Old Soja and the Nutty Professors.

I suffered heartburn watching the presidential media chat. I missed the live transmission but decided to watch the chat on YouTube following a friend’s glowing review that President Muhammadu Buhari shone like a thousand stars. After watching excerpts, I fell numb with fear.

I was traumatised and completely flabbergasted by his responses to questions. His lack of knowledge about his environment and events around the world in the past 30 years and his understanding of issues were frighteningly telling. His dictatorial visage was on full display as well as his ironclad contempt for the rule of law and the niceties of democracy.

All the pre-election rebranding and pledges of respect for the rule of law and his claim to being a reformed dictator simply evaporated. Stripped of all that veneer of the rebranding, the old soldier simply bared his fangs for the whole world to see. It was pure lunacy for anyone to think a man who is deeply steeped in the tradition of command and obey heritage of his first love would change because he wore the tribal attire of different nationalities during the campaigns.

Well, as he made clear that Wednesday nothing could be further from the truth. The leopard, as they say, cannot change its spots neither can the tiger change its stripes. Of course he played along as many fell over themselves to endorse him and the once “unelectable” general suddenly transformed into the electable one.

Furthermore, he came across in that chat as a man with a long memory for the “sins” of the past – if he didn’t say it, his now famous “body language” betrayed it. And this gives ammunition to those who accuse him of pursuing a vendetta against some individuals. Ironically, those who told Nigerians that Buhari had changed, including our most revered Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who after investigations gave the public some form of assurance that Buhari had changed after undergoing what he described as a plausible transformation” – are now silent on the blatant attack on one of the cardinal ingredients of the rule of law – obedience to legitimate court orders.

Buhari effectively overruled the judiciary on national television on the issue of whether a suspect gets bail or not and how, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right. He declared with an air of finality that considering the magnitude of what Sambo Dasuki and Nanmdi Kanu were accused of, they would jump bail if released, irrespective of the fact that the courts had granted them bail with stiff conditions.

Suddenly, our president has become a clairvoyant with the power to read the minds and intentions of men. This is how he justified his contempt for court orders:  “Technically, if you see the kinds of atrocities these people are believed to have committed against the country, if they are given the opportunity, they will jump bail. And the one they call Kanu, do you know he had two passports – one Nigerian, the other British – and he came into the country without any? Do you know he brought equipment into this country and was broadcasting Radio Biafra? Which kind of government do you think should harbour that kind of person? There is a treasonable felony suit against him and I hope the court will listen to the case.” The anger in his voice and countenance was palpable.

Did the president forget that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and as such is entitled to all rights, privileges and protection as enshrined in the constitution? And what does that last statement mean when the court was already listening to the case? Was it an indirect way of urging the court to do what the president himself wants? My take here is that the president seems to have convicted the pair even before the conclusion of their cases.

This is a same man many activists and human rights crusaders put their reputations on the line to support on the weak premise that he had changed. Paraphrasing Soyinka’s description of the last administration which is directly relevant to the matter in hand, I would say we are watching with consternation how the predator has walked stealthily on padded feet to fool everybody that he has changed and with lightning speed the claws have flashed into action.

Is it a coincidence that many otherwise vocal lawyers and human rights activists have now kept mute in the face of executive lawlessness and impunity? Where are the fiery defenders of the rule of law? Why is our highly revered and greatly admired literary icon and man of letters of no mean repute, Wole Soyinka silent on the disobedience of court orders or he no longer sees anything wrong with it? Is this not similar to the impunity he vociferously condemned under the last government? Yet, Soyinka is an honourable man!

Did I hear someone say, “If it is tyranny that will bring change, Nigerians are okay with it?” And another person even suggested the suspension of the constitution to allow Buhari to arrest and deal with all corrupt persons? Well, to those people or schools of thought, I say be careful what you wish for.

Suddenly, it appears the usually vocal few who have kept successive governments in check have now developed a thirst for terror and passion for peril. They are conspiring and even conniving to subvert the rule of law and due process with the burgeoning culture of silence that now pervades the political landscape and as ever, the cover-up is greater than the crime.

Now, let’s go to the first of the nutty two. You remember Professor Femi Odekunle?  In case you don’t, he is a professor of criminology, and an ex-aide to Lt. General Oladipo Diya, the then Chief of General Staff (CGS) under the Sani Abacha regime and one of those held for the 1997 alleged coup plot against the dark goggled general. Odekunle is today a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption set up by President Buhari and headed by Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN). He said in an interview published in the Vanguard Newspaper that he was against unmoderated rule of law. He struggled unconvincingly to defend the impunity of this government in his responses to questions on government’s refusal to obey court orders. This was how he defended it:  “You see, one of the problems we have in this country is that we put the interest of the individual above the interest of the collective. As a professional criminologist, I am not for unmoderated democracy, I’m not for unmoderated rule of law in which the rights of the individual will be so hyperbolised and override those of the collective.”

Did he really mean that? Suddenly, he has become an apostle of moderated rule of law? What does that mean? Is this what small power turns men into? Having experienced raw torture and escaped life imprisonment in the hands of General Sani Abacha, a ruthless dictator who permitted only a moderated rule of law, one would have expected him to be more circumspect in his utterances.

On another score, it is very possible he is still hallucinating and his senses are yet to fully recover having been slapped severally, kicked repeatedly, beaten and tortured   like a “he-goat” being taken to the market by Al Mustapha (that was how he described his experience then). The human rights community fought tooth and nail on the plank that the trial process that led to his incarceration was substantially flawed and didn’t follow due process. Today the nutty professor wants the rule of law moderated.

Now, let’s go to the man who is eager to build a new career in infamy in the twilight of his life. That man is Professor Itse Sagay, a renowned expert in constitutional law and a human rights activist who has taught many law students, written books and position papers on law and won national acclaim. He has unarguably one of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. But what is of interest to me here is his blatantly partisan politics that is likely to earn him the sobriquet of a “nutty professor” if he continues on this road of infamy.

By no act of anyone else other than his, he has lowered his esteem in the eyes of the public by his utterances.

Since his appointment as the head of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, Sagay has been talking nonstop. It appears he would have been better fit to replace Lai Mohammed as the spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) instead of his current advisory role that he has turned into a platform to speak carelessly like a victorious emperor inspecting his newly captured prisoners of war.

In a recent interview published in the PUNCH, Sagay spoke as if he was the spokesman of the APC rather than an adviser  to the President on anti-corruption when he was asked by the interviewer why petitions against Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi were ignored. This was his response:  “They should be discountenanced. They are rubbish; they were done out of what Nigerians call ‘bad belle’ to prevent this government from performing well and it was a vindictive action against innocent Nigerians who have served this nation very well. There are very wicked, thoroughly despicable characters, who do not deserve anything positive in this country. There were some characters behind it who wanted to drag the country down and prevent Buhari from giving the best government that Nigerians deserve.”

This is the same man who is most willing to tar the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with the brush of corruption. This is how he described the opposition party: “PDP is the most corrupt institution this nation has ever seen. The president is a very intelligent man, knowing they were trying to deprive him of the best hands to run his government, he quietly allowed the PDP to fool itself. After it had finished fooling itself, the president went and took the best, which are the likes of Fashola, Amaechi, Dr. Chris Ngige, and the others.”

In one breath he casually dismissed allegations of corruption against stalwarts of the APC as lacking in merit and in another he fully supported allegations of corruption against the PDP. Talk of one nation, two moralities. When reminded that his saintly APC is made up of ex-PDP members who defected to the APC, his response was, “We have an upright leadership that would not tolerate that kind of indiscipline so they would not have access. We have a leadership that is upright and in very strong control of what happens.”

Sagay carried his ridiculousness to a new level spewing bile on an entire race when in a chat with the Daily Independent on why the agitation for Biafra became so serious after former President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure, Sagay was reported to have said: “I have been studying elections very closely in this country since 2007. The Igbo were committed to Goodluck Jonathan. But they didn’t leave it at that just to convince people to vote for him. They decided to rig for PDP and Jonathan. They did that yet, the party still lost out at the federal level. So they lost out. If you look at Jonathan’s government, the Igbo were in almost 50 per cent of positions in this country. But they lost out because of their rigging and opportunism and lack of principle.

“And now they want to take it out on Buhari by resurrecting Biafra. They want to intimidate Buhari so much. They will now want to negotiate with them and start giving them things and positions they don’t deserve. That is intimidation and threat for no just cause. In summary, they rigged themselves out of contention in the present administration and they are not prepared to accept the consequence of their own actions.”

How else does one describe this kind of incendiary talk by a renowned professor of constitutional law? Is this the same Sagay we all used to love and respect? What has come over our dear prof whose interventions in national debates had been a source of inspiration to all, irrespective of ethnic or tribal affiliation?

Make no mistake about it, I am dead against the balkanisation of Nigeria.

All the countries that have seceded in Africa in the past 20 years plus have practically disappeared into oblivion. Where is Eriteria today? It has been struggling in the back-waters of development. How many people even remember that country? Meanwhile, Ethiopia, the mother country is doing phenomenally better after the break-up. It has witnessed a steady rise in prosperity since it allowed Eriteria to go its way. Another example where break-up hasn’t paid off is South Sudan. It has stumbled from one crisis after another since it broke away from Sudan in 2011.

I doubt if the clamour for Biafra has any real support from the people of the South-east. It appears driven more by an infantile romantic fascination with an idea by a misguided young man. Kanu would be doing the South-east a lot of good by redirecting his energy to holding the leaders of that region to account for all the taxpayers’ money they have received since 1999.

On corruption, let the music go round. All those found wanting whether in PDP or APC should be punished within the rule of law. Let all petitions be investigated; none should be dismissed out of hand, neither should prosecution be selective. A crime is a crime irrespective of the political affiliation of the offender.

By Shaka Momodu

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