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The Canonisation of Terror by Wole Soyinka



Wole Soyinka Child of The Forest

The sheer weight of indignation and revulsion of most of Nigerian humanity at the recent Boko Haram atrocity in Yobe is most likely to have overwhelmed a tiny footnote to that outrage, small indeed, but of an inversely proportionate significance. This was the name of the hospital to which the survivors of the massacre were taken. That minute detail calls into question, in a gruesome but chastening way, the entire ethical landscape into which this nation has been forced by insensate leadership. It is an uncanny coincidence, one that I hope the new culture of ‘religious tourism’, spearheaded by none other than the nation’s president in his own person, may even come to recognize as a message from unseen forces.

For the name of that hospital, it is reported, is none other than that of General Sanni Abacha, a vicious usurper under whose authority the lives of an elected president and his wife were snuffed out. Assassinations – including through bombs cynically ascribed to the opposition – became routine. Under that ruler, torture and other forms of barbarism were enthroned as the norm of governance. To round up, nine Nigerian citizens, including the writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-wiwa, were hanged after a trial that was stomach churning even by the most primitive standards of judicial trial, and in defiance of the intervention of world leadership. We are speaking here of a man who placed this nation under siege during an unrelenting reign of terror that is barely different from the current rampage of Boko Haram. It is this very psychopath that was recently canonized by the government of Goodluck Jonathan in commemoration of one hundred years of Nigerian trauma.

It has been long a-coming. One of the broadest avenues in the nation’s capital, Abuja, bears the name of General Sanni Abacha. Successive governments have lacked the political courage to change this signpost – among several others – of national self degradation and wipe out the memory of the nation’s tormentor from daily encounter. Not even Ministers for the Federal Capital territory within whose portfolios rest such responsibilities, could muster the temerity to initiate the process and leave the rest to public approbation or repudiation. I urged the need of this purge on one such minister, and at least one Head of State. That minister promised, but that boast went the way of Nigerian electoral boast. The Head of State murmured something about the fear of offending ‘sensibilities’. All evasions amounted to moral cowardice and a doubling of victim trauma. When you proudly display certificates of a nation’s admission to the club of global pariahs, it is only a matter of time before you move to beatify them as saints and other paragons of human perfection. What the government of Goodluck Jonathan has done is to scoop up a century’s accumulated degeneracy in one preeminent symbol, then place it on a podium for the nation to admire, emulate and even – worship.

There is a deplorable message for coming generations in this governance aberration that the entire world has been summoned to witness and indeed, to celebrate. The insertion of an embodiment of ‘governance by terror’ into the company of committed democrats, professionals, humanists and human rights advocates in their own right, is a sordid effort to grant a certificate of health to a communicable disease that common sense demands should be isolated. It is a confidence trick that speaks volumes of the perpetrators of such a fraud. We shall pass over – for instance – the slave mentality that concocts loose formulas for an Honours List that automatically elevate any violent bird of passage to the status of nation builders who may, or may not be demonstrably motivated by genuine love of nation. According generalized but false attributes to known killers and treasury robbers is a disservice to history and a desecration of memory. It also compromises the future. This failure to discriminate, to assess, and thereby make it possible to grudgingly concede that even out of a ‘doctrine of necessity’ – such as military dictatorship – some demonstrable governance virtue may emerge, reveals nothing but national self-glorification in a moral void, the breeding grounds of future cankerworm in the nation’s edifice.

Such abandonment of moral rigour comes full circle sooner or later. The survivors of a plague known as Boko Haram, students in a place of enlightenment and moral instruction, are taken to a place of healing dedicated to an individual contagion – a murderer and thief of no redeeming quality known as Sanni Abacha, one whose plunder is still being pursued all over the world and recovered piecemeal by international consortiums – at the behest of this same government which sees fit to place him on the nation’s Roll of Honour! I can think of nothing more grotesque and derisive of the lifetime struggle of several on this list, and their selfless services to humanity. It all fits. In this nation of portent readers, the coincidence should not be too difficult to decipher.

I reject my share of this national insult.


This article was posted on Wole Soyinka’s Facebook page.


  1. Ugo

    March 3, 2014 at 12:40 am

    This seems an odd post for this website because just a few months ago you posted for the ooh’s and ahh’s of your audience the very over the top wedding of the descendants of the very man in question. So I would ask the editors of Bella Naija to speak to their stance on this issue and if that post was not participating in the glorification of the plunder that Soyinka referred to this piece.

    • whocares

      March 3, 2014 at 10:31 am

      You do realise BN is not the Vanguard or, Guardian? So why are they supposed to have a political stance on things? Some people like wedding and they have to cater to those needs, same way some of us like articles like these and they have to cater to it.. I have never understood people that hold BN up as a standard for morals and ask it why this, why that.. If you want the whys buy a newspaper. Further since when has disseminating information become condoning an action? On the post of the wedding did BN add anything out of the ordinary to show they were in support?

    • whocares

      March 3, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Punctuation marks and I are at war this morning. lol.

  2. Author Unknown

    March 3, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Wole Soyinka!!! One of the few Nigerians left with functioning brains . How could we be giving honour to members of military regimes that oppressed us for years?? If we must honour soldiers, we should honour those that actually DEFENDED the sovereignty of the Nigerian entity. Again, we send out the wrong message all in the name of marking an event. When will we get it?

  3. chi-e-z

    March 3, 2014 at 1:59 am

    Why are we surprised we would be total hypocrites to say we are not aware that the only thing that has change about the politicians at the top is the face they hide behind.This is a facist government ruled by the same corrupt people for over 4 decades PDP and the coup so why won’t they praise their own , Abacha even typing the name disgusts me. There will be a brighter time in nigeria and at that time every student will be studying their history books and memorizing the name of these monsters and be taught the truth.
    Abacha- Monster that some of the most prolific writers and mathematicians in Nigerian history
    Babangida- Monster that willfully neglected the electoral rights of people and handed authority nigeria’s biggest monster
    Obasanjo- Semi-monster who willfully obliged to removal of democracy only to lead to more corrupt govt.
    Goodluck Jonathan- Puppet who willfully obliged to murders, and trillions of naira theft of nigerian’s peoples money.
    However, this will all change because the next generations are crying for a Solomon or a Joshua.We shall see the promise land and get leaders who will ask for wisdom in guiding it’s people rather than riches and eternal ruling.

    • chi-e-z

      March 3, 2014 at 2:01 am

      *Abacha- Monster that murdered some of the most prolific writers and mathematicians in Nigerian history

  4. Nyk

    March 3, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Oh Nigeria I weep for you.
    We will re-write Nigeria’s honor role
    and Jonathan will also be named a “mumu” who honored monster

  5. @edDREAMZ

    March 3, 2014 at 8:05 am

    A man that want nothing but a good Nigeria…… I wish this man is our president, who knws most of our problems will be solved by nw…

  6. whocares

    March 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I love this man. When I get enough money I will stalk him just so I can pick his brain for this vast knowledge I know it contains. Ahh the voice of reason!! BN keep it coming. This article has summed up everything about the Nigerian Presidency. Everything everyone else are too blind to see. Goodluck threw you an anti-gay bill and that made him alright in your estimation, forgetting that he is an absolute and total failure. We are bonding over our “Africaness” whilst our house burns. This is the first I am reading about the hospital’s name. It is such a shame.

  7. Patrick james

    March 3, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Hmm.. D only tin we lern frm history s dt we lern notin frm history. Ds s d major diseas of a nigerian man 2015 s at d coner we wil stil go ad vote fr ds sam otiose politicians. Its a petty……

  8. We cannot move forward if we continue like this, Nigeria doesn’t have a leader, what we have is a sitting duck.

  9. Wale

    March 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    If we are to radically change Nigeria and the situation back home, then yes we should stop celebrating the descendants of these thieves. We are whatever standards we set for ourselves.

  10. Bleed Blue

    March 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I hear you Mr Soyinka. The whole thing is a cycle of shame…no coincidence in that nomenclature. At all.

    It amazes me how people can carry on in their roles as supposed public servants yet all they do is serve themselves 100%. The whole thing is mentally exhausting.

  11. Ibukun

    March 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Wole Soyinka!

  12. Zeebs

    March 3, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Due to ‘some circumstances beyond my control’, I ignored the centenary ‘celebrations’, but pray tell people of God, was Sani Abacha honoured actually?
    Jeez, I cringe at the possibility of an affirmative response.

  13. CarliforniaBawlar

    March 3, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Sychopancy is so deeply rooted within our culture that it beclouds our judgement to decipher good from evil.

  14. Energybill

    March 3, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe (R.I.P). Two out of the very few people who are/were not for sale in Nigeria. They don’t need some blood stained meaningless award to validate their standing and integrity.

  15. Stephanie

    March 4, 2014 at 12:42 am


  16. NNENNE

    March 4, 2014 at 2:25 am

    That’s why you are my favorite uncle. Please don’t let them kill the man in you. Don’t keep mute.

  17. dma

    March 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

    It’s so unfortunate that the likes of Wole Soyinka were born into a country and a society where their brains intellect and persona are of no meaning or values where mediocrity and criminality is celebrated.

  18. simon abu

    March 4, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Thank God that you did not list in the shame award. You are the hope of Nigerians. Many would forget how you marched to the National assembly to ensure that illegality does not prevail in our polity thereby bringing Jonathan on board. You are the hope of the voiceless millions of Nigerians! The man cannot die! Jonathan had always made mistakes to another, and he is heading towards a crescendo of mistakes. Who knows his next mistakes? Now Abacha’s aides/men are on the prowl serving Jonathan very well. Why would he(Jonathan) not honour their master. God is still a Nigerian!

  19. hiphee

    March 5, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    The irony of the whole centenary celebrations award thingy was that the most of the honored surviving past heads of state murdered the post-humus past head 0f state awardees. God save us in this country.


    March 8, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Why on earth would ABATI defend the award given to Abacha if he was still the editor Guardian Newspaper?

    Let him answer this simple question….. Corrupt and senseless people.

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