Professor Oluwole Soyinka needs no elaborate introduction. He is an illustrious son of Africa, and a pride to the black race in a world dominated by white achievements. His 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature shattered a glass ceiling and opened the hallway of recognition for other writers of African descent.
Besides intellectual prowess, he has always been engaged in good activism until recently; fighting injustice and bad governance from his youthful days at University of Ibadan. His persuasive persona, incisive mind, oratorical endowments and brilliant works have inspired many a generation, including mine. Gate crashers into the world of Literature like me, have always perceived him as a role model both in letters and in activism.
But today, I shall neither be eulogising his literary genius nor celebrating his drama, prose and poetry. On the contrary, and in a rare moment of defiance, I shall be pushing back on his latest critique of the Obi-dient movement, its vision and objectives.
Yes, for justifiable reasons and without apologies whatsoever, the movement has become increasingly intolerant of invidious criticisms. A troubled mind must shut out intrusive noise to maintain focus and composure.
The APC led government, mostly peopled by Soyinka’s generation, has brought Nigeria to her knees. Every conceivable index of human development has nose-dived in the past eight years. Evidently, 2023 elections have been rigged with impunity, while ‘Kongi’ was away on a pre-planned vacation. Entire ethnic groups were profiled, attacked, violated and disenfranchised. Curiously, no strong condemnation came from him. Nerves are frayed. There is anger in the land. There is frustration in the air. And our own Nobel Laureate chose to hush dissenting voices and insult Nigerians in defense of the indefensible. If this cascade of events had happened 58 years ago, Soyinka might have held the electoral umpire at gun point, as he did at NBC Ibadan in 1965.
It is heinous to beat up a child and gag him from crying. The movement must be allowed a vent for pent up rage.
A profound American proverb attempts to explain Soyinka’s ordeal:
“If you lie down with dogs you will get up with fleas”.
An African version of the same proverb elegantly underscores the import:
“He who brings home an ant-infested firewood has unknowingly invited lizards to a feast”
These two synonymous aphorisms, rooted on two sides of the Atlantic, aptly summarise the troubles of the beleaguered professor.
It is not a secret that Soyinka has been a closet member of the APC and a private beneficiary of its candidate, whom the youths believe stole their mandate. For entertaining an intimate company of dogs and ants, he must now endure an unwelcome visitation of fleas and lizards. His recent unhinged tirade against Obi-dients and the barrage of counter-attacks that followed, are not unconnected with this unwholesome fraternity. In a desperate effort to discredit the movement before global observers, he has deployed certain inappropriate words like ‘Fascist’. This abuse of language by a master of English is considered intently misleading and patently mischievous. Certainly, this shameful act of betrayal is unworthy of his best episodes both as a writer and as an activist.
Yet, in a moment of quiet retreat, I feel genuine pity for this erstwhile patriot. At 88, no one can rule out age-related senility. He is therefore entitled to certain levels of amnesia and cognitive decline. Otherwise, he should have remembered his October 1965 exploits at the radio station in Ibadan.
How could he have forgotten so soon that in August 2020, he challenged the youths to wake up and take back their country? He cited some of our past heroes who had served the nation at a much younger age.
He should have also recalled his vicious attacks on President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, in July 2013. In hindsight , Nigerians would have preferred the failings of Jonathan’s PDP to the impunity of present-day APC-led government, a thousand times over.
The erudite professor might have conveniently forgotten the contradictions in his rhetoric. But the internet never forgets.
His memory loss appears to be selective with regards to dispensation of time and government in power. It is rather shocking that in the past 8 years of APCs disastrous outing, the usually vocal activist effectively lost his voice. Throughout the heavily flawed 2023 elections and the ethnic violence that ensued, he took out an alibi of self imposed exile. He suddenly found his voice once his friend’s ‘mandate’ came under intense fire.
It is noteworthy that since 1999, we have indeed witnessed an incongruous string of inconsistent commentaries from Soyinka. Some of those targeted attacks and subdued silences now appear to bear a faint taint of regional(if not ethnic) prejudice or selfish interest.
The Nobel Medallion comes with extraordinary responsibilities that bother on altruism and morality. A Laureate should act as a beacon of light as well as a moral compass for his nation.
In rural Africa, the chicken gizzard is reserved for elders while the young children scramble over the extremities. It is un-African for children to openly admonish elders. Old age carries reverence. This unwritten law prevails until an elder decides to consume the entire chicken gizzard and extremities alike. Soyinka and his depraved generation have squandered their time and opportunities.
They are now encroaching and disrupting the younger generations, whose turn it is to lead the country. The Obi-dient movement is only a platform for the youths to actualize their dream of a new Nigeria. If there is no generational conspiracy against this dream, the stolen mandate should be immediately returned with profuse apologies.
In Nigeria of today, citizens are segregated into just two classes:
The oppressors and the oppressed. Where does Wole Soyinka belong?
Has our own Lion who won the Jewel in 1986 abandoned us to dine with the enemy?
Has The Man Died in Soyinka in the Face of obvious Tyranny?
How bountiful is Kongi’s Harvest when criminals have looted the entire barn?
How shall the court of History handle The Trials of Brother Jero when the Nigerian ship finally sinks?
These are sobering questions.
Victor Amadi is a medical doctor based in Onitsha