Last Saturday, my good friend Okey Ndibe, a professor of English at Brown University, and Trinity College (CT), was detained at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos Nigeria by the immigration and security authorities. After several hours of interrogation, and having seized his Nigerian and US passports they let him go. He was told to report at the State Security office inside Lagos on Monday. When he visited the SSS office, he was subjected to further interrogation, after which they returned his passports and let him go. No one explained to him the reason for the ordeal.
Anyone old enough to have lived through the Nigerian military dictatorships of the 1980s and 1990s will be shocked that the Nigerian authorities in this so-called democratic dispensation seem to be reverting practices that characterized those years of state terror. There is no point guessing why Ndibe was detained in Lagos. For the past several years Ndibe acquired huge reputation as one of Nigeria's most articulate public intellectuals. In memorable, popular essays in Nigerian newspapers he examined and commented on the foibles of politicians in our home state Anambra, and the corrupt officials in Abuja who wage constant war on the citizens rather than focus on providing good governance.
Obviously, the corrupt power merchants would wish for Ndibe to keep silent in the face of the barefaced skulduggery and malfeasance that continues to define political practice in Nigeria. It is a shame that the authorities are resorting to this sort of intimidation against a writer and social critic motivated by nothing but hope for a better future for Nigeria. So what next? Do they now want to fully return to the days of blacklists, letterbombs and disappearances. Whoever ordered Okey Ndibe's detention and seizure of his passports must know that for those of us who believe in the idea democracy, subjecting a law-abiding citizen to this kind of intimidation is a betrayal of the civilian dispensation many Nigerians gave their blood and sweat to reestablish.