By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please, let me start with my favourite passage in the Holy Bible, and, believe me, this I hold very dear to my heart:
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my Brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”
Nothing in this world is greater than loving your fellow humans and possessing the heart of forgiveness. I have not read the Holy Koran as much as I have read the Holy Bible, but I’m almost certain most religions preach and teach forgiveness. I don’t see how you can claim to love God if you hate, detest and despise your fellow being, HIS creation. You will soon understand and appreciate the reasons for my sermon on this page today.
Of all the Nobel Prizes, my favourite is the one devoted to, and awarded, for Peace. As simple as it sounds because peace is a concept that we all aspire to achieve, yet, it must be one of the most difficult to obtain or attain. To qualify, you must have performed some extraordinarily difficult feats or be imbued with an equanimity of mind, strength of character or nerves of steel. The feats performed by those who win this prize are not usually easy or comfortable. Most of the time they involve great personal sacrifice on the part of the recipients. Take Nelson Mandela as example. Most people would fail the acid test that recipients are subjected to when confronted with situations that demand and warrant the need to forgive an enemy who has potentially injured you mortally. It would take God’s personal intervention for anyone to just shrug his shoulders and move on carelessly in that condition. However, there are some who do. And that is why they receive this most sought after of recognitions for courage and boldness. Has any of you found yourselves in such tough situations? I certainly have. And if you are true to yourself, you will admit that you have too. What did you do? That is the million-dollar question.
During the June 12, 1993, brouhaha, I was picked up one early morning by some top and tough police officers, led by then Assistant Commissioner of Police Ganiyu Dawodu, now of blessed memory. I had spent the previous day virtually at Chief Moshood Abiola’s residence. He had asked me to see him about 2.00pm that July afternoon and when I got there the whole place was swarming with human traffic, as Abiola’s house usually was. I waited till about 4.00am before he had a chance to see me. Once we finished our discussions and he gave me my assignment, I left for home. To cut a long story short, unknown to me, I was being trailed by these security operatives who waited for me to arrive home before pouncing on me.
They took me to Force Headquarters at Moloney Street, Lagos, and later dumped me at Alagbon detention camp, where I was briefly interrogated by a senior female cop, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mrs Lawal. It was such a harrowing experience for me, and I would have thought I would carry the bile and bitterness endlessly and forever. For over two decades, I never saw Dawodu and Lawal. Though, at the time, they tried to be as nice and pleasant as much as the dictates of their jobs permitted, I still couldn’t get them off my mind.
I bumped into Dawodu at the Virgin Atlantic lounge one evening, shortly before he died. I didn’t recognise him, but he recognised me, and he reintroduced himself. The great gentleman who rose through the ranks to become Deputy Inspector General of Police soon died after that brief encounter. In the case of Mrs Lawal, a successful Police Officer, our meeting after over two decades was too surreal to be true. Her grandson and my youngest son were attending the same school at Somerfield, Oxford, and she and her daughter brought their son to spend time with us. If I took a million guesses, I would never have guessed right, that this disarming lady was the one who had almost permanently scarred me, although I was spared this blight because God gave me the grace not only to forgive, but also to forget.
My second example was with the Abachas. I was forced into exile for three agonising years during the terrorising and oppressive hard-nosed rule of the maximum dictator, General Sani Abacha. Yet, it was during this period that God gave us the African wonder, Ovation International magazine. It is doubtful that Ovation would have been birthed or nurtured had Abacha not become God’s instrument to send me on a long arduous journey into exile. Before we could say Jack Robinson, the three years sped by and Abacha passed on whilst we grew in leaps and bounds. By the time we returned from exile, Ovation was already a household name. The meat of this story was how we featured the weddings of two of Abacha’s daughters, Zainab and Gumsu, despite the travails that we suffered under the iron fist of their father. And all hell broke loose after those stories!
Why should Ovation cover the weddings of those who practically sentenced Abiola to perpetual detention and his eventual death? Dele has sold out. Ovation must die. A classic case of outsiders weeping louder than the bereaved. Unknown to my traducers, I was only acting and practicing my religion as much as possible. That Edition not only sold out completely, it established us as thoroughbred professionals and we were respected more for detaching ourselves from the pettiness of using our media influence against our enemies.
This is the crux of the matter. I have had cause to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for his intervention in matters concerning two recent prominent detainees, retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki and former Presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore. Many wondered why I should ever thank Buhari, a dictator, who had earlier detained many people without proper trial and had pointedly refused to obey a plethora of court orders. But that is who I am. Whosoever cannot forgive is not my kind of person. I hold strongly to the tenet and belief that forgiveness is not just the path to salvation, it is salvation itself.
Many had described and painted Buhari in lurid colours. And as a result of his taciturnity, it is easy for anyone to reach untoward and unfavourable conclusions about him. In one fell swoop, he changed some of the negative impressions of him when he did the unthinkable by freeing those two, albeit speculations continue to whirr on the social media circuit as to the reasons for this volte-face. I agree that it seems more than coincidental that the release of these two enfant terrible, as far as the present junta considers them, could happen on the same day, Christmas Eve, when the American Ambassador, Mary Beth Leonard, presented her Letter of Credence to President Muhammadu Buhari. Others have suggested that it is in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, and to demonstrate that the President is not the religious bigot he is painted to be and does possess a Christmas spirit too. What seems remarkable, and lends credence to the American influence, is the fact that there is no nexus or similarities about their alleged roles, offences and length of confinement to warrant both being released at the same time. The only link appears to be that they were incarcerated without trial for lengthy periods notwithstanding strident calls for their release from the Bench which granted both of them bail on several diverse occasions. On my part however, I am simply elated by the gesture and what it symbolises or portends.
It is my hope that the release of the duo, detained under different economic and political circumstances, signals the beginning of greater adherence to the rule of law. This administration has made mountain top pronouncements about the fact that it considers the rule of law as a cornerstone of the government’s covenant to the people of Nigeria to bring good governance to them.
However, any discerning mind will be slow to give a pass mark to the Buhari administration on this score. Observance of the rule of law had become like anathema to the government until the release of Dasuki and Sowore. Both had faced the prospects of a lengthy period of detention for doing what they perceive to be nothing.
On Dasuki’s part, his defence to the numerous corruption and diversion charge he faces, is that his activities were all done, not just on the authority of the President, but on the basis of the security of the nation. His beef is that compelling him to say more about these matters will be to require him to breach the sacred oath he swore to defend the country. His claim is that a spook is no longer one if he must willy nilly divulge state secrets in order to save his own bacon. As a former soldier, he would be true to his principal and would not seek to undermine him in any way shape or form. I must confess that I am sympathetic to some of his defence. Rightly or wrongly, he believed that he was acting in the best interest of the administration for the good of the country. The problem in Nigeria, as is the case with most countries, is that officials pledge allegiance to the state but often owe allegiance to their principals, the individuals heading the state apparatus, who are responsible for their appointments. The truth is that for the most part, the interests, of the State and those of the individual head of a unitary government, are largely the same where those interests relate to the improvement of the state. Where those interests diverge is when the individual head and his cronies seek to perpetuate themselves in power, and for that reason begin to attack and decimate real and imagined enemies, like Dasuki.
I have written repeatedly and copiously that President Buhari needs to change his mien and do things in another way and await how God will transform Nigeria promptly and positively. No country can thrive in an atmosphere of chaos and confusion. This is why I hailed the President with the hope that we can encourage him to do much more.
Whilst Dasuki’s nightmare commenced from the standpoint of nationally injurious economic misdeeds, the same cannot be said about Sowore. He was ensnared because the government became suddenly jittery and nervous about his political utterances which were seen as being capable of bringing the government to its knees and forcing the government to capitulate. The mere use of the word ‘revolution’ by a social critic and activist without any form of military training or support base was as astonishing as it was tragic. The government and its handlers simply got its knickers in a twist because of this much dreaded word where despots are concerned. Notwithstanding what has gone before I will hesitate to label this Buhari government as such, but clearly there are those in the government that behave far worse than that.
The unlawful and unjust detention of these two gentlemen and many others, the gross disobedience of court orders, the crass impunity, the subjugation of the judiciary, the taming of the legislature, the muzzling of the press, the Gestapo tactics employed by certain government security agencies, all led us to conclude that this was an administration determined to turn democracy and all democratic norms on their heads. In one singular move and for any number of reasons, President Buhari turned the narrative around and behaved like the “Change” agent we all hoped he would be when he was first elected in 2015. We voted for fairness and justice back then in 2015.
We were on the brink, on the precipice of an abyss and we must not kid ourselves that releasing Dasuki and Sowore has suddenly changed our democratic fortunes, but it is a good start. It is not too late to return from the road leading to perdition and take our country back to the path of honour and glory by being fair and just to all.
This witting or unwitting act of President Buhari is ample reason and basis we must say no to all forms of division, oppression and intimidation. It is not too much to ask for…