By Dele Sobowale
“Are you going to hang him anyhow and try him afterward?”—Mark Twain, 1835-1910. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ. 85
Joseph Conrad, classic author of several best sellers published HEART OF DARKNESS among them. It was not specifically about Africa or Nigeria – especially Nigeria in 2019. But, it might as well have been about black Africa in general and Nigeria in 2019 in particular. Those of us fortunate or unlucky to read history extensively recall that Africa was called the Dark Continent long after the rest of the world had passed through the Dark Age into the Renaissance and global enlightenment started. Even now when every continent and country therein had escaped from the Dark Age, historians of the future might regard the first quarter of the new millennium in Africa as part of our own Dark Age. So primitive are we that basic principles of social, economic, political and religious conduct generally observed elsewhere easily escape us in Africa – especially Nigeria. We lead the world in every index of misery – poverty, illiteracy, poor health, abysmal infrastructure, children out of school, maternal and infant mortality, poor housing and hopelessness. All other more socially and economically advanced and advancing countries are busy thinking of how to improve on their lofty standards. By contrast, Nigeria, the leader of the Dark Continent, has become the world’s leading hatcheries of discord, instability, insecurity, ethnic and religious disharmony. We now seem to generate a new reason for insecurity and confrontation every few months before we have solved those bedevilling us. Together, we are working to make real progress impossible for years to come and hastening the descent into the next level which increasingly is looking like pure anarchy. However, before we step down, it might be in our collective interest to consider the fact that chaos is also a form of servitude.
“Leadership is the ability to define issues without aggravating the problems.”
Warren Bennis, 1980, VBQ p 125
One particular problem which the Executive branch of the FG and a “Honourable Justice” in Abuja have not properly defined but are now set to aggravate is the FG versus Shiite confrontation. When the leader of the Shiites – El—Zakzaky and some members of the sect – were first arrested, they were charged with bail-able offences before a competent court. There was nothing wrong with that. Thereafter, it was up to the prosecution to prove its case since under Nigerian law they were presumed innocent until proved guilty. They were granted bail; but the FG refused to release them in defiance of a court order. Executive lawlessness openly exhibited for more than two years led to street protests by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN. Afraid of where the street protests might lead to, the FG proceeded to clandestinely file a case accusing the Shiites of various heinous crimes. What transpired can be summarised for laymen as follows in the next section before the comments which point to Nigeria’s hearts of darkness. These are individuals who seem to want to destroy our country in order to satisfy their ethnic, regional, and religious prejudices before the next general election if there is going to be one.
“A precedent embalms a principle.” William Scott, 1745-1836. VBQ p 198.
In Nigeria, in what is a democracy on paper, a judge in a court was presented with accusations against millions of fellow Nigerians. The accuser requested the judicial officer presiding over the case to declare the individuals guilty as charged, and to deprive millions of them of their right to worship as they choose. The judge not only granted the request for proscription but also ordered the accuser, in this case the Federal Government of Nigeria, to gazette the proscription order immediately. The “judgment” was given on Thursday and by Monday – just four days after – including Saturday and Sunday which are not working days, the proscription order was published. In all of these, no single member of the IMN was called to defend the organisation; to interrogate the prosecutors; to refute what might have been deliberate lies, exaggerations and distortions. Everything presented by the FG was accepted as perfect truth. In less time than it would have taken to read this column, a judgment was delivered in Nigeria by “an Honourable Justice” depriving millions of fellow Nigerians of their constitutional rights to assemble and worship. And, she, deep in her heart, regarded that as justice done.
The first comment on this matter is obvious. As a Christian and not partisan on Islamic matters, to me, that is injustice – the sort which those in positions of authority and power had entrenched and had turned Nigeria into an almajiri nation.
The Ministry of Justice secretly prepared the case. Knowing the sort of judgment they would get made it easy to get the proscription order ready and gazetted by Monday – even on a weekend. It was government operating like the Mafia. And, it was self-damning, not only of those directly involved but also other lawyers in government right now. They have kept quiet in the face of injustice.
“Let the other side be heard” is a basic principle of law. And to think that the “Honourable Justice”, who delivered this judgment, attended a Law School and was called to the Bar.
Aso Rock is full of professors of law; there are at least eight SANs among the new Ministers, hundreds of legal luminaries in the ruling APC. Curiously, they have all kept quiet – forgetting that this precedent might come to haunt all of us anytime. Today, a Sunni-Muslim President attempts to proscribe Shiite-Muslims. Will the same people keep quiet if, in a few years, a Shiite President proscribes Sunnis? Will Catholics keep quiet if a Baptist President closes all Catholic Churches and institutions? Why are the “learned” men and women in APC keeping quiet? Have those of them now living in the citadel of Aso Rock forgotten that they have relatives outside who will share in the consequences of the carnage which might follow anarchy? And, what happens if they get out while the mayhem is still ravaging the country? Learned men and intelligent people in government have for too long struggled to keep their jobs by denying reality. Those dodges are no longer working.
I am afraid that anybody who keeps silent in this matter, Muslim or Christian, is in for a shock. This might be the first of a series of proscription orders which the FG might be contemplating in order to silence those they consider annoying. Silence now might mean silence for ever until you become the victim of another proscription order secretly obtained from a “Justice of Nigeria” who might not even bother to hear from you.
Just as I was writing this column, my vendor brought in SUNDAY papers and on the front page of two of them are reports of the arrest of Omoyele Sowore, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC. The group plans what was tagged a “revolution march”. The Inspector General of Police, IGP, without any court order to stop a lawful protest, calls it “treasonable”. How he arrived at the conclusion is a mystery. But, if the statement issued by the organisers is an indication of what to expect, Nigerians will again be experiencing another face-off between security forces and a group of citizens. Nobody needs to be told that it is an ill-wind that will blow Nigeria no good. We are set to spend more of our inadequate financial and other resources on battling another group – now uniquely political.
“When spider webs unite, they can tie down a lion.”
Ethiopian Proverb, VBQ, p 231.
The IGP has my sympathies, Nigeria even more. Just two months ago, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, while testifying before the National Assembly, NASS, about the unchecked and rising wave of crime in Nigeria, declared “we are helpless”. It is doubtful if the Nigeria Police had increased its capacity to deal with crimes and now open revolts. Again, I have bad news for the IGP. Very soon, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, will take to the streets to press their demands. Youth groups, which felt short-changed on account of the ministerial appointments, might also want to test the waters. Very soon, the security forces might find themselves overwhelmed with the challenges they face and which will not soon disappear.
“Men make history; but not just as they please.”
Karl Marx, 1818-1882. VBQ p 93.
As a Nigerian Christian, I regard the proscription order as a Sunni conspiracy against Shiites which might affect me and my family as innocent bystanders. Even if there are 10,000 Sunnis to one Shiite, that single one is entitled under our Constitution to worship as he/she likes. It should not be our business. Anybody who commits crime should be prosecuted for the crime. The religion should not be proscribed because 100 people rioted. Boko Haram and herdsmen have committed more atrocities and killed thousands of Nigerians and there is no proscription order signed to outlaw them. A religious sect against which not even one murder had been conclusively proved except in a Kangaroo (Sunni) court in Kaduna State receives a proscription order clandestinely obtained. It reveals the hearts of darkness of all those who had a hand in it.
Shiitism is here for as long as there is a country called Nigeria. The FG’s attempt to criminalise that sect of Islam flies in the face of history – including Islamic history. If proscription could work, neither Christianity nor Islam will be around today. The early practitioners of both religions were called criminals.
It is a pity that nobody studied history at the highest levels of government. But, at least, they can do the rest of us a favour. They should send their own sons to the front instead of making almajiris canon fodder.