happened, those who were most affected were northerners. That was the first sign of trouble.
And they just didn’t take it and say ‘oh let it pass’ until later. They then opened a war office at that time. I’m talking of a physical office in which every single thing he said, every clipping, was stored. Ask Olusegun Obasanjo. I personally told him this. I said: ‘By the way, I hope you realise that the people who sponsored you have declared war on you; that they have opened an office on you, specifically an Obasanjo office!’ How do I know about this? If anybody denies this, I will come back to you and I will tell you how I knew about it. I am not ready to divulge. So, that is the first. The second phase was when Obasanjo proceeded and began privately to plan his re-election (that is the second term in office). At that time, what I called the hardcore northerners began to mobilise at what level yet, I cannot categorically say.
I don’t have the slightest interest in whether Obasanjo was right to seek a second term or not. I am not going to discuss whether it is right or wrong for anybody to try to impose a limitation, which is not backed by the constitution, on any individual candidate. I’m just telling this nation certain facts which no one can deny.
Obasanjo decided to have a second term, that is a southerner, not just an ex-military man, but a southerner. The language at the time was very overt. It was ‘we are just lending you the presidency, we will take it back at the end of your term.’ It was a feeling, a belief, which percolated through the various levels, various ranks of politicians and across all ages.
I remember one incident. I was invited by Fani-Kayode (Femi) and Akin Osuntokun to a meeting of a group they had. There was a very young man, very intelligent, at the meeting. A lot of young northerners gravitated towards me, by the way, and I interact with them. Even back in the Abacha days, some of them used to come and see me in Harvard University, where I relocated and taught. And each time I meet a generation that does not belong to the hardcore northerners, I am always delighted to exchange ideas with them till tomorrow. And this young man, I remember I met him. And I wanted him to join us. I sent his name to Fani-Kayode and I said this is the kind of man you people should interact with. These are very progressive people. It almost ended in a disaster because that young fellow, whom I discussed with, made a mistake by saying: ‘After all, I don’t know what you people are complaining about. We did concede after Abiola. We did concede the thing to you.’ Fani-Kayode wanted to take that man’s head off. He blew up, it was difficult for me to separate them. I say these things only to explain that, even among some of the young generation that one thought could be weaned away from such ideas, such notions exist. A lot of people there that day can check on the incident. And it’s only one of such incidents.
So, the next sense of betrayal was when Obasanjo got a second term. Some of them even said openly that they had been misled that the man they thought was going to hold the forte for them turned out to have an agenda of his own. So far, so bad. The next phase that can determine at which time, I won’t tell you, the hardcore northerners began to activate what I called secret army, when they began to send their people to training. They felt they had to fight to take back what they felt belonged to the North.
So I suspect that the breaking point was when Yar’Adua took ill and the question of succession began. ‘If Yar’Adua dies, you mean another southerner is going to get into that position?’ This now became a real nightmare. For this, hardcore northerners (it’s too long, let’s just use the word cabal, even though that word is misused, to narrow it down to make sure we are talking about individuals, not about a region).
They decided that something drastic had to be done. Around this time, they had begun to activate, they intensified the training, this set of foot soldiers, they began to make intensified contacts, alliances with international religion-based insurgents like al-Qaeda. And their soldiers began to go to Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, particularly those who were categorically confirmed by the security services. They began to send them seriously for training. That is not the problem, al-Qaeda has always been interested in Nigeria, as in Kenya and Mauritania. Osama bin Laden listed, if you remember, it’s published, Nigeria among the nations to be Islamised.
And so, these people went for training, they came back lying low, waiting to be activated. Remember all these didn’t begin with the period I’m talking about. They have a long history of extremists. People tend to forget about Maitatsine; that was a different calibre altogether. So there is nothing new about what we are seeing. It is the intensification and the murderous dimension that this narrow Islamism is taking.
I am talking of accumulation of grievances of this narrow group. And this is why even some of their own fellow northerners were targets because these were considered malodorous among them and in any struggle of this kind historically, you find that the first stage is to clean out your rearguard, those whom you consider might stab you in the back–the rearguard traitors. You wipe them out first. And that is why we are seeing the intensification of the antagonism towards certain progressive liberal northerners.
Matters became worse, of course, when Jonathan decided that in his own right, he was going to contest elections. That is when the last restraint vanished from the hardcore northerners. That is when they activated the extreme, murderous strain of religion. That is why they began to identify political enemies as religious enemies. What we are reaping today is largely a political problem. It’s true that in my article, precisely the last one, used in Newsweek, I emphasised the religious strain because it is true. I did not want to make statement of a political nature; I did not want to elaborate, but I said enough in that article where I used the expression: ‘those who lost out in the political stakes are the ones who are now intensifying, who are now mobilising, activating the religious fanatics in our midst.’ I just hinted as much. But now, we are reaching a place where we are talking in terms of fatalities, we are counting now in four figures. By the time you add together all the fatalities that have occurred in the last year and half, we are talking in terms of thousands now since the real militancy began.
But I think at that point, even before now, we should never even have gotten to this point. But now, we have reached the stage where there is going to be some frank talking among ourselves.
If you read the ‘manifesto’ of the Boko Haram, you will find that there is nothing you can actually hold on to unlike, say, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which is categorical on the polluted environment. The oil companies have polluted the environment, all the wealth coming from there goes to develop the rest of the country, you killed our leaders, we turned them into martyrs, land is polluted, air is polluted. There are pulmonary and skin diseases as a result of oil spillage and flaring of gases. Fish ponds have been degraded. You can see what you can hold on to. You can agree or disagree with their methodologies, we are not talking about that now. The important thing is that when you read their table of content, of complaints, at least, it is not on an eerie level.
In this particular case, you can go to Youtube and all what Shekau says is that ‘democracy is haram’. We are going to Islamise’ and so on. What is he going to Islamise? You are talking nonsense because you are saying you were going to Islamise dead bodies. Let’s say there are non-Muslims in this country, a modest estimate, let’s say two million. I say very modest estimate, you know you cannot kill two million. So, what you do to Islamise is you do that over dead bodies and you can’t do that, not even if you say you are Rwanda.
It is because these hardcore Northerners are embarrassed to admit what really is behind this thing. They are embarrassed to admit it. And on the other side, they are inhibited, they don’t want to say it’s North versus South, it’s not even that. It’s a minority versus the rest. And I say it’s not even against the South. It’s a minority versus the entirety of the nation.
PDP is at the heart of the trouble, it’s within PDP they have been making this dirty bargain. “You rule for so long, it’s my turn.” It is not in the constitution. So it’s the PDP members, who really should go and sort out this problem among themselves. But the nation is the one paying the penalty. This is not comfortable because they can protect themselves. They are the ones that divided the country into two–the North and then, the South.
I think that the reason which you might say is on paper, in terms of political planning, are the six geo-political zones. This ‘two’ business, I don’t understand. But they are using this division of North versus South the same way as they are using religion. The issue is completely political. But with toxic element of religion infused into it, it gives them the leg to ally with international terrorist bodies based on religion. Those are only too happy to be of assistance.
It is the same way, as in the days of ideological bifurcation of the world, the Eastern bloc versus the Western bloc. All you had to do was to go the Eastern bloc and say I am a revolutionary, I’m a Maxist-Leninist, Troskyite, Maoist something, and they give you training right away and they embrace you, and are ready to send you even outside your own country to go prove your mettle there and come back.
And, of course, the capitalists would go to the former Nicaragua under Somoza and other nations and they also got their training. So, we are right inside an international programme. And a lot of people don’t understand; it’s not extraordinary, it’s only that we are hiding the truth under blocs, hoping that somehow it will fizzle away.
When we talk about a national conference, it’s because we realise there are serious polticial issues into which religion has also been cropped and that is a very lethal cocktail. But the basic thing is political. Religion is invoked. I am not surprised by the recent revelations being made in the papers such as ‘we have been on the payroll of this governor’. It may be true, it may be half true, it may be totally untrue.
But all these go back again to Maitatsine. In the Maitatsine days, governors courted the sponsorship of Maitatsine. I remember a former governor of Kano admitted that at the beginning, he used to go to Maitatsine, when elections came close, to get support. But he said: ‘I stopped doing that when I realised that it’s a very dangerous organisation.’
The politicians are so desperate; they are the ones who utilise religion. They are not alone. We saw Goodluck Jonathan kneeling before a Christian prelate for his blessing. The only difference is that I am not aware that Goodluck Jonathan has been sponsoring any militant fundamentalist Christians. People turn to religion. We shouldn’t be surprised at this; it’s the extent at which you want to go into religion that makes it a normal aberration, a contradiction in terms by the way or an acceptable kind of aberration. Whether one destabilises, whether one gives you psychological advantage over the followers of that particular religion, there is nothing we can do about that. But when we reach a point where the product of that alliance is destroying us, then I think it’s about time we all spoke up and let these people now admit what they have known, what they have always suspected, so as to assist the security people in determining where the criminal line exists and to take action.
Many people are worried that what Boko Haram is doing may lead to the dismemberment of the country, while some others are saying: “we are too interwoven to split”. On what side do you queue?
If Boko Haram succeeds in its stated agenda to make the country ungovernable, if Boko Haram succeeds in goading those areas that have victim citizens in the northern part of the country into reprisal actions on the nearest targets, not only will this cause a break-up, it will be very messy. That is the reason some of us have been issuing appeals to community leaders to make sure it doesn’t happen in their communities.
It isn’t the break-up as such. Other nations were broken up, but the way in which we will break up will be intensely irremediable, it will be extremely messy. I can reveal to you, for instance, what the third phase of Boko Haram is supposed to be.
The security people know it. I am making it known publicly because I am disappointed that they have not taken action on it. And that third phase is selected assassination of leaders from here. I happen to know for a fact that I am on the list. I am very close to the very top of the list. If you have contact within the security, go and check because I have this information confirmed within the Nigerian security services and from outside security quarters, which I will not name. At least the government security agencies have the responsibility to start protecting those individuals or at least to communicate to community leaders the existence of this threat so that they can take certain precautionary measures. Because if they succeed unfortunately in that particular project, things will be out of control. There are young people, who will not, may not be able to control their reactions.
The reason for this programme, which I know is very much their third phase, is that those pushing this agenda know very well that this could be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. And they would rather this country broke up and possibly in an inferno, than continue to accept the loss, even the temporal loss of power in this country. For these people, government is the only business around. To the membership of this group that I’m talking about, government is the only business.
We are talking about an unproductive group, who all their lives, have been accustomed to living on the proceeds of power, even when they are not physically in charge. It is the only way of life that they know and so while destabilising the rest of the nation, they want to ensure that they carve out a certain region in which they can dominate, and which they can terrorise through an extreme form of the Sharia, so that they can continue consuming the revenue from that area, such as it is without any opposition. These people believe very much in the divine authority of religious governance.
They secure through terror, total destruction and, paradoxically, they are securing their enclave when they retreat, they have somewhere into which they retreat which is governed on the strictest law of the Sharia. That is their ultimate goal. If they cannot have the entire thing, that is the nation, then they can ally with similar theocratic states and their position is, whatever it is, they are not individual losers, they will be taken care of.
That is why I believe that the country is very much on the verge of disintegration, especially if Bokom Haram succeeds in its agenda, which I outlined. With complete sense of responsibility and with the accumulation of facts, some within the government know what I’m saying, they acknowledge it. Some within the security services, I hope, have reached that analytical truth. I hope so, but they are not acting as if they heard and it is very worrisome.
How do you assess President Goodluck Jonathan’s response to Boko Haram threat and even the President himself as a person?
I don’t believe that President Jonathan understands half of what I have been telling you about. I don’t think that he has a truthful appreciation of the circumstances. I think he is very much some kind of an optimist; he believes certain politicial largesse or panacea here and there will solve this enormous problem. I think he is counting too much on the fact that yes, indeed, there are strongly committed loyalists to his regime from the troubled parts of the country, and ideally that is enough.
He is underestimating the desperation of the forces of the group. I do not believe that he has been able to extract the lesson or lessons of Islamic struggle, that is internal struggle throughout the world. For instance, in Iraq, every year on the holiest day of a certain Islamic sect ( I am talking about the Shiites and the Sunnis) that one group goes and butchers the other, ambushes them, mows them down even on their way to pilgrimage. I don’t think he understands or appreciates the fact that even sanctuaries have become meaningless. Sanctuaries used to hold meanings in all religions. You don’t just assault your opponents when they have taken religious sanctuary. Nigeria is filled with a whole race of mimics.
If one person 419s, tomorrow, a thousand will. They will use exactly the same formula. If they see that this formula has worked in attracting one greedy fellow over there, the next time you will see thousands of people in cyber cafes, using exactly the same formula. If you analyse all the 419 letters, I don’t think you can get more than three models, with minor variations, and yet there are hundreds of thousands of these letters going out. I am sorry to say these are the kind of people who would say: ‘Oh, the Shiites killed just 40 people. Okay, to make ourselves heard, we’ll kill 400.’
That mimic syndrome of the worst kind that is taking place in others areas is somehow very prevalent here. A mistake in London is a style in Nigeria. That is our mentality, which has been carried over into the realm of religion.
And in talking about the almajiri, they are not the “unwashed” faces that you see on the streets now. Some of them who came through the madrasas you see on the streets have gone to universities and some of them have dropped out of universities because of genuine religious convictions. They look around and say: ‘we cannot be part of this sinful environment. This is not true Islam.’ But the more “enlightened” of them just go and carve out their own school of religious thoughts, gather adherents around them and preach and try and convert people. They don’t try and convert, putting a knife to the throat. No, they convert through the soul, through the invisible soul.
Others, however, have come to believe that what is happening in Afghanistan is what ought to be happening here. That they are not true religionists unless they are killing, unless they turn executioners on behalf of Allah. Who appointed them executioners? I don’t know.
But that is what they believe. Unless they are behaving in the most extreme fashion on behalf of their religions, they are not true religionists. And because they have been to universities and because they have travelled, they adopted the sophistication of other religious movements in terms of organisation, in terms of weaponry, in terms of arrogance to look down on those who do not believe in their particular religion, as less than human, as vermin, the extermination of which will make Allah very happy and will guarantee their entry into paradise.
This is the phenomenon we are confronting right now. And, unfortunately, it is not being said and said properly in the right places. The correct people are not being confronted with it. There are only those who understand it and who are willing to exploit it. And those are the hardcore northern Islamists that we are talking about.
There are people who suggest that the solution to this problem is to have a dialogue with Boko Haram. What you think?
I know the Movement for Unconditional Dialogue exists. That may have to do with guilt. In Obasanjo’s case, guilt is definitely involved because it was under his watch that theocratism entered this country in a structured way. And you also note that he cultivated some of these groups because of his own political agenda. So, he owes them, so to speak, in the sense of repayment of the debt. There are others who, for me, have wooly ideas, who believe that, who fastened on dialogue as a magical wand. You dialogue only with those who are willing to dialogue.
These people, as I said, have not articulated what they want to come and discuss at the conference table. You begin talking of dialogue when there is articulation.
They want the suspension of the constitution, they want the enthronement of Sharia…
Throughout the whole nation, and that is why they are bombing us to the table! Alright, those who want to have dialogue with them on those terms, please go and institute the dialogue. We instituted a dialogue without involvement of government in this nation, which was PRONACO. Obasanjo tried to stop it, he threatened us, he charged us for treason. In fact, if you remember, that was when I came into PRONACO. When he said he was going to arrest all those who were organising the conference, I said what? In this country under a democratic dispensation, a group of people cannot meet, and decide and review the constitution and then present their findings to the rest of the nation? And I joined. That was how I came into PRONACO.
To those who believe in dialogue, organise your dialogue. I am not stopping you and then come and give the rest of us what your findings are.
We are not stopping you, but please don’t tell me that somebody attempted to take my life yesterday and then I start begging him, please come to the table. I believe that one should not beg for existence. If the price of not coming to table is that you want to eliminate me, and you can do so, please do so. I am 77.
Please come to the debating table, but you will not persuade me simply because you have the capacity to blow me and my family. You can simply go ahead, blow us up if you think that is the way you can do your conversion. But you will not bomb me to sit with you at the table. Rather, that diminishes me as an individual.
How would you describe the last protests over the fuel price hike?
A huge awakening and I hope a huge revelation, not only for the present governors but for those who want to come. It is a heartwarming event. To mobilise the country in such numbers says a lot of the political enlightenment. I think even if the goal was not achieved immediately, and I use the word immediately because it does not mean the goal will not be eventually achieved, the bill of rights, the bill of claims, is there. It’s being distributed, including the things we went to discuss at the town hall meeting.
For once, such a bill of demand has to be taken seriously because they know that the people have the will and the power and the means of mobilising in support of that. It includes things like what legislators should be earning, removal of tax here and there, transparent investigation of the real killers of society, economic muderers of society, abolition of such offices as first lady, which is not in the constitution.
I know that the movement, which we saw, will be pushing that bill of demands at every opportunity. And if government is dragging its feet on those issues, if it is showing unwillingness, it is trying to be deceitful, doing cosmetic things, I know the people will come out again.
You once said the presidential system of government is too expensive. Why do you consider the other alternative, which is the Westminster model, better, given that it has its own shortcomings?
The human factor is always there. What you do is block the avenues for corruption. And the presidential system is the most corruptible. Even in the United States, from where we copied it, you find that there are so many bye-laws, regulations, even lobbies. But there are rules and laws that have mapped out how far you can lobby, not to declare certain things, areas of interest, and so on. We don’t even have such controls here to start with.
The parliarmentary system, to me has less avenues for corruption. But above all, I think that in this country, what is wrong with having a part-time legislature? Look at the amount of work they do; calculate the man-hours involved in their sitting and tell me why they have to have full time engagement. And all the scandalous allowances.
Do you believe the ongoing probe of the oil sector can yield anything meaningful, given that we have a history of probes that have turned up nothing positive?
Let me first of all say that among the problems, among those who at least delight in Boko Haram and the destabilisation of the nation, are those who have criminal cases to answer and they are across the land. They are not just those we are speaking of now. And so, every kind of attack should be very carefully examined because there are those who jump on the bandwagon to assist in the total disintegration of the nation.
Many people for instance don’t know (let me go back to the opportunistic categorisation) that one of the very first files taken by the EFCC to Obasanjo when he was there, was the file of Ahmed Yerima, governor of Zamfara State. If you don’t believe me, go and check with Nuhu Ribadu. One of the very first files, with prima facie case for serious investigation and prosecution, was the case of Ahmed Yerima.
Some of these people, South, North, East, mouthing dialogue this and that don’t even want dialogue. And they also have very serious criminal cases. I mentioned that in my article in Newsweek.
So, we are waiting to see whether something positive will happen with all the probe going on. The civil society is also waiting on the direction of those probe to see if they are serious. I mean they have asked in that bill that I saw for life sentences for anyone found guilty of corruption. Let’s see how serious, how free these investigations will go.
One of the problems Nuhu Ribadu had, for instance, was that he found himself being circumscribed. I’m waiting to read his book, by the way, to see how much he is willing to tell of what happened during that period.
What do you make of the recent deployment of soldiers in Lagos?
It’s pernicious and it’s a huge blot on Jonathan’s administration that he found it necessary (in a democratic setting, with legitimate demonstrations going on, rallies going on, peaceful, well controlled) to send the military to Lagos. It’s something which should never have happened. I went there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do the walk that I wanted to because I was being mobbed almost immediately. I got down from the car. I just asked some of the officers there: ‘What are you people doing here and when are you leaving?’
‘We are here to protect you, sir.’
I said: ‘Don’t tell me that; you know very well you are not here to protect me, I don’t need your protection.’
And I had to jump into the car because people were bringing out their cameras and so on. I didn’t really do what I wanted to do. It’s wrong, it’s setting the people against the military and it’s only in extreme cases that you infest a place with military presence.
There are people wondering, given the way Jonathan is going and the helplessness he has shown, if the military would not come back. And if the military should come back, won’t they be accepted?
We have had worse cases of civil unrest in other societies where the military did not come in. And so I will find it totally unacceptable, the incursion of the military. They are part of the problem, they sowed the large part of the problem. And so they cannot say they are coming to solve it. All we just want from the present administration is that Jonathan should widen and diversify his present catchment area of consultation. He should try and bring closer those who have no stake in the governance, who are not seeking advantage, those who are genuinely altruistic about the direction of this nation, those who are not seeking for preferment, not looking for contracts, not looking for jobs, not looking for anything whatsoever. He should try and diversify his area of consultation.
He desperately needs that. I believe that he is doing himself a lot of damage by restricting, I mean he should have more options; I believe he is having only one set of options, the kind of option that made him to antagonise a large section of the civil society by deploying soldiers where they were not needed, where there was that little justification for them. Somebody obviously said to him: ‘Oh you are weak, show that you are in charge, show that you are commander in chief, send the military there’ and he also bought it, I suspect. I don’t believe that it stemmed directly ftom him. It was part of the advice given him. In any case, the buck stops on his desk. He did it and he has to accept responsibility for it, and the penalty which civil society will exact from him. And on the penalty, I’m not talking about the immediate, I’m talking in terms of the kind of support they give to his government. He will come to appreciate that he committed a huge blunder.
He alienated a large section of this population because of that. To militarise any section of society unnecessarily and with the governor saying: ‘I didn’t invite you, please take your people away’; leaders of society saying: “please, take these people’ and then having the military lying and saying “we had this arrangement”. Which arrangement is that? You know where the armed robbers are, go and find them. They are not at Gani Fawehinmi Park.
What do you have to say about the ethnicisation of the protests/struggle?
Oh, what a disappointment, that was. That is also a result of the narrowness of advisory circle that he has. I was very disappointed, I want them to please go back to history, not even immediate past history, and see how civil society conducts itself when there is disagreement with governments at the centre. Let’s go back, under Obasanjo, under Yar’Adua, under Shagari, under Tafawa Balewa, let them go back and please not lose credibility, particularly that language “Our son, our son”. It disgusts me. Who is our son? Who is not our son? Who is our father? Who is not our father? I found that kind of language very depressing and I hope it is an aberration. I like to be able to meet those I still consider my comrades on that side of ethnicity to please, come back into the fold. You can disagree with the cause, there is nothing wrong with that. Even on a parochial level, you can disagree. If you believe, for instance, that the revenue that will come to you will become less, will be reduced, so you have the right to fight for that kind of revenue, but you don’t have to ethnicise it.
When we talk about allocation, derivation, we are not talking about one region alone. Lagos is involved in the same principle of derivation. We have been talking about VAT, we have been saying that it should be proportionate. Where VAT is derived should have a lion’s share of the proceeds. To generate consumption, you put certain infrastructure in place, you spend your revenue. Common justice dictates that in the states, there should be a derivation principle in proportion to what you actually contribute to that common purse. And so we are on the same side.
I don’t say this for any reason. Fashola is not my son, I didn’t know him until he became governor. We are saying this on behalf of human beings, who also actually occupy spaces, not their leadership. Let’s hear the last of “our son, our son”. I don’t want to hear it.
Can we have your take on the judgment (death sentence) on Hamza al-Mustapha and Shofolahan?
This moment of decision would have been arrived at much earlier, if al-Mustapha and his defence had not deployed delaying tactics, including grandstanding efforts to rubbish his judicial process. The delaying tactics were based on the expectation that government would change hands in Lagos State. I know for a fact that al-Mustapha had been assured that the trial would be discontinued with a change of government.
He gambled on this assurance and he lost. Pressure was indeed mounted on Lagos State government to release him. The discontinuance of the case against Mohammed Abacha was cited as guarantee – more of that in another place. Mustapha’s defiance, his confident arrogance, his insults to the process, were based on this assurance. I make no comment on the outcome, I merely remind the Nigerian people once again that political interference with the judiciary remains one of the main issues that must be tackled whenever (if ever) Nigerians take the courageous step to sit together and fashion a new set of constitutive protocols for their co-existence that protects the judiciary in an unassailable manner.