The Canonisation of Terror, By Wole Soyinka

Prof Wole Soyinka

The sheer weight of indignation and revulsion of most of Nigerian humanity at the recent Boko Harma atrocity in Yobe is most likely to have overwhelmed a tiny footnote to that outrage, small indeed, but of an inversely proportionate significance.  This was the name of the hospital to which the survivors of the massacre were taken. That minute detail calls into question, in a gruesome but chastening way, the entire ethical landscape into which this nation has been forced by insensate leadership.  It is an uncanny coincidence, one that I hope the new culture of ‘religious tourism’, spearheaded by none other than the nation’s president in his own person, may even come to recognize as a message from unseen forces.

For the name of that hospital, it is reported, is none other than that of General Sani Abacha, a vicious usurper under whose authority the lives of an elected president and his wife were snuffed out.  Assassinations – including through bombs cynically ascribed to the opposition – became routine. Under that ruler, torture and other forms of barbarism were enthroned as the norm of governance.

To round up, nine Nigerian citizens, including the writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-wiwa, were hanged after a trial that was stomach churning even by the most primitive standards of judicial trial, and in defiance of the intervention of world leadership. We are speaking here of a man who placed this nation under siege during an unrelenting reign of terror that is barely different from the current rampage of Boko Haram. It is this very psychopath that was recently canonized by the government of Goodluck Jonathan in commemoration of one hundred years of Nigerian trauma.

It has been long a-coming. One of the broadest avenues in the nation’s capital, Abuja, bears the name of General Sani Abacha. Successive governments have lacked the political courage to change this  signpost – among several others – of  national self degradation and wipe out the memory of the nation’s tormentor from daily encounter. Not even Ministers for the Federal Capital territory within whose portfolios rest such responsibilities, could muster the temerity to initiate the process and leave the rest to public approbation or repudiation. I urged the need of this purge on one such minister, and at least one Head of State. That minister promised, but that boast went the way of Nigerian electoral boast.  The Head of State murmured something about the fear of offending ‘sensibilities’. All evasions amounted to moral cowardice and a doubling of victim trauma. When you proudly display certificates of a nation’s admission to the club of global pariahs, it is only a matter of time before you move to beatify them as saints and other paragons of human perfection. What the government of Goodluck Jonathan has done is to scoop up a century’s accumulated degeneracy in one preeminent symbol, then place it on a podium for the nation to admire, emulate and even – worship.

There is a deplorable message for coming generations in this governance aberration that the entire world has been summoned to witness and indeed, to celebrate. The insertion of an embodiment of  ‘governance by terror’ into the company of committed democrats, professionals, humanists and human rights advocates in their own right, is a sordid effort to grant a certificate of health to a communicable disease that common sense demands should be isolated.

It is a confidence trick that speaks volumes of the perpetrators of such a fraud. We shall pass over – for instance – the slave mentality that concocts loose formulas for an Honours List that automatically elevate any violent bird of passage to the status of nation builders who may, or may not be demonstrably motivated by genuine love of nation.  Accordingly  generalized but false attributes to known killers and treasury robbers is a disservice to history and a desecration of memory.  It also compromises the future. This failure to discriminate, to assess, and thereby make it possible to grudgingly concede that even out of a ‘doctrine of necessity’ – such as military dictatorship –  some demonstrable governance virtue may emerge, reveals nothing but national self-glorification in a moral void, the breeding grounds of future cankerworm in the nation’s edifice.

Such abandonment of moral rigour comes full circle sooner or later. The survivors of a plague known as Boko Haram, students in a place of enlightenment and moral instruction, are taken to a place of healing dedicated to an individual contagion – a murderer and thief of no redeeming quality known as Sani Abacha, one whose plunder is still being pursued all over the world and recovered piecemeal by international consortiums – at the behest of this same government which sees fit to place him on the nation’s Roll of Honour! I can think of nothing more grotesque and derisive of the lifetime struggle of several on this list, and their selfless services to humanity. It all fits. In this nation of portent readers, the coincidence should not be too difficult to decipher.

I reject my share of this national insult.

Professor Wole Soyinka, conscience of the nation, and Nobel laureate, sent in this contribution from Lagos.




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  • Lanre

    Thanking Kongi (Wole Soyinka).

    Thank you, WS. Congratulations on once again remaining a leading guide for moral rectitude in Nigeria. My journey to the mental rejection of Nigeria started on June 16, 1993 after Ibrahim Babangida annulled the elections of June 12, 1993. An election in which I did not even expect Bashorun M.K.O Abiola to win. I still voted. You know, as a young man I had been used to hearing names like Buhari, Babangida, Shagari, Abacha, Gusau, Abdullahi Mohammed etc as leaders. How can a Yorubaman ever win an election in Nigeria or lead? Impossible. I was to be shocked. Not only was MKO winning, BBC believed that Humphrey Nwosu will announce him as the President-Elect.
    I remember what you said when Dele Giwa was killed just after you won the Nobel Prize in 1986. The KILL-JOYS. They will never allow Nigerians to breathe, celebrate and enjoy a moment of natural exuberance.Today, the man who master-minded and initiated that annulment, Ibrahim Babangida is honored.
    Sani Abacha. Let us even assume that the Nigerian Courts have now told us that members of his family and his Chief Security Officer were never involved in the killings of Kudirat Abiola and many opposition figures, what about the money retrieved from him and his family? How can a government honor a thief?
    WS, I have given up on Nigeria. When I was growing up, knowing people like you, Tai Solarin, Ayodele Awojobi, Obafemi Awolowo, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, there was honor in integrity. You dare not be associated with fraud. We valued and celebrated hard work. A reason why today you are celebrated. I am openly revealing to you (in lieu of meeting you again in person someday) that my concern is now for the youth of Yorubaland. My desire is to work and strive to show example to the beautiful youth of that land that the shame that Nigeria represents (through its government) is not what or who we are. I am committed. It will be a hard and strenuous struggle. How can a group of people calling themselves leaders (past and present) honor themselves when over 50 young lads, the future of the country just got killed? What stops you from putting a hold to the ceremonial event for a week? Address the emergency of the situation and hold the same event in a week. Everything scaled down. But No. They all wore their beautiful garments to dance over the graves of those young kids. What sort of people run Nigeria? This is unforgivable. Nigeria is not worth it.

  • Tony Aneke

    I am ever so grateful to God that Nigeria still have such men as Professor Wole Soyinka who serve as conscience of the nation and remind us of our numbling madness such as the award by Jonathan to an odious man as Abacha. This singular action epitomises all that is wrong, evil and wicked about Jonathan and his presidency. I personally thank you sir for rejecting this madness as the honor system in Nigeria has been cheapened and bastardised. Jonathan will reap the fruit of his foolishness some day and I pray that those of us from the Southeast will not be tied with the Same broom. I also thank all those who refused to partake of this ignominious ‘celebration’ as that was an attempt to legitimize this fraud. Nigerians know who their heroes and heroins are and definitely not some of the charlatans the parade. Thank you sir for giving me hope, even though a distant one.

  • Ireti Fatomilola

    Thank you Professor Wole Soyinka for doing this and helping the world. For this moral courage and moral act of yours, for the moral courage you once again displayed here, you will live eternally in the souls, minds, and hearts of the morally and ethically beautiful.The moral world will never forget you-for memory is long, deep, infinite and eternal. Ẹ ṣe.

  • Ken

    Prof, save for the respect I have for elders, I would said senility is beginning to creep in. Why did you isolate Abacha? Why did you not include IBB as part of your reasons for rejecting the honour? Are you afraid of being chastised for criticizing the government you served under? You see, you lost your neutrality the moment you elected to serve as the Road Safety Chairman under IBB. Prof, you were already in the process of rebuilding your reputation before you suddenly elected to juncate the whole Nigeria with Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. I don’t have anything against Amaechi but his case has made you partisan. So don’t even try to arrogate to yourself the position of ‘Chief Moral Custodian of the Federation.’ Nigeria only had one person in that mould and his name is Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. His family was right in rejecting the award because the list was peopled by the very people who are Nigeria’s problems and you are certainly part of them. If you had consulted me before turning down the award I would have advised you to receive it because you guys have got something in common. Nobel Laureate goes with some degree of decency and decorum. The entire Nigeria is supposed to pay attention whenever you speak but the reverse is the case. Reason being that you talk too often. People of your standing seldom talk but when they do people are persuaded to listen. I just hope your handlers are paying heed.

  • Nwa Aba #Lets Break Up Now

    MR WOLE SOYINKA is time you shut-up return the billions you made from IBB

    • segun

      hm hm hm hm hm With people like you Nwa Aba (On Aburi You stan), and if all Nigerians and all Africans are like you, Nigeria will never make it , and Africa will never make it. Fortunately, this is not the case.

    • fred

      Trying as usual to raise the tribal flag eh? The usual tribal muddling of issues-right? The dubious explanation of “you said it because of my tribe” eh? This post is beneath contempt.