By Rev. Fr. John Odey
Nigerians are living in difficult times. It is a time when fear is the king and the fear of fear is the beginning of wisdom. We have been compelled to live in the fear of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his rampaging gang who have hijacked our country and reduced the rest of their fellow Nigerians to the slaves of democracy; the fear of the military, the police and the DSS that have been stripped of their allegiance to the nation and turned into the unruly watchdogs of reckless election riggers; the fear of suppression; the fear of the corrupt umpire called the Independent National Electoral Commission; the fear of a 419 judiciary that has turned round to become the nemesis of the common man; the fear of other political elites who play the game of chess with our collective destiny; the fear of Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers, unknown gunmen, bandits, Fulani herdsmen, and armed robbers; the fear of being hacked to death by dreaded cult members, political assassins and ritualists; the fear of unemployment, poverty, hunger; abandonment in sickness, unpredictable present and a bleak future; the fear of the younger generation that have decided to fight back the society that has thrown them into a dark tunnel without an exit, and the fear of fear itself. Nigeria is in turmoil. It is caught between the vestiges of colonialism and the dislocations of neo-colonialism that is entrenched on a thick layer of sorrow, misery and despair. The Nigeria of today is certainly not what our founding fathers bargained for. But with the Chicago State University certificate bombshell I believe Prof Wole Soyinka has a duty to tell his man, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that the birds have come home to roost.
In his book, *Black Skin, White Masks,* Frantz Fanon declared, “Man is yes. I will never stop reiterating that. Yes to life. Yes to love. Yes to generosity. But man is also a no. No to scorn of man! No to degradation of man! No to exploitation of man! No to the butchery of what is most human in man: freedom!” Confronted with the terrible harm that the scavenging agents of colonialism had done to Africa, Fanon contended that it was sinful for anybody who called himself a man to keep quiet and watch silently while more harm was being done. One must act by putting up some resistance to those things that deface what is human in man because one “cannot conceive of life otherwise than in the form of a battle against exploitation, misery, and hunger.”
In the course of history, many people have seen themselves compelled to live in bondage by forces that they could not overcome. Many people have expressed their grief and yearning for freedom from such bondage. Many people have fought and got their earthly lives brutally terminated in the struggle for their freedom. Many people have dramatized their nostalgia for their lost freedom with gripping emotions. Out of such people, I think the reaction of those Israelites who were taken captives into Babylon remind us of the most persuasive of such nostalgic feelings. When their captors asked them to entertain them with their native songs, they sat down and composed a song of protest instead:
“Besides the streams of Babylon we sat and wept at the memory of Zion, leaving our harps hanging on the poplars there. For we have been asked to sing to our captors, to entertain those who had carried us off; ‘Sing’, they said, ‘some hymns of Zion’. How could we sing one of Yahweh’s hymns in a pagan country? Jerusalem if I forget you, may my right hand wither! May I never speak again, if I forget you!” (Psalm 137:1-6).
The captors that asked their captives to entertain them with their songs did not mean well. They simply wanted to make a mockery of their victims. They wanted to reduce their patriotic pride to rubbles. Though their victims were helpless, no true lover of his country, no person who truly believed in his self-esteem could succumb to such taunting. The Jews are known to be self-respecting and patriotic. Therefore, it is not surprising that they demonstrated their patriotism by refusing to become party to the mockery of their beloved country. Their captors had chained their bodies, but they did not chain their minds. Freedom or lack of it begins first from a person’s state of mind. One can be in chains and remain free. One can wear no chains and remain a captive, a slave of his mentality. The Jews in captivity wore the chains of their captors and yet remained free because they refused to allow their minds to be shackled. It pays to be brave and patriotic. That is what many of us are lacking in Nigeria. Today Bola Ahmed Tinubu has turned Nigerians into slaves. But many prominent people, including Wole Soyinka who tells us that there is something called “gbajue” in Yoruba language, meaning “force of lies”, have fallen prey to the arch destroyer.
Under the apartheid regime in South Africa, Steve Biko said something about the condition of the blacks in that country which I believe is applicable to many of our people today in Nigeria. He said: “The type of black man we have today has lost his manhood. Reduced to an obliging shell, he looks with awe at the white power structure and accepts what he regards as the ‘inevitable position’. Deep inside, his anger mounts at the accumulating insult, but he vents it in the wrong direction – on his fellow man in the township, on the property of black people. In the privacy of his toilet, his face twists in silent condemnation of white society but brightens up in sheepish obedience as he comes out hurrying in response to his master’s impatient call. In the homebound bus or train he joins the chorus that roundly condemns the white man but is first to praise the government in the presence of the police or his employers.
“All in all the black man has become a shell, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity. This is the first truth, bitter, as it may seem, that we have to acknowledge before we can start on any programme designed to change the status quo. It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize that the only vehicles for change are these people who have lost their personality. The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth. This is what we mean by an inward-looking process.”
Finally, Biko reminded his people that those who hold other people in bondage do not let them free without sacrifice. They should be prepared to pay the price of freedom: “In a true bid for change we have to take off our coats, be prepared to lose our comfort and security, our jobs and positions of prestige, and our families for just as it is true that ‘leadership and security are basically incompatible’, a struggle without causalities is no struggle.”
Today in Nigeria, the unknown gunmen, whoever they are and wherever they come from, the kidnappers, the bandits, the armed robbers, the ritualists, the political thugs, the police men and the army that make life difficult for fellow Nigerians, and so on, are mostly people who have been denied decent opportunities in the society. They are victims of the evil men in power that have appropriated all our wealth for themselves. But since they cannot get at the evil men, in frustration, they vent their anger on the wrong direction, on the people who are often even more helpless than they are. They kill innocent people and destroy their property.
In view of this, and following Biko’s proposal for a way out, all I have been doing in my writings is to make our disinherited people who fight themselves while the political class keep enjoying the national cake to see the truth as it is and make up their minds that the helpless people they attack, kill or whose property they destroy are not our common enemies. Our common enemies are the enemies of Nigeria who go by the name leaders. All that I do is to infuse our tormented people with pride and dignity, to remind them of their complicity in the crime of allowing themselves to be misused by evil politicians and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of their birth. This is what Biko called “an inward-looking process.” In my book, *Africa, The Agony of a Continent,* I called it “the spirit of mental revolution” to enable us correct the many things that have gone wrong in Africa as a result of bad leadership. Prof Soyinka is one of the great men from whom I learnt the need for such mental revolution. But it is unfortunate that he has allowed Bola Ahmed Tinubu to happen to him.
The German existentialist philosopher, Karl Jaspers, made a famous statement, which reminds us that all the things we do or fail to do have their metaphysical repercussions or guilt as it is generally called. The statement is: “There exists amongst men, because they are men, a solidarity through which each shares responsibility for every injustice and every wrong committed in the world and especially for crimes that are committed in his presence or of which he cannot be ignorant. If I do not do whatever I can do to prevent them, I am an accomplice in them. If I have risked my life in order to prevent the murder of other men, if I have stood silent, I feel guilty in a sense that cannot in any adequate fashion be understood jurisdically or politically or morally.”
The persistent and unjustifiable exploitation of our people by those who claim to be our leaders in this country has been made possible by the silence and sometimes, the active connivance of good and prominent Nigerians. Anybody who is in the position to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and those who are unjustly denied what is their right but fails to do so does that at the risk of losing his innocence. Is it wrong to say that Soyinka lost his innocence when he jettisoned his historic ideology and allowed Tinubu to happen to him?
In my book, *The Eleventh Commandment: You Shall Not Keep Silent In the Face of Injustice* (published in 2007), I wrote the following in one of my books: “Most of the so-called leaders we have in Nigeria are killing our people by installments. First, if you are a child, they deny your father and mother the opportunity to work and earn some reasonable salary from which they can cater for you. If you manage to go to school, they send their own children to private schools or to schools overseas and allow your own schools, the public schools, to dilapidate structurally and morally to the point that they become breeding grounds for heinous crimes. If you manage to graduate in those schools and come out of them alive, they do not provide any job for you. Then you keep roaming about in the streets until you end up as an armed robber or are employed by the same so-called leaders as a political thug. Meanwhile, their own children are busy studying in the serenity of overseas schools to come back some day and enslave your own wretched children as their fathers enslaved your wretched father.”
Sixteen years have come and gone since I wrote this. I wonder what any honest Nigerian, who read the statement in 2007 and reads it today in relation to the state of our nation, can say about it. The parents of these children are not in chains but they are not free. Their children are not in chains but they are not free. All of them are victims of tacit oppression engrained into the system of a society that enslaves people without calling them slaves. Are we going forward or backward? Are we progressing or regressing? Are we thinking about a better future for our children or are we heedlessly and irrationally chasing our collective doom like demented creatures? Why must people who have exhausted their usefulness to the society not consider the fate of the younger generation? Why must old people who have consistently destroyed our fortunes, collapsed our good dreams and frustrated our youths not retire to give the youths the opportunity to live, plan their future and cherish their fatherland?
In his assessment of what happened in the United States of America where the court gave order that Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Chicago State University certificate must be disclosed, Lasisi Olagunju hailed American judicial system where justice knows nobody by name but by the deeds before the court. In the end, referring to Nigerian judicial system, he said: “A judicial system that is built on opacity of procedure and deliberately slow administration of justice will ultimately breed its own destruction. How? Victims of delayed justice feel helpless; they see the system as being rigged against them; they feel cheated, frustrated and angry; they develop their own idea of justice without recourse to the courts; they take the law into their own hands.”
The members of the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party, the two parties closely contending with the All Progressive Congress, have since the electoral savagery of February 2023 refused to take the law into their hands. Possibly, it is their resolve to be law-abiding even when the law refused to be justice-abiding, and so made it imperative for the people to take the law into their hands, that Wole Soyinka mistook to be weakness and travelled to far-away South Africa and stained his hard-earned reputation. Let us hope that now that the bubble has finally burst with Tinubu and his Chicago University Certificate issue the Supreme Court will deliver a just judgement this time that Tinubu has been exposed for what he is to forestall the people taking the law into their hands. I wonder how Prof Wole Soyinka is feeling now.
To Be Continued in part 8