History and Justice
History is replete with situations when man was subjected to one form of injustice or another. Under such situations, apart from employing his own devices, he has always turned to the Heavens for aid. Many times the Heavens would respond, though not without a condition. One of the most celebrated cases was that of the Children of Israel under Pharoanic Egypt. God raised Moses to undertake the task of liberating them. He advised them thus:
“Pray for help from God and wait in patience and constancy: for the earth is God’s, to give as a heritage to such of His servants as He pleases.”
When their subjugation escalated, they impatiently grumbled to Moses:
“We have had (nothing but) trouble, both before and after you came to us.” Moses replied, “It may be that your Lord will destroy your enemy and make you inheritors in the earth; that so He may try you by your deeds.”
Finally, liberation came. Pharoah was destroyed and the Children of Israel were made “inheritors of lands in both East and West.”
However, no sooner were they liberated than they started violating their covenants with God and recurrently disobeyed Moses in almost everything. The last time they did so was at the gates of the Holy Land. The crowd was prepared to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, insisting that they return to Egypt. They told Moses, “Go you, and your Lord, and fight, you two, while we sit here (and watch).” The perpetrators were left wondering never to enter the Holy Land for forty years. For these actions, God “declared that He would send against them, to the Day of Judgment, those who would afflict them with grievous penalty.”
The Children of Israel have not ceased to be a classical case of the “tyranny of the oppressed” to date. During the end of the first half of this century, the whole world came to their aid, freed them from injustice in Germany. But as soon as they were conceded Palestine as a homeland they became ‘Hitleric’, perpetrating the worst kind of injustices on its inhabitants, Muslims and Christians alike. To this extent, liberation struggles largely succeeded in nothing other than the replacement of one tyranny with another.
The early history of Islam is considered as one of the few unique periods in history where an immediate regression back to oppression was averted for sometime. Humanity as a whole was brought to an equal footing, regardless of race, creed, gender and so on. First, God commanded Muslims in whose hands the cumbersome role of leadership was placed to lead by the following ideal:
“Staunch in justice, witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for God is nearer unto both (than you are). So follow no passion lest you lapse (from truth) and if you lapse or fall away, then lo! God is ever informed of what you do.”
Aware that man could easily turn vindictive, God again advised Muslims to
“stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is closer to piety: and fear God, for God is well acquainted with all that you do.”
It is worth reviewing, for the purpose of illustration, the context in which the first verse was revealed. It was the concluding part of a revelation that addressed a dispute involving a hypocrite Muslim (Ta’ima ibn Ubairaq). In his commentary, Yusuf Ali wrote: “He was suspected of having stolen a set of armor, and when the trail was hot, he planted the stolen property into the house of a Jew, where it was found. The Jew denied the charge and accused Ta’ima, but the sympathies of the Muslim community were with Ta’ima on account of his nominal profession of Islam. The case was brought to the Apostle, who acquitted the Jew according to the strict principle of justice, as “guided by God”. Attempts were (earlier) made to prejudice him and deceive him into using his authority to favor Ta’ima.”
The legendary dispute between Caliph Ali and another Jew illustrated further the commitment of the companions of the Prophet to this principle of equal treatment. When Ali could not prove the ownership of a ring he lost, the judge, without fear or favor to the Caliph, ruled in favor of the Jew. Shortly afterwards, the Jew affirmed that the ring of course belonged to Ali, and converted to Islam due to the egalitarian way the case was handled. Many other examples could be cited. But suffice it to mention that the commitment of early Muslims to this principle of Justice was what caused the spread of Islam more than any other thing. Where battles were fought not in self-defence, they were fought for liberation. The cardinal principle was justice as illustrated above. In many other instances, like in West Africa, Islam reached distant lands through the practice of honesty and justice by Muslim traders.
The ‘South’ and Justice in Nigeria
Recent political developments in Nigeria have produced something unfortunate. No one in his senses would justify the maladministration that took place in the last fifteen years. People supported the southern press that appeared then to champion the cause for change. I could not resist expressing my admiration and support for them when I wrote Abdulsalami, You Too. If I did not join them politically, others like Dangiwa and Dayyabu did so, some even going to the extent of equating Abacha with the North.
Hence, Nigerians felt that with the end of the old order and the return to democracy, past injustices will stop. No one raised our hopes like the incumbent President, particularly with his anti-corruption promises. A chance presented itself for the first time in the case of forgery by Salisu Buhari. It was first reported by Today, a northern weekly, and taken up later by the southern press, The News especially. Everybody jumped in support of the magazine so much so that within a month the guy was not only forced to resign his leadership and membership of the House of Representatives but he was also prosecuted and charged ‘accordingly’. “We are on the right cause”, we quickly concluded, without waiting to see the consolidation of a pattern.
Another chance presented itself immediately, that of the Senate leader, Mr. Evan(s) Enwerem. In my judgment, the guy is guilty to the core. Tell magazine did not earn the same support accorded The News in the Buhari saga. Not only that, the eastern press quickly came to the support of Enwerem. It read the whole matter in tribal terms. So while no Northerner supported Buhari, we are today seeing Enwerem surviving the charge, even though the House of Representatives is convinced that he is guilty. Also, his tribesmen, the Ibo, are not ready to chop off a cankerous finger. The East has failed the test that the North has passed. Justice, in our judgment, is hereby sacrificed for the primitive sentiments of tribalism by the Ibo; for political expedience by the President and the senate who failed to institute a police investigation, and by media houses for obvious gains.
The worst was in the pipeline. Today exposed another forgery case, this time against a southerner, the governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu. The ‘South’ now failed its test, more woefully than the East. This is because its politicians, media houses, AD, NADECO, and so on, all Yoruba, tried to cover up the matter initially. In fact, they planned to kill it through keeping quiet. When that was not possible, ‘friends of Tinubu’, (which is another name for NADECO and other human rights organizations) gathered, according to Today and Hallmark, the awful sum of N1.5 billion to finance his survival fight. All this is taking place in a case that is in no way less glaring than that of Salisu Buhari. Why? The ‘South’ is soliciting for our sympathy. It is in pains. No one has expressed the reasons and sobriety that characterizes their silence than Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, a leader in NADECO. He wrote, not simply said:
“Does the Church lead a crusade against one of its leading members who might have gone astray? That is not life. That is not reality. Tinubu paid his dues for this struggle. He suffered for this struggle. He made financial contributions to this struggle. He was detained at Alagbon for this struggle. Right now I feel his pain and feel for him. If and when the time comes for condemnation, I hope that NADECO would do so with so much sadness, pain and compassion.” (THISDAY, 19 September 1999).
What an emotional feeling of self-defeat, coming out from the mouth of a professor, former minister of foreign affairs, a campaigner for democracy! How I wish other criminals in the country would have their ‘pain’ felt this way! How I wish Buhari was condemned with ‘much sadness, pain and compassion’! According to NADECO, Buhari does not deserve that, because he was not a member of ‘the struggle’. Is this the depth of democracy in an organization that calls itself National DEMOCRATIC Coalition? Is this the rectitude of its conscience? Is this the ideal of its ‘struggle’? Is this what we expect will be the principle guiding the AD government of Obasanjo for the next four years?
If you are waiting for the AD to respond as the PDP did in the case of Buhari, then listen to the blunt reply of ‘Comrade’ Bola Ige. Na’allah M. Zagga reported the chief as saying, ”they would stand behind a liar in spite of the moral stains all over his body”. How disappointed would other ‘socialists’ and ‘nationalists’ feel by this open abuse on principles of social justice? How disappointed would his admirers here in the North feel? How disappointed will supporters of Obasanjo feel, given that Ige has publicly declared that the General is following AD programs? Now the riddle behind Obasanjo’s lopsided conduct is solved. His defenders should please take note. It is a lie told at the Eagle Square on May 29: “there will be no sacred cows whatsoever”. It is now clear who are the sacred cows in this regime.
You may wonder where are people like Beko and Soyinka. Beko is annoyed, asking, “what business has Gani got to do with Tinubu’s papers?” Soyinka prefers the matter to be left to politicians. Paul Odili has the following to say about him: “friendship is turning out to be stronger than principle. God bless your soul Prof. Soyinka, and may this inconsistency torment your conscience forever.” (THISDAY, 19 September 1999).
This weakness of the Yoruba elite, of falling too easily into the trap of tribal affiliation regardless of the position of justice, has made it difficult for him to align with other Nigerians. In the past, many people, frustrated with the hegemony in the North, have tried to align with the South on national matters. However, they were quickly repelled by the entrenched tribalism of the Yoruba elite. Balarabe Musa said, “their leaders are not even ashamed of it”. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver a public lecture on the restructuring of the Federation. When I said that the core-North would be ready anytime to form an independent region, some brothers complained that we are now ready to sacrifice the ‘60%’ Yoruba Muslim population of the South. But I was blunt enough to say that our problem with their majority is its preference to tribal allegiance justice. The position of justice, in my view, is where a principled individual should belong even if it is against his personal interest or that of his tribe, region, and so on.
Except for Joshua
However, one voice stood alone, that of Gani Fawehinmi. I call him the ‘Joshua of the South’. His stand has yielded fruits. The issue, despite the N1.5 billion PR, is back on headlines of newspapers and magazines, willingly or otherwise. Of all those demanding our gratitude for bringing back ‘democracy’, Gani is the only consistent voice. He was the only bird that refused to flee when it saw the stone coming. Confident of its strength, it sat firm in situ and survived the pelt. He has not robbed a bank or FRSC and fled to exile to enjoy the warm accommodation of multinationals. He did not receive their ‘contributions’ and that of other generous ‘church’ members. Understandably he does need to wait until the time comes to condemn Tinubu with ‘so much sadness, pain and compassion.’ Bravo, Joshua!
We return to where we started. The south that claimed to be oppressed under Babangida and Abacha has their turn now. Having gained ‘liberation’, by the simple fact that ‘one of our own’ is in power and doing ‘as we wish’, they have failed to fulfill the promise of upholding the principles of brotherhood, equality and justice to all Nigerians. We are witnessing what I call the “tyranny of the ‘oppressed”.
Anybody that has a sincere conscience and foresight will not fail to conclude that this country is moving fast towards crisis, the inevitable end of injustice in any society. Who is to blame? I believe the president is responsible for this. He is running a politics of appeasement. So far, this has made him compromise every good he was known to possess. Yesterday, other Nigerians were cheering him because he has sidelined the so-called Hausa-Fulani. Today, that deliberate bent is gradually engulfing the entire nation, pushing it to the brink of a disaster similar to that of 1967. In Sagamu the Hausas paid with their lives, for the crime of being Hausa. The Ibos are doing so in Lagos and elsewhere in the South through the hands of OPC. And the president, as ‘one of our own’, is not expected to do anything about it.
Those of us who cried foul at the inequities of this administration right from its inception stand vindicated today. To some extent, I pity Mr. President, because he is likely to write ‘My Command’ the second time, this time not over the unity but over the balkanization (now touted as ‘re-structuring’) of the country as par the contract awarded to ‘the struggle’ by the ‘International community’.
I only pity the Northerners in this situation. Among them are true nationalists who believe in the continuity of the country as a single strong nation. Today, the U-turn of people like Bola Ige disappoints them. They are also terrified by the balkanization agenda that has recently been asserted by the influential Americans who are advising the President to concede a ‘sort of autonomy’ to the Niger-Delta region. America today is the prosecutor, the judge and the executor in International politics. A fragile country like Nigeria cannot withstand its machinations especially under the present dispensation.
The North, whether in its all-embracing form of 1946, or its squeezed form of today in 1999, cannot, even if it wishes, resort to tribalism. Its composition and religion deny it that unholy luxury. It has to remain an open society politically just as it is ecologically. When the balkanization will take place, I wish it would never, only the principle of social justice will hold it together.
What will save this country would have been a resolute leadership that will remain impartial and committed to national interest even if the ox of tribalism and that of the international capital are gored. Unfortunately, prison experience is stubbornly indelible for the ordinary mind. Only people like Mandela could overcome it. Obasanjo, however, remains under its impulse. Some people are shamelessly justifying it. Instead of moving fast to check these divisive developments, his policies encourage them. Clearly, there exist today a divided Nigeria: one of the castigated, the other of the sacrosanct; one of the Buharis, the other of Tinubus.
We are not being tribal in our perception of the situation. Rather, we are honestly recording history. If Nigeria were a home, we could have converged to it at sunset with jubilation to find some rest. Alas, we are told it is a market. So we shall disperse away whenever the sirens of closure are blown. Worse still, even in the market, NADECO, AD and their followers are telling us that the rules are those of Animal Farm. As long as we remain on it, we are not enjoying ‘the joyful tidings of the golden future time’ as promised by Old Major. Let’s make do with the tyranny of Napoleon. He has wiped out the seven commandments and put in its place what Benjamin read as “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS! All members of his species are learning to walk on two legs, wearing the cloth of Mr. Jones. George Orwell told us that “Napoleon himself appeared in a black coat, rat-catcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favorite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Jones had been used to wear on Sundays.” May God forgive Old Major and save us too. Amen.
25 September 1999