The arrest, detention and hanging of environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa was one of the lowest points in Nigeria’s struggles to recast itself as a democracy. Saro Wiwa mobilized the Ogoni community to stand up to Shell Petroleum Company and oppose its activities which were polluting the environment. Under the umbrella of his organization, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Saro Wiwa became a loud advocate denouncing the collusion between Shell and the Nigerian Government which threatened their livelihood.
There was a worldwide uproar calling for the release of the popular icon of environmental protection. But nothing could compel the military strongman at the helm to budge. General Sani Abacha remained stone deaf to all the appeals for clemency. Eventually he acted with total impunity and ordered the hanging of Saro Wiwa.
Reports filtered out from those who witnessed the hanging that the hanging like the arrest and trial was such a shoddy job. It took five attempts before Saro Wiwa died. The hangman reportedly took almost one hour to do the job. Saro Wiwa did not die easily. This prompted commentators to conclude that Abacha had ordered the hanging of an innocent man.
I recall attending a public event where President Museveni lamented the killing of Saro Wiwa and the incompetence of African leaders. “These African leaders are so incompetent that they can’t do the good things well but they can’t even do the bad things well. How can it take you a whole one hour to hang one man?”, he said. But that was Abacha. And that was then. At that time Museveni was the toast of the Western world hailed as one of a “new breed of African leaders” and “a beacon of hope” for the beleaguered continent.
All these recollections have surfaced after I saw footages of the shambolic manner in which security operatives hauled the Victoria University Vice Chancellor out of his office and into a waiting car. What I saw made me conclude that the line between law enforcement and a military operation was completely blurred.
The rule of law demands due process and the presumption of innocence. Why manhandle someone who is not resisting arrest? Why draw and brandish handguns and machine guns at a person who is in no position to threaten your life?
The talking heads from the security forces have attempted to sanitize the whole thing but what they have accomplished is comparable to a man who spills mud on himself but attempts to remove the mud while it is still wet and in the process spreads it even more. The right and proper thing to do would be to wait until the mud has dried then shake it off. But no. They had to try to spin what cannot be spun! They should just own their misdeeds and promise to dis them. But who will believe them?
The law provides for the manner and grounds of arrest. If the Professor has broken the law his charges should have been read to him and thereafter he should have been taken for an interview by the police. The law allows for a suspect’s lawyer to be around. If a person perched in the pinnacle of academia can be arrested in such a rough manner then the ordinary person can only fear worse treatment.
The other thing of interest is the information that has hit the social media since it was disclosed that the Professor had violated immigration laws and is also suspected to be engaged in espionage. The Professor holds a Ugandan National Identification Card. This means he has proven to the authorities that he is a citizen. He also holds a Canadian passport. If he wasn’t qualified for the National ID then whoever offended the law by issuing the ID to a non citizen should be answerable.
But the more serious thing is that this ignominious manner of arrest flies in the face of the President’s Address on National Security. In that address, the President ordered the security forces to stop violence against the people. Now someone has ignored the President’s admonition with impunity.
What we saw at Victoria University is not just a simple illegality. It is State Terrorism. It therefore behoves all citizens to condemn it in the strongest terms. It was a violation of constitutional rights and therefore wrong. And there is no right was to a wrong thing.
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