the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
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1998 June 14
Sani Abacha has died of natural causes, which is nothing that could be said for Ken Saro-Wiwa or others of his opponents. Most dictators have their enemies killed. That is nothing unusual. But most are inclined to use means slightly less Сталинist than show trials and executions. Though it is ghoulish to cheer his death, it is hypocritical to say that the world will be anything less than a better place without him.
Of course, there is no particularly good reason to suppose that the military régime will die with him, as much of l’état as he was. Those who served him, served with him, will now look to assume his position, and Nigeria (and Earth) may in the end be little better off. His nominal replacement, for the time being, will be the previous military chief of staff, Abdusalam Abubakar. But he does not so much seem to have taken power as to have been assigned it by the governing military council, and it was an unfortunate sign of his tolerance of the Abacha régime and possibly of his control by the council that his earliest statement as presumptive dictator included a remark attributing his ascension to the wisdom of the military council (or possibly he was complimenting himself, noting how wise his selection was). Some suggest, earnestly, that Abdusalam is an apolitical soldier brought into politics. But if this is true, he will work to speedily restore democratic civilian rule. If he does not do so, we can easily conclude that his service under Abacha was not an accident of circumstance, and that he really does believe that the military régime is best noted for its wisdom.
There would be nothing overly complicated about restoring civilian rule. It is generally accepted that Mọṣud Abiọla won the elections for president in 1993, and Abdusalam’s last act as military ruler could be the issuance of an order to his comrades in the military, and to the bureaucracy, that Abiọla was to become head of government, and was to be treated as such. Of course, one of Abdusalam’s next-to-last acts would have to be releasing Abiọla from prison, where Abacha threw him for daring to claim victory and begin to establish a democratic government, which Abacha may not have been aware is actually how the winner of an election behaves.
Nigeria is enormous in population, and potentially wealthy as a state, though like most states in post-colonial Africa it has no business being one. Anyone who believes otherwise should ask the noted author and committed conservationist who defended the Ogoni ― Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged by Sani Abacha. Presumably Abdusalam Abubakar believes that if he breaks up enough street protests, he will never have to deal with the discontent of his subjects. Apolitical indeed.
1998 July 5
It has supposedly been arranged that all political prisoners in Nigeria will be released. This is to include around 250 prisoners, and while it does not necessarily comprise the entire political population in detention, it is to include Mọṣud Abiọla, the imprisoned winner of the 1993 presidential elections. But the military régime, which has reportedly secured a retraction of Abiọla’s claim to the presidency, is now threatening to delay his release (ostensibly for fear of “violent” pro-democracy protests), and it is hard to see this delay as having any other goal than the extraction of further concessions, which in base means a limitation on Abiọla’s future political activity. Let us hope that Abiọla has the fortitude to refuse any conditions on his release, and can use his popularity, inside or outside of prison, decisively for democracy. He is an important symbol, and remains an important figure. If he is forced to step aside, the transition to democracy can be dragged out much further. Good for the régime, perhaps, but bad for Nigeria.
1998 July 12
No sort of autopsy, with any observers or verification however independent, can possibly allay suspicions over the death of Mọṣud Abiọla in custody. No skeptic can call a coincidence the fact that Abiọla died shortly before his promised release. Absent skepticism, the régime could be credited for the release of all political prisoners without having the power of Abiọla, the president-elect from the last free poll, loosed against the régime.
But there will be skepticism. Sani Abacha killed opponents. Why shouldn’t Abdusalam Abubakar? If this is in fact what happened, it was an enormous gamble. The military might have rid itself of a troublesome opposition figure, a powerful symbol of reform and the popular will, struck fear into other potential opponents, and set back the democratic cause; it will in any case be some time before a dissident of similar stature can emerge. But the military might also have created a martyr, a powerful symbol in death, the unifying force which leads to a people-power revolution which ousts the dictators once and for all. Either scenario could happen in the same fashion if Abiọla did die of a heart attack. But the régime’s culpability is not much less. As such, the latter scenario, the end of tyranny, would be a fitting consequence of the attempt by Abacha to silence dissent, and a great service post mortem by Abiọla. The former scenario, the perpetuation of tyranny, would be the last disservice of Sani Abacha, and a repudiation of the global geopolitical system which placed and kept such dictators in power.
But we are centuries, perhaps, from a global people-power revolution, where the masses of the entire world arise and cast off the entrenched, archaic state structure, which has made tyrants out of democratic collectives, and dignified peers out of murdering thugs. If there were any legitimacy to the structure, the democratic states of the world, which certainly have this power, would step in and remove Abdusalam and his council from power. This is viewed as interference in the natural process of self-determination, but such a view is nonsense. It is the military which is interfering in the process of self-determination. If Abdusalam were the guardian of justice, his refusal to hand over power to democrats, who after all are capable of majoritarian tyranny, might be justified. But he is a product of the worst in human politics. He is serving no purpose. Abiọla is dead. It is thus time for Nigeria to select a new tribune, and long past time for Nigeria’s tribune to be given real power.
1998 July 26
It has now been officially announced. Nigeria will not become democratic. It may have some semblance of a popular vote. It may end up with a civilian government. But the will of the people will not truly be polled. The essential freedoms of liberal society make democracy possible. To properly gauge the sentiment of the populace, it must be free to express that sentiment.
Abdusalam Abubakar has decreed that Nigerians, who have had elections before, need five to eight months to learn how to do it again. They will need two to five months to settle the elections after the initial poll. The result is that Abdusalam and the military get to orchestrate Nigerian society for another ten months. Their aim, now, is clear: to rig the democracy in favor of propositions held dear to the military and conservative elements of the population.
There will not be free elections. There will not be free association. The parties which the northern army clique will tolerate must all be “nationally” oriented. This means that the fiction of a Nigerian nation created by British colonial rule will be perpetuated by electoral policy. Even peaceful secessionist movements would be denied the right to participate in elections. Are the Yorůbá, the Igbo, the Ogoni, and others working towards democracy only to find themselves still at the mercy of the northern nations?
If the northerners are so fond of Nigeria, they can perpetuate the idea among themselves ― democratically, with provision for self-determination. Let there be a voluntary Nigerian state in the north. Those who recognize Nigeria for something else can decide, in free local elections, how they would prefer to be organized politically. It is a reasonable proposal. It is long overdue.
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