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The grounds on which General Buhari
is being promoted as the alternative choice are not only shaky, but pitifully
naive. History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of
memory, but to operate as guides to the future. Of course, we know that human
beings change.

What the claims of personality
change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence,
not wishful speculation or behind-the- scenes assurances. Public offence,
crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not in caucuses
of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest
prospect of change.

On the contrary, all evident
suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one
ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order Buhari? Need one remind anyone –
was one of the generals who treated a Commission of Enquiry, the Oputa Panel,
with unconcealed disdain. Like Babangida and Abdusalami, he refused to put in
appearance even though complaints that were tabled against him involved a
career of gross abuses of power and blatant assault on the fundamental human
rights of the Nigerian citizenry. Prominent against these charges was an act
that amounted to nothing less than judicial murder, the execution of a citizen
under a retroactive decree.

Does Decree 20 ring a bell? If not,
then, perhaps the names of three youths – Lawal Ojuolape (30), Bernard
Ogedengbe (29) and Bartholomew Owoh (26) do. To put it quite plainly, one of
those three Ogedengbe – was executed for a crime that did not carry a capital
forfeit at the time it was committed. This was an unconscionable crime, carried
out in defiance of the pleas and protests of nearly every sector of the
Nigerian and international community religious, civil rights, political, trade
unions etc.

Buhari and his sidekick and his
partner-in-crime, Tunde Idiagbon persisted in this inhuman act for one reason
and one reason only: to place Nigerians on notice that they were now under an
iron, inflexible rule, under governance by fear. The execution of that youthful
innocent for so he was, since the punishment did not exist at the time of
commission – was nothing short of premeditated murder, for which the
perpetrators should normally stand trial upon their loss of immunity. Are we
truly expected to forget this violation of our entitlement to security as
provided under existing laws? And even if our sensibilities have become blunted
by succeeding seasons of cruelty and brutality, if power itself had so
coarsened the sensibilities also of rulers and corrupted their judgment, what
should one rightly expect after they have been rescued from the snare of power.

At the very least, a revaluation,
leading hopefully to remorse, and its expression to a wronged society. At the
very least, such a revaluation should engender reticence, silence. In the case
of Buhari, it was the opposite. Since leaving office he has declared in the
most categorical terms that he had no regrets over this murder and would do so
again. Human life is inviolate. The right to life is the uniquely fundamental
right on which all other rights are based. The crime that General Buhari
committed against the entire nation went further however, inconceivable as it
might first appear.

That crime is one of the most
profound negations of civic being. Not content with hammering down the freedom
of expression in general terms, Buhari specifically forbade all public
discussion of a return to civilian, democratic rule. Let us constantly applaud
our media those battle scarred professionals did not completely knuckle down.

They resorted to cartoons and
oblique, elliptical references to sustain the people’s campaign for a
time-table to democratic rule. Overt agitation for a democratic time table
however remained rigorously suppressed military dictatorship, and a
specifically incorporated in Buhari and Idiagbon was here to stay. To deprive a
people of volition in their own political direction is to turn a nation into a
colony of slaves. Buhari enslaved the nation. He gloated and gloried in a
master-slave relation to the millions of its inhabitants. It is astonishing to
find that the same former slaves, now free of their chains, should clamour to
be ruled by one who not only turned their nation into a slave plantation, but
forbade them any discussion of their condition. So Tai Solarin is already
forgotten? Tai who stood at street corners, fearlessly distributing leaflets
that took up the gauntlet where the media had dropped it.

 Tai who was incarcerated by that regime and
denied even the medication for his asthmatic condition? Tai did not ask to be
sent for treatment overseas; all he asked was his traditional medicine that had
proved so effective after years of struggle with asthma! Nor must we omit the
manner of Buhari coming to power and the pattern of his corrective rule.
Shagari’s NPN had already run out of steam and was near universally detested
except of course by the handful that still benefited from that regime of
profligacy and rabid fascism. Responsibility for the national condition lay
squarely at the door of the ruling party, obviously, but against whom was
Buharis coup staged?

Judging by the conduct of that
regime, it was not against Shagaris government but against the opposition. The
head of government, on whom primary responsibility lay, was Shehu Shagari. Yet
that individual was kept in cozy house detention in Ikoyi while his powerless
deputy, Alex Ekwueme, was locked up in Kiri-kiri prisons. Such was the Buhari
notion of equitable apportionment of guilt and/or responsibility.

And then the cascade of escapes of
the wanted, and culpable politicians. Manhunts across the length and breadth of
the nation, roadblocks everywhere and borders tight as steel zip locks. Lo and
behold, the chairman of the party, Chief Akinloye, strolled out coolly across
the border. Richard Akinjide, Legal Protector of the ruling party, slipped out
with equal ease. The Rice Minister, Umaru Dikko, who declared that Nigerians
were yet to eat f’rom dustbins – escaped through the same airtight dragnet. The
clumsy attempt to crate him home was punishment for his ingratitude, since he
went berserk when, after waiting in vain, he concluded that the coup had not
been staged, after all, for the immediate consolidation of the party of extreme
right-wing vultures, but for the military hyenas. The case of the overbearing
Secretary-General of the party, Uba Ahmed, was even more noxious. Uba Ahmed was
out of the country at the time. Despite the closure of the Nigerian airspace,
he compelled the pilot of his plane to demand special landing permission, since
his passenger load included the almighty Uba Ahmed. Of course, he had not known
of the change in his status since he was airborne. The delighted airport
commandant, realizing that he had a much valued fish swimming willingly into a
waiting net, approved the request. Uba Ahmed disembarked into the arms of a
military guard and was promptly clamped in detention.

Incredibly, he vanished a few days
after and reappeared in safety overseas. Those whose memories have become calcified
should explore the media coverage of that saga. Buhari was asked to explain the
vanished act of this much prized quarry and his response was one of the most
arrogant levity. Coming from one who had shot his way into power on the slogan
of discipline, it was nothing short of impudent. Shall we revisit the
tragicomic series of trials that landed several politicians several lifetimes
in prison? Recall, if you please, the judicial processes undergone by the
septuagenarian Chief Adekunle Ajasin. He was arraigned and tried before
Buhari’s punitive tribunal but acquitted. Dissatisfied, Buhari ordered his
re-trial. Again, the Tribunal could not find this man guilty of a single crime,
so once again he was returned for trial, only to be acquitted of all charges of
corruption or abuse of office. Was Chief Ajasin thereby released?

No! He was ordered detained
indefinitely, simply for the crime of winning an election and refusing to
knuckle under Shagari’s reign of terror. The conduct of the Buhari regime after
his coup was not merely one of double, triple, multiple standards but a cynical
travesty of justice. Audu Ogbeh, currently chairman of the Action Congress was
one of the few figures of rectitude within the NPN. Just as he has done in
recent times with the PDP, he played the role of an internal critic and
reformer, warning, dissenting, and setting an example of probity within his
ministry. For that crime he spent months in unjust incarceration.

Guilty by association? Well, if
that was the motivating yardstick of the administration of the Buhari justice,
then it was most selectively applied.

The utmost severity of the
Buhari-Idiagbon justice was especially reserved either for the opposition in
general, or for those within the ruling party who had showed the sheerest sense
of responsibility and patriotism.

Shall I remind this nation of
Buhari’s deliberate humiliating treatment of the Emir of Kano and the Oni of
Ife over their visit to the state of Israel? I hold no brief for traditional
rulers and their relationship with governments, but insist on regarding them as
entitled to all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of any Nigerian
citizen. This royal duo went to Israel on their private steam and private
business. Simply because the Buhari regime was pursuing some antagonistic
foreign policy towards Israel, a policy of which these traditional rulers were
not a part, they were subjected on their return to a treatment that could only
be described as a head masterly chastisement of errant pupils.

 Since when, may one ask, did a free citizen of
the Nigerian nation require the permission of a head of state to visit a
foreign nation that was willing to offer that tourist a visa? One is only too
aware that some Nigerians love to point to Buhari’s agenda of discipline as the
shining jewel in his scrap-iron crown. To inculcate discipline however, one
must lead by example, obeying laws set down as guides to public probity.
Example speaks louder than declarations, and rulers cannot exempt themselves
from the disciplinary structures imposed on the overall polity, especially on
any issue that seeks to establish a policy for public well-being. The story of
the thirty something suitcases it would appear that they were even closer to
fifty – found unavoidable mention in my recent memoirs, YOU MUST SET FORTH AT
DOWN, written long before Buhari became spoken of as a credible candidate. For
the exercise of a changeover of the national currency, the Nigerian borders
air, sea and land had been shut tight.

 Nothing was supposed to move in or out, not
even cattle egrets.

Yet a prominent camel was allowed
through that needles eye. Not only did Buhari dispatch his aide-de-camp, Jokolo
later to become an emir- to facilitate the entry of those cases, he ordered the
redeployment as I later discovered – of the Customs Officer who stood firmly
against the entry of the contravening baggage. That officer, the incumbent
Vice-president is now a rival candidate to Buhari, but has somehow, in the
meantime, earned a reputation that totally contradicts his conduct at the time.
Wherever the truth lies, it does not redound to the credibility of the dictator
of that time, General Buhari whose word was law, but whose allegiances were
clearly negotiable.

On the theme of double, triple,
multiple standards in the enforcement of the law, and indeed of the decrees
passed by the Buhari regime at the time, let us recall the notorious case of
Triple Alhaji Alhaji Alhaji, then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of
Finance. Who was caught, literally, with his pants down in distant Austria.
That was not the crime however, and private conduct should always remain
restricted to the domain of private censure.

There was no decree against civil
servants proving just as hormone driven as anyone else, especially outside the
nation’s borders.

However, there was a clear decree
against the keeping of foreign accounts, and this was what emerged from the
Austrian escapade. Alhaji Alhaji kept, not one, but several undeclared foreign
accounts, and he had no business being in possession of the large amount of
foreign currency of which he was robbed by his overnight companion. The media
screamed for an even application of the law, but Buhari had turned suddenly
deaf. By contrast, Fela Anikulapo languished in goal for years, sentenced under
that very draconian decree. His crime was being in possession of foreign
exchange that he had legitimately received for the immediate upkeep of his band
as they set off for an international engagement. A vicious sentence was slapped
down on Fela by a judge who later became so remorse stricken at least after
Buhari’s overthrow that he went to the King of Afro-beat and apologized.

Lesser known was the traumatic
experience of the director of an international communication agency, an
affiliate of UNESCO. Akin Fatoyinbo arrived at the airport in complete
ignorance of the new currency decree. He was thrown in gaol in especially
brutal condition, an experience from which he never fully recovered. It took
several months of high-level intervention before that innocent man was
eventually freed. These were not exceptional but mere sample cases from among
hundreds of others, victims of a decree that was selectively applied, a decree
that routinely penalized innocents and ruined the careers and businesses of
many.

What else? What does one choose to
include or leave out? What precisely was Ebenezer Babatope’s crime that he
should have spent the entire tenure of General Buhari in detention?

Nothing beyond the fact that he
once warned in the media that Buhari was an ambitious soldier who would bear
watching through the lenses of a coup-detat. Babatope’s father died while he
was in Buhari’s custody, the dictator remained deaf to every plea that he be at
least released to attend his father’s funeral, even under guard. I wrote an
article at the time, denouncing this pointless insensitivity. So little to
demand by a man who was never accused of, nor tried for any crime,much less
found guilty. Such a load of vindictiveness that smothered all traces of basic
human compassion deserves no further comment in a nation that values its
traditions.

But then, speaking the truth was
not what Buhari, as a self-imposed leader, was especially enamoured of enquire
of Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor both of whom, faithful to their journalistic
calling, published nothing but the truth, yet ended up sentenced under Buhari’s
decree. Mind you, no one can say that Buhari was not true to his word. Shall
tamper with the freedom of the press swore the dictator immediately on grabbing
office, and this was exactly what he did. And so on, and on, and on……

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