Dear Barack Obama,
My name is Soni Gold. I am from Nigeria, a country that holds so much promise because
of its human and natural resources, yet so much pain for the ordinary citizen because of
poor, corrupt leadership.
I have lived in Nigeria for five decades, first as a boy in the early 1970s. I heard my
father and many in his generation complain about poor leadership. Yet, my father’s
generation enjoyed cleaner air, safer neighbourhoods, had access to pipe-borne water
and more rights as citizens.
I enjoyed free primary education, attending government-owned schools. I remember
with nostalgia my many textbooks, notebooks, biros and pencils with the bold
inscription: “NOT FOR SALE”. It would have been impossible without this
government support for my parents who were subsistent farmers to send their children
(five of us) to school.
Then came the military coup led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari in December,
1983. It truncated the democratic era of the Second Republic led by former President,
Alhaji Shehu Shagari. I was a 12-year-old, a form three student at the time. Even at that
early age, I had a keen sense of history. I recall how my uncle, an engineer in the local
government civil service, and his friends celebrated the coup.
Shagari was deemed to be weak and his government corrupt. Nigerians pointed to
Shagari’s transport minister Alhaji Umaru Dikko, whose flamboyant life style
contrasted with the demands of austerity measures introduced by the government.
Buhari began on a populist path. He set up a special military tribunal for asset recovery.
The tribunal convicted many deposed civilian leaders and handed out lengthy jail terms
(a former governor was jailed for 100 years).
On the streets across the country, Nigerians rejoiced at the severe punishment meted
out to their tormentors. For them, it did not matter that the civilian government kept
their children in school. Soon the citizens’ glee would turn to gloom.
Buhari bared his fangs, promulgating obnoxious Decree No. 2 (Detention of Persons),
which allowed the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, to detain for up to six months
Nigerian citizens considered to be a security risk and Decree No. 4 (Protection Against
False Accusations), which forbade journalists from publishing information considered
embarrassing to any government official.
On August 27th, 1985 General Ibrahim Babangida unseated Buhari in a palace coup.
Again, Nigerians rejoiced. Buhari’s regime was autocratic and dictatorial. Also, the
economy deteriorated. The border was closed to boost local production but it only
brought loss of jobs and hunger as many industries closed down due to absence of raw
materials. Shagari’s austerity measures were replaced by a harsher “essential
commodity” policy that warranted rationing of certain basic food items like sugar, milk,
rice, and stockfish.
Babangida threw open the prison gates. Legendary Afrobeat singer Fela Anikulapo Kuti, social critic Tai Solarin and many others were released. Babangida’s constant gap-
toothed smile contrasted with the ever present scowl of Major General Tunde Idiagbon, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquaters.
However, when Babangida “stepped aside” on 26th August, 1993, Nigerians were too
numb and despondent to express any emotions. June 12, 1993 presidential election,
considered to be the freest and fairest election in Nigerian history had just been annulled
and hundreds of Nigerians killed in the ensuing riots and protests across the country.
But the cruel abortion of “Hope ‘93”, MKO Abiola’s campaign mantra was not
Babangida’s greatest infringement on the psyche of Nigerians; rather, it was the
deliberate, persistent onslaught on the institutions of the state, the military, the police,
the judiciary and moral fiber of the people. Billionaires emerged without any credible
source of income; education and hardwork were portrayed by the state as dreary chores
that were no longer routes to a good life.
When, on 17th November, 1993, General Sani Abacha pushed aside Chief Ernest
Shonekan’s Interim National Government, Nigeria was crawling with powerful men
and a few powerful women riding roughshod on the institutions of the state. Abacha continued the degradation of state institutions and the environment. Ken Saro-Wiwa,
writer and environmental activist, and eight others were murdered by the Nigerian state,
but at least they dressed the execution in the garb of judicial process.
Abacha died on June 8, 1998 under foggy circumstances; again, the people rejoiced.
The return to democracy and advent of the 4th Republic further renewed the peoples’
hope that the beleaguered giant, Nigeria would find the path to development and
prosperity for its citizens.
It’s been 21 years since those heady days when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo took the oath
of office as elected Executive President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. Has Nigeria and
Nigerians fared much better? There have been glimpses of economic growth without
development. For the larger number of Nigerians, life has always been hard, decent
meals impossible to put together, out-of-school children on the increase, clean water a
rarity and life worth only a trifle.
Yet we never had anything as sinister and excruciating as what Nigerians are going
through under President Muhammadu Buhari. Terrorists roam freely, spewing blood of
school children, farmers, soldiers and anyone unfortunate to cross their path. It is a
flourishing, lucrative trade, monopolised by a certain tribe across the Sahara.
The Buhari government euphemises this evil group with the tag of “bandits”, even after
they graduated to dropping military planes from the sky. Hundreds of millions of Naira
has been funneled to these terrorist groups through orchestrated kidnapping stunts.
There is insecurity everywhere across the country, with attendant rising prices of food.
Nigerians, those who can afford it are leaving the country daily in their hundreds. Our
situation is dire and precarious, but this is not the reason I bother you with our problems.
I write to you because on the 20th of October, 2020, Buhari ordered Nigerian soldiers to
shoot peaceful protesters, singing the Nigerian national anthem, waving the Nigerian
flag, yet the Nigerian government under Buhari remains a member of the Open
Government Partnership (OGP) which you founded with other notable heads of
When the soldiers leveled their guns at the protesters, they began to sing in quaky,
fluttering notes. It was a last ditch effort to force some patriotic bond with their
assailants. They were wrong. I cringed in my room 200 kilometers away, as the staccato
sound of bullets mixed with the strident cries of protesters. Scores of them died, unsung,
un-mourned before our eyes and those of a global audience.
About the same hour when our compatriots were being cut down by the government
that swore to protect them, a memo went out from the Nigerian Broadcasting
Commission (NBC) warning broadcasting organisations not to broadcast any news
piece capable of embarrassing the government. It was Decree 4 all over, except that this
was a gag order for a specific reason. Indeed, in the darks days to follow, a few
broadcasting organisations were fined.
One year after, Buhari through his spokespersons is still denying that Lekki Tollgate
Massacre happened. He would rather we disregard the evidence of our eyes, even when
some of us still suffer trauma reliving the events. Local and international media
organisations have corroborated what we witnessed online.
The Nigerian government through the military spokesperson has altered the narrative
about their involvement a couple of times. First, they claimed they were not on the
scene. Later, they said they were there to keep peace and only fired blanks.
A decade ago, you spoke of your vision and those of seven other founding leaders of
the OGP. You challenged nations to come to the fold of OGP with “specific
commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energise civic
engagement and leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundations of
freedom in our own countries”.
Since 2016 when Nigeria joined the OGP, our country has become increasingly corrupt
as our position on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International
indicates. The foundations of freedom have been shattered as citizens who survived the
bullet and sword of terrorists are hounded by the government for daring to demand
justice. Should such a government continue to sit among civilised nations?
Recently the CEO of OGP Sanjay Pradhan was our faculty member at the School of
Politics, Policy and Governance (SPPG). I asked him: “Sir, what does a country have
to do to be shown the door at the OGP, should a president who ordered public execution
of harmless protesters be allowed to continue to sit among world leaders to discuss
issues like advancement of democracy?”
Pradhan stated that a formal complaint is yet to be lodged about human right abuses in
Nigeria. He assured that the OGP has an investigation arm that will take up such
complaints when received and if found to be true, sanctions will be applied.
Soothing words one would say but hasn’t there been formal complaints by well-
meaning Nigerians and the African Bar Association to different international bodies on this issue? When will Buhari and other key actors in this cruel carnage be brought to
book? When a wrong goes unpunished for too long it becomes a norm. Will leaders of
the civilised world continue to look the other way while our leaders dance giddily on
the graves of our slain compatriots?
Sir, permit me to adapt your words to our situation. We, the people of Nigeria no longer
trust our government to do the job for which it exists – to protect us and to promote our
common welfare. Will leaders of the civilised world remain aloof while we lose all?