On the 10th anniversary of Nigeria's return to civilian rule, Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka lowered the boom on what he called Nigeria's "sham democracy." In a scathing interview with the BBC, Soyinka condemned Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo for a variety of sins. The worst was subverting the democratic process that resulted in Obasanjo's hand-picked successor, Umari Yar'Adua, taking over as president in 2007.
Commenting on U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to make his first African visit to Ghana instead of Nigeria, Soyinka said that Ghana was a more appropriate destination because they have been "behaving like civilized human beings and showing Nigerians up." Soyinka also insisted that when he said that he would "stone" Obama if he came to Nigeria, he meant it "metaphorically." The literary gesture will nonetheless be unlikely to endear Soyinka to the Secret Service.
Soyinka certainly has a point about Nigerian democracy. From the outside, the country seems like a shipwreck waiting to happen, particularly if the civil war in the oil-rich Niger Delta expands. President Yar-Adua's recent decision to unleash the military on the Delta rebels will likely only enflame passions and harden resistance, and probably result in yet another flood of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, similar to what recently took place in Sri Lanka.
During his rein, Obasanjo, a former general, made a mockery of the legislature and the judiciary, and certainly did nothing to resolve the festering sore of the Niger Delta conflict. Despite all this, there was nary a peep from the West, which unfortunately has a bad habit of looking the other way so long as the charade is good enough and the oil keeps flowing. The average Nigerian swims in a sea of corruption and bureaucratic ineptness, and can only find a voice through dissidents like Soyinka. A a result, the latter must certainly feel like he has a target on his back -- no metaphor intended.
Nigerian pop star Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once described Nigeria's democracy as "demon crazy." He certainly got the "crazy" part right. After 10 years, Nigerians are still waiting for a sane democracy to appear.
(First Published June 1st in World Politics Review)