Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, on Tuesday alleged that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration ‘protected’ those who murdered Nigeria’s former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Bola Ige.
Mr Soyinka, playwright and social critic, made this known in a statement on Tuesday titled “Trivialise Corruption, Neutralise Justice”, issued in his capacity as convener of Citizen Forum.
The statement comes against the background of the crisis rocking the judiciary following the controversial suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, over his failure to declare his assets.
Mr Soyinka, who said impunity reigns where there is no justice, expalined that the present crisis in the judiciary shows that the nation and its leaders did not learn from the murder of the late Mr Ige and “the manner investigations into his death were handled”.
Mr Ige served first as Minister of Power and later as Minister of Justice under Mr Obasanjo, who governed Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.
He was murdered in December 2002 in his home in Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital.
Mr Soyinka Mr Obasanjo’s government knew the killers of the late minister and politician and indeed allegedly protected and rewarded them.
“The government at the time of Ige’s killers know the truth. That government protected – I repeat – protected, and rewarded his killers. Those who wish to dispute this had better first immerse themselves in the circumstances of that murder, and the unconstitutional, indeed illegal trajectory of the principal accused, one that not only facilitated his unconstitutional participation in the ensuing election but catapulted him straight to the occupancy of the seat that had been kept warm for him during his trial and absence,” Mr Soyinka said.
“On release, he was ushered straight into the slot of Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives. That was not all. The head of that government, General Olusegun Obasanjo, proceeded to burnish Ige’s memory with characteristic zeal.”
When contacted, Kehinde Akinyemi, a spokesperson to Mr Obasanjo, declined commenting. He told PREMIUM TIMES the case is already in court.
Commenting on the crisis rocking the judiciary, Mr Soyinka said it is heartening news that 20 lawyers came together to undertake the mission of cleaning up the Aegean stables that seem to pass for the Nigerian Judiciary.
“I feel especially exercised by recent happenings within that Body currently from a dominant perspective: it has become increasingly fashionable to sneer at any anti-corruption preoccupation. No, no one actually ever goes so far as to condone corruption. Perish the thought!
“Gradually however, the nation’s psyche is being both subtly and brazenly retuned to accept not simply corruption as the norm of social relationships, but its heightened product, impunity, as a national emblem. The justification?
“The machinery that was launched against corruption with such fanfare, it is claimed, has run aground. Selectivity has been cited as proof. Insincerity, non-seriousness, cynical distraction, are routine assessments of the current governmental campaign.
“Even the heady draught of ‘stomach infrastructure’ – ‘na anti-corruption we go chop?’ is now applauded, accompanied by guffaws wherever decanted. Not surprising then, that it was only a matter of time before the flagbearer of one of the ‘parties to beat’ came out openly to dismiss the punitive option, delivering the promise of amnesty as one of the corner-stones of his plans for the nation. It was a well-calculated gambit.
“That candidate, an astute politician with his nose to the ground, found that ground primed, ready and conducive. Soon, this will be topped by some rivalling knight in shining armour from rivaling parties who promise prosecution and prison sentence for anyone who bad-mouths corruption – of course, always with a caveat – until all the ills that infest society have been completely eradicated – guinea-worm, river blindness, soil erosion, oil pollution, rape, kidnapping incest etc. etc.
“Not forgetting the transformation of the entire national infrastructure and the full elimination of the last vestiges of Boko Haram, killer herdsmen, Lassa bearing rodents and potholes on the road,” he said.
The Nobel Laureate noted that impunity covers all crimes, “not just material corruption”.
He said any social or governance institution which fails to stem the tide of criminality within its charge would be open to impunity.
“This has been the case of President Buhari in his lacklustre, indeed hands-off approach to the menace of the killer herdsmen – at least at the beginning, before swathes of Nigeria were reduced to slaughter fields, thriving farms erased off the food supply chain of the nation,” he said.
“(They are back, by the way, reported to have recently set fire to farms in Oyo State). Leadership lapse was further compounded by admission by the governor of Kaduna State that he had been paying ‘blood money’ to the killers responsible for that human and sustenance campaign of depletion!
“Impunity stalks the land, indeed it is virtually lording it all social interstices. Let no one take my word for it – simply turn the pages of the media any day.”
Mr Soyinka said he brought up the murder of Mr Ige into the discourse to establish the fact that “history strikes again” and highlight that Nigerians largely suffer from amnesia.
He also warned that corruption should not be trivialised as it breeds impunity and disrupts the course of justice.
“I have brought it up principally to remind the judiciary, and associate orders such as the Bar Association, that the war between impunity and Justice is an incessant one. Corruption is not a trait to be trivialised for political opportunism or locker-room guffaws. Corruption murdered the nation’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and Justice was rendered helpless in the defence of its own Prime Advocate.
“The reign of impunity will prevail as long as the legal community continues to betray its calling, its oath of office, even its rites of professional collegiality and its responsibility to the rest of us. It is disappointing that even under a government that promised to dust up the files of political murders and end that reign of homicidal impunity, the Association has not thought fit to demand from the Buhari government its findings.
“There is more than ample material to warrant a Judicial Commission, and that demand has come up again and again. It will continue for as long as there remains a shred of conscience somewhere in this nation, especially when provoked into resurgence by the antics of those who murdered Justice to enthrone corruption and bask in the miasma of Impunity.”
Mr Soyinka explained that it is instructive that Mr Ige’s murder took place at election time.
He said such killings and kidnappings have escalated again as the nation prepares to vote.
Mr Soyinka also said a ‘den of killers’ is equally regrouping and wishes to direct the fortunes of this nation yet again.
“This nation needs no reminding that, yes indeed, the rule of law must prevail, and constitutionality must not be trivialised. Neither however, must criminality, or else, history merely repeats itself in increasingly dismal accents. Justice becomes neutralised,” he said.