Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - An Indefensible Act

The saddest aspect of the government of the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria these past six months is the display of total lack of faith in the law.

For a group of people made up mostly of generals and senior military officers, such a display is not only curious but surprisingly shortsighted, for whatever good they might be hoping to gain from trampling upon every known rule in the book, they, as leaders of men ought to know that they are sowing the seeds of their own future destruction.

The FMG came into being with a strong indictment against the civilians they overthrew that they disregarded all the laws of Nigeria, by cynically abusing the constitution, stealing and generally giving Nigeria a bad name in the eyes of the world.

It would have been normal therefore to have expected that these supposedly patriotic and disciplined soldiers in Britain who, according to their own pronouncements, only moved to save Nigeria, would want to put the former rulers before the courts and try them according to the very laws that they had been accused of flouting, but no, the FMG could not resist the urge to promulgate new laws and constitute fresh tribunals.

They displayed the same attitude towards the Nigerian press, new decrees had to be fashioned out to enable the FMG to operate. The Federal Military Government has of course denied any official involvement in the botched kidnap attempt of Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the former Transport and Aviation Minister, the truth or otherwise of that denial will doubtless come out by the end of the trial of the four people charged with kidnapping and if the Nigerian High Commissioner should agree to the British request to question some members of his staff.

But it is the reaction of the FMG to the incident that gives the most cause for disquiet. For not only does the FMG not have much trust in Nigerian laws and legal system, it apparently distrusts international law also. Why else is it that almost seven months after declaring Alhaji Umaru Dikko and other politicians wanted on alleged corruption charges have they not laid any formal charges against them?

Why has it taken the FMG until now to even ask the British to extradite Alhaji Dikko back to Nigeria? Why are all the spokesmen of the Nigerian government so sure that Britain will not extradite Dikko if asked once evidence is provided to support the very serious allegations that have been made against him?

Why should the Nigerian High Commissioner in London believe that "patriotic friends of Nigeria" would be involved in criminal acts? Especially since this is the same regime that had declared a war against indiscipline in its own country - why should its officials praise criminal acts in other people's country?

It has been suggested that there is some such concept as a 'Nigerian sense of justice', possibly very different from what is universally acknowledged to be a sense of justice, which will be satisfied should Alhaji Dikko be brought back to Nigeria, dead or alive and through any means legal or illegal.

This newly discovered 'Nigerian sense of justice' is of. such paramount importance that the country should be prepared to flout all known internationally accepted codes of behaviour to satisfy it. And this from the country that had always prided itself as the leader of Black Africa and has always had the loudest voice in condemning terrorism and barbaric behaviour in international fora.

Back in 1976 when the then Head of State Maj-Gen Murtala Muhammed was assassinated on the streets of Lagos in a coup attempt, the emotional outpourings in Nigeria were far more intense than anything ever witnessed then or since. The former Nigerian Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon then living in the U.K. was supposed to have been implicated in the coup plot.

Nigeria wanted Gowon sent back to face trial and no questions asked, Nigeria was convinced of the General's guilt. People poured out onto the streets to demonstrate their displeasure and disgust at Britain for offering a 'haven for a fugitive from justice'. What was more, he was supposed to have looted Nigeria and was living in luxury. It will be interesting to note how many of the tens of thousands who accorded Gen. Gowon that memorable welcome on his visit to Nigeria last December, were among the crowds that wanted him repatriated and lynched in 1976.

Nobody talks today of Gowon's millions. Such incidents are not limited to Nigeria, in the West African sub-region. In 1966, in neighbouring Ghana, the people screamed the ruling National Liberation Council into declaring ex President Kwame Nkrumah a wanted man and a price was put on his head to be brought back to Ghana dead or alive, ditto in 1972 this time, the victim being ex-Prime Minister Kofi Busia.

Many countries have been known to behave in ways that they are ashamed of after having time to analyse the matters dispassionately. But the world has continued more or less to lead an ordered life because there is mutual respect for the sovereign rights of individual countries. What would Nigeria feel or say for example, if in pursuit of some 'British, Chinese, Burmese, Ivorian Albanian or Sudanese sense of justice' people started forcibly abducting their citizens on Nigerian streets? Right now, many people are sceptical of the denial of official Nigerian involvement and Nigeria would best have enhanced the case for being given the benefit of the doubt by her reaction to the incident. So far by the seizure of the British Caledonian plane and subsequent pronouncements by officials, the impression seems to be that Nigeria has decided to 'tough it out' - such a stance I can hardly help the image of Nigeria abroad, nor the denial of official involvement.

Another anecdote that might be worth considering by the Nigerians: in 1981, the then Ghanaian High Commissioner to London went to the British Foreign office to ask for the extradition back to Ghana of a group of young army officers who had broken jail after having been put there by a secret military tribunal. The High Commissioner made a strong case about the need to repatriate the young men, all the subtle threats normally employed by Third World countries against Britain were issued, the Foreign office was not impressed and the young men stayed on.

In January 1982, the same High Commissioner went back to the Foreign office, this time he was wanted in Ghana and he was asking for asylum in Britain - he has had his wishes granted.

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