/** headlines: 186.0 **/
** Topic: Nigeria: A Nation Adrift **
** Written 9:57 AM Mar 27, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 2:03 PM Mar 25, 1997 by email@example.com in africa.nigeria */
/* ---------- "NIGERIA: A NATION ADRFT" ---------- */
From: Babatunde Harrison <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Written by Onukaba A. Ojo
Coordinator, The Free Obasanjo Campaign Committee
For the long-suffering masses of Nigeria, these are clearly the worst of times. In the past three years, the country's political and economic situation has grown progressively worse. Millions of people are living in shocking poverty. The educational system has all but collapsed. Universities are closed for most of the academic session. Elementary/high schools lack books, chalks, furniture and habitable classrooms, and salaries of teachers remain unpaid for months in this well-endowed but grossly mismanaged nation of over 100 million people. Basic social infrastructures (roads, rail and air services, water supply, electricity, telephones, etc.) are crumbling fast. Healthcare centres lack even the most rudimentary equipment, the most common drugs, and skilled and competent staff as many continue to desert the country in droves to fulfil themselves elsewhere.
As a result of these mounting economic and political problems, a growing army of ever resourceful Nigerians are being forced to redirect their skills and ingenuity to negative pursuits. More than ever before, many people are now prepared to do whatever it takes to improve their material condition in a society where nearly everyone is involved in a ruthless struggle for survival. Wealth or success in life is no longer thought to come solely from hardwork and patience but something to be willed instantly through an unconscionable manipulation of social institutions.
At home and abroad, among the rulers and the led, there is a growing culture of degeneracy, deviousness and crass materialism, a steady disintegration of the nation's moral fibre, a lack of self-restraint in both words and deeds, a waning zeal for the public welfare, and declining civility and compassion as well as the absence of shame and sanctions.
From petty thievery on the streets to violent armed robberies on the highways, from official corruption in low and high quarters to sophisticated scams such as the infamous "419" that targets mostly gullible, greedy foreigners, Nigeria is being criminalized today at a rate never imaginable at any time in her 36-year existence as an independent nation.
Almost everything now has a price. The right amount of "kola" or "settlement fee" gets you a telephone; grants you a safe passage through police check-points; fetches you a lucrative government contract; takes your payment papers through the bureaucratic maze; ensures you a favourable judgement in courts; guarantees you a good publicity in the media; gets your children into the right schools; gives you a bed in government-run hospitals; makes the immigration and customs officers at the air/seaports and border posts to wave you through no matter what you are carrying; and hires you an assassin to kill someone whose face you do not particularly like.
The criminal enterprise is booming. All over the world, Nigeria has become a by-word for official corruption, scams and illegal drug trafficking. Yet Nigeria is not the most criminal place on earth. But it is the most notorious. Such a reputation hurts. Foreigners hesitate to do business with Nigerians many of whom live honestly. There is a general distrust of Nigerians. The crookedness of a few people is seen by the world as a national trait - at least that was how the American Colin Powell put it in a reckless attack last year. Nigerians have not done much to change this negative reputation either by re-dedicating themselves to an ethical rebirth or by superbly marketing their prodigious assets.
Nigeria's social and moral decline has indeed reached a crisis point. Not long ago, things like honesty, integrity, altruism, hardwork, respect, compassion, selfless leadership, etc. were the values that counted and the foundation stones of our societies. Nowadays, these cherished values are being trashed or scorned in a nation where certified rogues are the subjects of numerous praise songs at lavish open-air parties, where the so-called royal fathers hand out chieftaincy titles to the highest bidders, and where these same custodians of culture (traditional rulers, priests, etc) loot priceless ancestral artifacts from hallowed shrines for sale to overseas collectors.
Gone are the days when the hunger for knowledge would force many young men and women from the warmth and love of their homes to the harsh and uncertain climes of Europe, North America and Asia to earn as many degrees as possible and return home to join the process of nation building. Many of the Nigerians arriving at these places nowadays are not driven by such lofty goals but to make some quick money and return home to flaunt it. And it is this quest for easy money that drives them into criminal activities such as credit card fraud, insurance scams and drug trafficking.
Social institutions that could offer some restraint or help curb some of the current criminal excesses have been weakened and battered by years of apathy, and the irresponsible leadership provided by a revolving group of self-serving political, cultural and spiritual elites. The present political turmoil has provided a perfect environment for lawlessness. There is really no one in charge. The soldiers who have hijacked power are fighting with all they have just to stay alive and outlast current clamour for their departure.
Something has to be done. The country is in dire need of a dynamic and responsible leadership that could bring out the best in her people, create more opportunities for self-fulfilment and lead an ethical reorientation that will turn these great talents and enormous energies into creative use. Young Nigerians are growing up not with their eyes on being the next Soyinka or Achebe but dreaming to have lots of money - by any means necessary - to buy themselves some gaudy status toys, indulge themselves in frivolities, and earn some cheap popularity. This is hardly surprising. After all, a crooked generation begets its kind.
The present military dictatorship has not proved, these past three years, that it has the will, seriousness and vision to identify and address the underlying causes of these problems. Junta leader Sani Abacha's much touted recent anti-corruption crusade has been very selective and half-hearted. The so-called clean-up has cleverly left out members of the military (including Abacha whose personal wealth is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars) - the very people who have bled and raped Nigeria for more than a quarter of a century. Many of the civilians arrested for the failed financial institutions have been held for as long as one year without being formally charged. Their presence in police cells has created fresh avenue for police venality. Police guards extort money from these detainees in return for minimal comfort in the notoriously overcrowded, hellish cells.
The junta continues to waste its energies as well as the nation's time and resources on fighting imaginary enemies. The long list of detainees now includes the irrepressible lawyers Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana, human rights activists Beko Ransome- Kuti, Shehu Sani and Chima Ubani, and the journalists Nosa Igiebor, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah, Ben Charles Obi, Chris Anyawu. Some of them have been held without charges in solitary confinement, denied contacts with family members or access to medical care and information. It is not known if some of them are even alive.
TELL reported on May 20, 1996 that Fawehinmi, who is hypertensive, collapsed in his cell in Bauchi a few weeks ago and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. The magazine also reported that Beko Ransome-Kuti, the 55-year-old physician who heads the formidable Campaign for Democracy group, is near death in Kaduna prison. The report described Ransome-Kuti's emaciated frame as "a scarecrow" and that his poor eyesight has worsened after having spent months in a dark, dank cell.
Others like former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo and his ex-deputy Shehu Yar'adua are also wasting away in dungeons not even fit for felons. The junta has as usual ignored calls by human rights groups for a humane and civilized treatment of these political prisoners. Military-appointed "doctors" whose credentials and integrity may be up for question attend to their medical needs. For a regime that has been known to eliminate its opponents with brutal efficiency, families and friends of Obasanjo, Yar'adua and others have expressed serious concern about their health and general well-being at present. So far, no independent and objective medical evaluation or examination has been allowed.
General Obasanjo, and dozens of other critics of the military dictatorship began their second year in prison last March. They were convicted last year by a kangaroo military tribunal for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Sani Abacha junta. The secret trials and conviction by a tribunal whose members were handpicked by Abacha were condemned worldwide as a travesty of justice. It was seen as a desperate move by an unpopular government to muzzle its most vocal opponents and hang on to power. The government's key witness against Obasanjo and Yar'adua at the trials, Colonel R.S.B. Bello-Fadile, later recanted his testimony in an apology letter to Obasanjo which was smuggled out of his prison cell last year. It is reproduced below:
13 Oct. 1995
General O. Obasanjo
A Wise Man's Words Protect Him
With due respect, I believe I owe you an explanation for my actions. Three months after I was arrested with you and others on the basis of a "coup plot" framed up by Brigadier-General Ahmed Abdullahi and co., I was put under unbearable threats to my life by torture and other dehumanizing treatment during the investigation. Noting that I have a first degree heart blockade that has put me on daily medication for the past 10 years. And realizing that a heart attack could be induced under the situation, and of course an end to my life at that stage and the truth about the "coup plot."
Thus, as a human being I had no option but to succumb to the whims of the interrogators and I made up the statement they wanted about you and General Shehu Yar'adua. I had hoped for a fair trial under the law which would have cleared all of us who were arrested as I was not planning any coup d'etat. Sir, the rest of the stories you know and it is better left to posterity.
Therefore, sir, it is "my wish and personal desire" (to borrow your words spoken 20 years ago when I was a 2nd Lieutenant) that you accept the current situation as your further sacrifice to put democracy on a strong footing in the country where our children can live in peace and freedom without fear.
As my former C-in-C (Commander-in-Chief), please accept me like the biblical prodigal son. May God bless our collective efforts to make Nigeria great and democratic.... Finally, Sir, May God's blessings be with us always wherever we find ourselves.
Yours in the Lord
Col. Ralph S. Babatunde Bello-Fadile
Despite this overwhelming evidence of a miscarriage of justice, the junta has stubbornly refused to free Obasanjo, Yar'adua and other political prisoners. It has refused to commit itself to genuine negotiations with influential national leaders and organizations, irrespective of their political persuasions, religious beliefs and ethnic or geographical origin, on returning the country to democratic rule.
No case better illustrates this regime's siege mentality than that of 13-year-old John Paul Mokuolu who holds dual British/Nigerian citizenship. Mokuolu was arrested in April minutes after arriving in Lagos on a holiday visit to his Nigerian father. His only offence was that he is a nephew of Obasanjo. Nigerian security service kept him in detention for one month without even notifying his Nigerian family. It was Mokuolu's mother who first raised an alarm. She took the matter to the British Parliament which promptly condemned the arrest and demanded his release. Mokuolu was released in May but told to be report fortnightly at the security service which is obviously still not convinced that the boy had not come to overthrow the junta or to free his famous uncle from Yola prison.
The case attracted several commentaries in the local and foreign media. The Nigerian newspaper, National Concord, for instance, editorialized on June 6, 1996 that the case of John Paul Mokuolu represented a "detestable trend" in the junta's "wholesale assault on citizens' rights and freedoms by agents of the state" The paper continued: "It has now become the norm to read of supposed dissidents and imagined adversaries of the present administration being whisked off to prisons and detention centres where they are made to cool their heels for limitless periods without any charges being brought against them in a court of law. Unfortunately, despite the many pleas, entreaties and admonitions to the powers-that-be on the need to halt the sad trend, the reality is that these breaches of individual's fundamental rights have continued unabated."
The attacks on Obasanjo's family and friends are part of the junta's efforts to humiliate the former leader. To further break his spirit, Obasanjo is being treated like a common prisoner in Yola. He is granted no special privileges as a former Head of State. And he is not even allowed to enjoy some of basic human rights. Ade Olorunfewa, a TELL magazine reporter who had sneaked into Yola prison in May, described a typical morning in Obasanjo's life at this sordid facility in the north-eastern corner of the country:
"What worried General Olusegun Obasanjo, 60, a former Nigerian head of state and civil war hero, more than any other thing last monday, May 6, was how he could have a good bath. In the early hours of the morning, just before 5 a.m., the warders on duty at the Yola Prison, Adamawa state, opened Obasanjo's well-appointed pen. A bucket of water, half-full, was waiting in the empty quadrangle within the prison wall. There, under the glare of a million stars, Obasanjo washed himself. Water is a luxury in this prison and even a former head of state must make do with what he can get. The warders tried to make themselves as invisible as possible. Ah, life! They muttered to themselves.
"Yola Prison is a drab and dreary place. Even at the beginning of the raining season when the harmattan has disappeared, the town is still like an open saucer before the glare of the sun. It is dusty and harsh and forbidden. In the Government House, not too far from where Obasanjo is held, air conditioners hummed round the clock. The soldiers in power live in Arabian luxury, struggling to create their own heaven in this Back of Beyond. In prison where Obasanjo's daily existence is measured in centimeters and the prison controller's decrees, the green fly heralds the beginning of the mango season. As the former head of state takes his breakfast, he fights the green flies with the same determination he once used to fight the Biafran forces of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The flies are a determined foe, descending on him like a rain of green pebbles from the sky."
This is how Nigeria rewards a man who once put his life on the line so that the country may survive as one indivisible, powerful entity. This is how Nigeria honours a man who in a rare act of courage and exemplary leadership in the continent implemented an orderly transfer of power to a democratic government. This is how Abacha hopes to humiliate a man who since voluntarily relinquishing power in 1979 has devoted his life to promoting peaceful resolution of conflicts, economic empowerment and strong leadership as well as democratic values and good governance in Africa. He has been recognized and honoured worldwide for his sincerity of purpose, for his vision, and for his campaign for human dignity and justice.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the unfolding human tragedy in Nigeria is the spate of state-sponsored acts of terrorism and casual killings of government opponents. The first high-profile incident occurred late last year when veteran politician Alfred Rewane was brutally gunned down in Lagos. Rewane was a well-known critic of the Abacha junta. Early this year, a near-fatal attempt was made on the life of Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian newspaper and a former Internal Affairs Minister in the Abacha government. Ibru fell out with the government perhaps because his newspaper has not allowed itself to be compromised. Ibru is now said to be languishing in a London hospital with a lost eye and some missing fingers. He is lucky to be alive. Others have not been that lucky.
In what will definitely count as the most barbarous of all the killings thus far, 44-year-old Kudirat Abiola was slain with her driver in broad daylight on a major thoroughfare in Lagos. Mrs Abiola, an articulate and courageous woman, had been a thorn in the flesh of the junta since her husband, Moshood Abiola, was robbed of his mandate and then thrown into jail by Abacha nearly two years ago. Only last month, Mrs Abiola was detained for a day before being dragged to court the following day for publishing and distributing "seditious" documents that proclaimed her husband as the undisputed winner of the 1993 presidential election which was annulled by ex-dictator Ibrahim Babangida.
The government has denied any involvement in these killings. But most people are not convinced. The fact that all the victims of these hired assassinations have been prominent opponents of the government leaves no one in doubt that the government is either directly involved or has encouraged its paid agents to wipe out its critics. Also, the Nigerian police has so far not arrested and prosecuted any single person connected with these criminal acts. The speed and resources devoted to investigating the cause of last year's crash of a presidential plane in which Abacha's first son died have not been seen in these cases.
The evidence against the government is overwhelming. The men who burnt down the offices and equipment of The Guardian and The News magazine last year wore army uniforms and brandished weapons issued by the military. The Police has not arrested and prosecuted these arsonists. Early this year, a faceless group based in the North, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the assassination of Rewane and for the attempt on Ibru. It vowed to eliminate all opponents of the dictatorship. The government did not either denounce the group or seek to track down and punish its cowardly members.