Our Soyinka Has Gone Wrong Again

Our Soyinka has gone wrong again

THE first time Wole Soyinka misdirected himself, it had to do with his “cautious endorsement” of Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential candidacy. He offered a platter of reasons for the stunning faux pas, of course. But, post-election, his out of sync reading of Nigerian politics has been patently exposed.

To recap, it happened that in the run-up to the presidential ballot, Professor Soyinka, long time combatant on the side of the oppressed, announced that the best thing that could happen to Nigeria was a President Buhari. His rationalisation: “It is pointlessly, and dangerously provocative to present General Buhari as something that he probably was not. It is however just as purblind to insist that he has not demonstrably striven to become what he most glaringly was not, to insist that he has not been chastened by intervening experience and – most critically – by a vastly transformed environment – both the localised and the global.”

Aware that his about-face would set teeth on edge, Soyinka took the pains to further explain his Road-to-Damascus conversion. He had become a Buhari flag-waver, having “studied him from a distance, questioned those who have closely interacted with him, including his former running-mate, Pastor Bakare, and dissected his key utterances past and current.” He underpinned his implausible argument with his location in Buhari of “A plausible transformation that comes close to that of another ex-military dictator, Mathieu Kerekou of the Benin Republic.”

Some of those unconvinced at the time went public with their disagreement. How vindicated they now are! President Kerekou had apologised in front of his people for the wantonness of his military dictatorship before they granted him a shot at democratic leadership. But, Buhari would have absolutely nothing to do with remorse and apologies, not even for heading a junta that executed its citizens on the strength of a retroactive decree, and not for other wild excesses of his despotic rule, for which Soyinka, in better days, had been indignant: “Of course, we know that human beings change. What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances. Public offence, crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not in caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order.”

Well, Buhari’s presidency is not even a year old and already the chickens have come home to roost. During the 1970s, Soyinka criticised Uganda’s Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada for converting his country’s universities into toys. Only recently, Buhari, with a mere press statement by one of his subordinates, fired the Vice Chancellors of 14 Federal universities, an irrational move unsupported by any known Nigerian statute. Is Soyinka unaware of this?

In his Introduction to The movement of transition: a study of the plays of Wole Soyinka [Ibadan University Press, 1975], Professor Oyin Ogunba told the fascinating story of how, during an Ife Varsity conference, Soyinka had dramatically borrowed a piece of paper from someone, to pen an instant letter of resignation because a high official of the institution had mouthed a new and arbitrary administrative policy he could not live down. How time wounds all heels.

While, in-between global junketing, Buhari has been busy on a firing spree, his field commanders have been firing at and killing peaceful pro-Biafra demonstrators. In fact, they seem minded to match, if not surpass, the unenviable record of massacres set by Olusegun Obasanjo in Odi and Zaki Biam, when they massacred nearly a thousand Shias in Zaria. Pray, in what way does this contemporary preying on human lives begin to equate the transformation that our Soyinka discovered in Kerekou?

While an undergraduate at Ife during the 1970s, and working on freelance basis for The Punch group of newspapers, I recall approaching Soyinka to issue a damning statement over the 20 or so suspects that suffocated inside a Police Black Maria, and he obliged! This kind of memory jerks the consciousness into conceiving of our man at the barricades with placard-bearing demonstrators insisting that an immediate stoppage must be put to President Buhari’s human rites.

Rather, our Soyinka of the “Justice is the first condition of humanity” fame, decided on appropriating a turf better left to the devices of by people with the éclat and élan for economics and public finance. Soyinka wants an ‘emergency conference” to fix the country’s “dire” economy! As was the case with his “cautious endorsement,” he is fluent with reasons. “Recovery is going to take quite a while…the President should call an emergency economic conference, with experts to be invited. Consumers, producers, labour unions, university experts, professors, etc. I think we really need an emergency economic conference, a rescue operation bringing as many heads as possible together to plot the way forward.”

Soyinka’s difficulty in this new adventure is three-pronged. To start with, it is preposterous, unless our man will claim that between the superstructure and the substructure, he would place primacy on the latter? In which case the onus would be on him to list the numerous ways in which the inhabitants of graves benefit from buoyant economies. Of course, the problem is also to do national amnesia. There was a national conference held recently in this country. Its report is presumably on the presidential shelf, gathering dust. It quite possibly has been binned. Now, if the report of a properly constituted national conference is unworthy of attention, where is the assurance that the outcome of Soyinka’s emergency conference will attract other than skeptical presidential smiles or guffaws?

Another fundamental disability of his recommendation is that the man in charge of the economy believes that it is soaring. As Soyinka was somewhere wailing about an economy going under, Buhari was elsewhere insisting that “Today, our country has the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world.” So, who really requires a talk shop on an economy that is firing on all cylinders?

Soyinka’s third handicap is the most dangerous – to him! Through the past year, Buhari and all the newcomers have been hammering it into every thick skull that the country’s problem was and still is the PDP. Therefore, doesn’t it occur to the Nobel Laureate that his emergency conference is tied into the uncanny prospect of proffering the problem as solution? How could we have “consumers, producers, labour unions, university experts, professors, etc.,” in whose ranks are PDP cadres, looters, stalwarts and foot soldiers, salvaging the economy? Doesn’t Soyinka realise that his idea, liable to contaminate the antiseptic purity of Buhari’s APC with tainted victims of change, could get him wrapped up on a treasonous charge?

As an ardent and long-standing fan of Soyinka’s, I have advice for the “grey-haired lion”. Please leave President Buhari well alone. The man has experts in quantum, including those who would host a dinner for N82 million and others who would upgrade a personal website at N78 million, to confer with. Together, this amalgam can, in great speed, navigate the Nigerian economy to ether.

Chuks Iloegbunam

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