Vilification of Soyinka, By Wole Olaoye


Reading Time: 6 mins read

Our values as a people have broken down. There is no better place to witness the madness than the social media where apparent cowards hide behind digital anonymity to cast aspersions on the integrity of their betters.

It was sad seeing the kind of insults some misguided elements were flinging at Professor Wole Soyinka over his recent television interview at which he addressed a number of national issues on his return from an overseas trip.

Wole Soyinka is probably the most violated public figure in our recent history. There is a whole industry devoted to misattributing various sentiments to the Nobel Laureate on virtually every subject under the sun. 

In the run-up to the recent elections in Nigeria, some candidates resorted to name dropping and outright fake endorsements to hoodwink the public. Soyinka’s name featured prominently in the many endorsement tracts circulated by candidates who couldn’t even manage to compose such endorsements in Soyinka’s inimitable style. Imagine a string of ill-composed sentences violently standing logic on its head with the name Wole Soyinka at the end as the author!

Professor Soyinka had issued rebuttals on many occasions. But these never-say-die nonentities are so committed to their evil pastime that they compound their insolence with even more odious impudence. Last year, when cyberwarriors assembled by one of the presidential candidates issued a barely literate statement in the name of Professor Soyinka endorsing their candidate, I warned that they were taking their desperation too far.

Soyinka had been out of the country. On his return he reiterated that he had not endorsed any candidate in the elections. He described the 2023 elections as “not exactly the most edifying exercise that we’ve been through.”

“On arriving”, he said, ”I was bombarded by the most horrendous narratives both pre and after the elections. Since then, I’ve also read columns; I’ve seen Nigerian papers for the first time in months and I didn’t like what I read at all… My trust has broken down completely … and even the minimum restraint that we’ve learnt to expect from seasoned politicians have been jettisoned completely.”

He noted that the nation was moving towards a situation, which was not planned, but one that happened fortuitously, where the existing mould would be broken “despite die-hard opposition to the breaking of that mould”. He was not enamoured of the do-or-die style of politicking in Nigeria, advocating instead for a celebratory kind of ballot exercise in which elections are like festivals of democracy.

Professor Soyinka noted that the comments of the Labour Party vice presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed, on Channels Television were unacceptable and capable of alienating supporters. Senator Baba-Ahmed had said the decision of the Supreme Court must be favourable to the Labour Party and that swearing in the man declared by the electoral commission as the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, would truncate Nigeria’s democracy. Of all the things Soyinka said, the only part singled out for excoriation was his comment on the recent interview of Datti Baba-Ahmed.

Many people who fancy themselves as ‘more Obidient than Peter Obi’ have reduced the discourse to a feast of diatribes and an exhibition of ill breeding. I do not expect us all to have the same reactions to the same stimuli. However, I will never get tired of repeating that in Africa, we do not insult our elders the way some of these hyperactive activists are doing. One could disagree with Soyinka on matters of fact or principle, but that cannot be a licence to insult a man with Soyinka’s pedigree.

Soyinka has been a beacon, not only for his generation, but for several generations since he burst onto the national scene with his play, A Dance of the Forests, which was staged as part of the celebration of Nigeria’s Independence in 1960.

When the civil war broke out, at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to associate with anything ‘Biafran’, Soyinka took the risk to try and broker some sort of truce between the federal and Eastern sides. He sneaked into Biafra to meet with Ojukwu, a visit which the erstwhile Biafran leader shared with me during a MONTHLY LIFE interview with him in the 80s. When I asked Ojukwu why he and Soyinka could not agree on a way out of the shooting war, Ojukwu smiled and said, “Let me just say that he had his strong views and I had mine. There is no doubt that Soyinka is a man of strong convictions, but so am I.”

Soyinka was thrown into jail when he returned from Biafra. He spent the rest of the war years in jail. He  has since made up with the principal actors of the civil war on both sides of the divide, General Gowon and General Ojukwu. It is quite a feat to have been relevant to one’s nation for more than six decades and that privilege is given only to a few. On the academic turf, he has numbered among the very best on the planet with a Nobel under his belt. He is a man of his convictions.

To be sure, Soyinka is not infallible. He can be wrong like any of us. But on the issue of totally ceding control in electoral contests to the judiciary, I do agree with him; no one should be seen to be threatening the arbiter.  And I don’t subscribe to the emerging culture of mob intimidation and lowlife lingo.

The dim side of this cyber-bullying is that it splits the ranks of progressive elements down the middle. The other day, I received a lesson in how cohesive groups could be torn asunder. It was an interview on a popular US television network. The interviewee, a noted Republican, was educating the reporter on how Donald Trump’s shenanigans had divided the Republican Party. He noted that the party was now made up of the die-hards on one side and ‘rationalists’ on the other. 

In the same vein, I’m afraid, the supporters of the Labour Party are entering a phase of unnecessary division. For a party which has set a historic template of leveraging on mass-oriented e-groups whose selflessness is unprecedented, the wise thing to do at this stage is to concentrate on the court cases. I have said it before, and it bears repeating: In matters such as the ones before their Lordships, Justices of the Supreme Court, water can still run uphill!

It doesn’t take much time for matters such as the intemperate language being deployed by some of those who think they are doing the Obi-Datti ticket a favour, to take the centre-stage and turn brother against brother — even within the movement.

Former presidential aspirant, Kingsley Moghalu quickly intervened on Soyinka’s side: “Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka is a principled fighter for justice in our country and around the world. He is a phenomenon that unlettered and uncultured people may not fully understand in an age of lazy social media in which many don’t read or think deep.”

I have read some of the arguments justifying the use of intemperate language on some media platforms. One contributor even made allusion to a statement credited to General Buhari in the heat of his quest for the presidency. The kare jini biri jini Hausa parable was interpreted by some to denote ‘fire for fire’. But educators like Dr Aliyu U. Tilde have deconstructed the proverb to mean a tough contest in which both parties suffer injuries: “The dog gives up hunting for that day, returns home and is granted a sick leave by its master. The baboon keeps his life and his baby and remains in his territory or migrates to a safer one.…”

So, weaponising the Hausa parable to justify incendiary language easily goes up in smoke. 

However, one remembers that the ruling APC threatened in 2015 to form a parallel government if the elections were rigged. I do, by the way, consider that threat fascistic too. The security agencies looked the other way at that time, so why all the hoopla against the Labour Party this time around?

Whatever happens, I repudiate the culture of insolence gaining a foothold on social media. I insist that everyone has a right to determine where he draws the line in human relations and shared passions. I have drawn mine. 

Adieu, Alhaji B.A. Idris-Animashaun

Alhaji Bashir Alade Idris-Animashaun, former Chairman of Academy Press Plc and other sister companies, was called to glory last week at 89. He was a mentor of mentors and one of the pioneers and pillars of the printing industry in Nigeria. He came, he saw, he conquered. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. May Allah grant him Aljannah firdaus.








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