Wole Soyinka: The Dilemma Of A Saint
By Remi Oyeyemi
In the days leading to the nomination of retired General Mohammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), many Nigerians had a lot of misgivings about his candidacy based upon the records of the lanky looking born again politician. General Buhari is so described because he once toppled a democratically elected government in December 1983. It could be debated whether the overthrow is deserved or not, but that is what the record shows. The post nomination of retired General Buhari as the flag bearer of the APC witnessed never before told corralling of all and sundry to his corner.
All the supposedly independent watchdog groups who ought to have remained neutral were in the corner of the APC and the then candidate Buhari. Revisionists took over to confuse the memories of those who lived through the tragedy of Buhari's first coming in 1984/1985. Sons were made to denounce their fathers and daughters were forced to reject their mothers to be able to support candidate Buhari. Friends denied each other to be able to support Buhari. Wives fought their husbands to a standstill while husbands threatened their wives with second wives or divorce just to get on Buhari train.
Even, some scions of eminently persecuted politicians during the Buhari's first coming deodorized the experiences of their fathers in jail and raked up excuses to be able to support the candidacy of Buhari. Many men of principle were forced to compromise their principles. Those who had misgivings were caged in to abandon their good sense of judgments. Those who hesitated were lured with lucre. Cautions were thrown to the curb. Myths were manufactured to inflate the image of candidate Buhari. In that electoral war, truth, reason and caution became casualties.
One of the victims of this sordid experience was our dearly beloved Kongi, Professor Wole Soyinka. Professor Soyinka has always represented the voice of the voiceless in Nigeria. He has always been the voice of reason. He has consistently for more than five decades represent the voice of wisdom. He has incorrigibly stood for reason in the midst of confusion. He had brought clarity when things became foggy. He advocated for fairness when it was lacking. He championed the course of justice when only very few had the courage to do so. He was one of the original Three Musketeers that comprised late Tai Solarin and Gani Fawehinmi. For his beliefs, Professor Soyinka went to jail just like these other moral icons of our society.
The NADECO struggle against the General Sanni Abacha junta and June 12 battles caused the path of Professor Soyinka to cross that of some politicians. Some of these politicians were sincere fighters for democracy. Some of them were opportunists looking for ways to take advantage of the situation. But Kongi was friendly to all. It was a friendship that was later to be cemented by the Presidency of Anambra State born Olusegun Obasanjo-Onyejekwe who went about like a bull in the china shop breaking everything in sight. There were public face offs between Kongi and Obasanjo – Onyejekwe.
While the face – off lasted, some opportunist politicians who wanted to be seen as populist took sides with Kongi and gained his confidence. They courted him and brought him into their fold using him to legitimize themselves while they committed egregious crimes against the people. The fact that they were opposing Obasanjo – Onyejekwe deprived these opportunistic politicians the necessary klieg light to interrogate their stewardship. Even, the devil, if he had come around to fight Obasanjo – Onyejekwe at that point in time would have found some followers.
But in the course of his friendship with the politicians, Professor Soyinka has been a little careless. He has brought into his relationship with them, TRUST, a commodity that politicians don't value. As a result of his trusting his politician friends, he had allowed himself to be embarrassed on few occasions. He had allowed himself to be muddled in and with the mud by his politician friends. He had allowed them to stain his white garment of honour on several occasions. He had allowed them to put dents in the hard earned armour of his reputation. We do not need to go over the instances when this had occurred.
But the most damaging in his relationship with his politician friends was his endorsement of the candidacy of Buhari. On the day of that endorsement, it was clear that Kongi was not himself. He appeared bereaved. He was tepid, hesitant and halfhearted. He seemed forlorn, jaded and sad. He was not his bright and electrifying self. Even, his statement on this occasion elucidated the fact that this was not our own WS. He was someone else on that day. He was chilly, cold and cool. He was frigid, frosty and icy. His facial construct was distant, apathetic and solitary.
It was clear that Professor Soyinka was filled with a sort of premonition that he was making a serious mistake by endorsing Buhari. His attitude conveyed the impression that he was coerced. His reluctance to endorse was more than palpable. It was clear that someone had probably threatened him that he either endorse or else? It was evident that the constitution of Kongi was in active rebellion against that act of endorsement. His spirit was certainly in revolt and revulsion. Professor Soyinka was engaged in a seditious act against his own conscience. He was in mutiny against his own well considered personal counseling. It was an insurgency against everything that was WS.
This dilemma would be better understood when juxtaposed against the background of Kongi's earlier positions on candidate Buhari. It was like Kongi was made to lick up his vomits. Professor Soyinka had excoriated Buhari on human rights abuses during his first coming. He had expressed anger that Buhari was yet to be held accountable for his several sins. He had spoke about History as a guide to making judgment about the future. He had been vehement in opposing Buhari candidacy the first three times insisting that he (Buhari) be held accountable for his transgressions against Nigerians and Nigeria.
Professor Soyinka had been very public and unapologetic about his stance on Buhari. He was convinced that Buhari was almost satanic if not luciferic. Anytime any issue relating to Buhari was raised, he instantaneously gets into a combative mood, becomes adversarial and antagonistic. He left anyone and everyone with no doubt that he detested Buhari, not as a person but for what he did to Nigeria and Nigerians during the dark years of 1984 and 1985. He was in always in his right elements every time he had to look back and review the psychological attack engaged in by Buhari against the dignity and self respect of Nigerians during his first coming.
So, to now get him to endorse Buhari was a seismic shift. It was clearly an embarrassment he could not avoid. He was being loyal to his politician friends who have no shame; no respect for integrity; no qualms about lying; no scruples whatsoever; and above all no conscience. Yet, the values that have come to define our own WS include integrity, moral high ground, respect for truth, a life guided by conscience and principle. They are the values that have sold him to not just Nigerians but to the world. They are the kernels of what make our own WS thick. His Nobel prize for Literature only serves to further elucidate and attest to his originality, authenticity and integrity, as an academic and as a conscience of the nation.
In the last year since President Buhari has been in the office, Professor Soyinka had been silent. He had been quiet, mostly. But few days ago, he had to say something about the menace of the Fulani herdsmen. He disclosed that his home had been invaded by them and called on Buhari to do something about the terrors being perpetuated by his Fulani kinsmen. Some are suggesting that Kongi has found his voice. Other are not so sure yet. Some believe that Kongi is mindful of his politician friends and would not want to offend them.
That our own WS has called out President Buhari on his inaction on the menace of the Fulani herdsmen and the trail of tragedy they are leaving across Nigeria is very interesting. It is very interesting because his politician friends mainly in the Southwest are silent and cold towards the plight of their peoples. His APC friends were quiet while people were burnt alive in Ketu, Lagos. They have nothing to say to the countless farmers in their domain who have been murdered and or have their farms destroyed by the Fulani herdsmen.
Since the fortunes of Nigerians turned sour under the Presidency of Buhari, every concerned citizen was waiting to hear from Professor Soyinka. The civil groups have been nowhere to be found either. Barrister Femi Falana has been lost to the politicians. The voiceless have become more voiceless. The poor people have been abandoned. The people they voted for have shown they do not care about them. All the governors are nowhere to be found. The Asiwaju has refused to be in the front of the struggle.
But will Soyinka find his voice again? Will he be able to resolve the dilemma of his loyalty? Is he going to remain loyal to his dishonest politician friends and continue to keep quiet on Buhari's travesty of an administration? Or will he revert back to being the conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless? Will he be able to remove the stains on his sainthood? Does he still have the will and the energy? Time will tell.
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.”
– John F. Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address January 20, 1961
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