President Muhammadu Buhari’s persona sometimes comes across as complicated. And nothing exemplifies this like his views about his late subordinate, and later boss, Sani Abacha. Frankly, the president would never accept that Abacha was corrupt, despite all of the heart-shattering revelations pointing to the contrary.
Ten years ago in Kano, speaking at the remembrance prayer marking the 10th anniversary of Mr Abacha’s death, he was reported to have told the gathering that the the late dictator never looted the treasury. Rather than chastise the man, Mr Buhari said, Nigerians should canonize him because he built roads and hospitals and other developmental projects. This was despite the huge amount of money the government was and is still repatriating from different sources around the world. Abacha was said to have stolen more than Euros Five billion, out of which over $1 billion has been reportedly recovered according to The Guardian.
In April, the ministry of finance announced that $322.5 million was returned to Nigeria by the Swiss Government as part of the Abacha loot. Last month, the president himself hinted that the government was awaiting $320 million Abacha loot, which is expected to go into developmental initiatives. But the president would still not describe the fund as “loot”, ostensibly to avoid self-contradiction.
It is quite an irony that a man seen and hailed as being anti-graft would by whatever means justify and defend Mr Abacha’s plundering of the nation’s resources. But that’s quite beside the point here.
On the dictatorial front, no government has come close to competing with Abacha’s bestial tendencies in the nation’s history. It is still unclear whether President Buhari believes that Mr Abacha actually tormented and maimed and murdered numerous pro-democracy campaigners who stood at the forefront of the struggle, with many losing their lives, to liberate the nation and install the democracy he now enjoys. He gave a hint into what has been in his mind penultimate week when he said “No matter what opinion you have about Abacha…”
First, Mr Abacha’s bestiality is not a matter of anyone’s opinion; they are sad facts of history the most unpatriotic Nigerian would not want the nation to witness again. I find it painful that Mr Buhari was allowed to get away with that heresy, a point made by columnists Owei Lakemfa at the 60th birthday colloquium of journalist and mentor, Kunle Ajibade, on Wednesday.
Suliyat Adedeji was gruesomely murdered in Ibadan in 1996. Bayo Onanuga was arrested twice, taken to Aso Rock, but escaped with the help of Gen. Oladipo Diya. He quickly fled the country. Femi Ojudu, now Buhari’s aide, was detained for nine months and when he returned, his son ran away upon seeing him – he had become something else! Tokunbo Fakeye, defence correspondent of The News Magazine, was at Bonny camp for nine months. Dele Omotunde was arrested and spent six months in detention. Nosa Igiebor of Tell was not spared.
Fayemiwo Moshood, the publisher of the fiery Razor Magazine, was abducted from Cotonou in neighbouring Republic of Benin, locked in the trunk of a car, dragged all the way to Nigeria and kept in the dungeon at the DMI, in solitary confinement. Bagauda Kaltho was summarily murdered and the goons lied that he died while trying to detonate a bomb!
Alfred Rewane was killed. Ditto Kudirat Abiola. Femi Falana was serially arrested and detained while Bola Ige and others were jailed, including Kunle Ajibade. The late icon, Gani Fawenhimi, suffered huge. The list is endless.
The human rights atrocities of the Abacha years, and the mega financial corruption, are heart-wrenching enough and it would be insensitive of anyone, including the president, to keep assaulting peoples’ senses with such ahistorical infatuation.
Of course, one man’s hero is another man’s villain; but Abacha–– that fiendish cacodemon!––is a crude exception. He should, ideally, be nobody’s hero. In a sane society, Mr Abacha’s name will be written in full at every strategic points in our cities, with strong caveats screaming “NEVER AGAIN”!
That president Buhari got away with that unsettling comment speaks to a sad part of our recent history: our disdain for history. One, the largest chunk of those who witnessed Abacha’s bestiality are, for some curious reasons, silent. Two, a large percentage of our Twitter-dwelling “collective children of anger” knew very little or nothing about the man.
What this exemplifies is that if a descendant of Adolf Hitler accidentally finds himself in power tomorrow, all what he needs to do in Germany is to suspend history in the school curriculum for a decade and, the next decade, name Hitler the best thing after Ghandi. There would be no uproar!
‘Elder’ Ajibade @ 60!
On Wednesday, we were at the NIIA to celebrate ‘Elder’ Kunle Ajibade, model journalist and author. I was fascinated by Mr Ajibade’s humility, his charm, his gentle mien, all through the programme. At a point, Prof. Wole Soyinka refered to him as ‘Elewon’ (Prisoner) and we all laughed. The tragi-comedic essence of that statement wasn’t lost on me.
I was particularly moved by the general consensus among all speakers that the celebrant is an Omoluabi who never betrayed his colleagues despite the challenge. Quite a pity that the nation the Ajibades and Olorunyomis stood for is still in the hands of looters and jobbers, a point Mr Ajibade too lamented about. But in the end, he urged us all never to give up. If he still has such level of optimism despite his bitter experience in the hand of the agents of the state, it means young ones like myself have no reason to give up. Nigeria will be great.
Happy birthday, Sir, Omoluabi Atata!