By Rev. Fr. John Odey.
One of the most important phenomena in the history of Nigerian politics today is that the people’s eyes are now wide open. They can now see how persistently they have been swindled by the pirates in power. Nothing confirms this truth more than that inquisitive gadfly, All Eyes On The Judiciary, which has been tormenting the political crooks who have hijacked the country. Secondly, the way that millions of Nigerians have been reasoning of recent has gone through some significant changes. Millions of hitherto deceived and gullible Nigerians now know that their enemies are not the oppressed and suppressed people like themselves who belong to a different religion, a different tribe or a different political party. Their real enemies are those who constitute the evil elite political class who pretend to fight among themselves during elections only to gather together at the end of the elections to wine and dine and share their booties at the expense of their common victims. It is now evident that Nigeria’s elite political class does not believe that ordinary Nigerians have the right to live and live fully like human beings.
In the second part of this series, I said that it seems that our revered Soyinka is under the spell of a force beyond his control because it is difficult to understand how man who has never wavered in his war against injustice could suddenly turn round at the age of 89 years to jettison his life-principle. It is difficult to understand how a great man who nearly lost his life during the Nigerian civil war because of his open and courageous attempt to save the Igbo from extermination could easily turn a blind eye to the atrocities visited on the same Igbo in Lagos State under the command and close watch of Bola Ahmed Tinubu during the 2023 elections, and then crown it all with a verbal war, coated with blatant lies, against Mr. Peter Obi.
It is interesting to know that in his book: There Was A Country, Prof. Chinua Achebe, who is often made to look like a bitter rival of Soyinka and vice-versa, by those who see both of them primarily through the prism of a harmful tribal stereo-type, highlighted the nature of the selfless sacrifice made by Soyinka during the war. According to him, the Nigerian civil war came as a surprise to the vast majority of intellectuals on both sides of the conflict. And when it came, Soyinka “travelled to secessionist Biafra in an attempt to appeal for cease fire to the hostilities. He planned to set up an antiwar delegation made up of intellectuals, artists, and writers from both sides of the conflict – and from around the world – to achieve his aim. When he returned to Nigeria the authorities arrested him and accused him of assisting Biafra in the purchase of weapons of war.” Achebe concluded: Though there was no evidence to substantiate the accusation, Soyinka was thrown into prison without bail until close to the end of the war when he was released following a vigorous protest on his behalf from international writers at the time.
In the same vein, one of the six persons to whom Emefiena Ezeani dedicated his book, In Biafra Africa Died, is Wole Soyinka who came first in the list. Somewhere in that book, the author described Soyinka as A Foremost Nigerian Protagonist of Social Justice. Further in the same book, he quoted Soyinka as saying “It would be a distortion of history and an attempt to trivialize the trauma that the Igbo had undergone to suggest – as some commentators have tried to do – that it was the lure of the oil wealth that drove them to seek a separate existence. When a people have been subjected to a degree of inhuman violation for which there is no other word but genocide, they have the right to seek an identity apart from their aggressors.”
Though Ezeani holds that at the beginning of the crisis the Igbo, in spite of having been massacred and chased out of the North, were prepared to remain part of Nigeria on the condition that there was a loose association or confederation among the four extant regions, this statement credited to Soyinka reveals more and more the extent to which he was committed to the Igbo cause. To the best of my knowledge, Soyinka’s unflinching support of the Igbo, which is the offshoot of his relentless war against injustice, is not in doubt. And that is why I am not comfortable that this great man who has always remained detribalized in his words and actions has allowed Tinubu, a tribal diehard, to happen to him. For this, the world is laughing at Nigeria and Nigerians because we are like people who live in the ocean but have decided to wash our hands with the saliva. A country that produced a supper intellectual like Wole Soyinka and thousands of others has been compelled to be ruled under duress by a virtual illiterate whose name is synonymous with all that is evil, criminal and revolting. I pray that it will not be too late before our intellectuals discover that such is not good for our country and for the younger generation.
It has been repeatedly said that Nigeria is heading for a fatal crash. Nigerians are miserable and desperate. And to compound our travails, security agents have diverted their allegiance to the nation, which means all of us, to the people responsible for the travails. In the second part of this series, I talked about the Herod instinct in Tinubu. That instinct has taken the centre stage as, having heedlessly imposed himself on us as the president, he is now ruling like a medieval emperor through the terror of security operatives, the brutality of law enforcement agents and the perversity of the law by corrupt judges.
In his book,* Long Walk To Freedom,* the African Icon, Nelson Mandela, said: “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a certain point, one can only fight fire for fire.” Forgive me if I sound so pessimistic. Unless God intervenes in a very remarkable way, which he alone is capable of doing, Nigeria is gone. My intention for writing all that I have been writing is to influence the thinking of those who are suffocating Nigeria under their big toes. But the truth is that it appears that I and millions of other Nigerians who are praying for a positive change are wasting our time because our oppressors have distinctly defined the nature of the struggle and they are not in the least prepared to surrender to our lamentations.
But be it as it may, we cannot recourse to the use of their own methods which is what we are fighting against. We cannot fight by returning fire for fire because that will be completely suicidal. A goat that dares to return fire for fire when it is hunted by a ravenous lion knows well how the battle is certainly going to end. For this reason, I have been writing and will keep writing as long as I am alive to enable posterity have some glimpse of what happened in a country that was once called Nigeria. All said and done, instead of pessimism ruling, optimism will prevail, for as Dele Giwa once said: “No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed; if not now then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good is temporary.” This truth has been clearly stated in the Holy Bible. What gives it its rich texture here is the beautiful prose through which it is communicated.
In December 1986, at the time when Lawrence Anini and his gang of armed robbers were terrorizing the people of Benin City and giving Nigeria a bad name at home and abroad, Wole Soyinka was honoured with the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in the City of Stockholm, Sweden. The prize award was $290000. That fabulous amount of money did not give him the joy and vintage opportunity that the presence of important personalities who gathered from the different countries of the world to grace the occasion offered to him.
Another thing he cherished more than money about the award is connected with the pestilence of racism. For instance, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1801, Thomas Jefferson claimed that “the blacks are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Soyinka and the entire black race were elated beyond words that his bagging Nobel Prize for Literature shattered this cruel jinx and put shame on Jefferson’s claim. In his own book, Southern Institution or An Inquiry into the Origin and Early Prevalence of Slavery and the Slave Trade, published in 1858, another slave master, George Sawyer, claimed that the slave “is incapable of managing himself.” Hence, his “condition among the whites is necessarily that of pupilage and dependence.”
By meriting the award of Nobel Prize for Literature, Soyinka proved to George Sawyer and his group the veracity of what our Latin teacher in the secondary school, Mr. Austin Okenwa, used to say: “Minus time and opportunity all men are equal. Hence, in his acceptance speech, which he dedicated to Nelson Mandela, Soyinka confronted his audience with the vile racial oppression that was then raging on in South Africa. He did that in a language, which a team of journalists led by Dele Omotunde, described in the Newswatch newspaper of December 22, 1986, as “a package of verbal grenades which he methodically detonated on the audience. It was a devastating knock on racism, apartheid and all forms of separatism.”
Soyinka argued that what obtained in the apartheid South Africa was not only a dent on civilization and a shame to the world. It was more devastatingly a challenge that the world which claims to be civilized could no longer overlook or ignore. The apartheid syndrome was like some atavistic bug at work that defies all scientific explanations. As a result, he declared that it had put all human experience of learning to serious question. It made mincemeat of all human wisdom. It must therefore be dismantled or be allowed to destroy all the progress so far made in the name of civilization. He referred to the leaders who for whatever reason on earth could condone the revolting racism in South Africa as “leaders of double-talk and multiple moralities” because while they clamoured for freedom for themselves, they approved the insufferable degree of man’s inhumanity that went on in South Africa.
I would like the reader to understand that it is this concept of double-talk and multiple moralities that made me recall what happened in faraway Stockholm in 1986 and how our celebrated Soyinka reacted to it. I want to take a cue from this great man and then dare to say that most of our leaders here in Nigeria, particularly Bola Ahmed Tinubu, are men of double-talk and multiple moralities. This is because they do not seem to see anything wrong in a situation where they unleash policemen and the military on innocent citizens to kill and maim them in order to clear the way for their deadly political ambitions during political elections, violently snatch power from those who are duly elected, ask the defrauded to go to court and then bring their criminal act to a climax by bribing and threatening judges to pass judgement in their favour.
After a long and torturous hide-and-seek with the police, Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962. In Long Walk To Freedom, he tells us what happened when he was arraigned before the court after his arrest: “I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness, and democracy in a society that dishonoured those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even within the fortress of the enemy.” By the time Soyinka detonated his verbal bomb and devoted his Nobel Prize Award to Mandela the later had been in prison for 24 years and had 3 years more to be there. It will not be out of place to say that Soyinka’s acceptance speech which was made at the most strategic gathering of important world personalities who believe in justice and fairness, contributed in hastening the release of Mandela.
For this reason, When Tinubu claimed that it was his turn to rule Nigeria and proceeded to take the country by violence after he had lost the presidential election, Nigerians had expected Soyinka to do what he is known for: To denounce the electoral savagery that Tinubu and his thugs unleashed on the nation, particularly on the Igbo in Lagos State. That expectation is borne out the fact that what Mandela is to South Africans is what Soyinka is to us here in Nigeria – a symbol of justice and the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness, and democracy in a society where judges shamelessly allow sham technicalities to depose obvious truths, History will not forgive Soyinka if he allows it to be said of him by the younger generation of Nigerians that when Nigeria needed his voice most is the time that he changed his ideological leaning and allowed Bola Ahmed Tinubu to happen to him to the detriment of Nigeria and an overwhelming majority of Nigerians.
Paul Kruger, who is known in South African history as the builder of the Afrikaner nation and the President of the Republic of Transvaal, who fought against British imperialism in the nineteenth century, in one of his speeches during their struggle for freedom, declared, “In confidence we lay our cause before the whole world. Whether we win or whether we die, freedom will rise in Africa like the sun from the morning clouds.” A similar message goes to Tinubu and his gang. From the look of things, it appears freedom is already beginning to rise in Africa. Though Nigeria is primarily suffering from internal colonialism, it is not an exception. As long as patriotic Nigerians do not relent in their struggle against the electoral and judicial criminality that bungled the 2023 presidential election, it may not take long before that freedom will rise in Nigeria to usher in the New Nigeria of our dreams.
To Be Continued