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WOLE SOYINKA: THE MAN ‘DIED’ IN INSTALLMENTS

By Law Mefor

Perhaps Wole Soyinka’s most iconic quote is: “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” The quote is drawn from his prison memoir The Man Died. Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, the Nigerian renowned playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist needs no introduction. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, for his wide cultural perspective, which his poems and other writings brought to understanding existence. He was born 88 years ago.

Of all his works, the Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka the book, The Man Died, stands out. Here Soyinka recorded his arrest and interrogation, the efforts made to incriminate him, and the searing mental effects of solitary confinement of 27 months and imprisonment of the Nigerian writer held as a political prisoner in 1967-1969 at a time of civil war and secession of the state of Biafra.

The book was a signature and an emblematic work of the global iconic writer, who combined actions to show what it takes to be an activist and a voice for the voiceless, and the ultimate defender of truth and justice. History is replete with many of his examples. He took an active role in Nigeria’s political history and its campaign for independence from British colonial rule. In 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon and was put in solitary confinement for 28 months, for volunteering to be a non-government mediating actor.

Initially, Soyinka was a strong critic of successive Nigerian governments and Africa at large, especially the country’s many military dictators, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Much of his writing has been concerned with oppressive governments. During the regime of General Sani Abacha (1993–98), Soyinka escaped from Nigeria on a motorcycle via what was known as the NADECO Route. Abacha later proclaimed a death sentence against him in absentia. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to the country.

His name reverberated within and outside the shores of Nigeria. His writings reflected his stand on humanity.

The Soyinka of the 60s and 70s is not the Soyinka we know now. So much has dramatically changed. The old man in Soyinka died in the 80s and died in installments, to give way the new personality. The death of the activist in Wole Soyinka started the day he accepted to serve in a military junta led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who managed to convince Soyinka that he could take the transport sector and make an example of it. It was not for nothing that IBB was called an evil genius. Soyinka took up the running of FRSC, and another fiery social critic Tai Solarin was handed the Peoples Bank. Soyinka and Solarin failed so abysmally that both men regretted drinking the IBI’s ‘poisoned chalice’.

Soyinka was among other things accused of nepotism and cronyism for, as alleged, handing over FRSC to Pirate Confraternity members mostly of Yoruba ethnic stock, a cult group which he formed in the University of Ibadan as an undergraduate (Pirates Confraternity has metamorphosed and reproduced dozens of other campus cults, which have spread to even primary schools and motor parks in Nigeria).

Soyinka learned the hard way that he who must dine with the devil needed a very long spoon. That was the reason the likes of Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi of blessed memory refused to serve under any military Government.

Soyinka on the other hand, tasted the government-free lunch and found that it was sweet. That’s why he could regale how Tinubu built him a house or refurbished one for him and Tinubu’s wife Oluremi furnished the kitchen.

Soyinka is worth a house. His products and admirers can easily raise N100 m to erect a befitting duplex. Ogun state or federal governments/FRSC can also quietly do the same. But he chose Bola Tinubu whose reputation and credibility were already suffering.

Soyinka showed his underbelly and Tinubu as his preferred presidential candidate when the Pirate Confraternity sang the inimitable song, “Emilokan, emilokan, baba wey no well, he dey shout emilokan…” Soyinka rushed out with a rebuttal in defence of Tinubu to hush the group.

And the February 25th presidential election charade came and turned out to be a global embarrassment. Surprisingly, Soyinka was not repulsed as his old self. He kept mute and chose to hibernate in one corner of the world as a global citizen. It took four former presidents of African countries – Uhuru Kenyatta et al – EU and other international observers to alert the world on the rape that had happened with Nigeria’s presidential election and democracy.

Though he was not in the country, major Nigerian televisions are watched around the globe and there is no doubt that Soyinka monitored Nigeria’s presidential election, all the crises, deaths, carnage, and the humiliation that Ndigbo particularly suffered in Lagos. MC Oluomo, a certain Oba, and some others told Ndigbo to leave Lagos and not to vote if they wouldn’t vote the APC. Wole Soyinka uncharacteristically said nothing. For the new Soyinka, all is fair in a war election has become in Nigeria, more so, when his benefactor and preferred candidate has been declared the winner. Victory is a victory for the new Soyinka even if it is a Pyrrhic victory.

Rather than urge the Tribunal and Supreme Court to ensure justice, Soyinka’s preoccupation is drowning out emerging voices of dissent that the Obidients now represent. Soyinka has condemned Obidients in the strongest words possible and has in his traditional obscurantism, labelled them fascists.

Unless Soyinka has manufactured a different meaning for the word, Fascism is generally defined as a political movement that embraces far-right nationalism and the forceful suppression of any opposition, overseen by an authoritarian government. Fascists strongly oppose Marxism, liberalism, and democracy, and believe the state takes precedence over individual interests. In other words, a movement is not farcical unless it is in government and opposed to democracy, and Obidients have no access to government and fighting tooth and nail to enthrone democracy in Nigeria.

Why then is the Nigerian global figure describing and defining Obidients in such loathsome, uncanny, and unkind words? The reason is simple; the only thing tragic and unfathomable about it is that Soyinka has inexplicably lent himself as cannon fodder. The grand design is how to force the Tinubu presidency upon Nigerians if its validation by the judiciary proves impossible.

The minister of information Alhaji Lai Mohammed said days ago in the US that INEC deliberately shot down the IReV portal on Election Day to avert hacking, contradicting INEC’s earlier position that the server suffered glitches. The minister of communication Isa Panatami also said his Ministry mitigated millions of nefarious activities of hackers on the same presidential Election Day. He gave the figure as 12.9 million cyber attacks, originating from both within and outside Nigeria during the presidential elections.

Minister Pantami said his Ministry either dealt with such hacking intrusions or drew the attention of the target victims. 12.9 m attacks on Election Day and the Communication Ministry dealt with them. Wonderful! one wpuld ordinarily exclaim.

There is something curious about this innocuous, noble and patriotic interventions of the Communication Ministry. It was nothing but interference in the works of INEC and made nonsense of the Commission’s independence. The APC government is a party to the election and has a presidential candidate to deliver in the person of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. To what extent did such intervention and interference by the communication ministry work in his favour, Nigerians may never know.

But one thing is clear: the government was aware of what happened on February 25th. Lai Mohammed said that much and more believably than INEC that could only offer a lame excuse – internet glitches.

Obidients have come under heavy attack. It is expected seen that all other voices of dissent have all gone silent. Soyinka too was silent like the rest until he resurfaced from hibernation to take sides with the forces of darkness. He took on the Obidients because they are the only credible group still standing.

Soyinka understands the key role his global personality could play in giving credence to the mangled-presidential election by justifying it. He is aware that the international community is watching with keen interest, having witnessed and described the election in very sordid terms. If the international community will accept and congratulate Tinubu and not treat him like a pariah, then the likes of Soyinka are needed to deodorise the excretion.

The catholic archbishop of Lagos and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo are also calling for national reconciliation. These nationally and internationally recognised voices are rising and converging and will eventually drown out the young Obidients who believe they have been robbed and betrayed, rightly or wrongly.

What the nation needs is healing and healing will not come unless the wound is opened up, the puss drained and dressed to make way for healing. This election should not be swept under the carpet. What happened must be investigated and those responsible for the desecration brought to justice. That’s the way to dress and bind the horrible wound inflicted on the nation’s psyche. This is exactly what Soyinka and the like are trying to divert attention from by criminalising the voices of dissent, particularly the Obidients.

More importantly, Soyinka is setting up the Obidients for a repeat of the EndSars massacre and its justification well in advance, another national tragedy that passed without making any impression on the doyen on activism and human rights – Professor Wole Soyinka.

No true freedom fighter can obfuscate voices of freedom and democracy and still claim to be one. Soyinka has pitched a tent with the oppressors and enemies of the people. If he has not, he should recant and retrace his steps, and that way regain perspective and realign with old Soyinka. This new Soyinka is rather strange, looking more like a product of juju or such uncanny incestuous intercourse.

· Dr Law Mefor is a senior fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; Tel.: +234- 905 642 4375; e-mail: drlawmefor@gmail.com; follow me on Twitter :@Drlawsonmefor.

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