By Rev. Fr. John Odey
My first article on the 2023 election was given the title, *The Die Is Cast: Election 2023 and the Pain on Our Necks.* It was published in the social media platform on January 30, 2023. As I continued writing, I have consistently been encouraged by a plethora of people’s positive reactions. I never mentioned any of such reactions in the previous articles to ensure it does not appear I write to be acknowledged. But now, for once, I crave the reader’s indulgence to cite here what a young man I trained from the nursery, primary and secondary schools as the principal, under the auspices of our diocese, sent to me after reading the first part of this series. The young man, Mr. Paul Ogodo, is currently in the University of Chester, England, reading Biomedical Science for his masters degree. He wrote:
“I used to believe that as one ages, the mind tends to deteriorate, but your capacity to extract insights from books you read 49 years ago, while I struggle to recollect those I read just 5 years ago, is truly remarkable. There are moments when I feel that your literary skills may not receive the recognition they truly deserve. Undoubtedly, you are blessed with extraordinary gifts from the divine. Tribe determines where most men stand when politics, money and power are discussed. Most highly revered men are biased in making judgement when someone from their tribe is involved. I have seen religious leaders and well-respected men in society take the wrong stand in a bid to protect their ‘own’. Like you rightly referenced, if gold rust, what then can iron do? Most social crusaders we praise today are simply who they are because the society or the movement they stood against did not favour them at the time. For instance, when Buhari was in power, I personally thought that Reno Omokri was an activist, but he was merely looking for his daily bread. I can speak for someone like you because I can still remember your stand and opinion when Sam Egwu, an Ngbo man, was the governor (of Ebonyi State) and when Martin Elecchi, a Catholic, was the governor. In both administrations, you had the opportunity to hide either under tribe or denomination to support their evil, but you remained steadfast. Your type is very rare, and the children unborn will hear of you and celebrate you.”
Apart from the joy I derive from the fact that a young man whose life I was instrumental in moulding from the nursery school is able to give this objective analysis of our predicament in Nigeria, I have decided to cite his remark because it is like a prelude to what I want to say here.
To begin with, I am an Igbo man, not by accident but by God’s perfect design. I thank God for being Igbo. I am a Christian and a Catholic priest by choice. I also thank God for that. But in this country where tribe and religion determine where most people stand when it comes to politics irrespective of whether they are standing on the wrong or the right side, there is the tendency for some people who do not belong to the same tribe and religion as I do to dismiss whatever I write about Tinubu and Soyinka as Igbo or Christian trash. For this reason, before I go further, I want to dispel the doubt that anybody may have by proving that I am detribalized and that I have no religious intolerance in my blood. What I hate is injustice. If my father and mother treat other people unjustly I will tell them to their faces that they are wrong and that they should stop that. If I see anybody who stands to oppose them on account of that injustice I will align with that person against father and mother to fight the injustice irrespective of that person’s tribe or religion.
When any nation is afflicted with the type of democracy that is piloted by people who have become so conceited in their way of thinking, so blind in the way they operate, so deaf and so insensitive to the lamentations and the sufferings of the people, so ravenous in their pursuit of wealth, so brutal in their tussle for power, so myopic in their perception and so fanatical in mortgaging the future of the younger generation, that nation is suffering from what can be called Herodian syndrome. That nation is today’s Nigeria. You recall the Biblical Herod and the extremely wicked things he did. To ensure that nobody dared his throne, he became a serial killer of the members of his household. He assassinated Mariamne (his wife), Alexandra (his wife’s mother) and his three sons (Antipater, Alexander and Aristobulus). Beyond his household, he snatched innocent male children from their mothers’ grips and ripped off their heads from their bodies in his plot to kill the promised King, Christ.
While the Herod of old exterminated his family and dealt with other infants sucking their mothers’ breasts, the new Herods in Nigeria who parade themselves as our leaders are wiser. They have hidden their children in Europe, America, the Arab World and other foreign countries for safety while dealing with our youths, the grown-ups who have long been weaned by their mothers. In the immortal premonition of Chinua Achebe, they have compelled the present adult generation to lose the twenty-first century, and are determined to ensure that the younger generation will also lose the twenty-second century. God forbid!
In the previous part of this series, I made it clear that I became an admirer of Wole Soyinka after reading his book, *The Lion and the Jewel.* When I finished my studies in the secondary school (St. Augustine’s Seminary Ezzangbo), and entered a tertiary institution (St. Augustine’s Seminary Jos), that admiration for him continued to grow in me. When I cultivated the habit of reading national daily news papers bought and kept for students in the school library the admiration grew into a passion. As a result, anytime I read about him, what he said or what others said about him, in any of the news papers, I went straight to the news paper stand and bought that paper for myself. Regular reading of newspapers helped me to develop the art of writing. Hence, from September 29, 1980, when my first article in life, *The Malady of Examination Leakages,* was published by *The Nigeria Standard* newspaper of Jos, I became a regular feature writer with the newspaper.
Three years later, something happened, which was to showcase my admiration and commitment to the great man called Wole Soyinka. 0n Thursday, August 18, 1983, at the height of President Shehu Shagari’s reckless profligacy, Soyinka left Nigeria for Europe and America to tell the outside world the bitter truth which Shagari and his cohort did not want to be told about the country. The pungent statement he read and distributed to the Press in Europe and America was given the title: *Those Whom the Gods Will Destroy, They First Made Mad with Power.* It was later published in the *The Guardian* newspaper of September 10, 1983. In that statement, Soyinka described most of our political leaders as a gang of misfits whose areas of specialization are “financial mismanagement and rampant corruption.” He contended that Shagari and his political associates had “complacently presided for four years over the most unscrupulous and insatiable robbery consortium that the nation has ever known.”
As soon as that statement became public here in Nigeria, a prize was put on his head by the forces of darkness and retrogression that then plunged Nigeria into an unprecedented economic disaster and subsequently staged an electoral coup to ensure that nobody would probe them when they must have been rejected at the polls. The attack on him did not come as a surprise because none of what he said could fit into the pretentious praises of political sycophants which very often lull a typical politician into his world of fantasies where he tries to convert all realities into his ridiculous dreams. As I said earlier, by then I was a student of St. Augustine’s Seminary Jos. Peeved by the fact that this innocent man who hated the injustice being perpetrated in the name of leadership was being made to bear the brunt of a crime he did not commit, I wrote an article in defence of him. I gave the article the title: *Is Wole Soyinka a Prophet of Doom?* The article occupied a full page in *The Nigeria Standard* newspaper of October 29, 1983. The following is a part of what I said in that article:
“Economically, Nigeria is now trapped in a vicious chain of rabid materialism. And somewhere along the line, an overwhelming number of innocent human beings are being crushed, leaving only an insignificant minority of the wealthy leaders to sit by and watch the panoramic drama of the historic madness. When shall we be free? Unless we learn to put our priorities right, to consider the common good of all Nigerians above the confines of selfish, partisan and ethnic chauvinism in the economic realm, things may likely grow worse. A popular adage has it that the heedless fly is normally buried along with the corpse. And history persistently reminds us that while it is human to make mistakes, it is inhuman to persist in the same mistakes. Anyone who fails to learn his lesson from his past mistakes will eventually give an occasion to history to construct a monument of ruins on both his past and present mistakes. Our leaders should now correct their gross mistakes. Enough is enough.
“I completely agree with those who say that Nigeria is now on trial. And I will go further to add that since that is the case, we should all regard now as the moment of truth. We are faced with only two alternatives: Firstly, we must either say the truth and live to celebrate our bravery and courage…Wole Soyinka is already marked as a prophet of doom. But sometimes, for the survival of a nation, prophets of doom are a necessity. In the Bible, Jeremiah and Amos were acknowledged as prophets of doom among the Israelites. They were consequently treated as such. But the truth remains that Israel would not have survived if not for the prophetic role of these personalities. Nigeria urgently needs more people like Wole Soyinka to stir up dead consciences.
“It is no use saying that Soyinka is causing trouble in Nigeria when the common man whose fate is at stake because of the unbearable economic situation knows that it is our leaders who have caused trouble and that Soyinka is only speaking for the voiceless majority. It is no use telling us that Soyinka is disturbing peace when we know that our leaders have disturbed peace long ago by rendering Nigeria economically bankrupt. How can those who are not sure of one full meal a day swallow hook, line and sinker the idea that Soyinka and people like him are fomenting trouble in Nigeria? The earlier our leaders realize that there can never be peace as long as they continue to convict the guiltless instead of admitting their gross economic mismanagement the better for us in this country.
“The second alternative is for those who are in the position to speak up against the ills of our society to benumb their consciences, keep their mouths shut just to avoid trouble, allow the roaring lion to plunder, to devastate and to mow down the very fabric of our dear nation. But in the end, we shall all be accused of bequeathing a sad legacy to history and posterity. Remember, it is criminal to pretend that all is well when all things are falling apart in Nigerian society. We believe that what is good to the goose is also good to the gander. The survival of Nigeria depends on the equitable distribution of our wealth. And those to bring about this equitable distribution are not the credulous and ignorant majority who has surrendered to the whims of fate. It will come through the few non-conforming prophetic voices constantly crying in the wilderness of which Wole Soyinka is a model.”
I wrote this about this great man 40 years ago. Here in Nigeria I saw and felt what I learnt from reading about how great men like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior, Oscar Romero, Nelson Mandela and others happening in the life of Wole Soyinka. By reading and admiring Soyinka’s approach to the national issues, I learnt to call a spade by its real name as he does. As we go through this series, the reader will understand more clearly that I have since sustained the tempo, appreciating the great gift God gave to Nigeria in the person of Wole Soyinka. Similarly, if the reader will be considerate enough, he will also understand why I find it difficult to be comfortable in a situation where this great man has allowed himself to be tainted by the ways of Bola Ahmed Tinubu that have turned Nigeria into an object of global mockery.
To repeat what I have said somewhere earlier, to the best of my knowledge, Soyinka’s towering repute as the conscience of our nation is not and has never been in doubt until he described Datti Ahmed’s genuine warning as “fascistic language.” Since then, this great man seems to be under the spell of a force beyond his control. If not, how can a man who has never wavered in his war against injustice turn round at the age of 98 years to jettison his life-principle? If not, how can a great man who nearly lost his life during the Nigerian civil war because he openly and courageously denounced the genocide that was carried out against the Igbo before and during the civil war turn round to turn a blind eye to the atrocities visited on the same Igbo in Lagos State under the command and close watch of Tinubu during the 2023 elections, and then crown it all with the declaration that Peter Obi came third in the election which he clearly won?
It cannot be disputed that Prof. Wole Soyinka has paid his dues as far as the struggle for a better Nigeria, where truth and fairness will reign, is concerned. That is all the more reason honest and patriotic Nigerians should be bothered that this great man has suddenly capitulated to the dangerous antics of Tinubu to discredit the person who won the February 25, 2023 presidential election in favour of the person who lost the election. It is doubtful that there is any Nigerian in whose books the name Wole Soyinka has appeared as many times as it has appeared in my books, and all in praise of him as the voice of reason, the voice of wisdom, the voice of the voiceless, the voice of the cheated, the armour of the defenceless, and the conscience of our nation. If I could praise this great man when he stood tall for truth and fairness, I have the right to call his attention when it is obvious that he has been compromised by telling an obvious lie that Peter Obi did not win the presidential election in order to sustain Tinubu’s deadly ambition. That is not good for us, particularly for the younger generation.
*To Be Continued in part 3*