Archive for the ‘State House’ Category

Jesus was so large of heart, so large of spirit, so endless in consciousness. Like, you don’t even need to think he is the son of God. Just think of him, first, as a man. He was such a man of beauty. Impatient with hate, dismissive of judgement, large of heart. Jesus was a beautiful man. Giving, forgiving, listening, understanding, relating, empathising. He was what some call, a son of mercy. How did his followers get so angry, and faithful and full of the fury of condemnation, and … xenophobia.

It’s all this ‘heretical’ teachings that take symbols and words and twist and bed them to fit whatever prejudice is in vogue in that age. Every generation has had its interpretation of the book of Revelations for 2000+ years. To fit its social context, and in this generation, our apocalyptic influencers insist the job of Christians is to delay the anti-Christ. *Shudders* And delaying the anti christ often means, in their telling, fighting ‘sin’, attacking the ‘sinful’, fighting cultural wars. To do this, they often descend on the book of Revelations and stretch and pull every word and symbol until it fits that assignment.

I have no doubt that they truly, truly believe in what they say, and their hearts may be in the right place. But it’s oh so dangerous. When Christians leave the simple, clear words and teachings of Jesus and the example of his life and witness, to pursue… evil.

Like sometimes I understand why the world is so cynical, so suspicious of Christians and Christian motive. Why they disconnect from our culture, and attack beautiful experiences like worship, or tongues, or prayer. They don’t see what I see when I am in many gatherings and I see the family of God’s children in worship, in fellowship, Connected, broken, emptied of self and ego and ambition, and fear and hate. Ah, worship, it’s a blessing to watch people in worship.

Then, those same people get into the world after service and then they become this judgemental, angry set of people. It really confuses me. Really confounds me. Like, how did you lose that pure state, that Jesus-state, so soon? How did you let it go? How did you let love go? How did you let compassion go?

Jesus was a disruptor. He was a spiritual disruptor. And that disruption was to the Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and all of that of the times the eye-for-an-eye, God-of-wrath stranglehold. His disruption was love. If it wasn’t love, then there was no point of His coming. The religions of the time already had judgement, condemnation down to a part. If that’s what he came here for, then it was unnecessary. But he came because his message was radical and revolutionary.

The way I see it. God was tired of the disruption of his true image for millions of years. He sent Jesus to make it right. To reveal his true nature that prophets and priests had struggled with for years. Jesus came to earth to model God’s true nature. That’s why it’s so difficult to justify a gospel of hate with his life. You can’t use Jesus’s words to justify this self-righteousness. You often have to turn to flawed apostles, or visioners. I’ll stick with Jesus. I’ll always cast my lot with Jesus. Stop “fighting for God”. He doesn’t need your help. What he asked you do is work on your life and bring others to him through that life. 

Listen, Jesus didn’t send the church to fight the devil for him. Nope. Jesus already won that battle on the cross. It is finished.

Anytime the Bible teaches about the Devil, it’s in relation to a Christian’s personal life. Resist the devil and he will flee “FROM YOU”. It’s not for you to carry weapons and go claiming you are fighting the devil. God doesn’t need your help to fight the devil. God needs you help to fight for your salvation and to draw others to him. And his weapon for that is love. The more you spend time fighting the world, the less time you have living a better life as a Christian. 

Matthew 7:5

Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (NLT) 

When Christians stop persuading and start coercing, we have moved so far from what Jesus thought, we’ve practically turned our backs on Him.  Here’s what Walter Brueggemann has to say about “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.” 

I so desperately want people to meet Jesus. To meet this beautiful, incredible guy. All this hate from Christians makes it so hard. 

Important reading: “The Problem with, Hate the Sin Love the Sinner” 

“Using “hate the sin” as a license for cruelty defeats the purpose of proclaiming truth.”

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Read 2 Chronicles 4

Highlights:

It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord (II Chr. 5:13).

This looks to have been an exciting praise and worship service to the Lord. There was much reason to celebrate. Their enemies were all but gone. The Temple was complete. The Ark was being brought up to be placed in the Temple. It would seem all of Israel had come out for this celebration. There were plenty of reasons for this to happen. 

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in His Tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord (Ps. 27:6).

We see in this verse the results of this tremendous session of praise. A great cloud came in and filled the Temple. The priests themselves became overwhelmed. This cloud was the glory of the Lord.

But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel (Ps. 22:3).

This scripture shows us very clearly that when we surrender ourselves in praise to God, He will show up. The nation of Israel put aside all their differences and came together for one purpose; to offer praise, worship and thanksgiving to God. Their praises brought the Spirit of God to the scene.

The same thing can and will happen today. You might say that you have been in some pretty good church services and you never saw a cloud fill the place up. That is probably true for most of us. That does not mean that we have not been in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Let me just start straight up, exactly how I see it. ​In some sense I don’t think the colonial project really ended in Nigeria. We just shifted the tyranny and extractive ethos to a local elite.

What difference is it to a Teacher in Takum, A Farmer in Otukpo or a Fisherman in Ekim,  if his faraway oppressor is in Abuja or in London, or indeed, in Jalingo, Makurdi or Uyo his state capital?

When people talk about a country growing from poor to rich, that gets lost in the jargon of income per capita and other metrics.

In fact, what that looks like is a fisherman in Ekim in 1923 has grand kids who have vastly better incomes, education, health, opportunity. It means that a fisherman’s grandchild has the opportunity to compete to be a bank manager or even CEO today. That’s progress. 

It’s about people, en masse, moving from a life where they have low productivity to vastly higher productivity. But what I think has happened since 1923 is that children of fishermen mostly became fishermen themselves, with no change in productivity. Or they moved to cities to work in other low productivity jobs. Comparing his grandfather’s life to his, it hasn’t changed much (or has grown worse).

This is the challenge. How does a society develop to ensure that each successive generation lives better and has a better shot: progress.

So many problems just vanish when people are well fed, life is not bitterly difficult, the kids are looked after, etc. People keep looking to the various governments. We expect that an omnipotent Federal Government has the resources to fix all problems: It can’t. 
Looking at the 2017 budget across Africa, it is clear that the Federal Government of Nigeria is broke. We plan to spend roughly $120/Nigerian. The Kenyan Government is spending $560/Kenyan. South Africa: $2180/SAn. That is a big difference. 

But that doesn’t tell the full tale really, because as the saying goes: ‘Every Nigerian is a Local Government’. We are paying for that budget. We are paying in hardship, in the high cost of living, the lack of opportunity, one of the lowest life expectancy rates on earth and so on.
Of course, in the middle of all this, we supposedly have one of the biggest economies in Africa. I always find that one hilarious. If we had the productivity of the average South African worker, our economy would be two or three times its current size (our labour pool is 3 times larger than theirs). Also, SA’s government is spending about 33% of GDP. We, with our unsigned budget, are spending 7%. Again, pointer that Government isn’t that big.

The Government has to start working to empower Nigerians. It cannot be this colonialist mafia that just extracts from the population. They sit in Abuja with the best roads in the country, but a man in Nnewi or Aba cannot ship his produce through Calabar or Port Harcourt. Buhari is ‘recuperating’ in London claiming to be taking made in Nigeria drugs, while doctors are being tassed in LUTH over salaries that they are actually owed. This is colonialism!

I think it is so bad that we do not EXPECT things to get better in the next 25 years, so we optimise towards the proximate next best. 

Always interesting to read about America after the war (and California in the 70s). Phrase ‘alive with possibility’ always seems to come up. What phrases come up in your everyday experience? Of course we hear ‘there is money in this country,’ but it rings hollow for most people. What tends to ring true are things like: ‘This country is finished’; referring to other countries ‘these are serious countries’ and so on. You face a self-fulfilling prophecy situation — you think the country is finished, so you behave like a person living in a finished country. You don’t inflate the contract by 20% and fix the road well, you under-engineer the road and inflate the contract by 200%. 10 people do well, 1,000,000 suffer. The same road is re-tendered in a different budget cycle and the sham is repeated. 

2019 is coming. There will be an incredible amount of energy poured into it from that 7 trillion naira budget (and other budgets to come). To what end? The person is inheriting a mess. (And the funniest part is that we are going to hear the same vacuous, platitudinous slogans!). Actor, Andy Roid in Game of Thrones described it as “focusing on the politics of the Red Keep while White Walkers, Dothraki Hordes and Dragons are coming for you”. We aren’t talking about our real problems. 

The country is broke; y’all are marrying and having babies far too much; the government is choking off progress. We need to think about how govt can become more accountable, become less colonialist, to actually work for the people. Maybe that is confederalism or true federalism, I don’t know. I’ll leave thoughts on how to change the status quo for another time. I drop my pen here. We all need to start thinking right and start acting.

THE WEDDING PARTY MASSACRE

ON THE AFTERNOON of March 6, 2002, Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder and more than two dozen operators from SEAL Team 6 boarded two Chinook helicopters en route to eastern Afghanistan hoping that within hours, they would kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Earlier that evening, general officers from the Joint Special Operations Command had scrambled the SEALs after watching a Predator drone video feed of a man they suspected was bin Laden set off in a convoy of three or four vehicles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where al Qaeda forces had fortified themselves. Although the video had revealed no weapons, and the generals had only tenuous intelligence that the convoy was al Qaeda — just suspicions based on the color of the man’s flowing white garb and the deference others showed him — they were nervous that bin Laden might get away again, as he had a few months earlier after the bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001. This was a crucial moment: Kill bin Laden now and the war could be over after only six months. The vehicles were headed east toward the Pakistani border, as if they were trying to escape. The mission was code-named Objective Bull.

Afghanistan’s Paktia province is about the size of New Hampshire, with 10,000-foot ridgelines and arid valleys with dried riverbeds below, nestled along the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The prominent mountain range often served as the last geographic refuge for retreating forces entering Pakistan. As the special operations helicopters approached the convoy from the north and west, Air Force jets dropped two bombs, halting the vehicles and killing several people instantly.

That was not how the SEALs wanted the mission to develop. Inside the helicopters, some of the operators had pushed to hold off any air attack, arguing that they had plenty of time to intercept the convoy before it reached the Pakistani border. “The reason SEAL Team 6 exists is to avoid bombs and collateral damage,” said a retired SEAL Team 6 member who was on the mission. “We said, ‘Let us set down and take a look at the convoy to determine if it’s al Qaeda.’ Instead, they dropped several bombs.”

The bombing stopped the convoy along a dry wadi, or ravine, with two of the trucks approximately a kilometer apart. Survivors began to flee the wreckage, and over the radio, Hyder and his team heard the order that the convoy was now in a “free fire zone,” allowing the Chinooks’ gunners to fire at anyone deemed a threat, regardless of whether they were armed. The SEALs had no authority over the helicopter gunners.

The two Chinooks landed separately, one near each end of the convoy. Both teams exited the helicopters to find a grim scene. The SEALs with Hyder came out and separated into two groups. One, led by an enlisted operator, took in the damage to one of the vehicles. Men, women, and a small girl, motionless and in the fetal position, appeared dead. Inside the vehicle were one or two rifles, as is customary in Afghanistan, but none of the men wore military clothing or had any extra ammunition. “These were family weapons,” said the retired SEAL.

The SEALs from the other helicopter immediately headed up a steep hill after landing to locate an armed man who had been shot from the helicopter. When they reached the hilltop, the operators looked down in disbelief at women and children, along with the man — all were dead or mortally wounded from the spray of gunfire from the Chinook’s gunners, who had unloaded after the free fire zone had been declared. They realized the man had been trying to protect the women and children.

Other SEALs on the ground proceeded as though the survivors were combatants. Hyder and an enlisted operator named Monty Heath had gone in a different direction and saw a survivor flee the bombed vehicle toward a nearby berm. Heath fired once, hitting the man, sending him tumbling down the back side of the small rise.

At that point, Hyder began assessing the damage and surveying the dead. “I was going around to the different KIAs with my camera to take photos,” Hyder told me in an interview, using the military term for enemies killed in action. “It was a mess.”

Hyder said that he and a few other SEALs began to bury the casualties near a ravine by piling rocks over them. As he did so, he approached the man Heath had shot. “He was partially alive, faced down, his back to me, and he rolled over. I shot him, finished him. He was dying, but he rolled over and I didn’t know whether he was armed or not. That was the end of that.” Hyder said that his single shot had blasted open the man’s head.

According to Hyder, the encounter ended there. But the retired SEAL who was on the mission tells a different story. According to this source, after shooting the man, who turned out to be unarmed, Hyder proceeded to mutilate his body by stomping in his already damaged skull. When Heath, who witnessed Hyder’s actions, reported them to his team leader in the presence of other members of the team, “several of the guys turned and walked away,” said the retired SEAL. “They were disgusted.” He quoted Heath as saying, “I’m morally flexible but I can’t handle that.” Heath refused to comment for this article.

The retired SEAL, who spent the better part of two decades at the command, said he never asked Hyder why he mutilated the corpse. It wasn’t necessary. He assumed it was a twisted act of misplaced revenge over the previous days’ events — specifically, the gruesome death of Hyder’s teammate Neil Roberts.

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Top: Photo of helicopter on Takur Ghar. Bottom left: Screengrab from drone feed during the battle of Roberts Ridge. Bottom right: Candid photo of U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts.

 

Photos: U.S. Department of Defense; Screengrab from video by U.S. Department of Defense; U.S. Navy by the Roberts family

LESS THAN 48 HOURS before Objective Bull commenced, a small reconnaissance group from SEAL Team 6’s Red Team had tried to establish an observation post on the 10,000-foot peak of Takur Ghar, overlooking the Shah-i-Kot valley, where forces from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division intended to strike the last redoubt of al Qaeda forces massed in Afghanistan. Neil “Fifi” Roberts, a member of the SEAL recon team, fell 10 feet from the back of a Chinook and was stranded as the helicopter took fire from foreign al Qaeda fighters who were already on the snow-covered mountaintop. Two hours passed before the SEALs in the damaged helicopter were able to return. They didn’t know it, but Roberts was already dead, shot at close range in the head shortly after his helicopter departed the mountaintop. A Predator drone video feed filmed an enemy fighter standing over Roberts’s body for two minutes, trying to behead the dead American with a knife.

Eventually, two other elements of a quick reaction force — one of which included Hyder — landed at the top of Takur Ghar. In the ensuing 17-hour battle with the al Qaeda fighters, six more Americans were killed, and several were wounded. After the bodies were recovered, Hyder and the other members of Red Team were forced to reckon with the mutilation and near beheading of their fellow SEAL. Hyder was new to SEAL Team 6, but as the ranking officer on the ground during that operation, he was technically in charge. He took Roberts’s death hard.

Neil Roberts was the first member of SEAL Team 6 to die in the Afghan war, and among the first elite operators who died after 9/11. Beyond the dehumanizing manner in which the al Qaeda fighters had treated his corpse, Roberts’s death pierced the SEALs’ self-perception of invincibility.

The battle of Roberts Ridge, as it came to be known, has been frequently described in books and press accounts. But what happened during Objective Bull, the assault on the convoy in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, has never been previously reported.

Roberts’s death, and the subsequent operations in eastern Afghanistan during the winter 2002 deployment, left an indelible impression on SEAL Team 6, especially on Red Team. According to multiple SEAL Team 6 sources, the events of that day set off a cascade of extraordinary violence. As the legend of SEAL Team 6 grew, a rogue culture arose that operated outside of the Navy’s established mechanisms for command and investigation. Parts of SEAL Team 6 began acting with an air of impunity that disturbed observers within the command. Senior members of SEAL Team 6 felt the pattern of brutality was not only illegal but rose to the level of war crimes.

“To understand the violence, you have to begin at Roberts Ridge,” said one former member of SEAL Team 6 who deployed several times to Afghanistan. “When you see your friend killed, recover his body, and find that the enemy mutilated him? It’s a schoolyard mentality. ‘You guys want to play with those rules?’ ‘OK.’” Although this former SEAL acknowledged that war crimes are wrong, he understood how they happen. “You ask me to go living with the pigs, but I can’t go live with pigs and then not get dirty.”

SEAL Team 6 patches. Clockwise from top left: Blue Squadron, known as the Pirates; Gold Squadron, known as the Crusaders or Knights; Red Squadron, known as the Redmen; and Silver Squadron.

NO SINGLE MILITARY unit has come to represent American military success or heroism more than SEAL Team 6, officially designated as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group and known in military vernacular as DevGru, Team 6, the Command, and Task Force Blue. Its operators are part of an elite, clandestine cadre. The men who make it through the grueling training represent roughly the top 10 percent of all SEALs. They are taught to live and if necessary die for one another. The extreme risks they take forge extreme bonds.

Made up of no more than 200 SEAL operators when the Afghan war began, SEAL Team 6 was the lesser known of the U.S. military’s elite “special mission” units. Created in 1980 and based at the Dam Neck Annex of Naval Air Station Oceana near Virginia Beach, the command prided itself on its culture of nonconformity with the larger military. The unit’s name itself is part of an attempt to obscure U.S. capabilities. When it was commissioned, the Navy had only two SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) assault teams, but founding officer Cmdr. Richard Marcinko hoped that the number six would lead the Soviet military to inflate its assessment of the Navy’s SEALs.

When SEAL Team 6 first deployed to Afghanistan in January 2002, the command had three assault teams, Red, Blue, and Gold, each with a mascot. Red Team, known as the Redmen, employed a Native American warrior as a mascot; Blue Team, known as the Pirates, wore the Jolly Roger; and Gold Team, known as the Crusaders or Knights, wore a lion or a crusader’s cross.

The prevailing narrative about SEAL Team 6 in news coverage, bestselling books, and Hollywood movies is unambiguously heroic; it centers on the killing of Osama bin Laden and high-profile rescue missions. With few exceptions, a darker, more troubling story has been suppressed and ignored — a story replete with tactical brilliance on battlefields around the world coupled with a pattern of silence and deceit when “downrange” actions lead to episodes of criminal brutality. The unit’s elite stature has insulated its members from the scrutiny and military justice that lesser units would have faced for the same actions.

This account of the crimes of SEAL Team 6 results from a two-year investigation drawing on interviews with 18 current and former members of the unit, including four former senior leaders of the command. Other military and intelligence officials who have served with or investigated the unit were also interviewed. Most would speak about the unit only on background or without attribution, because nearly every facet of SEAL Team 6 is classified. Some sources asked for anonymity citing the probability of professional retaliation for speaking out against their peers and teammates. According to these sources, whether judged by its own private code or the international laws of war, the command has proven to be incapable and unwilling to hold itself accountable for war crimes.

Most SEALs did not commit atrocities, the sources said, but the problem was persistent and recurrent, like a stubborn virus. Senior leaders at the command knew about the misconduct and did little to eradicate it. The official SEAL creed reads, in part: “Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.” But after 9/11, another code emerged that made lying — especially to protect a teammate or the command from accountability — the more honorable course of action.

“You can’t win an investigation on us,” one former SEAL Team 6 leader told me. “You don’t whistleblow on the teams … and when you win on the battlefield, you don’t lose investigations.”

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BY THE TIME the two dozen Red Team operators departed for Objective Bull, tension had built up between Hyder, a commissioned officer, and the enlisted operators technically under his command. The situation was not particularly unusual. Historically, SEAL Team 6 is known as a unit where officers “rent their lockers,” because they typically serve about three years before rotating out, whereas the enlisted operators remain for much of their careers, often for a decade or more. Simply put, the unit is an enlisted mafia, where tactics are driven by the expertise developed by the unit’s enlisted assaulters, whose abilities and experience at making rapid threat decisions make up the command’s core resource. Officers like Hyder, who did not pass through the brutal SEAL Team 6 internal training program, known as Green Team, are often viewed with suspicion and occasionally contempt by the enlisted SEAL operators.

Even before the attack on the convoy and the alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan, Hyder had committed at least one killing with questionable justification. Several weeks earlier, in January 2002, Hyder killed an unarmed Afghan man north of Kandahar during the unit’s first ground assault of the war. In that operation, Hyder led a team of Red operators on a nighttime mission to capture suspected al Qaeda militants in a compound. After securing several detainees and cordoning the area, Hyder and his men waited for their helicopters to arrive and extract them. During the mission, the SEALs reported receiving small arms fire from exterior positions, though no one was hit. After 90 minutes, as the helicopters were nearing the rendezvous point, one of the SEALs alerted Hyder that an old man who had been lying in a ditch nearby was walking toward the SEALs’ position.

In an interview, Hyder said the man had approached his position with his arms tucked into his armpits and did not heed warnings from other SEALs to stop. Hyder acknowledged that the man likely did not understand English and probably couldn’t see very well. Unlike the SEALs, the man was not wearing night-vision goggles. “He continued to move towards us,” Hyder said. “I assessed he was nearing a distance where he was within an area where he could do damage with a grenade.” Hyder said that a week earlier, a militant had detonated a concealed grenade after approaching some American CIA officers, seriously injuring them. “He kept moving toward us, so at 15 meters I put one round in him and he dropped. Unfortunately, it turned out he had an audiocassette in his hand. By the rules of engagement he became a legitimate target and it was supported. It’s a question, why was he a threat? After all that activity, he’d been hiding in a ditch for 90 minutes, he gets up, he’s spoken to, yelled at in the dark … it’s disturbing. I’m disappointed he didn’t take a knee.”

Hyder, who was the ground force commander for the Kandahar operation, was cleared in an after-action review of the shooting. The rules of engagement allowed the ground force commander to shoot anyone he viewed as a threat, regardless of whether they were armed at the time of the shooting. But in the eyes of the enlisted SEALs of Red Team, Hyder had killed a man who didn’t have to die. Two of the operators with Hyder reportedafterward that the man was not a threat. One of those operators was Neil Roberts.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person.”

The morning after Objective Bull, Red Team gathered at Bagram Air Base. Most of the operators held a meeting to discuss what had happened on the mission. No officers were present, and the enlisted SEALs used the meeting to address Hyder’s alleged mutilation of the dead Afghan the previous day. The discussion covered battlefield ethics. Inside a heated tent, as many as 40 SEAL Team 6 operators asked themselves how they wanted to treat their fallen enemies. Should they seek revenge for Roberts? Was it acceptable, as Hyder had done with the wounded man whom he executed, to desecrate the dead?

“We talked about it … and 35 guys nodded their heads saying this is not who we are. We shoot ’em. No issues with that. And then we move on,” said a former SEAL who was present at the meeting. “There’s honor involved and Vic Hyder obviously traipsed all over that,” he said. “Mutilation isn’t part of the game.”

Nonetheless, Red Team did not report Hyder’s alleged battlefield mutilation, a war crime. In what would become part of a pattern of secrecy and silence, the SEAL operators dealt with the issue on their own and kept the incident from their chain of command.

“The SEALs believe that they can handle the discipline themselves, that’s equal to or greater than what the criminal justice system would give to the person,” said Susan Raser, a retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the agency’s criminal division but did not investigate this mission. “They have an internal process that they think is sufficient and they are not inclined to cooperate unless they absolutely have to.” Raser, who conducted investigations into both regular SEAL units and SEAL Team 6, said that in her experience, SEALs simply didn’t report wrongdoing by their teammates.

Senior leaders at the command knew the grisly circumstances of Roberts’s death had unsettled Red Team. “Fifi was mutilated,” said a retired noncommissioned SEAL leader who was involved in internal discussions about how to prevent SEAL Team 6 from seeking revenge. “And then we had to address a very important question, how do you get the guys’ heads straight to mitigate any retaliation for Fifi? Otherwise we knew it’s going to get out of control. A third of the guys literally think they’re Apache warriors, then you had the Muslim way of removing a head. I understand the desire, I don’t condone it, but there was definite retaliation.”

Hyder told me that he did not desecrate the body. “I deny it,” he said, adding that he didn’t understand why Heath would have claimed to have witnessed it. “Even if it was true, I don’t know why he would say that.” Hyder said he was not aware of the Bagram meeting held by the enlisted operators about him or the accusations. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “Somebody else is making this up. Memories get distorted over 14 years. They’re telling you how they remember it. There was a lot of chaos. I’m telling you the absolute truth.”

After the deployment, SEAL Team 6’s leadership examined Hyder’s actions during Objective Bull. For some of them, what was most troubling was not that Hyder might have taken gratuitous revenge for Roberts’s death on an unrelated civilian, but that on more than one occasion, as ground force commander, he had fired his own weapon to neutralize perceived threats. “If you have multiple incidents where the ground force commander pulls the trigger on a deployment, you have a total breakdown of operational tactics,” said one retired SEAL leader. “It’s not their responsibility — that is why we have DevGru operators.”

Beyond the story of the alleged mutilation, the sight of the dead civilians killed during the opening airstrikes of Objective Bull, especially the women and children, left members of Red Team with deep psychological scars. “It ruined some of these guys,” said the former SEAL operator on the mission.

Six days after Objective Bull, the Pentagon announced at a press conference that an airstrike had killed 14 people, who a spokesperson said were “somehow affiliated” with al Qaeda. Sources at SEAL Team 6 who were present during the operation estimated the number of dead was between 17 and 20. Inside the command, the incident became known as the Wedding Party bombing after it was learned that the convoy was driving to a wedding.

Hyder finished his tour at SEAL Team 6 shortly after returning from the Afghanistan deployment and was later promoted to the rank of commander, the Navy equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts at Takur Ghar to save Roberts and the rest of the Red Team recon element. A few years later, after Hyder’s name was mentioned for another rotation in Red Team, some of Hyder’s former operators informed SEAL Team 6 leadership that he was not welcome back in the unit.

Neil Roberts’s bent rifle was placed on the wall of Red Team’s room at the SEALs’ base near Virginia Beach, a visible reminder of their teammate, their first deployment, and the troubles that would follow.

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ONE CLEAR SIGN that all was not right with the command was the way sadism crept into the SEALs’ practices, with no apparent consequences. A few months after Objective Bull, for example, one of Hyder’s operators began taunting dying insurgents on videos he shot as part of his post-operation responsibilities. These “bleed out” videos were replayed on multiple occasions at Bagram Air Base. The operator who made them, a former SEAL leader said, would gather other members of Red Squadron to watch the last few seconds of an enemy fighter’s life. “It was war porn,” said the former SEAL, who viewed one of the videos. “No one would do anything about them.” The operator who made the bleed-out videos was forced out of SEAL Team 6 the following year after a drunken episode at Bagram in which he pistol-whipped another SEAL.

The SEALs’ successes throughout 2002 resulted in the Joint Special Operations Command choosing the unit to lead the hunt for al Qaeda, as well as the invasion of Baghdad in March 2003. The rise of JSOC as the sharp tip of America’s military effort led to a similar increase in size and responsibility for SEAL Team 6 in the early years of America’s two post-9/11 wars. By 2006, the command rapidly expanded, growing from 200 to 300 operators. What were originally known as assault teams now formally became squadrons, and by 2008, the expansion led to the creation of Silver, a fourth assault squadron. One result of the growth was that back in Virginia, the captain in command of the entire 300-SEAL force had far less oversight over tactical battlefield decisions. It was at this point that some critics in the military complained that SEAL Team 6 — with their full beards and arms, legs, and torsos covered in tattoos — looked like members of a biker gang. Questions about battlefield atrocities persisted, though some excused these actions in the name of psychological warfare against the enemy.

Against this backdrop, in 2006, Hugh Wyman Howard III, a descendant of an admiral and himself a Naval Academy graduate, took command of Red Squadron and its roughly 50 operators. Howard, who has since risen through the ranks and is currently a rear admiral, was twice rejected by his superiors for advanced SEAL Team 6 training. But in 1998, after intervention by a senior officer at Dam Neck, Howard was given a slot on Green Team. Because of Howard’s pedigree, SEAL Team 6 leaders running the training program felt pressure to pass him. After being shepherded through the nine-month training, he entered Red Squadron. Howard took the unit’s identity seriously, and after 9/11, despite the questionable circumstances that led to his ascent, his influence steadily grew.

In keeping with Red Squadron’s appropriation of Native American culture, Howard came up with the idea to bestow 14-inch hatchets on each SEAL who had a year of service in the squadron. The hatchets, paid for by private donations Howard solicited, were custom-made by Daniel Winkler, a highly regarded knife maker in North Carolina who designed several of the period tomahawks and knives used in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” Winkler sells similar hatchets for $600 each. The hatchets Howard obtained were stamped with a Native American warrior in a headdress and crossed tomahawks.

At first the hatchets appeared to be merely symbolic, because such heavy, awkward weapons had no place in the gear of a special operator. “There’s no military purpose for it,” a former Red Squadron operator told me. “But they are a great way of being part of a team. It was given as an honor, one more step to strive for, another sign that you’re doing a good job.”

For some of Howard’s men, however, the hatchets soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to break doorknobs on raids or kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.

During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for identification purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time, Capt. Scott Moore, and his deputy, Capt. Tim Szymanski.

Howard, who declined to answer questions from The Intercept, rallied his SEALs and others before missions and deployments by telling them to “bloody the hatchet.” One SEAL I spoke with said that Howard’s words were meant to be inspirational, like those of a coach, and were not an order to use the hatchets to commit war crimes. Others were much more critical. Howard was often heard asking his operators whether they’d gotten “blood on your hatchet” when they returned from a deployment. Howard’s distribution of the hatchets worried several senior SEAL Team 6 members and some CIA paramilitary officers who worked with his squadron.

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Top left: Red Squadron tattoo. Top right: A bearded Red Squadron SEAL in Afghanistan. Bottom left: A Winkler hatchet similar to those issued to Red Squadron. Bottom right: Undated photo of Adm. Wyman Howard.

 

Photos: Facebook; airsoft-army.com; http://www.lightfigher.net; Facebook

BEGINNING IN 2005 and continuing through 2008, as U.S. Special Operations forces became more central to the American military strategy, the number and frequency of operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan increased dramatically.

One former SEAL Team 6 senior leader said that he and others at the command were concerned that the scale and intensity of the violence in Iraq was so great that U.S. operators might be tempted to engage in retaliatory mutilations, a tactic al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency sometimes employed. “Iraq was a different kind of war — nothing we’d ever seen,” said the now-retired Team 6 leader. “So many dead bodies, so many, everywhere, and so the potential opportunities for mutilations were great.”

The operational tempo was very high. “On my 2005 deployment in Afghanistan, we only went on a handful of ops,” said a retired SEAL who served under Howard. “By the time we moved over to Iraq, we were doing missions as much as five nights a week. Iraq was a target rich environment, and Wyman allowed us to be more aggressive.” According to several former SEAL Team 6 leaders, it was JSOC commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal who ordered the increased operational tempo and pushed SEAL Team 6, including Howard, to conduct more frequent raids to help wipe out the insurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard, according to two of his former operators, was more willing than previous officers to greenlight operations based on “weak” intelligence, leading to more raids and strikes. As a result, Howard became popular among the enlisted SEALs under his command, several of whom defended and praised him.

Howard’s critics argue that the hatchets were emblems of the rogue, at times criminal, conduct on the battlefield the commander was encouraging. “Every one of us is issued and carries a suppressed weapon,” said one former senior SEAL, referring to the Heckler & Koch assault rifles, equipped with silencers, issued to the operators. “There just isn’t a need to carry a two-pound hatchet on the battlefield.” For those who favored them, this former SEAL said, the hatchets could be justified as being no more than knives. “It’s a great way to explain it away, but they have the hatchets to flaunt the law. Our job is to ensure that we conduct ourselves in a way befitting the American people and the American flag. The hatchet says, ‘We don’t care about the Geneva Conventions’ and that ‘we are above the law and can do whatever we want.’”

Critics inside the command were troubled by the combination of battlefield aggression and Howard’s lack of military discipline. A retired noncommissioned officer said Howard’s encouragement and provision of Winkler hatchets was simply adding fuel to the fire. The power of the Native American mascot, he said, was not to be dismissed. Since the 1980s, when Red Team was first created, there were many operators in the unit who had experienced a “metamorphosis of identity and persona” into Native American warriors. “Guys are going out every night killing everything. The hatchet was too intimate, too closely aligned with a tomahawk, to have been a good idea.” The former SEAL, who himself had served in Red during his career, said that by giving operators the weapon of their battlefield persona, Howard sent an unmistakable message to his men: Use it. “That’s when you take away a hatchet,” the retired SEAL said. “Not provide them.”

During one Iraq deployment, Howard returned from a raid to an operations center with blood on his hatchet and his uniform. Back at the base, he gave a speech to a group of analysts and nonoperational officers in which he told them that his bloody appearance was a demonstration of how a battlefield commander should lead. One operator, who confirmed Howard’s remarks, added his own: “That’s the business we’re in.”

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3HEAD ON A PLATTER

THE DEATH AND attempted decapitation of Neil Roberts on Takur Ghar affected no one so profoundly as Britt Slabinski, the operator who led the rescue team back up the mountain only to find that Roberts was already dead. One former teammate who served with Slabinski described his effort that day — outnumbered and with inferior fire support, taking incoming fire from the moment the helicopter landed — as “one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen.” On the day when SEAL Team 6 lost its first operator in the post-9/11 era, Slabinski became a unit legend.

By all accounts, Slabinski, a second-generation SEAL who joined Team 6 in 1993, was an excellent sniper and reconnaissance operator. Thin and lanky, he was less physically imposing than many SEALs but was charismatic and dedicated. After Roberts’s death, Slabinksi wanted revenge. In audio of an unpublished interview with the late Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book about Roberts Ridge, Slabinski describes in great detail an operation that took place about a week after Objective Bull. In that mission, known as Objective Wolverine, Slabinski and his fellow SEALs were sent in Chinook helicopters to follow a convoy they believed was filled with al Qaeda fighters escaping to Pakistan. A drone flying above the convoy showed the occupants of three vehicles were heavily armed.

After the Chinook miniguns strafed the vehicles and stopped them, Slabinski and his team of snipers landed and moved to a rise several hundred yards away from one of the trucks and began firing sniper rounds at the militants. In that brief firefight, the SEALs killed nearly 20 foreign al Qaeda fighters, some of whom carried U.S. military equipment taken from Takur Ghar. Slabinski told MacPherson that Wolverine had been “really good payback.”

“Just a phenomenal, phenomenal day. We just slaughtered those dudes.” After describing one particular fighter who from a distance had resembled Osama bin Laden, Slabinksi continued: “To this day, we’ve never had anything as good as that. Oh my gosh. We needed that … there was not a better group of people to go and do that. The guys needed that to get back in the saddle because everyone was gun shy.”

“I mean, talk about the funny stuff we do. After I shot this dude in the head, there was a guy who had his feet, just his feet, sticking out of some little rut or something over here. I mean, he was dead, but people have got nerves. I shot him about 20 times in the legs, and every time you’d kick him, er, shoot him, he would kick up, you could see his body twitching and all that. It was like a game. Like, ‘hey look at this dude,’ and the guy would just twitch again. It was just good therapy. It was really good therapy for everybody who was there.”

Audio from an unpublished interview with Britt Slabinksi conducted by Malcolm MacPherson, author of a 2005 book on the battle of Roberts Ridge.

Shortly after that operation, Slabinski returned to the SEAL Team 6 base at Dam Neck. He was awarded a Navy Cross, the second highest battlefield award for heroism. For several years afterward, the leaders at the command limited Slabinski’s battlefield exposure — assigning him to Green Team as an instructor, for example — hoping the psychological wounds from Roberts Ridge would heal.

By late 2007, Slabinski was deployed to Afghanistan as the senior noncommissioned officer in Blue Squadron. The war was entering its seventh year and had become intractable, with no clear path to victory. Early in the war, the SEALs’ mission was to hunt down al Qaeda’s senior leaders, who had largely vanished into Pakistan, but now Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the leader of JSOC, extended the mission to target the Taliban, who along with al Qaeda were moving back and forth across the Pakistani border with impunity. The SEALs were now going after low-level Taliban financiers and shadow governors.

Blue Squadron was led at that time by Cmdr. Peter Vasely, a Naval Academy graduate who had not gone through the advanced assault training of Green Team that the other members of SEAL Team 6 had endured. He was an outsider, despite having been at the command for many years. Like Vic Hyder, he struggled to command the respect of his men. Slabinski — experienced, charismatic, and by now legendary — bridged the gap.

According to two senior SEAL Team 6 sources, however, the leadership dynamic in Blue Squadron was a failure. By 2007, the command’s leadership was aware that some Blue Squadron operators were using specialized knives to conduct “skinnings.” Using the excuse of collecting DNA, which required a small piece of skin containing hair follicles, operators were taking large strips of skin from dead enemy fighters. The two leading officers at the command, Moore and Szymanski, were informed that small groups in each of the three squadrons were mutilating and desecrating combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Slabinkski and others in the squadron had fallen under the influence of an obscure war novel, “Devil’s Guard,” published in 1971 by George Robert Elford. The book purported to be a true account of an S.S. officer who with dozens of other soldiers escaped Germany after World War II, joined the French Foreign Legion, and spent years in Vietnam brutalizing the insurgency. The novel, which glorifies Nazi military practices, describes counterinsurgency tactics such as mass slaughter and desecration and other forms of wanton violence as a means of waging psychological warfare against the “savage” Vietnamese.

“These fucking morons read the book ‘The Devil’s Guard’ and believed it,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders who investigated Slabinski and Blue Squadron. “It’s a work of fiction billed as the Bible, as the truth. In reality, it’s bullshit. But we all see what we want to see.” Slabinski and the Blue Squadron SEALs deployed to Afghanistan were “frustrated, and that book gave them the answers they wanted to see: Terrorize the Taliban and they’d surrender. The truth is that such stuff only galvanizes the enemy.”

One telling illustration of what had gone wrong with Blue Squadron occurred on December 17, 2007, during a raid in Helmand province. Slabinski had told his operators that he wanted “a head on a platter.” Although some of the more seasoned SEALs took the statement metaphorically, at least one operator took Slabinski at his word, interpreting it as an order.

Later that night, after Blue Squadron’s assaulters had successfully carried out the raid, killing three or four armed men and recovering weapons and explosives, Vasely and Slabinski conducted a walk-through of the compound. Vasely, who was wearing night-vision goggles, looked through a window and saw one of his operators, his back turned, squatting over the body of a dead militant. Vasely later told investigators he saw the operator moving his hand back and forth over the militant’s neck in a sawing motion. Alarmed at seeing what he believed was a decapitation, he told Slabinski to go inside and see what the young operator was doing. By the time Slabinski entered the room where the dead militant lay, according to three former SEAL Team 6 leaders, the operator had severed much of the dead man’s neck.

Slabinski did not report the decapitation, however. He told Vasely that the operator had been trying to remove the dead fighter’s chest rack, a small vest that can hold ammunition and clips. Slabinski told Vasely, and later, Navy investigators, that there had been “no foul play.”

After leaving the compound and returning to their base in Kandahar province, Vasely reported to Moore, his superior officer, that he believed he had witnessed a war crime, a mutilation. Vasely told Moore he wanted an investigation into the incident. Moore, sitting in his office in Virginia Beach, pressed Vasely: What had he actually seen? Was there another explanation?

Moore told his deputy, Szymanski, who was in Afghanistan, to sort things out. Ten days later, the internal JSOC investigation was closed. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service then opened an investigation but was forced to rely on photographs and witness statements because active hostilities made the alleged crime scene inaccessible. When investigators approached the operator accused of mutilating the dead fighter, he exercised his right to remain silent and his right to counsel. A few days after the attempted interview, investigators obtained photos purporting to be of the dead fighter. No cuts were visible in the photos, according to a military official who has reviewed the file. Three weeks after the incident, NCIS closed its investigation, concluding that there was no evidence the SEAL had violated the laws of armed conflict. But according to multiple SEAL sources, the incident did in fact occur.

Szymanski, according to these sources, was directed by Moore to make the episode disappear. “Tim took a dive,” said a former noncommissioned SEAL officer, and it was “at Moore’s direction.” Szymanski had known Slabinski for at least 15 years. They had bonded over Roberts’s death.

Although Blue Squadron had avoided criminal charges, their battlefield conduct continued to set off alarms within the command. Some SEAL Team 6 leaders were appalled by how easily Vasely and Szymanski had folded under Moore’s pressure.

Within two weeks of the apparent beheading, Moore deployed to Afghanistan. While he was there, he confronted the Blue Squadron troop and the operator who’d tried to behead the Taliban fighter. A former SEAL Team 6 leader who has knowledge of the episode told me Moore shamed Slabinski and the squadron for their conduct. That was the only punishment. (The Intercept is withholding the name of the operator, who believed he was following an order. He remains on active duty and has not responded to requests for comment.)

One of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders, who investigated several Blue Squadron incidents, including the mutilation of bodies, said he repeatedly asked the operators why they felt the need to commit such acts. “Often we’d hear, well, they’re savages,” the former leader said. “They don’t play by the rules, so why should we?”

The Intercept submitted three pages of questions to both Adm. Szymanksi, who as head of Naval Special Warfare now commands all SEALs in the Navy, and Capt. Vasely, who currently runs the operations divisions of JSOC. Both declined to comment. Moore did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson at Naval Special Warfare, which oversees SEAL Team 6, declined repeated requests for interviews and refused to answer a detailed list of questions, writing in a statement, “We do not entertain or support public discussion of classified information because it puts our forces, their families and our future operations at great risk.” The SEAL command asserted that “all members of Naval Special Warfare are required to comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict in the conduct of military operations.”

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Top: Capt. Peter Vasely with members of Blue Squadron in Afghanistan. Bottom: Britt Slabinski, left, and Capt. Timothy Szymanski, commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Group, after Slabinski was blackballed by SEAL Team 6 in Norfolk, Va., March 25, 2011.

 

Photos: http://www.navyseals.hu; Robert J. Fluegel/U.S. Navy

IN 2010, WHEN Slabinski was up for a promotion at the command, SEAL Team 6 leaders conducted two internal inquiries before making a decision. Almost immediately, the issue that received the most scrutiny was the December 2007 attempted beheading. According to two former SEALs, Slabinski told his teammates and superiors that his remark about wanting a head was figurative and not a literal order. By then, there was no question about whether the attempted beheading had occurred; the question was why.

“We didn’t debate whether Slab had told his guys he wanted a head on a platter — he copped to that. The only issue was, was his order real, or just talk?” said one of the retired SEALs involved. “It didn’t make a difference. He said it and one of his operators did it because he believed he was following an order.”

Ten officers and master chiefs voted unanimously against allowing Slabinski to return to the command. At that point, the second inquiry was commissioned by the SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, Pete Van Hooser. Evidence was presented that Slabinski gave an order to shoot all the men they encountered during another raid, whether or not they were armed. According to the New York Times, Afghans accused Blue Squadron of killing civilians during that operation, but a subsequent military investigation determined that all those killed had been armed and hostile. When Slabinski was confronted by the command’s senior enlisted leader about whether he had instructed Blue Squadron operators to kill all males during the operation, code-named Pantera, Slabinski acknowledged that he had done so. The second inquiry also uncovered the “head on a platter” remark as the instigation for the beheading in December 2007, but the command’s senior enlisted leader told Slabinski he would not get the promotion or be allowed to serve at the command again because of the Pantera order. Overall, it had become clear that Slabinski’s run as a leader on the battlefield caused Blue Squadron to come “off the rails,” according to a former SEAL Team 6 leader.

Slabinski has not responded to multiple queries and requests for comment, though he did deny to the New York Times in 2015 that he gave the illegal pre-mission guidance to kill all males. In his interview with the Times, Slabinski asserted that it was he who had witnessed the operator slashing at the dead fighter’s throat, saying, “It appeared he was mutilating a body.” Slabinski portrayed himself as trying to police his men and said that he gave them “a very stern speech.” He claimed to the Times that he told his men, “If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me.” Slabinski says nothing in the Times story about Vasely ordering him to investigate the scene or the remark about a head on a platter.

“To this day, he thinks the guys turned on him,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “Well, they did. What we didn’t do was turn him in. You will step over the line and you start dehumanizing people. You really do. And it takes the team, it takes individuals to pull you back. And part of that was getting rid of Britt Slabinski.”

Two other SEAL Team 6 leaders with a combined 35 years at the command said the removal of Slabinski and the failure to pursue official punishment was an indictment of the senior officers — they had failed one of their most basic duties, to hold themselves and others accountable for wrongdoing.

When Szymanski, who was then commanding officer of all regular East Coast-based SEAL teams, heard that Slabinski had been rejected by Team 6, he requested him as his senior enlisted adviser. The request was approved and Slabinski was promoted.

“If a guy cuts off another guy’s head and nothing happens, that becomes the standard,” said one of the former SEAL Team 6 leaders. “You’re moving the bar and buying into an emotional justification, ‘War is hell.’ If you’re not disciplining your force, you’re saying it’s OK.”

Slabinski retired from the military in 2014 after 25 years in the Navy. The operator accused of the attempted beheading has experienced difficulties as a result of his service. Last year, the command became concerned about his psychological condition, determining that he was medically unfit to deploy again. His superiors believed he had become “unglued” over the 2007 deployment. He was quietly removed from Team 6 and returned to a regular SEAL unit. He has told at least one former SEAL Team 6 teammate that he hopes to never deploy again.

“He’s just beginning to suffer for what he did,” said another SEAL Team 6 leader.

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Valentine Strasser was once the world’s youngest dictator, ruling Sierra Leone for four turbulent years. But his fall from power left him broken, exiled, and eventually back home as a mysterious and feared recluse. BuzzFeed News makes an uninvited house call.

The run-down mansion rising above the Freetown slum was the first giveaway, but it got even stranger. As Valentine Strasser’s home came into view, my guide screamed in Krio, “I go scared!” then yanked open the car door and bolted.

He emerged 50 meters away, behind a tangle of banana trees. Fair enough. Yusuf Dumbuya was a lanky 16-year-old from the shantytown of Grafton, and unsurprisingly didn’t want to hang around for what might follow.

I’d been lucky to get him to take me this far. In a neighborhood with no street names, nobody wanted to take me to Strasser’s house. Older residents recalled cheering in the streets when he first rode into power over two decades ago, but generally people shuddered when I asked about him.

“Everybody is scared of him here. Even if you say hello to him in the street, he will get angry with you,” Dumbuya had informed me cheerfully. He’d made the mistake of waving at Strasser a few weeks earlier. The former president of Sierra Leone felt the greeting showed a lack of respect.

“I don’t want to use abusive language, so let me just say he got very, very angry,” he continued, crossing his arms protectively. “He was shouting, ‘Who are you and who am I?’ He said, ‘Why you didn’t call me capay [captain]?” Strasser lunged, so Dumbuya scampered.

I’d found Dumbuya outside a youth computer center that Strasser ran, though a thick layer of dust suggested it hadn’t been used for months. A knot of teenagers were loitering around, though, and Dumbuya, wearing a beret tipped at a jaunty angle, offered to show me the way to Strasser’s home. He strode to my car with a swagger that implied he wasn’t afraid. That initial bullishness gave way to silence as we drove up the hill to where he said Strasser lived. Rice fields tumbled down to a river in the valley, where a group of boys were splashing about. “He go fight, maybe small, maybe big,” Dumbuya said, staring wistfully at them.

In a neighborhood with no street names, nobody wanted to take me to Strasser’s house.

Then he looked up, noticed suddenly how far up the hill we’d gone, and let out a piercing scream. And that was pretty much the last I saw of him.

At least I was still with my driver, I thought. Cheikh Kabal had been my constant companion over the weeks. Tattoos snaked down his biceps and disappeared into the leather driving gloves he wore permanently as protection against Ebola, eschewing the blue surgical ones everyone else chose.

Officially I was in Sierra Leone to report on the country’s Ebola epidemic and ensuing international panic. It was the summer of 2014 and land borders had long since shut, but when a British nurse in the capital, Freetown, caught the virus that August, international flights were also canceled. I was stranded in the country.

To stop myself from sinking into a spiral of paranoia that I was going to die of Ebola, alone, in a deserted foreign hotel, I’d come up with another plan: I’d busy myself looking for the country’s former dictator.

Kabal accepted pretty much everything I wanted to do — watch an Ebola burial in an isolated village, find a volatile ex-dictator — without asking questions. His sentences were never longer than necessary. “If you scream, I’ll come get you,” he said. He waited for me to climb out, then firmly locked the car doors behind me.

I took a deep breath and began walking toward the crumbling white house. Its porticoed front beamed majestically over the ramshackle tin roofs below. But the sweeping driveway was empty of the kind of flashy cars that typically announce a big man in these parts, and instead an elderly man — I later found out he was Strasser’s brother — was sweeping the dusty ground. Closer up, the columns were crawling with green mold, and the windowpanes were missing. The whole setup looked like an abandoned fairground attraction.

A thought occurred to me, and I turned back and tapped on the window of the car. Kabal rolled it down a couple of inches. Might Strasser have a gun?

“He’s an army man. If he doesn’t have a gun, he will have one of these,” Kabal said, rummaging around the glove compartment. He pulled out a chopping knife. The blade glinted in the sunlight. Now wasn’t the time to think about why Kabal kept a meat cleaver in the glove compartment.

Since being deposed and exiled in 1994, Strasser’s legend has become more of a mystery. About the only thing that was known about him was his penchant for drinking and his explosive temper. I wanted to dive deeper, but on more neutral ground — not in a deserted house in the hills with a knife-wielding Kabal as my only protection.

On April 29, 1992, Valentine Esegragbo Melvin Strasser accidentally seized power in Sierra Leone, a small, diamond-rich country tucked into Africa’s western coast. Until that day, Strasser had been an unknown army captain whose closest brush with fame came when he won a couple of dance-offs in a nightclub in Allen Town, a Freetown slum. At the age of 25, he found himself newly installed as the leader of a nation of 4 million people, and the commander-in-chief of a fractious, impoverished army.

After more than two decades of corrupt governments, most Sierra Leoneans welcomed the coup-makers, and Strasser was catapulted to messiah status. Print shops churned out calendars embossed with his childlike face. Graffiti artists splashed Freetown with his portrait and those of his fellow junta members, who called themselves the National Provisional Ruling Council.

The party’s inner circle was made up of equally young men, including a vice chairman who was barely 22 years old. From the outset, their rule was marked with the kind of eccentricities you’d expect if you walked into a college bar and handed over a country to a bunch of students.

Meetings were often presided over by young men trailing the scent of weed. Strasser at one point sought to make the disco classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” the national anthem, and Valentine’s Day and Bob Marley’s birthday were both celebrated with official festivities. Kabasa Lodge, the presidential residence, doubled up as a private disco; on the side, officials also sold fake passports there.

Coups are hardly unique to Africa, but no continent has been so defined by them in the public imagination, and no other region has experienced as many — both successful and failed — as West Africa. Strasser’s own rags-to-riches-to-rags tale shows, in the starkest way possible, why so many leaders in Africa cling to power long after their turn has passed.

Strasser’s own rags-to-riches-to-rags tale shows, in the starkest way possible, why so many leaders in Africa cling to power long after their turn has passed.

His coup came at the tail end of two decades that saw young soldiers, often in their twenties, dominate the continent’s political arena. Dictatorships have since dwindled, but a clique of autocrats, relics of that period, cling to power, tinkering with constitutional terms or holding outright sway in places like Eritrea, Cameroon, Rwanda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Congo, and the Republic of Congo. Three successful coups in the last four years show the playbook hasn’t entirely been closed in West Africa.

Strasser’s time in the sunshine didn’t last long, nor did it end well. Four years after taking over, he was overthrown by his number two, who literally held a gun to his head. Though his path to power had followed the rulebook of African strongmen, the former captain did not take the well-trodden route of fallen dictators, banished to a life of gilded exile or pulling strings from afar.

His downfall was followed by a brief resurfacing in the English countryside, two years of sofa-hopping in London, and then, for all intents and purposes, the world’s youngest head of state disappeared into obscurity. In 1998, he appeared, too broke to afford a taxi, on the doorstep of a former journalist he had once imprisoned. Another time, acquaintances were shocked to hear he was apparently driftingthrough Senegal, wearing the ragged clothes of a beggar. But his appearances were scarce, his fate largely unknown.

Residents of Freetown initially didn’t know what to think when a convoy of military trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns rumbled into the capital in the spring of 1992. Supposedly protesting unpaid salaries and a lack of equipment, the soldiers were marching toward the presidential palace. Among them was Strasser, then a young captain.

Meeting little resistance, the soldiers raided weapons depots before looting corrupt officials’ homes. They caused a brief spike in car accidents by driving seized cars wildly through the city’s serpentine roads.

When the mutineers made it into the presidential palace, they found President Joseph Momoh cowering in the bathroom in his dressing gown. By midday, he was on a helicopter out of the country. If the coup had come as a shock to Momoh, the young officers seemed equally surprised at the ease of their takeover.

Later, it would transpire that although the officers were planning a coup, they hadn’t necessarily meant to do so on that day. Fate had simply handed them a chance.

“We saw them in their nice uniforms, and they were young, and they said all the right things, how they’d sweep away the corrupt regime that had paralyzed the country. We were very, very happy,” said Lansana Gberie, an author and historian, who rushed to join thousands of his compatriots cheering in the streets.

If nothing else, they all agreed, a fresh-faced lad could inject youthful optimism into a weary nation.

Sierra Leone had been rolling toward the political cliff edge since the ascension to power in 1968 of Siaka Stevens, a prime minister whose destructive rule became known as the “17-year plague of locusts.” His successor, Momoh — otherwise known as Dandogo, meaning “fool” in his Limba language — dragged the economy down to the point where civil servants went unpaid, gas shortages were the norm, and water supplies often dried up as hungry citizens stole pipelines to sell for scrap.

Worse, a war raging in neighboring Liberia had spilled into eastern border towns in 1991, forcing Momoh to depend on an army so ill-equipped that it was little more than ceremonial. Strasser was unable to get even basic medical attention after being injured on the frontline.

The coup leaders were so unprepared that they hadn’t designated a new leader. Eventually Strasser was chosen, not because of his leadership, or martial authority — but because, as one of the few who’d completed secondary school, his English was good enough to read the junta’s declaration on the radio. If nothing else, they all agreed, a fresh-faced lad could inject youthful optimism into a weary nation.

Once Strasser was sitting in Momoh’s chair, it dawned on him that the next step was winning international recognition. He decided to summon Joe Opala, a well-known American historian and lecturer who’d lived in Sierra Leone on and off since the 1970s.

Opala was famous for his work showing that the Gullah language in the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina is a cousin of Sierra Leone’s own Krio vernacular, and he was often stopped in the streets by people who recognized him. These days Opala lives in a cabin in Massanutten, a ski resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and over the phone, he still sounded incredulous when he recalled those early heady days.

“There was no one in the streets, because the soldiers would take your car if they saw it. They actually marched me into the State House — I had never even seen the State House gates open,” he said.

Once inside, Opala was pushed down onto a seat in front of the “big chairman.” Stoned soldiers sat around cleaning their Kalashnikovs. Bullets and spare parts were scattered everywhere.

Momoh’s terrified staff were gathered in a corner. “They were shaking like leaves. All of them were convinced that in a few moments they were going to be shot dead,” Opala said. “I was scared to death.”

Strasser leaned forward and told Opala he had a question: Would America accept the junta as the legitimate government? Opala was too stunned to speak, but eventually managed a reply: “You should probably put that question to the US ambassador.”

“Well, I talk with him, but him big English he speak, I no understand nothing,” Opala recalled Strasser replying in Krio, the language spoken across Sierra Leone. Secondary school in a crumbling education system had left Strasser with only a shaky grip on formal English.

As the conversation unfolded, Opala remembered a young soldier circling around, casting his eye on anything shiny. At one point he opened an ornate box and peered inside, before slowly lifting out a medal — it was the former president’s highest-ever military medal, draped in ribbons. “Na Momoh, him grand commander,” he recalled the soldier saying, before gently putting it back.

Opala eventually left carrying a wish list from Strasser to the US Embassy. Number one, Strasser declared, was “to create a government like Jerry Rawlings, but I don’t think the Americans will let me.” Then-president of Ghana, Flight Lt. Rawlings began a trend that other regional coup leaders would later use to cement their positions. After seizing power just over a decade ago at the age of 31, Rawlings successfully swapped military uniform for civilian garb.

Diplomats on the ground were in a tricky position over how to handle the situation. A week after the coup, Karl Prinz, the ambassador for Germany, met Strasser. By then, a song called “Tiger Come Down to Town” — after the junta’s tiger battalion — was dominating radio airwaves. Yet the newly installed president seemed nervous, and the two men smoked steadily through a packet of Marlboros in a single sitting.

“I was around 43 years and the youngest of the Western diplomats, but still 18 years older than Strasser. I felt sympathy for Strasser,” said Prinz, who is now retired and living in Bonn.

“Strasser made Jeb Bush
look like a tough guy.”

Prinz pushed for democratic elections to be held quickly and advised that Strasser keep on four ministers from the previous government in order to win some international credibility. “He was a nice [man] but … there was obviously a big distance — already on the level of skin color.”

Perhaps acutely aware of this, Strasser initially heeded the popular older diplomat’s advice, then sacked all the ministers. Within a couple of years, Strasser would make another costly miscalculation in disregarding Prinz’s advice. For now, though, citizens were snapping up calendars decorated with “Strasser, Our Redeemer.” Few realized then that the soft-spoken and easily intimidated captain — “Strasser made Jeb Bush look like a tough guy,” Opala told me — controlled neither his officers nor his cabinet members.

There’s a video of a journalist interviewing Strasser shortly after the coup. The new president can be seen sitting behind a desk, decked in full military uniform, eyes lowered shyly. “You have a lot of support,” the journalist says, almost breathlessly.

“Yes,” Strasser mumbles unconvincingly, “because we know what the people want.”

Whether or not Strasser or his cronies really knew what the people wanted, they certainly put on a show. They attended dreary government meetings in sunglasses and sharply cut suits. Once, Strasser addressed a state funeral in the national cathedral while wearing aviator sunglasses. On another occasion, he turned up to a Commonwealth summit in Cyprus — during which Sierra Leone’s return to democracy was a key discussion point — wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Sunny Days in Cyprus.” While there, he was reportedly too shy to attend a proposed meeting with the Queen.

There were grand plans to install a functioning democracy. The soldiers launched a cleanup campaign to rid the streets of mountains of trash, often joining in themselves. The economy was on the up; gas and electricity were once again available. Ambulances, which had all but disappeared from Freetown, were imported and put to use again.

Optimistic once again, young people splashed downtown Freetown with murals of inspiring slogans and national heroes. There was talk of a long-awaited revolution finally bursting into flower.

It didn’t take long for the euphoria to start fading. In December 1992, just eight months in, the government announced it had foiled an attempted coup. Twenty-nine accused men were executed by firing squad on a beach outside Freetown. Some of them had been in jail at the time they were supposedly plotting the coup.

Strasser would later tell journalists he had covered up for his deputies’ decision, but the atrocity that happened under his watch would haunt him long after he left power. (In 2002, Strasser told the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissionthat there had been a trial after the execution, in which the suspects’ corpses were found guilty.)

Strasser didn’t, as was customary in the region, promote himself, but a habit of generously dishing out promotions to his colleagues sowed confusion and resentment. It meant junior officers were suddenly giving their ranking superiors orders. “Strasser tried to keep in control but eventually he couldn’t,” said Julius Spencer, a journalist who ran a muckraking newspaper called New Breed. Sierra Leoneans joked darkly that NPRC, the interim government’s acronym, stood for “Na Pikin Run Countri” (Children Are Running the Country).

Equally unforgivable were the stories of extravagant state-funded lifestyles. “There were stories of them selling diamonds worth tens of thousands [of dollars], spending the money on brand-new cars and wrecking them in some cases,” said Gberie, the author who lived through the coup and now resides in Canada.

Some officers moved into the lavish houses they’d seized from the previous administration’s corrupt officials. Lagoonda, a beachside nightclub and casino housed in a neon-pink building, became a second home to many of them in the regime. There was a lounge reserved for the soldiers, where they were frequently seen quaffing imported spirits as women hung off their arms.

“I suspect he meant well when he took over,” Gberie said. “But remember, he was … really young when he came to power. He didn’t really know what he was doing.”

In October 1993, New Breed ran an article by a Swedish newspaper suggesting that Strasser and other officers had flown to Antwerp, Europe’s diamond capital, with smuggled stones valued at tens of millions of dollars. Some of the money was used to buy arms for the floundering army; the rest was divided between officials. Coming at a time when Sierra Leone earned less than $2 million annually in legitimate diamond trading, the article was explosive. (Press reports shortly afterward claimed Strasser had wept at how badly the authors had misunderstood him.)

A few days later, Spencer, who was the paper’s managing editor, and six other colleagues were arrested. Spencer, who had celebrated the junta when they first swept in, was bitterly shocked. “They tried to give the impression that it was going to be a fair trial, but there was no way the judge was going to rule against the government, and it was obvious,” said Spencer, who ended up spending two years in and out of jail in a widely followed case of criminal libel charges.

“The junta members felt the power they held; a dictatorship of stealth, mutilation, and theft developed quickly,” said Prinz, the German ambassador. In April 1994, after the vocal lobbying for the release of political prisoners, Prinz was booted out and the German Embassy was shuttered. The regime’s popularity plunged further.

Nowhere was the lack of experience more costly than in Strasser’s handling of the war brewing in the east. There were battlefield successes, but “na di wa” (it’s the war) became a get-out clause for any failings of the government. And as the junta partied, the war they had promised to end was spreading. The Revolutionary United Front rebels had originally been fighting to unseat the corrupt government, but with Momoh out of power and continual meddling by Sierra Leone’s neighbors, it became unclear what they stood for. Lucrative diamond deposits also became a resource to fight for in their own right.

At the beginning of 1994, the government launched a desperate army recruitment drive, enlisting children as young as 12. That did little to help; by the following January, state radio bulletins were urging citizens to “have sticks and stones and machetes ready” as refugees pouring into Freetown brought tales of torture and mutilation from the east.

Strasser vanished from public life. “The rumor was very widespread that he was drinking a lot and abusing cocaine,” said Gberie. “He didn’t seem to be in control at all.”

“The rumor was very widespread that he was drinking a lot and abusing cocaine. He didn’t seem to be in control at all.”

Throughout the following year, Strasser’s government struggled to rein in growing protests. Facing equally intense international pressure, Strasser decided to hold polls in February 1996. But by putting himself forward as candidate — ignoring the constitutional minimum age of 40 — he inflamed existing leadership rifts within the party.

A few weeks before the election, Strasser went to a routine government meeting also attended by his second-in-command, Maada Bio. According to his own retelling, he entered the meeting room without his armed security detail, so there was nothing he could do when Bio drew a gun from under the table and pointed it at him. Strasser was bundled — just as his predecessor had been — into a helicopter and flown to neighboring Guinea.

The incoming gang wasn’t exactly professional. The keys to the handcuffs were forgotten, and the chopper had to fly back to Freetown to retrieve them. Bio, who was only 32 years old, then put himself down as the presidential candidate in upcoming elections. Strasser’s post-political life would take him far from Freetown, only depositing him back home in a manner as unlikely as his rise to power had been.

Having balked at the idea of entering Strasser’s house alone, I was back at my hotel the following morning wondering what approach to take next, when Kabal turned up, raring to go.

“Good morning. I have Strasser’s phone number,” he said. He unrolled a scrap of paper and dialed the number. “Good morning, capay …” he began.

There was a long silence.

“Please, sir, don’t shout,” Kabal finally said.

An even longer silence followed.

“I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry, sir,” Kabal said. “Sorry, sir.”

A tinny voice could be heard from the handset. The voice sounded angry. It went on for a long time. Finally, Kabal lowered the phone and leaned against the car.

“He said he don’t want to speak to us. He don’t want to know us, we don’t need to know him or about him, so let’s just never go there again.”

For the first time since I’d met him, Kabal looked fearful. “He said he will trace my number if I call him again, and that will be a problem for me.”

But Kabal was nothing if not stoic, and we decided to try asking an aunt of Strasser’s who also lived in the slum. Her colonial wood-paneled home stood on a relatively well-off street in front of an orange-brick mosque and a church. She was tending hibiscus bushes and immediately began shouting at our request: “Wetin you na dey fraid fo?” — What are you scared of? — “Am I young?” she demanded, turning both palms upward to show how weary she was with the world and all its young fools.

Her knees hurt because of old age, she told us, and her head hurt because of our stupidity. She dispatched a younger cousin to take us to meet Strasser. The cousin, another skinny teenager, shot us a resentful glance before lapsing into the now-familiar terrified silence in the backseat. We set off to Strasser’s house again.

Are you worried, I ventured, because it’s afternoon and Strasser will be drinking?

“Presently,” the cousin said coldly, refusing to make eye contact, “you really cannot tell if he has been drinking or not.” When we got back to the house he refused to accompany me inside, which had been the whole point of us dragging him there anyway.

“Don’t you think you should have made an appointment to see the former president?”

This time I walked cautiously round the side. Up some stairs was an open door. Inside, an elderly lady wearing a headscarf sat on a purple plastic chair. Pots and pans were piled in one corner. The walls were bare. We both stared at each other in surprise.

“Hello,” she said.

It turned out the house belonged to Strasser’s mom, Beatrice; he’d moved back in with her years ago. I explained who I was, and that I was looking for her son. She sighed, shook her head, and stood up heavily. She clasped both my hands softly — a shock after a week of the “no-touching” Ebola rule.

Strasser wasn’t home, she said, looking exhausted. He’d accompanied a friend to a court case that morning — because, she added, he was a good, kind friend. “Did you make an appointment to see him?” she asked.

I didn’t, I told her.

“Don’t you think,” she said, “you should have made an appointment to see the former president?”

I agreed I should have, suddenly embarrassed.

She sighed again. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll tell him to meet you at Mr. John’s bar tomorrow afternoon.”

Then she said her back was hurting and she needed to go lie down.

The exiled junta members quickly accepted a United Nations-brokered peace deal that would fund their study overseas in return for agreeing to relinquish power. While some went to the US, Strasser found himself in the unlikeliest of locations. Far from the sweltering heat and political chaos of Sierra Leone, he wound up studying at the University of Warwick in Coventry, a quiet industrial city in the UK best known for its car museums.

His presence didn’t go down well among the student body at the university, which included several students in exile from Sierra Leone. The fact he was enrolled in a law program didn’t help matters, said lecturers who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, out of respect for student-staff confidentiality. “Some [teaching staff] raised concerns that he was implicated in atrocities and breaches of international criminal law,” one former lecturer told me. Another, who had fled South Africa’s apartheid regime, refused to teach someone who was himself accused of rights abuses.

Strasser did his best to keep his head down on campus, it seems. Hugh Beale, his personal tutor, recalled meeting him no more than twice, both for very short periods of time. “As a student he did not stand out in any way. He was quiet, tried to avoid eye contact, and was not really suited to serious study,” one of his former lecturers told me. “I think Val was probably more gregarious away from the law school.”

Even outside the lecture halls, Strasser couldn’t escape his past. There were allegations of him bullying Sierra Leonean students linked to his opponents. The university newspaper ran headlines asking why a former dictator was attending lectures. A fellow student, whose relative was among those executed on the beach, launched a campaign to have him ejected. The UN declined to renew his funding after it expired at the end of the year.

Beleaguered, Strasser dropped out 18 months into his studies and began drifting around London, with frequently disastrous encounters among Sierra Leonean expatriates.

“He was just floating around drinking — he didn’t have any money. He was virtually living off his girlfriend at the time,” said Gberie, who bumped into him a few times in London.

“People were poking him and saying, ‘This is the former head of state.’ He
was being taunted a lot.”

At one house party in 1999, Strasser drank himself into a particularly deep stupor. “He was lying on the floor of my friend’s flat. People came and were poking him and saying, ‘This is the former head of state,’” Gberie recalled. “He was being taunted a lot.”

The former president had been sofa-hopping until an embassy press attaché, who was a former schoolmate, took him in. One August afternoon in 1998, the friend organized a meeting with Spencer, the journalist whom Strasser had jailed. After being released, Spencer had risen to become a minister; now his former jailer was late because he’d been unable to afford a taxi to the meeting point. During the meeting, Strasser proceeded to drain half a bottle of whisky.

He cut a sympathetic, if pitiful, figure, Spencer recalled. “He expressed regret at having tried to cover up [about the beach executions] for some of his colleagues. He said he was now wiser.”

Word in the Sierra Leonean Embassy was that Strasser was desperate to avoid returning home, where he’d felt trapped by his supporters. “The story that was made public by those who overthrew him was that he didn’t want to hand over power,” said Spencer, who, like many Sierra Leoneans, later came to see things differently. Four days before he was ousted, Strasser’s brother had lobbied unsuccessfully to appoint him as head of a newly formed civilian party widely seen as a puppet of the junta. “He really had no interest — he didn’t want to stay on in power. But he came under pressure from his family and friends, and some of those who had got into power because of him.”

His fall from grace deepened when he was forced to abandon his council flat in the north London borough of Islington after The Independent newspaper tracked down his address sometime in 1999. The Times ran a headline screaming “Butcher of Sierra Leone Drawing the Dole.” The following year, he was arrested for allegedlysmashing his girlfriend’s car. His mother told reporters back in Freetown that around this time, he was stabbed in the left leg by exiled opposition supporters (Strasser put it down to a racist attack while he was outside a liquor store). Meanwhile, UK-based human rights organizations were questioning why a former dictator was allowed to remain in the country rather than facing trial under international law.

By November 2000, Strasser sought escape by fleeing to Banjul, the Gambian capital, but there he met more of the same. Once again — this time in an upscale nightclub garden — he was beaten up by relatives of some of those who had been executed on the beach. According to his mom, Strasser still wanted to stay in the Gambia but couldn’t afford a lawyer to help him with the immigration process. Beatrice later told me her son found his time there “emotionally stressful.”

Gambian authorities accused him of fomenting another coup, arrested him, and deported him back to London. This time UK officials bowed to the pressure, and Strasser was refused re-entry. There was nowhere left to go except home to Freetown. There, Strasser all but sank into oblivion.

Mr. John’s “bar” was really a wooden lean-to furnished with two benches under a gnarled tree by the side of the road. On offer were poyo — a potent palm wine — and cheap plastic sachets of locally brewed gin with names like double punch, parrot energy, and man pikin.

After driving past the place several times, I found both the bar and its sole customer, Daniel, a nervous man in his fifties who wore bright-pink socks and gave only his first name. He told me he hung out there most days with Strasser, whom he described as “a dear friend.”

“We meet here every day,” Daniel, told me, twitching as he spoke. “We talk about most things, the country and everything.” What he didn’t understand, he said, was why I wanted to see Strasser. Mr. John, the bar owner, was equally suspicious.

“If Strasser doesn’t beat people, then too many people will come around him to mock him,” Mr. John explained. “Strasser, nobody cares about him, nobody asks about him. Some of the ones before his time see him and say, ‘This is the former president?’”

It was obvious they were both protective of the man they’d known for more than a decade. It was also true, I later learned, that Strasser once struck Daniel in a drunken rage, which probably explained why when Mr. John suddenly yelled, “He’s coming!” Daniel took off immediately.

A boy of no more than 13 trotted in, apparently Strasser’s miniature aide-de-camp. Sit over there, he told me, pointing to the corner of the shack. I sat. The boy shook his head furiously. “No! Not there! Move, move,” he commanded.

A moment later Strasser appeared and strode over to the spot I’d just vacated. The former president of Sierra Leone wore a white sports shirt, faded blue jogging pants, and mud-splattered sneakers. He tore open a plastic sachet of water, gulped it down, and turned to me.

“Do you want to talk about Sierra Leone in general or anything particular?” he asked, his voice soft and polite. Then he hiccuped and the smell of booze was overpowering. He was so tall he almost had to stoop. We talked about Sierra Leone — its history as a colony of freed slaves, its red phone boxes and cricket teams that were legacies of British colonialists, and its ever-failing football team. He reminded me they had made it for the first (and so far only) time to the African Cup of Nations during his regime.

A boy of no more than 13 trotted in, apparently Strasser’s miniature
aide-de-camp. Sit over there,
he told me, pointing to the corner of
the shack.

He could be a sharp conversationalist, but the shards of insight were enveloped in a jumble of unfinished sentences, abrupt cutoffs, and ellipses. He sometimes seemed more interested in a conversation going on in his own mind. He clenched his fists, seemingly unconsciously, each time we approached anything potentially political.

I gently tried to steer the conversation that way, dropping gossipy bait. What did he think of the current ruling party? A shrug.

Would he ever consider entering politics again? He had supporters, I’d heard. (“No.”) In fact, he avoided the subject so studiously, I couldn’t help wondering if the opposite were true.

I decided to try Ebola. Did he think the government was doing a good job of handling the epidemic? Everyone I’d asked this question during my trip had thedefinite answer.

Strasser just shrugged and clenched his fists. “It’s hard for them to do anything, man, look at the roads.”

You mean they haven’t provided the infrastructure necessary to deal with an epidemic, I said instead.

“Yeah, man.”

I told him I’d been up in Kailahun, a border outpost that was then the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak — and also where Strasser was first posted as a 19-year-old soldier.

“Do you want to see how things are up there now?” I passed him my camera.

He reluctantly flicked through the pictures, until he reached one of a checkpoint. It was one of dozens dotting every main road, where passersby and motorists were meant to have their temperature taken and wash their hands with disinfectant, in a bid to check the disease from spreading.

The soldier at that particular checkpoint had insisted on posing for a picture, then handed me a piece of paper with his number scribbled on it. For the first time in an hour, Strasser lit up.

“Are those the soldiers sent up there?”

He peered at their uniforms. He wanted to know what kind of equipment they were given, and if they seemed up to the job. How many had they sent up there? Did they seem well-fed?

Next we moved on to photos of the Ebola burial teams, young men who donned full protective gear as they undertook the difficult task of safely interring the dead. “Their job is like soldiers’,” Strasser murmured, staring intently at the tiny screen.

Did he miss being a soldier?

He mumbled a few words. “Yeah — I don’t — the point is…” Then, cutting himself short, he looked around the room and asked: “Are you okay with these surroundings? Is this comfortable?”

In five years of interviewing West African heads of state, past and present, not one had ever asked me that. Usually their preferred approach was to make me wait hours before staring down at me as I perched on invariably uncomfortable seats. And here was Strasser asking after my comfort as we sat in stifling heat in a roadside shack. I started laughing, and he wanted to know why. He laughed too, a big, booming laugh.

I threw caution to the wind. “Can I ask a personal question?” The joviality evaporated instantly.

And then it occurred to me: I’m sitting in a very small space with a former dictator, whose right eye is twitching furiously.

“That depends,” Strasser said, again his voice dangerously soft.

And then it occurred to me: I’m sitting in a very small space with a former dictator, whose right eye is twitching furiously. Neither Kabal, with his chopping knife, nor Mr. John is in sight, and Strasser’s pint-size aide-de-camp is staring at me in horror. I remembered the legend that Strasser once made Bob Marley’s birthday an official holiday.

“Is Bob Marley your favorite musician?”

Strasser narrowed his eyes at me. Then his body deflated. He threw his head back and burst into laughter again. His miniature aide-de-camp looked confused and then quickly joined in.

“No, not really,” he finally said. “I liked Motown best. I liked reggae, but not as much as ska.” Strasser flat-out denied he’d ever made Bob Marley’s birthday a national holiday. His preferred celebration, he said, was June 16, the Day of the African Child. He segued onto the importance of pan-Africanism, a subject I’m always suspicious about since its ideals have too often served as a cover to detract from leaders’ own failings.

I put this to Strasser. He nodded. “I’m a new pan-Africanist, not one of the old ones. This is totally different from [Muammar] Qaddafi’s idea of a United States of Africa,” he said, a barb at the former Libyan leader who was instrumental in creating the African Union but also supported scores of rebel movements across the continent, including in Sierra Leone.

“I’m talking about things like inter-road transit to Liberia, moving towards economic integration, and movement of goods and people — that sort of thing.”

Pan-Africanism was still a powerful idea, he continued, whose social glue was music, whose power was that it couldn’t be hidden or stolen, unlike natural resources. Oil-rich Nigeria was suffering the same fate as mineral-rich Sierra Leone, he said, in that it’s been plundered by white people and members of the elite. I wanted to ask about his own role as part of that elite, but he cut off any attempt to ask questions.

“What about your own role in rights violations?”

“What about it?” he asked, the twitch back again. His whole body was coiled with tension.

“Well, in the December—”

“We were at war. We don’t need to go there,” he said curtly. Had I been somewhere other than a very small enclosed space, I might have pushed the question.

I moved onto London, a city where I’ve spent most of my adult life. What about his time there stood out most?

“We were
at war. We don’t need
to go there.”

He shrugged.

Nothing at all? “Not really,” he said.

Two hours passed. In that time, we’d covered the African roots of reggae and ska, and the poetry of pan-African idols like Léopold Senghor. But he’d mentioned nothing about his four years in power — in fact, anything about himself, really.

“Are you happy with the interview now?” he asked.

We took a picture together, in which his young assistant nervously cropped off Strasser’s head. He did this again, and then once more. By the time he got the picture right, Strasser looked so bored the photo was ruined. Could I try one more with him smiling?

“You don’t fake a smile,” was the last thing he said to me, stone-faced. I could hear him railing at Mr. John as I got back into the car.

As we drove back to my hotel, Kabal told me a story. About 15 years back, before alcohol had completely fogged his mind, Strasser used to jog past his house every morning. Kabal would watch out for him because both men were martial arts aficionados, and he admired Strasser’s discipline. He’d be out running every day, come tropical downpour or sweltering heat.

“One time some young boys came to jog alongside him. They started mocking him. This is the former president? I don’t believe it!”

One of the boys picked up a rock. A few seconds later, a hail of stones rained down on Strasser. Kabal never saw him jogging again. ●

Monica Mark is the West Africa Correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Dakar, Senegal.

Kai, stop bringing up such a senseless topic. How can you be raising such a sensitive political matter at a palm wine joint? And please, stop denigrating baba by likening him to your failed Jonathan. Jonathan failed all of us and that is why we all voted him out, including you. You were part of the change. Sai baba! Baba for life! Baba and Chelsea are the same. I love baba just as I love the blues. We will vote him again in 2019 if he agrees to run. Sai baba. Why are you laughing now? Does this sound funny? I have my dagger here to finish your life fa!

Sorry, I wasn’t laughing. But why are you this ferocious? Does viciousness run in your blood or is it because you are from… Where are you really from sef? Anyways, it doesn’t really matter. I hear most of your people are like this. You must not talk about their pinup even when they are being roasted by the same obsession.

Grammar…but who told you baba is roasting us? Are we chickens? Besides, your people are more violent than my people. I hear sound of bombs and grenades coming from there every now and then. They are claiming they own the entire country. Is it not only Boko boys that are troubling my people? Have you ever heard of kidnapping and militancy around my area? Take your time please! Sai baba!

I can’t just control this laughter but in a rancorous manner. Did I hear you say sai baba again? Well, I remember how it was activated. We all started with the stimulation of ‘sai baba,’ but at the middle of last year, some people started chorusing ‘why baba’. I have heard ‘chie’ baba from a few people and very soon, it will be ‘haba baba.’

Shut your ‘moronic’ and odious mouth. Buhari can never end up like Jonathan. Forget about what PDP is saying. They are trying everything possible to sabotage his government. I will continue to support baba, even if…

Even if what? Baba has failed us; he has even failed the group he used in removing Jonathan. I mean…ennnnn. What’s the name of the group again? This Oby Ezekwesili’s group, I mean that Aisha Yesufu’s group.

You mean BBOG?

Exactly! Can’t you see that they are now asking baba to be cautious, if not he will end up like Jonathan? In fact, they are like cat and dog now, and baba does not want to see them. I wonder why he is doing that, even when they staked everything for him and helped him win the election.

What did they stake for him? Are you daft? Did you ask why they formed the group? It was for appointment, but since baba only considered one of them, the rest are now angry. Could he have appointed all of them as Ministers? It’s not fair. Do they think baba is too old that he can’t decipher blue from white?

But he used them? Why is he now refusing to dine with them?

Because they are making impossible demands. They are asking baba to rescue the abducted Chibok girls. Is that not suicidal, I mean cheerless? How can you ask our President to go to the Sambisa forest to liberate those girls? I pity the security forces in the forest because it’s an awkward task. No government can rescue those girls. The forest is a noxious zone. After all, your Jonathan said the abduction was a facade’ so why troubling my baba?

Gbam! You don dey speak oyibo now. But baba said he was coming to rescue those girls or has he now agreed that there were no such girls?

Baba is also a politician. Baba is not just a military man. A politician capitalizes on every little opportunity to triumph over his challenger. At least, he got our votes with the sentiments of that abduction. Whether true or false, baba has won the election and now he is our President. He used the group wellaaaa.

Tufiakwa! He is not my President. I wish Jonathan won. I regret everything today. The sleepless night, the argument at newspapers stands, the social media campaigns and everything. I think I betrayed my people who would have preferred Jonathan to continue.

Jonathan would have killed this country.

So what has your Buhari done to this country so far? Revived it? Name one thing that your baba has done positively?

Okay wait…he has decimated Boko Haram.

How?

Don’t you read papers and press releases? Do you know why SK Usman always uses ‘remnant’ when he is issuing a press statement on Boko boys?

Talk is cheap!

Be serious my friend. The era of Boko Haram is over.

How can you say that? Where then are the abducted Chibok girls? Where is Shekau? Is he now dead for the third time?

You see, you don’t read. Shekau is a title. They have killed two title holders. One was recently wounded on the arm.

That sounds very funny. So we can say Shekau, the Emir of Sambisa. How many of the dead bodies have they recovered? How did the military know he was injured in the last raid? If they could be specific about the nature of the injury he sustained in the raid, then why didn’t they capture him or are they turning Sambisa to Boko Haram forest reserve? Very soon, the military will tell us the name of the hospital Shekau was taken to, and mention even the name of the doctor handling his case. Abeg, don’t let me derail from the topic. All I know is that baba has done nothing. He is living on his past glory.

Thunder fire you! Will you stop this nonsense?

No! The nonsense makes sense.

No sense. Jonathan finished our economy before baba took over.

But baba said he was coming to change things. Was he coming to lay blames? He studied the economy and said there was need for change. Now people are already saying we need to change the change. And I’m wondering what he has changed so far?

So many things.

Like wounding Shekau in the arm? Like promising that we will soon be out of recession? Like taking pump price of fuel to N145. Like promising that price of rice will soon fall from the current N20,000. Like completing the Abuja- Kaduna rail project Jona started? Honestly, he has tried to convince us to be a little patient with him. He may end up being worse than Jonathan. If I want to juxtapose, then I will say Jonathan was the best president we didn’t give a chance.

You are mad! You call yourself a media practitioner, yet it’s only at ‘palm wine joint’ you can claim super man in politics. How many articles have you written against the government of the day or are you afraid too?

I’m not afraid of anything. What is there to be afraid of? Is this situation not even worse than prison? What’s the difference? Didn’t you see Dasuki that day? That man don chop up. At least, he has rest of mind. Ask other journalists. People have refused to give brown envelops because they are also managing to survive. Many companies are folding up. Even Dangote is wailing, so I’m no longer afraid. Even Salkida willingly handed himself over to the security forces the other day.

Nonsense! ‘Jagbajantic’ bear parlour journalism. No matter the badbelle, baba will bounce back.

I won’t take it personal with you. I will be here next week to continue the argument with you. But remember I bought a bottle for you today, so you must return same next week. This is an era of change.

Useless man! Where is the money? I’m even thinking of how to survive this weekend. I have only 500 naira left for tomorrow’s garri. You know a cup now sells for as high as 50 naira.

Call baba to epp you. After all, who him epp for this country?

Ali Adoyi is an Abuja based journalist.

A Synopsis:

The much derided immunity inherent in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is not applicable once the individual protected under the section ceases to function in an immune capacity. Period. Also, in rendering our judgment on whether to amend or expunge Sec 308 from our Constitution, we should take cognizance of the fact that not all Governors are corrupt. Adding to that, the section does not protect or immunize serving members of the National Assembly from criminal or civil prosecution for unlawful conduct committed while in active capacity as a legislator. Finally, Section 308, as written and intended, does not extend to Legislative or Parliamentary Immunity, referred to as Speech and Debate protection. Therefore, the section should be left intact. Executive immunity enhances harmony in a democratic political system that would, no doubt, be eroded, if the President and Governors are exposed to the vagaries of our judicial system. Most importantly, arrest and trial of those protected under the section, would paralyze activities in the affected states or at the federal level, as the case may be. That was the rationale and legislative intent of section 308 of the 1999 Constitution – defined as the thinking of the drafters based on public policy considerations. On the question of whether the immunity follows a Governor to the Senate or House of Representative, the answer is a capital NO. Immunity, for all intents and purposes, is office specific. It is neither perpetual nor inalienable. An ex-Governor who is presently a Senator or a member of the House of Representative is subject to investigation, indictment, or prosecution to the full extent of the law for any fraudulent conduct authorized by him or executed at his command. In sum, corruption, embezzlement of public funds and squandering of riches in Nigeria are seemingly insurmountable, because of the unwholesome and, if I may add, unwritten collaborative resolve of those in the judicial branch – a monumental national crisis compounded by the inability of those vested with law enforcement power (AG, Police, EFCC, and ICPC) to develop new mechanisms with a view to combating abuse of discretionary power (adjournments and injunctions) by judges, as well as, the procedural rigmarole (delay tactics) perfected by defense counsels. We must be bold, resolute, and creative in our search for real justice. And our approach to assets forfeiture and recovery must be purposeful and nondiscriminatory.

 

To Amend or Not to Amend:

At the just concluded retreat organized by the Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitutional Reform in Port Harcourt in River State, on May 27, 2012, Sec 308 of the 1999 Constitution that deals with immunity came up for discussion, and as expected, there was a demand for its review, amendment, or a total repeal.  For the purpose of record, Sec 308 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, does not by any stretch of the imagination shield or immunize any serving member of the National Assembly from indictment or prosecution for any crime committed before and during his or her term of office. 

And on a more disturbing note, the habit of Governors who have already completed their two terms, rigging and buying their way to the Senate or the Lower House with a view to evading civil or criminal prosecution for fraudulent conduct committed as Governor is outright ludicrous. Because there is no immunity covering past misconduct. Simply put, the immunity as it is in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is not about the person or the conduct. It is specifically speaking, about the office. In other words, the beneficiary of the immunity clause is subject to investigation at the cessation of the protected period – as long as there is probable cause to do so on the part of law enforcement agencies. And the conduct can be revisited and reviewed to the extent of its inconsistency with established laws and orders governing the office.

Similarly, the over-hyped immunity allegedly enjoyed by serving members of the National Assembly from criminal or civil prosecution for criminal wrongdoing or fraudulent engagement is a complete fiction. Because the immunity, in the context in which it is perceived by Nigerians, is non sequitur – it does not exist as such. Therefore, the brouhaha surrounding the alleged immunity enjoyed by “lawmakers” is grossly misplaced, and the assault on Section 308 is unwarranted.

Our law enforcement agencies (Attorney General, ICPC, the Police and EFCC) should wake up to their responsibilities. Section 308 does not shield any member of the National Assembly from prosecution. Period. This is not a matter for debate; it is a statement of fact. Executive immunity is unrelated to Speech and Debate related Parliamentary Immunity. Also, it does not preclude law enforcement agencies from investigating those protected under the section (President, Vice President, Governor, and Deputy Governor) for involvement in unjust enrichment.

At this juncture, it is worth restating that Section 308 protects only serving President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor when they are in office. MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DO NOT ENJOY ANY IMMUNITY FROM CIVIL OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION UNDER SECTION 308. THE ONLY IMMUNITY THEY ENJOY IS SIMILAR TO WHAT OBTAINS UNDER THE SPEECH AND DEBATE CLAUSE IN THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION – THAT IS IMMUNITY ON THE BASIS OF WHAT THEY SAY DURING DEBATES OR DELIBERATIONS IN THE HOUSE OR IN THE SENATE OR IN THE PREPARATION THEREOF. IT DOES NOT COVER THEIR UNJUST ENRICHMENT, FRAUDULENT ENGAGEMENT OR CRIMINAL CONDUCT OUTSIDE OR INSIDE OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.

For ease of understanding, I would like to reproduce the entire Sec 308 of the 1999 Constitution verbatim. The Section provides:

(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section –

(a) No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;  

(b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and

(c)  No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued: Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.

(2) The provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party.

(3) This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office. 

From the language of Sec 308 above, there is no part of it that tends to shield a member of the National Assembly from indictment for crime committed while in office as a member of the National Assembly or in a previous office as Governor or Deputy Governor. Specifically, Sec 308 (3) reads: “This section applies to a person holding the office of President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor; and the reference in this section to “period of office” is a reference to the period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.” Emphases mine.

That is Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution for you! The Section applies only to “period during which the person holding such office is required to perform the functions of the office.” In other words, a Senator or a member of the House of Assembly is not that “person” and does not need to perform the functions of a Governor while serving as a member of the National Assembly. Therefore, Sec 308 does not by any stretch of the imagination shield any of them from prosecution for criminal wrong doing that took place while serving in an earlier immune capacity or while they were in office as Governors or Deputy Governors.

The same is true of President and Vice President. In that case, you could conveniently, and rightly so, indict and prosecute any of the today ex-Presidents or Vice Presidents, if you have probable cause to do so. But first, a prima facie case for unjust enrichment must be established. That’s it. It doesn’t take rocket science to accomplish that, knowing full well the antecedents of Nigerian thieving Governors. So, the problem is not the law or the constitution, but application and the attitude of those vested with power of enforcement.

Rationale and Public Policy Arguments:

In spite of everything, the immunity under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is well-meant. The President, or as the case may be, a Governor, is not suitably placed to enjoy the luxury of time defending lawsuits, whether frivolous or meritorious, while in active duty as Governor or President.

Our proclivity for lawsuit knows no bounds; removal of that immunity clause from our constitution would in all probability end up doing more harm than good to our fragile constitutional democracy. Every Ademola, Usman, and Okechukwu, as well as members of the opposition parties would, through frivolous lawsuits and spurious petitions, incapacitate sitting President, or Governors as the case may be, without regard to judicial ethics or the concerns of Nigerian voters. And in the process, take them off course from real and purposeful governance.

In essence, executive immunity enhances harmony in the political process that would, no doubt, be eroded, if Presidents and Governors are exposed to the vagaries of our judicial system. Adding to that, arrest and trial of those protected under the section, would paralyze activities in the affected states or at the federal level, as the case may be. That was the rationale and legislative intent of section 308 of the 1999 Constitution – defined as the thinking of the drafters based on public policy considerations.

There is no doubt that the benefits of the Immunity Clause outweigh the defects. The defects, if at all, are traceable to the inability of those empowered with law enforcement obligations to make the Constitution live up to its true purpose as the supreme law of the land.  To that extent, it requires diligent performance (prosecution) as expected of true fiduciary (EFCC, the Police, ICPC, and the AG). It’s all about the interpretation, audacity, and genuine intent to fight and surmount the ills of corruption and unjust enrichment that irredeemably wrecked a supposedly great nation-state.

We should not act on the impulse of the moment and abrogate a constitutional framework that is imbued with the right ingredients to serve worthy national purpose – growing our democracy and  simultaneously, ensuring stability in the political system.

Granted, our core leadership team is made up of some of the most vile, greedy and shameless opportunists you could ever find on the face of the earth; be that as it may, we cannot embark on constitutional amendment just to accommodate our idiosyncrasies and every unfortunate aberration. That’s retrogressive political evolution. What would you do, if God willing, we are fortunate to have selfless and honest leaders at the helm of affairs? Amend the constitution once again to align with the new reality? No. We can do better.

We must be proactive, creative, and sincere in our approach to war against corruption and assets recovery or forfeiture. Those who are known to be corrupt should be apprehended, prosecuted, and made to forfeit their illegally acquired wealth to the state as soon as they cease to function under the protection of Section 308. According to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), “Many criminals are motivated by greed and the acquisition of material goods. Therefore, the ability of the government to forfeit property connected with criminal activity can be an effective law enforcement tool by reducing the incentive for illegal conduct. Asset forfeiture takes the profit out of crime by helping to eliminate the ability of the offender to command resources necessary to continue illegal activities.”

Today, there are thousands of fraudulent Nigerians out there on the street, including former Governors and former Deputy Governors, as well as former Presidents and former Vice Presidents, known to have fraudulently enriched themselves with public funds. They are living free and living large on our wealth. And we watch. They have no immunity and they enjoy no immunity. But we watch. They are yet to be apprehended and prosecuted by the law enforcement agencies, in spite of the fact that these fraudulent Nigerians and ex-political leaders do not enjoy any atom of immunity.

It is indeed very sad that some sections of the Nigeria political establishment, including opinion leaders and public affairs commentators so gotten embroiled in that perverted notion that once a Governor or Deputy Governor ceases to function as Governor or Deputy Governor, or is elected to the Senate or House of Representative,  he or she is still immune from arrest and trial for the unjust enrichment perpetrated as Governor or Deputy Governor. That is complete baloney. The immunity is office specific – it is over at the end of the protected period. The same rules apply to President and Vice President.

Therefore, the Section should be strengthened in order to serve the intended purpose, and not diluted by any means. Immunity and unjust enrichment are mutually exclusive. That we want to strengthen our democratic values via some constitutional mechanisms doesn’t translate to encouraging official misconduct. The rationale was to engender purposeful governance, to ensure uninterrupted governmental activities at the state and federal levels consistent with fundamental principles of democracy and rule of laws. The major constraint is the nonchalant culture prevalent within the judicial branch bordering on procedural rigmarole – unnecessary adjournments and frequent injunctive orders, without reasonable excuse or a show of irreparable harm or injury to the defendant.

Moving Forward:

Fellow Nigerians, whatever we do, we must not lose sight of the underlying imperative, designed to engender consistency and robust democratic values in our troubled political system that Section 308 represents. Therefore, we must be bold about consolidating those democratic values, without regards to the race or the social status of the culprits before and during trial. That is the first step to renewing Nigeria. It is about equal rights and justice.

You steal, you steal! Period! Availing your client with the defense of interim or permanent injunction in a clear-cut case of embezzlement as perfected by our reputable and highly respected lawyers is overtly aiding and abetting malfeasance. Injunctive relief is a discretionary (equitable) remedy – it is not a judgment on the merit with respect to the substantive case. He who comes into equity must come with clean hands, goes a legal maxim. Not exactly in Nigeria. What is so irreparable a damage about standing trial to defend allegation of fraudulent engagement against you?

If your hands are clean, and you rightly believe that you are innocent as charged, then, be willing to stand trial and defend the allegation of unjust enrichment instituted against you, instead of resorting to procedural mumble jumble to circumvent real justice. And that, my friends, is our real problem; not Section 308. This is the time we should all stand up and demand for curtailment in the grant of injunctions and other discretionary reliefs by our Judges. It is now left to EFCC to train its lawyers on how to surmount any of such motions in our regular courts. Because there is a threshold that the movant must meet to sustain any motion for injunctive relief. That, of course, is outside the scope of this essay.

As an addendum, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not against capitalism or private ownership or private acquisition of wealth. However, I am unequivocally against over-leveraged capitalism and the prevailing culture of impunity and blatant abuse of political office by those vested with political power. To keep enriching yourself with public funds that you and your children cannot exhaust, buying cars you cannot drive or landed property you barely use shows stupidity. It is not fair. It is not right. And it is morally repugnant. If you have no idea of any capital project deserving funding; let education be free at all levels, because quality education, by any standard, is the best investment in the life of a child. Or, if that is not good enough, connect Marinna, across from Tafawa Balewa’s Square, linking Apapa and Mile Two to the Lagos/Badagry Expressway in Lagos State by an over-head bridge or an underground rail system. That is a bold project. ‘A good transportation network is important to all societies and it is vital in sustaining economic success in modern economy.’ 

Thank you.

Alex (Ehimhantie’Aiyo) Aidaghese

CONGRATULATION: 

If you are here reading this very paragraph, it means you are now one of the thousands intellectually curious Nigerians who made this article the number one on this Blog – the most searched and the most read piece of legal opinion and constitutional review piece within the Nigerian social media scene in the past three years. On October 21, 2014, the Conference Committee of the National Assembly on Constitutional Review retained Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution as it was originally written. We made the case – a compelling case for retention – you spread the news, the Conference Committee concurred, and the rest is now history.  AA May 15, 2015

Addendum:

INTRODUCTION TO JUDICIAL ACTIVISM: Making a Distinction Between Criminal Wrong Doing and The Profits of Crime, Otherwise Known as Unjust Enrichment

(By the way, what you are about to read is not part of the article. It is simply an academic exercise for those who care. For a start, the likelihood of its happening in real life or in this generation in Nigeria is very remote).

The question is: Can we indict and prosecute a sitting President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors for fraudulent and unjust enrichment perpetrated while in office under the premise of “a nominal party” pursuant to Sec 308(2)?

The answer is not absolute. But first, you must be ready to engage in semantic war with the presiding judge and the defense counsel (the lawyer representing the defendant) with respect to the definition or meaning of a nominal party.

We could, in all sincerity, institute a civil action to recover or recoup the fruits of crime or unjust enrichment, if we are, applying preponderance of the evidence standard, able to prove that the owner of a specific property or bank account (e.g. President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor) is only a nominal party – someone not directly involved in the case. But he or she is nevertheless connected to the case by virtue of his or her ownership of the property or bank account in question.

In other words, they are immune, but not their illegally or fraudulently acquired wealth. EFCC is within its power to seize and forfeit their properties and bank accounts to the State as long as we can prove that they are fruits of corrupt enrichment. Thus, it is probable to conclude that Sec 308 (2) does not shield or immune a sitting President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor from forfeiting to the Nigerian people, landed properties or Bank accounts fraudulently acquired, if a civil action is instituted against such landed property and bank accounts. Once again, Sec 308 (2) provides: “The provisions of subsection (1) of this section [that is the immunity] shall not apply to civil proceedings against a person [that is President, Vice President  Governor and Deputy Governor] to whom this section applies in his official capacity or to civil or criminal proceedings in which such a person is only a nominal party [not directly connected].”  Emphasis mine. It is the same thing as arguing: since you are not directly connected (a nominal party), invariably your houses and bank accounts are not immune from seizure and forfeiture, because the suit is after your property, and not you as a person. 

To that extent, owners of a fraudulently acquired property or bank accounts – for example, President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor – cannot avail themselves with the defense of immunity under this section, if they are only indirectly or tangentially connected to the action – a nominal party. Thus, Subsection 308(2) provides cover for EFCC, ICPC, and AGF, if they want to go after the loots of a serving President, Vice President, Governors, or Deputy Governor. Provided the action is in rem (property) and not in personam  (the person).

I want to reiterate that the action is only after the fruits of crime and not the crime itself. Adding to that, the case is not against the perpetrators of the crime or fraud, but just the loots. If you want to call it prosecutorial activism, so be it. As I said earlier, you must be ready to do battle in English Language regarding who “a nominal party” is. So it is not just establishing a prima facie case for unjust enrichment, but being able to establish by preponderance of the evidence the extent of the disconnect between the perpetrator and the unjust enrichment (bank accounts and property) that would justify civil trial or forfeiture.

Finally, given that it is a civil trial, you do not need to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt. Even if that is the standard (proof beyond reasonable doubt), you do not need to crack your brain worrying if you can prove your case beyond reasonable doubt, when trying to convict a Nigerian thief. Evidence are readily available. He is a stupid thief who rightly or wrongly believe that he cannot be convicted, even when caught in the act – he has substantial accumulation of your money – our money – to hire the best of lawyers to pervert the justice system through laughable motions for adjournment. 

(Be that as it may, it requires legal erudition and a willing court to be able to argue a motion based on the above premise. By the way, this is simply an intellectual voyaging or a fishing expedition, because no Attorney General or IGP would in his right sense institute a case against a sitting President or Governor in Nigeria to recoup illegally acquired wealth).

Thanks once again for coming this far.

Mr. Alex (Ehimhantie-Aiyo) Aidaghese*

President & CEO Alex and Partners

Skype: ehi samuel (Skype)

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Tel: =1 234 708 695 1511

Abuja Nigeria

Build The Hedge: A call to Action

“Ezekiel 22:30 And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none”.

I was greeted one  morning by the words in this scripture, then it dawned on me, how eager The Lord is. How urgently someone needs to make up the hedge and stand in the gap.

The failures we see today as a nation is simply because some people saddled with the responsibility of mending the hedge, decided to break it instead. We can’t continue to wait on them, we must start up the work they abandoned. Our future doesn’t rest on their shoulders anymore, it is our responsibility to shapen it as we deemed it fit.

Will we be the generation that sings; “we are a Choosen Generation, called forth to show His excellence”, and then fold our hands and watch Non-challantly as Apathy steals our future from us. If I may ask, ” Where is the excellence in that?”. We must rise up to the occassion and rebuild the Walls and stand in the gap for our Land.

Incase you don’t know, 97% of the problems in this country affects us directly. From ASUU/ASUP strike to the “Unsure SURE-P” funds, even the failing aviation sector, the Lingering Fuel crises, the battle between the Dollar and our currency and the unfulfilled promises of steady Electricity, all affects us directly and we must do something about it or we will regret it in the nearest future.

The present brookers of political strenght and economic schedules are not our age mates, so they won’t even know how it feels to be us. The only opportunity they have to feel our pains was suppose to be the educational sector, but we all know where their Children School. So they escaped it and we are still here, waiting for them to react. What a waste of time.

I can’t begin to express how annoying it is to see young people treating the problems in this country like its a “right of passage”. It is not. Some Old fowl failed to lay the right eggs now we can’t have omlets. That’s what it is. God has a far more better plan, that ensures a sweeter and more fulfilling life, but we must have to activate it with our actions.

It is time to rise up from the slumber we have been forced into and find solutions to our problems.

This is the time to awake and Pray, it is time to call upon The God you Serve, it is Time to Let the Devil and his cohorts know that you mean business, it is Time to Prove that all the Religious rights, Sacrifices and Reverences are not falling on deaf ears, call on your God and make sure He answers. Afterwards take up your hoes and baskets let’s rip the harvest.

It is time to rise and save our Land. The salvation of our Land is in our Hands, don’t be slow to save yourself and others too. Be the one that would be found, be that trail blazer and Build the hedge and stand in the gap for our Land.

Secure your future on your knees and rise up to the challenge. If you know who God says you are, where He says you’re at, what He says you will be, then you will know that you are working in power for a purpose, which is to make your Supernatural Manifestations beat the expectations of the world.

Its Simple: its Pray, Act and Subdue.

Firstly, I hope Goodluck Jonathan had a great cup of coffee or whatever his enemies say he drinks as he watched Bukola Saraki sitting in the dock. That should be the price of disloyalty.

According to Dwight Eisenhower, there is a difference between honest dissent and disloyal subversion. Saraki subverted PDP.

If not for Saraki and the PDP Governors that decamped, APC would never have smelt the seat of power, so, I couldn’t care less, really. And I love what Steward Jonsen wrote: Who got into the dock first- Bukola or Jonathan?

Secondly, what PMB is doing is good for our democracy. Let people know they will account
for their actions- whether it happened in 2003 or 2013.

Thirdly, even though I’m fully in support of this prosecution, I also know this prosecution is a sincere persecution. We all know that if Saraki had belonged to the right side, the powers that be, would have conveniently forgotten that he ‘wrongly’ filled a form in 2003.
If he had worshipped at the temple of Asiwaju, his British passport would never have shown
up on Sahara Reporters. His case file would have gone missing the same way Fashola’s contract awards got missing on Lagos State’s website.

It is actually a witch hunt. The only difference is that Saraki may truly be a witch. So then, he has a choice to bow or to burn.

Fourthly, nothing is going to come out of this charade. It is simply a telenovela, a short-running soap full of intrigues and comedy. The
final episode has been written already. It’s a Nollywood film but it’s not going to be a block
buster. It will end similarly to AY’s dry and predictable ’30 days in Atlanta’. Many people will hiss the way I hissed after seeing the over-hyped movie.

If you think Saraki can be removed this way, perish the thought. Bukola Saraki is more
politically savvy than most people give him credit for. Be careful of the man who betrayed his father and sent him to political Siberia. The older Saraki never recovered. He went down to the grave in disbelief. The old fox was outfoxed.

Bukola is Absalom. Absalom cannot be killed by deceitful wiles or snares set by human beings. Absalom knows how to fight. Absalom had watched his father fight from when he was small. Absalom grew up with a spear in his hands. Those who should know said that Bukola Saraki sponsored either in part or whole those who are in the Senate for the first time- irrespective of party or regional affiliation. He has a bunch of serious loyalists and you could
see that in the number of people who followed him to the CCT. Even Kwara State was shut down.

Has it ever occurred to anyone why Saraki did not appear last Friday? It was not the fear of being docked or put in jail over the weekend- like so many erroneously thought. And I know
he knew the Appeal Court would not rule in his favour. But he needed time. To negotiate and
sort things out. And that is what he got between Friday and Tuesday when he appeared. Time! Time! So much happened between that Friday and Monday.

Head or tail, APC loses. If Saraki is booted out by chance, who heads the Senate? Ike Ekweremadu!

And this is the first time I’m seeing a party in power being in opposition to itself. There is nowhere APC can push Saraki
to- he belongs to them warts and all. APC cannot accept the good and reject the bad. He is their burden and responsibility and they must live with it.

:::Culled:::

General Ishola Williams was at peace with himself that Friday afternoon when the team arrived at his office, in the Iju area of Lagos. This was the man who made news in 1993 when he walked out on the army and General Sanni Abacha on the premise that the army takeover was immoral. Far removed from the life of pleasure and putrid abundance that is the lot of many other retired generals, the team
met the general engrossed in his research work in peace and conflict studies.

General Williams, erstwhile head of the Nigeria chapter of Transparency International, is presently on the faculty of the Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, a forum he is using to espouse issues that generate conflict in Africa among other development issues. Given his exchange with Gen. Abacha and another squabble when as a colonel he queried a chief of army staff, General Williams was asked
whether he considered himself a troublesome officer. In responding to the contrary, he
nevertheless admitted that he may be controversial.

Undoubtedly so, as is revealed in
this interview during which he spoke on the rot in the army, the fight against corruption among
many other issues. (more…)