Nigeria's state of purgatory: Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, condemns the military dictators who deny his country democracy by refusing to accept the voters' verdict

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The Independent Online
WHEN the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria decided, nearly two weeks ago, not to announce the verdict of the nation on the next civilian president, it did, in effect, pronounce a verdict on the Nigerian nation: a piecemeal death.

The Chief Undertaker is General Ibrahim Babangida. The pall-bearers are the ethnic manipulators and arms dealers, self-styled latter-day patriots. They are led by a sinister character known as Chief Arthur Nzeribe, leader of a vague, unregistered body called the Association for Better Nigeria. The Chief Mourner is, of course, Professor Henry Nwosu, chairman of the National Electoral Commission (present whereabouts unknown). The scavengers of history are hovering around the nation's borders. Their role will outlast the demise of a once- resilient, vibrant entity known as Nigeria. Future generations may recall this entity as having been once a source of envy, a reservoir of hope for a benighted continent, now mangled beyond salvage.

A nation of some 90 million people is being wound round the finger of a Master Player whose mental state is seriously in question. His cohorts insist that the nation is on the path to democracy, but surely the signpost reads to all but the purblind: Transition to Hell. Purgatory is our present interminable manoeuvring between the U-Turns, Diversions and Cul-de-sacs in a lunatic maze subjected to the daily improvisations of a - surely by now - recognisably irrational designer who is firmly locked onto a monomanic goal: survival in power.

He is surrounded by an unblinking guard of sycophants who open up to him only tiny apertures of reality that conform to the needs of his solipsistic existence. But it would be wrong to say they are all sycophants. Quite a handful are military and civilian opportunists with or without a guilty past. Uniformly they are all in dire dread of the future. The captive thinks that he is the manipulator but, in truth, in many lethal aspects, he is the pliant object of their wiles.

Principal of these forces is the virtual power behind Nigeria's security services. There will be time enough to name him directly, but that time is not yet. Let us simply identify him as the Mephistopheles to Babangida's far more inept Faust. This individual is paymaster and puppet-master of the various 'patriotic' organisations such as Nzeribe's ABN, the Council of Elder Statesmen, the Third Eye, etc. One of these organisations has, in the short time it has existed, opened offices in nearly all the 30 states of Nigeria. The address of one of these, which I personally verified, is a 'safe house' utilised by the Nigerian Security Organisation. To avoid all doubt, Mr Faust is not an unwilling beneficiary of these bodies: indeed, he is most active in the promotion of their ultimate goal, which dovetails most 'accidentally' with his own.

This stain of complicity, long apparent to all but a few among the operators of government scheming, was recently bared to the nation through the resignation of the editor of New Nigerian, a northern-based paper largely owned by the government. The editor revealed that an editorial which appeared in that journal after the aborting of June presidential election results was actually faxed from Abuja, the seat of government, by the Secretary for Information. The editorial in effect tried to justify the suspension of the election results, queried the concept of democracy as peacefully practised in the elections, and proposed hitherto undreamt-of notions of the meaning of democracy for Nigerians. It was, to put it as crudely as the editorial, a resounding vote for the continuation of the military in power or, at least, for a postponement of a return to civilian rule. Worst of all, it pandered, in no unsubtle way, to the notion of a North-South dichotomy in Nigerian politics, a notion that had been fast receding.

Babangida's latest intervention in the democratic process was not totally unexpected. That doubts persisted about his ability to go this far had much to do with a reluctance to accept that he had moved beyond even the elastic limits of rationality.

To sum up: Nigerians, even now, cannot believe that anyone, in his rational mind, would invite them to go to the polls again after they had peacefully exercised their electoral duties in accordance with the rules set down by that same individual. Nigerians, even now, cannot believe that anyone, in his rational mind, would proceed to disqualify the two contestants who have emerged, after progressive elimination, from a long list of candidates, all of whom were accredited in full adherence to the rules laid down by that same individual. Finally, the Nigerian populace can neither believe nor accept that any individual would dare attempt to flout a choice that they have made openly, in full freedom, under a procedure that enabled them to exercise that freedom. It was especially hard after they had reluctantly accepted the entire tortuous process simply to ensure that they could, even in uncongenial circumstances, see some prospect of change in their intolerable and degrading social and economic conditions.

Anyone who fails to understand this cannot be a Nigerian, cannot have lived in Nigeria during the past three years. We are speaking of a Nigeria that has incurred an expenditure close to its annual budget for the purpose of returning the country to a civilian order. Possibly even more, but we shall never know, as spending on the transition programme is sure to remain closed to audit. But to invite Nigerians to undergo another round of presidential elections simply to lend substance and complicity to the now open agenda of the Babangida would-be dynasty, is a miscalculation so gross that it could only have emanated from an unsound mind.

I, for one, cannot accept that one more kobo of Nigerian funds be spent on the interminable soap-opera being so haphazardly scripted by our putative Faust and his Mephistopheles, who still imagines that he enjoys the security of a mask. But all that is in the very immediate future. From Lagos to Kano, from Cross River to Kwara, the people have expressed their unambiguous choice. Relocating the goalposts after the goal has been netted is such a blatant act of dishonesty, dishonour and lack of integrity that only the desperate or the sick in mind can conceive of it, much less expect that either the players or spectators will applaud it.

Nigeria deserves peace, if only for its economic recovery. But Nigerians are a proud people, very jealous of their human dignity. Any individual or class within Nigeria that fails to respect this simply dooms itself, however long it takes, and whatever sacrifice is yet again extracted from the populace in the process.

The piecemeal death of Nigeria has been prescribed by the actions of General Babangida and his tiny cabal, but we know that we have been there before. Reprieve is not beyond the enterprising strength of Nigerians.

The writer, a playwright, lecturer and former political prisoner, who won the Nobel prize in 1986, has been one of the most outspoken critics of military rule in Nigeria.

(Photographs omitted)

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