The Wages of Impunity, By Wole Soyinka
The dancing obscenity of Shekau and his gang of psychopaths and child abductors, taunting the world, mocking the BRING BACK OUR GIRLS campaign on internet, finally met its match in Nigeria to inaugurate the week of September 11 – most appropriately. Shekau’s danse macabre was surpassed by the unfurling of a political campaign banner that defiled an entry point into Nigeria’s capital of Abuja. That banner read: BRING BACK JONATHAN 2015.
President Jonathan has since disowned all knowledge or complicity in the outrage but, the damage has been done, the rot in a nation’s collective soul bared to the world. The very possibility of such a desecration took the Nigerian nation several notches down in human regard. It confirmed the very worst of what external observers have concluded and despaired of – a culture of civic callousness, a coarsening of sensibilities and, a general human disregard. It affirmed the acceptance, even domination of lurid practices where children are often victims of unconscionable abuses including ritual sacrifices, sexual enslavement, and worse. Spurred by electoral desperation, a bunch of self-seeking morons and sycophants chose to plumb the abyss of self-degradation and drag the nation down to their level. It took us to a hitherto unprecedented low in ethical degeneration. The bets were placed on whose turn would it be to take the next potshots at innocent youths in captivity whose society and governance have failed them and blighted their existence? Would the Chibok girls now provide standup comic material for the latest staple of Nigerian escapist diet? Would we now move to a new export commodity in the entertainment industry named perhaps “Taunt the Victims”?
As if to confirm all the such surmises, an ex-governor, Sheriff, notorious throughout the nation – including within security circles as affirmed in their formal dossiers – as prime suspect in the sponsorship league of the scourge named Boko Haram, was presented to the world as a presidential traveling companion. And the speculation became: was the culture of impunity finally receiving endorsement as a governance yardstick? Again, Goodluck Jonathan swung into a plausible explanation: it was Mr. Sheriff who, as friend of the host President Idris Deby, had traveled ahead to Chad to receive Jonathan as part of President Deby’s welcome entourage. What, however does this say of any president? How came it that a suspected affiliate of a deadly criminal gang, publicly under such ominous cloud, had the confidence to smuggle himself into the welcoming committee of another nation, and even appear in audience, to all appearance a co-host with the president of that nation? Where does the confidence arise in him that Jonathan would not snub him openly or, after the initial shock, pull his counterpart, his official host aside and say to him, “Listen, it’s him, or me.”? So impunity now transcends boundaries, no matter how heinous the alleged offence?
The Nigerian president however appeared totally at ease. What the nation witnessed in the photo-op was an affirmation of a governance principle, the revelation of a decided frame of mind – with precedents galore. Goodluck Jonathan has brought back into limelight more political reprobates – thus attested in criminal courts of law and/or police investigations – than any other Head of State since the nation’s independence. It has become a reflex. Those who stuck up the obscene banner in Abuja had accurately read Jonathan right as a Bring-back president. They have deduced perhaps that he sees “bringing back” as a virtue, even an ideology, as the corner stone of governance, irrespective of what is being brought back. No one quarrels about bringing back whatever the nation once had and now sorely needs – for instance, electricity and other elusive items like security, the rule of law etc. etc. The list is interminable. The nature of what is being brought back is thus what raises the disquieting questions. It is time to ask the question: if Ebola were to be eradicated tomorrow, would this government attempt to bring it back?
Well, while awaiting the Chibok girls, and in that very connection, there is at least an individual whom the nation needs to bring back, and urgently. His name is Stephen Davis, the erstwhile negotiator in the oft aborted efforts to actually bring back the girls. Nigeria needs him back – no, not back to the physical nation space itself, but to a Nigerian induced forum, convoked anywhere that will guarantee his safety and can bring others to join him. I know Stephen Davis, I worked in the background with him during efforts to resolve the insurrection in the Delta region under President Shehu Yar’Adua. I have not been involved in his recent labours for a number of reasons. The most basic is that my threshold for confronting evil across a table is not as high as his – thanks, perhaps, to his priestly calling. From the very outset, in several lectures and other public statements, I have advocated one response and one response only to the earliest, still putative depredations of Boko Haram and have decried any proceeding that smacked of appeasement. There was a time to act – several times when firm, decisive action, was indicated. There are certain steps which, when taken, place an aggressor beyond the pale of humanity, when we must learn to accept that not all who walk on two legs belong to the community of humans – I view Boko Haram in that light. It is no comfort to watch events demonstrate again and again that one is proved to be right.
Thus, it would be inaccurate to say that I have been detached from the Boko Haram affliction – very much the contrary. As I revealed in earlier statements, I have interacted with the late National Security Adviser, General Azazi, on occasion – among others. I am therefore compelled to warn that anything that Stephen Davis claims to have uncovered cannot be dismissed out of hand. It cannot be wished away by foul-mouthed abuse and cheap attempts to impugn his integrity – that is an absolute waste of time and effort. Of the complicity of ex-Governor Sheriff in the parturition of Boko Haram, I have no doubt whatsoever, and I believe that the evidence is overwhelming. Femi Falana can safely assume that he has my full backing – and that of a number of civic organizations – if he is compelled to go ahead and invoke the legal recourses available to him to force Sheriff’s prosecution. The evidence in possession of Security Agencies – plus a number of diplomats in Nigeria – is overwhelming, and all that is left is to let the man face criminal persecution. It is certain he will also take many others down with him.
Regarding General Ihejirika, I have my own theories regarding how he may have come under Stephen Davis’ searchlight in the first place, ending up on his list of the inculpated. All I shall propose at this stage is that an international panel be set up to examine all allegations, irrespective of status or office of any accused. The unleashing of a viperous cult like Boko Haram on peaceful citizens qualifies as a crime against humanity, and deserves that very dimension in its resolution. If a people must survive, the reign of impunity must end. Truth – in all available detail – is in the interest, not only of Nigeria, the sub-region and the continent, but of the international community whose aid we so belatedly moved to seek. From very early beginnings, we warned against the mouthing of empty pride to stem a tide that was assuredly moving to inundate the nation but were dismissed as alarmists. We warned that the nation had moved into a state of war, and that its people must be mobilized accordingly – the warnings were disregarded, even as slaughter surmounted slaughter, entire communities wiped out, and the battle began to strike into the very heart of governance, but all we obtained in return was moaning, whining and hand-wringing up and down the rungs of leadership and governance.But enough of recriminations – at least for now. Later, there must be full accounting.
Finally, Stephen Davis also mentions a Boko Haram financier within the Nigerian Central Bank. Independently we are able to give backing to that claim, even to the extent of naming the individual. In the process of our enquiries, we solicited the help of a foreign embassy whose government, we learnt, was actually on the same trail, thanks to its independent investigation into some money laundering that involved the Central Bank. That name, we confidently learnt, has also been passed on to President Jonathan. When he is ready to abandon his accommodating policy towards the implicated, even the criminalized, an attitude that owes so much to re-election desperation, when he moves from a passive “letting the law to take its course” to galvanizing the law to take its course, we shall gladly supply that name.
In the meantime however, as we twiddle our thumbs, wondering when and how this nightmare will end, and time rapidly runs out, I have only one admonition for the man to whom so much has been given, but who is now caught in the depressing spiral of diminishing returns: “Bring Back Our Honour.”
Wole Soyinka, writer, Nobel laureate, and inveterate campaigner for human freedom, who turned 80 last July, sent in this article from his country home in Abeokuta