The Gulag Archipelago is the title of a monumental work authored by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian novelist and dissident who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970. The book is one of the most rigorous accounts of the vast prison and forced labour camp system sustained across the Soviet Union after the Revolution, especially during the blood-soaked era of Josef Stalin. In a totalitarian society, the road to prison, to the labour camp, to the concentration camp does not begin, as people generally believe, with the arbitrary deployment of the ideological and physical apparatuses of violence against the people.
The journey always starts much earlier in the head of the ruler. Once the demons that have elected permanent residence in the ruler’s head convince him to equate criticism and every instance of dissent and disagreement with mortal danger, the drift towards Hades begins. The signs are always there, latent and incipient. And history teaches us that people who fail to read early warning signs that the dormant demons in a ruler’s head are now awake and busy at work often count the costs of their negligence much later in human corpses and the loss of human dignity for the living. This is why Nigerians of good conscience must observe with grave concern the gradual emergence of a Gulag Ekitilago under the watch of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state. Luckily, it is still morning yet on creation day for the demons at work in Governor Fayemi’s head. If we begin to scream now, right now, disaster can still be averted.
Indeed, news filtering out of Governor Fayemi’s ACN warren in Ekiti has been worrisome and depressing. Too many tragedies compete for national attention in Nigeria. As Nigeria insists on turning human capital to human cattle (apologies to Okey Ndibe) before destroying the said cattle, we produce spectacles of accursed nationhood in which Mubi, Aluu, and floods compete with our endlessly famished roads for bountiful human harvest. Assailed by these unspeakable tragedies, we have failed to register the fact that one former democrat, an ex-progressive now turned Emperor of Ekiti, has been experimenting with territories they told him humanists don’t cross as he studied history, politics, and international relations all the way to the doctoral level at the prestigious King’s College, University of London.
If there is one Governor in Nigeria who should understand the sanctity of the Voltairean maxim, “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, that Governor is Kayode Fayemi. It is not just his bona fides in the pro-democracy and progressive movements, especially, during the Abacha incubus but also his impeccable and unimpeachable intellectual pedigree. If Mr. Fayemi had elected a career in academe, it is safe to say that he would by now have had a Distinguished Professorship of the Humanities in a world-class University. I found it remarkable that he never abandoned the life of the mind during his search for the validation of his stolen mandate, circulating in seminars and symposia in Euro-American Universities. In fact, I narrowly missed him during one such symposium at Vanderbilt University. My friend, Professor Moses Ochonu of Vanderbilt, had invited Okey Ndibe, Sonala Olumhense, Kayode Fayemi, and other Nigerian academics, and yours truly to a symposium. I missed the event. So did Mr. Fayemi. Given this background, Governor Kayode Fayemi should be the first person to defend the right of Mr. Lere Olayinka, a perennial thorn in his side, to express his opinions freely and unhindered. Indeed, Governor Fayemi should defend to the death Mr. Olayinka’s right to oppositional and contrarian politics and statements.
Rather than guarantee these fundamental ideals of democracy, Governor Fayemi and his goons have turned Ekiti into a negation of democracy, hounding Mr Olayinka. Not content with constantly harassing him, they finally arrested him in galling circumstances, clamped him in detention until the absurd and the arbitrary became too obvious. They then charged him to court for sedition, denied him bail, each action taking Ekiti and Nigeria back to the dark ages.
Let us be clear about issues. Mr Lere Olayinka is far from being an objective, disinterested critic. He is on the payroll of Mr. Segun Oni, the former PDP despoiler-Governor of Ekiti state. That, alone, makes Mr. Olayinka a worker in the vineyard of the enemies of the Nigerian people. I believe I have made it sufficiently clear in my writings through the years that there are no good PDP people where I stand. If you are PDP or you work for a member of the PDP, you a thief, murderer, and wrecker of the Nigerian state rolled into one. I have no grey areas in my assessment of the PDP. I don’t even grant them my usual distinction between bad and less bad. PDP is cancer. PDP operatives and the Nigerian state they run are vermin where I stand. Their aides are not excused. From the Presidency to the local government, if you work for PDP politicians, you are a servicer of the cancer of the bone marrow that has ruined Nigeria.
But our claim to a superior ethos and a superior vision must be validated by our solemn responsibility to guarantee and defend the right of even the rapists of Nigeria’s destiny to free expression. The Nigerian progressive must be the first to defend to the death the right of Reuben Abati, Reno Omokri, and even a degenerate contract racketeer like Doyin Okupe to lie to their hearts’ content. We must defend the right of Ibrahim Babangida to wax eloquent on the gains of democracy; we must defend the right of Dimeji Bankole to perorate on good leadership; we must defend the right of Farouk Lawan to preach against bribery. Our responsibility to society is not to silence these scurrilous characters but to insist on the emergence of ethos and institutions and processes that shall one day make them pay for their crimes after having their day in court. That is the alternative Nigeria we propose. We don’t want a Nigeria in which we hound people for saying things we would rather not hear.
Mr Olayinka has been consistent with his opposition to Mr Fayemi’s government. He has led a very successive Facebook campaign which I follow closely. I have followed Mr Olayinka long enough to be able to offer a considered assessment of his methods. You may hate the fact that he works for the degenerate PDP establishment (I do) but you cannot take away the empirical thoroughness of his critiques. He is unrelenting. He deploys facts, moves thoughts, supplies details and statistics (and frequent pictorial evidence) to support his position. He wants you to see that the ACN system in his southwest corner of Nigeria is turning out to be just as deleterious – if not more deleterious – than the PDP system we collectively hate and vilify. His campaign is social media-based but sometimes he also hits the trenches. And because of that, Governor Fayemi and his goons have placed a knife on the rope of democratic ethos in Ekiti state. They have arrested Mr. Olayinka and are preparing a kangaroo sedition trial.
This is sad. This is why I condemned Governor Fayemi and his boss, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in my op-ed, “Asiwaju goes to Charlotte”. What did they learn in their jamboree to the democratic convention, I had asked in that essay. Now we know the answer. Governor Fayemi went to Charlotte to learn how to muzzle the opposition and how to transform his state into a zone of conformity where everyone praises the Emperor’s brightly-colored new clothes. Perhaps as he listened to speeches by Bill Clinton, Ted Strickland, Barack Obama and all those who animated the podium at that convention, he got his epiphany about how to muzzle the opposition? Try to shut down Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t succeed, grab your opponent in broad daylight and throw him in jail. Deny him his fundamental human rights. Is this perhaps what our friends learnt in Charlotte?
The behavior of the apparatuses of state in Ekiti has finally denuded those of us in the intellectual class. We are demystified. We argued for a very long time that Nigeria is wretched because people like us have never presided over her destiny. Fate gave us two University lecturers in quick succession, one an alleged PhD graduate of the University of Port Harcourt. Faced with the mediocrity of Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, we sought solace and cold comfort in what we perceived as the shallowness of their intellection. Now we have somebody whose PhD in the humanities is from King’s College, and who has authored books on democracy, constitutionalism, and governance, hounding the opposition in his state in the manner of Lamidi Adedibu and Tokyo. It’s a sad day for Nigeria when it is no longer possible to tell the difference between Kayode Fayemi, Lamidi Adedibu, and Tokyo. O ma se o.
Pius Adesanmi, Ph.D, is an associate professor, Dept. of English Language & Literature, Carleton University, Canada