April 8, 2023

The Wizard of Abeokuta and the Burden of History

The Wizard of Abeokuta and the Burden of History

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Why has Soyinka ignored INEC and Yakubu to focus on Datti Ahmed, who reacted to Mahoomd’s bizarre handling of the presidential elections and suspiciously hasty collation of results?

Wole Soyinka is my idol. Besides his illuminating literary works, he has been the embodiment of hope through the dark ages of oppressive and crassly opportunistic leadership. Soyinka never wavered. In his youth, there was nothing he spared when pursuing justice and the common good. Recently, the mystery gunman who seized a radio station in 1965 to force the announcement of private election results now thinks it’s anathema for a candidate to have zero confidence in the supreme court. He attributes the absolute rejection of an election result perceived as the outcome of a flawed process and an insistence that the courts must find them objectionable as fascism.

I wish I could cover my head with a basket and ask Soyinka what he would have said if Datti Ahmed, whom he excoriated without mercy, had stormed a radio station to declare his party the winner of the Feb 25 election. In the interview with Channels TV, where the Nobel laureate bared his mind on elections and the state of the nation, he discussed many more important things. He demanded decentralization of power. He warned that without unity, dissipative friction would render futile the best efforts at national resuscitation. But in emphasizing Datti Ahmed’s outburst and the intemperateness of Obidients, Soyinka subtracted attention from the other more important issues and perhaps betrayed a bias. 

While talking to Channels, Professor Soyinka tried to distinguish the situation in 1965 and 2023 by whitewashing 2023. He said democracy had collapsed in 1965. He said judges were being forced to write judgments by politicians. He said Kayode Esho’s book which was written many years after 1965 validated his claims. We don’t know what the memoirs of the judges of 2023 will contain. But we know that based on subjective views, Soyinka awarded himself the license to seize a radio station with a gun to correct injustice. Yet he thinks a man 40 years younger than him cannot have the audacity to reject election results and insist that INEC should have employed a literal interpretation of a provision of the constitution. And faced with the starkness of this absurdity he carried on with his intellectual gymnastics. Soyinka must believe that he has the monopoly of guts. 

In 1965, barely five years after Nigeria became independent, young Wole Soyinka so impatient with politicians and their buffoonery nuisance risked his life to send a message to perceived oppressors and neo-colonialists. But now 63 years after independence, Soyinka thinks democracy is a process and that election results should only be challenged quietly in court no matter how flawed a young man perceives the process.

If this homily were from Father Hassan Kukah or the Sultan of Sokoto it would have been understandable and congruous. But how would a lion sound while trying to preach vegetarianism? In other words, if a supreme court had handed an Ahmed Lawan a ticket from nowhere in 1965, what would the mystery gunman have done? Would he have visited a television station to drop roses and discuss the rude language of youths in political discourse?  

When Wole Soyinka felt justice needed an unconventional helping hand he formed the Seadogs. He didn’t wait for the system to evolve. Those who condemn the Seadogs as a harmful secret cult do not bother to understand why it was formed. Regardless, through the Seadogs Soyinka understands the rotten nature of the intestines of the judiciary. If Wole Soyinka were asked to give a portrait of the present supreme court, he would probably paint a cartoonish piece with a black brush.

So Soyinka isn’t an out-of-touch retired university teacher in Norway, researching Nigeria like a tourist. Soyinka knows there are Brother Jeros in the supreme court. So why was Soyinka shocked by Datti Ahmed’s outbursts? Perhaps, the mention of the military. Then why didn’t he say so? Why did he leave the impression that Datti Ahmed’s lack of faith in the judicial process was heretical? 

Soyinka is one of our few principled statesmen. He has the courage to confront any oppressor, military or civilian, and to interrogate emotionalism. Some say his issues with Obasanjo might have affected his perception of the Obidients. But Soyinka understands that the third force when it emerges wouldn’t come without warts and weaknesses. So how has Soyinka failed to focus on the causes and flaws rather than reactions?

INEC failed woefully to upload results. Why has Soyinka ignored INEC and Yakubu to focus on Datti Ahmed, who reacted to Mahoomd’s bizarre handling of the presidential elections and suspiciously hasty collation of results? Soyinka has paid his dues. As he says, wherever and whenever he drops the baton, another should pick it up and continue the race. But why is Soyinka more miffed with those who are challenging flaws than those who occasioned the lapses? 

Soyinka is a deity. But being petty is not a character of gods. Soyinka of the NADECO days would have condemned the criminal wiretapping of private telephone conversations of free citizens. The illegal tapping of private phone conversations of the leaders of the opposition is arguably treasonable. If condoned, it can bring summary death to multiparty democracy. Yet even though the victim has dismissed the tape as doctored, Soyinka found joy in referring to the phrase ‘Religious war’ and blaming its revelation for some of the vitriol that might have come his way from the camp of the victim. I guess since gods are reputably jealous beings, they can also be flippant. Otherwise, how can the revered mystery gunman indirectly encourage an instrument of totalitarianism in the abolition of privacies by criminal wiretapping of political opponents? 

We are in exciting times. Lai Mohammed who has been redundant for four years is now doing the work of the foreign affairs minister. Nobody told him that even a desperate information minister seeking to rescue drowning political fortunes cannot carry his vuvuzela outside the shores of the country. Lai Mohammed, who wasn’t seen on any campaign rostrum, is now gallivanting America, seeking to transform political opponents into coup plotters magically.

The treason bogeyman Lai Mohammed now brandishes was conjured up from the refusal of the opposition to accept the results of the presidential election. And whenever Lai Mohammed tells his new tale, the news attributes it to the federal govt. Yet if ahead Datti Ahmed gets fed up with the intimidation and takes on Lai Mohammed forcefully, another statesman man might enter the fray to X-ray Datti Ahmed’s words and temperament rather than condemn the atrocious conduct of Lai Mohammed and its potential to birth a one-party state. 

Talking about one-party states, the great Soyinka should be worried. The new abobakus he talked about, who are waiting in the wings for May 29, are working overtime. The PDP is in disarray. The labour party has been infected with a virus called Lamidi Ajegunle. Why then is Soyinka more interested in the uncouthness and intolerance of the Obidients? This isn’t to say that the intolerance of the obidients isn’t irritating. But if the abobakus around the declared winner of the election had prioritized national unity, wouldn’t the temperature of the rhetorical exchanges have dropped significantly? Does it belong to the obidients, the declared losers, to initiate and fashion peace and national unity? 

Soyinka is 88. He is a national institution. His views must be respected. If Datti Ahmed is trying to fill the big shoes Soyinka left at the radio station in 1965, Soyinka can look away so that others like Bishop Kuakh can do the counselling.