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RIVERS: Our democratic grounds are being eroded — Soyinka

By Dapo Akinrefon

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, last Thursday, took umbrage at the goings-on in Rivers State.  He expressed his displeasure at the turn of events in the South -South state at a press conference where he laid bare the roles of President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience Jonathan, in the unfolding sordid drama that has created an air of instability in the state.  But in a swift response, on Friday, the First Lady took on Soyinka, claiming that he has become an embarrassment to his admirers. Below are excerpts from Soyinka’s statement:

What I want to do here is to remind you of a certain historic figure. I am sure most of us here must be familiar with the name Thomas Becket, who was an Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered at the altar by four Knights of King Henry II.

Now, I have read on the pages of newspapers and I saw that his spokesmen have been trying to distance him (President) from what is happening in Rivers State.  That is their job and I wish them luck but they have to understand that the President has to understand that  the perception out there in the world is that he bears  vicarious responsibility for what is happening in Rivers State.

My referrence to Thomas Becket therefore, hopefully, is  a little clear. What  happened was this: The absolute monarchism that obtained, at that time, was that King Henry II found that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was becoming too influential and he uttered some words. Some said that what he said was that: ‘ Will no one rid me of this pestilence?’  What happened after that was that four Knights of the courts  set out and attacked the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Cathedral. Historically now, we have a case of operators carrying out the imaginary will of the absolute monarch, again another parallelism. Again, I have been asking myself, are we not tilting towards absolute monarch? We are talking about not just a democratic dispensation but a federal system of democracy. There are many ways of saying: ‘will no one rid me of this pestilence in Rivers  State?’  You don’t have to utter a word directly, but from your conduct, which can convey  or which can be interpreted as very strong signals or better still, say, ‘ I will come after you’.

But I am saying that one can establish certain conduct  in the mind of one’s followers, all of which circle around the word impunity. There are certain ways in which you can convince your followers, your officials, your cohorts that they can act with impunity.

Prof Wole Soyinka brief the World press on the state of the Nation and also the Crisis in the River state House  of Assembly in Lagos yesterday    Px right show Prof Wole Soyinka briefing the press while Mr Femi Falana looks on at the occasion    Px  Biodun  Ogunleye
Prof Wole Soyinka brief the World press on the state of the Nation and also the Crisis in the River state House of Assembly in Lagos yesterday Px right show Prof Wole Soyinka briefing the press while Mr Femi Falana looks on at the occasion Px Biodun Ogunleye

There are many ways in which, for instance, you can expose a prey and say: ‘that prey is available’. Let us go back to that historical moment about 11 centuries ago, I want you to imagine King Henry II saying: ‘find some way of making the Archbishop’s carriage unserviceable or the carriage maker makes the carriage grounded’. Even after the king’s counsel said this is unfair and that the Archbishop’s carriage should be released. I hope you see the parallelism. You take away a governor’s plane; the plane,  under dubious circumstances, has been grounded, for I don’t know how many weeks now. And so, they pretend, nobody has spoken, nobody said anything in how one of your barons or dukes can function without a carriage.

Now that kind of indifference can create an enabling ground for your followers or officials to take further actions, which can endanger that baron or that duke. I am using this parallel so that we can understand that something strange is going on. And then again, you can send your wife, the queen and say, ‘Go and attend a marriage there and take the entire security service  of the court and go that  Archbishop’s domain and stay there for eleven days, with the full security apparatus as if you were a parallel head of state or monarch’. And you went to the place to such an extent that the baron in that area is not even allowed to move freely and is stopped by an ordinary Sheriff. He says: ‘Baron, the queen is attending a wedding or is painting her finger nails over there’. She closes up all avenues so that even the baron of that domain cannot move.

Day 2: Rivers House of Assembly crisis
Day 2: Rivers House of Assembly crisis

The baron is responsible for security and governance, but he cannot move around. This is what I call creating an enabling zone or atmosphere for the baron to be dealt with. She has no constitutional position but she is able to enjoy the full security apparatus of the state.

I am calling on the President, please curb the excesses of your wife. Too much is too much. Is she the First Lirst lady we have had? She is now being used to abuse the authority of an elected governor.  The governor’s lodge was tear gased. Anybody who said teargas was not thrown into Amaechi’s lodge is either ignorant or lying. Some of Amaechi’s security has been removed. The democratic grounds are being eroded. With a teargas thrown, the next one may be a smoke bomb.

This is what we have to cope with but the grounds under us are being eroded, I am talking about the democratic grounds on which we are supposed to stand. I am laying this on the vicarious responsibilities of the president because a lot of actions or non-actions that is taken  indicate quite clearly that someone around him that would say: ‘will no one rid me of this pestilence?’

When no one is saying anything to us, an accident can happen and we get back to the days of the unknown soldier or in these days, it may more likely be the unknown policeman. So what are we waiting for? As I said, are we waiting for a smoke bomb to be thrown there and, in the process, find out that we have lost a governor? I am not going to say who should place some kind of role. Again, there is a vicarious responsibility that must be laid at the door of President Jonathan. What we are saying is that if anything happens, the responsibility is with the president.


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