Prof. Wole Soyinka at a press briefing in Lagos on the Niger Delta crisis. Photo: Sylva Eleanya.
By Emma Okocha, Vanguard
”A dying man needs to die, as a sleeping man needs to sleep , and there comes a time when it is wrong , as well as useless to resist.” – Stewart Alsop; Stay of Execution.
”Even in totalitarian states, the time comes when past errors are admitted. In Nigeria , we fail to establish a climate of inquiry.When power is placed in the service of vicious reaction a language must be called into being which does its best to appropriate such obscenity of power and fling its excesses back in its face.
The cold reality of power is, of course, that it has to be endured. Even when it is culpable and seen to be so, its effective reality is that it cannot be escaped for a duration, be this regulated by constitutional agreements, or subject to abrupt termination by a contending interest.
All that is left then to the populace over which it is made manifest, is an attitude towards it, outwardly expressed or internalized. It is this, which constitutes the accessible arena of public activity – acknowledged to be also of the mind as of public expression – media criticism, street demonstrations civil disobedience etc….Books and all forms of writing have always been objects of terror to those who seek to suppress truth.”
‘The level of contempt for civilian life has finally reached its nadir, more armor is seen patrolling the townships and the villages today than any during the civil war. I believe, however, that the will of our people cannot be broken.
The current phase of despondency is understandable; one does not see the the tentative foundations of one’s nation smashed repeatedly by juggernauts out of control without an acute sense of futility. Yet the alternative, to abandon one’s goal is such a negation of existence that one can only view it as worse than physical annihilation. Our people have just undergone a savaging , contemptuously inflicted upon them …..”
Nobel Laurette Wole Soyinka in his Preface, The Man Died, October 1983
”It is only a blighted nation that neglects its brightest….these people, I’m talking about are not produced in hundreds.”
1975 Coup Destroyed Nigeria, Chief P. C . Asiodu, to Willy Eya, the Sunday Sun, Jan.10, 2010
Norman Cantor and Richard Scneider in their classic, How To Study History, defines history as a study of what men have done and said and thought in the past.
Progressively, they went on to describe History as a biography, that is, a work of the creative imagination in which the author attempts to recreate the life and thoughts of particular men who actually lived at a certain time. While the political-institutional historians may not come with us on this , we may borrow a leaf from the school of intellectual historians.
To this school, History is regarded as the development of higher thoughts and feeling, that is, embracing the study of of philosophy, art, literature, science and mathematics.
Hence, in the waning days of 2008 autumn, at a Harvard International Conference, enter the Nigerian world renowned bard. Not given to much hyperbole, Chinua Achebe on his wheel chair, decided to don the hat of an intellectual historian, as he tried very hard to acknowledge the presence of the multidimensional, genius in our midst.
The revered author, recounted the misery that was Biafra. The starvation of children, the bombs that destroyed families and cities. He stated that eventhough the enclave took the very worse, the saddest day for Biafra and Biafrans was the day it was rumored that ”The Man had died in a Nigerian cell.”
Biafra flew their flag at half mast and for days amidst more destruction and casualties from the air, across the battle fields, the Biafran people mourned the ’supposed passage’ of the only true Nigerian they dearly loved and respected for his courage and friendship.
When the Niger Delta insurgents, refused to trust their destiny in the hands of the Nigerian diplomat at the UN, it was Professor Wole Soyinka they chose, to negotiate for them and represent their interests with the Federal government.
When the same Niger Delta militants struck the Atlas doves in Lagos and the OPC wanted some fight, it was Prof. Soyinka that intervened to save the day.
The OPC did not listen to any other but would rather defer to him. They have followed him and know he would not betray their cause.
At the last Achebe Colloquium in Rhode Island, after everybody had gone to bed, we discussed the Nigerian problem and in the presence of Chief Solomon Asemota, the leader of the Niger Delta.
Without much sleep the Professor was on his way to Boston the following morning for another conference this time on Darfur, Sudan. Apart from Sudan, was he not the international voice that stood against the tyranny and the savagery of Ugandan’sIdiAmin.
While his fellow renowned Literati mused their opposition in their kitchens, the Shango apostle, was all over the world openly, condemning the cannibal Head of State for his grave human rights violations against his people, and specifically exonerating a confused African perspective from the heinous crimes of the former Ugandan heavyweight champion, who had boasted of his love and readiness to marry the Queen of England. In search of heroes, some of the uninitiated African actors were already falling to the Amin ploy.
They were falling to the evil machinations of the IdiAmin propaganda of not only ”marrying the Queen” but of his plans to cage the imperialistic hold on Uganda.
Professor Soyinka was unrelenting and having suffered from IdiAmin’s kind, he was able to discern and define the beast for what he was.
Always staking his life, his safety, Professor Wole Soyinka has over the years, continued to dare the African oppressors, starting from the eerie day, an unknown masked man took over the radio station in Ibadan in 1965, to announce the correct election results!!
In his war classic of the Man Died he was the first Nigerian from inside the sordid incaceration of Kikiri maximum security prisons, to announce to the world the horrific death of the late Nigerian Secretary- General of the Post and Telegraph Workers Union.
According to courageous the Professor, ”GogoNzeribe was arrested for some undisclosed offence during Gowon’s regime,and imprisoned in Dodan
Barracks, where he died of starvation…!! He was arrested and brought out daily, for flogging.
One day he fought back, and this resulted in orders that he should be permanently locked up in a solitary cell and forgotten. ” He was the first and only voice that blew the whistle on the Asaba, Ishiagu and Igbodo genocide visited on the Western Ibos, when the Federal Army took over the Midwest, in September, 1967. When the butchers were sure that Ogbeosuwah was covered up by sand it was the same Shango prophet, who
characteristically from a detention hole, wrote about the Midwest atrocities. ”In Shaki before my transfer, I received eye witness accounts from a Federal soldier, a young school -leaver who saw his ideals shattered by the wanton execution of civilians.
He protested and feeling that his life was in danger, he fled to Lagos. He was arrested and incarcerated. The daily executions and torture were still in progress when he left.
He saw entire Mid West Ibo families wiped out in cold blood….” [ See, The Man Died, page 121-122] Therefore we are not surprised that after the deaths of GaniFawehmni, ChumaUbani, BekoRansomeKuti, TunjiOtagbeye the mantle of Civic Society leadership should now naturally fall on the shoulders of the prophet the masses already know his own sacrifices for their cause.
So who is that historian of whatever school, who would attempt writing the history of contemporary Nigeria, without first giving to his readers, some chapters, on the life and times of the most activist renaissance leader of our people.
Professor Emeritus, Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laurette, Poet, Playwrite, Dramatist, Novelist, Essayist, Activist, Human Rights Crusader, Nigeria’s most internationally recognized face, African Ambassador, Alphonse Fletcher Fellow, Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Yale and Visiting Professor, Harvard, please take over the ship and in your own fraternal orders, AHOY!!
Whatever is happening now in Abuja with him in command, speaks of his restless foolhardiness and his abiding patriotism.
Countrymen, a lot is amiss within the Nigerian federation. This is the time to ride the train or remain a sinner spectator. Such men like Professor Wole Soyinka are not produced in hundreds. Only the blighted nation neglects its bright minds.