Soyinka Berates Buhari over Comments on Rule of Law

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Wole Soyinka

Ugo Aliogo

Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, thursday berated President Muhammadu Buhari over his statement that national security and interest were supreme to the rule of law.

Soyinka, in a statement which he titled: ‘Buhari’s Pernicious Doctrine’ likened the declaration by the president to an attempt at tampering with democracy which he however warned would fail.

He described the president’s comment as an advance warning of his dictatorial tendencies which he plans to unleash on Nigerians.

Buhari had sparked outrage with his statement while addressing the opening ceremony of the 2018 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja last Sunday when he said the security of the country could not be sacrificed on the altar of the rule of law where national interest was threatened.

The president’s comments drew criticisms from the lawyers and Nigerians who condemned his statement in strong terms. But Soyinka mocked the president, saying he had given a deep thought to his travails under a military dictatorship and concluded that his incarceration at that time was also in the ‘national interest.’

Since returning to power in 2015, Buhari’s government has held some Nigerians for years without trial, while high profile detainees have been denied freedom despite court orders.

“Here we go again,” Soyinka said.

Insinuating that violation of the rule of law was becoming a tradition of the president, the Nobel laureate said: “At his first coming, it was ‘I intend to tamper with Freedom of the Press,’ and Buhari did proceed to suit action to the words, sending two journalists – Irabor and Thompson – to prison as a reward for their professional integrity.

“Now, a vague, vaporous, but commodious concept dubbed “national interest” is being trotted out as alibi for flouting the decisions of the Nigerian judiciary. President Buhari has obviously given deep thought to his travails under a military dictatorship, and concluded that his incarceration was also in the ‘national interest.”

“We have cause to be thankful for the advance warning, since not all rulers actually make a declaration of intent, but simply proceed to degrade the authority of the law as part of the routine business of governance,” said Soyinka. “We have been there before. It should be of mere interest, not despondency that this latest proclamation of dictatorial recidivism has also been made before an assembly of officers of the law, the NBA. We expect a robust response from the NBA as part of its conclusions,” Soyinka said.

The Nobel laureate noted that there was no shortcut to democracy, and that the history of law, even where uncodified, is as old as humanity.

“Numerous rulers have tried again and again to annul that institution,” he said.

“Sometimes, they appear to succeed, but in the end, they pay heavy forfeit. So does society.

“The rule of law, however, outlasts all subverters, however seemingly powerful. If the consequences for society in defence of the rule of law were not so costly, any new attempt would be merely banal and boring, hardly deserving of attention. We know, historically, where it will all end,” Soyinka explained.