Buhari’s Pernicious Doctrine
by Wole Soyinka
Here we go again!(1)
At his first coming, it was “I intend to tamper with Freedom of the Press”, and Buhari did proceed to suit action to the words, sending two journalists – Irabor and Thompson – to prison as a reward for their professional integrity.(2)
Now, a vague, vaporous, but commodious concept dubbed “national interest” is being trotted out as alibi for flouting the decisions of the Nigerian judiciary. President Buhari has obviously given deep thought to his travails under a military dictatorship,(3) and concluded that his incarceration was also in the “national interest”.
The timing is perfect, and we have cause to be thankful for the advance warning, since not all rulers actually make a declaration of intent, but simply proceed to degrade the authority of the law as part of the routine business of governance.
We have been there before. It should be of mere interest, not despondency, that this latest proclamation of dictatorial recidivism has also been made before an assembly of officers of the law, the Nigerian Bar Association. We expect a robust response from the NBA as part of its conclusions.
There is no short cut to democracy. The history of law, even where uncodified, is as old as humanity. Numerous rulers have tried again and again to annul that institution. Sometimes, they appear to succeed, but in the end, they pay heavy forfeit. So does society.
The Rule of Law however outlasts all subverters, however seemingly powerful. If the consequences for society in defence of the Rule of Law were not so costly, any new attempt would be merely banal and boring, hardly deserving of attention. We know, historically, where it will all end.(4)
(1) In a recent address to the nation’s legal association the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari justified his three years of abuse of human rights and contempt for national and regional court rulings citing national security for his government’s policy of state sanctioned extra judicial detentions of political opponents and military executions of radicals against his new regime of terror and bloodshed.
(2) As a military dictator of that same country 1983-1985 president Buhari had intimidated, hounded, jailed journalists, and murdered several others, under draconian decrees rolled out by his ruling junta.
(3) The Nigerian president’s military cabal was overthrown in a bloodless coup by an army chief and maverick dictator named Ibrahim Babangida in 1985. Buhari was kept for over three years in detention. He has never forgiven his northern tribesman Babangida for jailing him. Human rights activist lawyer, Femi Falana, had then campaigned for his release. Falana still opposes Nigeria’s current civilian tyranny and has called for the release of nationals held by Muhammadu Buhari under the pretext of national security.
(4) Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has been in the active forefront of rigorous intellectual challenge against Nigeria’s draconian civil and military authorities since the time of the tyrant General Gowon who put him in detention without trial during the Nigerian war with break away Biafra. His ordeal was documented in his prison note entitled The Man Died.