May 29 Not Democracy Day, Soyinka Insists


"THE ball is now in your court...Election is still two years away...What is wrong in identifying now your candidates and beginning to mobilise support for them...Why can't you invade your homeland...Use your mobile telephones now to mobilise the people and guard democracy...the way Barrack Obama used the Internet technology to mobilise the youths to strengthen democracy...Mobilise the youths to guard the ballot boxes from start to finish...Defend the vote, nobody is going to do it for you..."

With these words last night at the London Metropolitan University, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka urged Nigerians and indeed those in the Diaspora to move democracy forward from the realm of rhetoric to action that will lead to the enthronement of genuine democracy in the country.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, who denied widespread allegations at the colloquium last night that the Federal Government subtly mobilised to stop the London symposium, said concerned critics about the state of democracy and democratisation in Nigeria should note that "democracy is a long and tortuous journey," and we should thus demonstrate greater understanding of the of the complexities and challenges the process has imposed on us in the last five years as Nigerians.

Soyinka, who was the focal point at the well attended symposium, was assisted by notable speakers, including Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, now in Oxford for a postgraduate research programme on "effective anti-corruption programme;" Mr. Femi Falana; Prof Sola Adeyeye, former member of the House of Representatives; and columnist, Dr. Okey Ndibe.

Soyinka had begun his speech on a lighter note when he humorously "corrected" the "wrong impression" by Ndibe, who spoke before him that Obasanjo promised "uninterrupted power supply" but did not fulfill.

According to Soyinka: "Really, Obasanjo did not disappoint anybody about his promise on power...He delivered...He (Obasanjo) promised 'uninterrupted power,' which is the manifesto of PDP...."

The use of the paradox on "power" drew spontaneous ovation from the appreciative crowd, just as the Professor of Literature warned against celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day.

Soyinka berated government for allegedly attempting to stop him from attending the colloquium, saying nothing has changed in Nigeria to make the day a democracy day to be elevated above June 12.

Rather, he said, May 29 has been synonymous to some of the negative things that had occurred in the last 10 years of democracy, including the mysterious killing of former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige.

He rapped the civil society, which he said "still doesn't understand what it means to struggle for democracy."

But at a press conference in London yesterday to mark both 10 years of uninterrupted democracy and two years of the Yar'Adua administration, Tafida said the present administration's achievements should be properly contextualised in the last two years, adding that the road to true democracy is not a tea party.

His words: "Democracy is a long and tortuous journey. While the yearning and aspiration of Nigerians for quick dividends of democracy are legitimate and understandable, I urge you, my countrymen and women, to demonstrate a greater understanding of the matrix and complexities of the challenges that we face.

"The solution requires resources with which we are abundantly endowed; the capacity which we continue to seek; and rigorous planning, which is the hallmark of this administration."

The envoy a telephone chat with The Guardian denied that the federal government, attempted through his office, to sabotage the gathering of Nigerians at the London Metropolitan University, saying: "The allegation was untrue, as we will not do anything to dishonour any gathering to be addressed by the first Nobel Laureate in Africa, among other important Nigerians. The allegation must have been made to denigrate the present administration."

Ribadu, who was asked a deluge of questions by participants, urged Nigerians to shun rhetoric, stressing: "Let us start writing our own history."

The former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who praised efforts of people and organisations in the Diaspora, including the Sahara Reporters, said the latter had assisted Nigerians in knowing some issues that are hidden.

Ndibe, who warned the present generation the danger of being wasted, like the Soyinka, said it was sad that the present dispensation of leadership in Nigeria, including the Obasanjo regime, has never defined stakeholders to include people like Soyinka, let alone others at the London gathering for democracy.

Ndibe berated Nigerians for their penchant of leaving everything to God, adding: "Nigeria is the only country where people go to vote and only God decides. Does it mean God chooses criminals for us?

"In Nigeria, God chooses the most fraudulent and we say power belongs to God; power flows from God...God chooses leaders. That is the sad situation about our country that some criminals have run and ruined...."

Convener of the London Forum, under the auspices of Nigeria Liberty Forum, Dr. Kayode Ogundamisi, who had early this year organised a demonstration against a forum addressed by Obasanjo at the London School of Economics, had in a welcome remark, noted: "We have Democracy Day with all its fanfare, but what has happened to democracy? Does anyone believe that if we had democracy, anyone would vote for the current situation- hospitals without medicine, schools without books, taps without water, bellies without food?"

He added: "Our solution is simple- Nigerians have to adopt a new activist culture, a sustainable culture of strong electoral activism...."

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