Prof Wole Soyinka
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka had a parley with journalists on the escalating insecurity in Nigeria, plans by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State to hire mercenaries. He also appraised the activities of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last seven years describing it a failure. Abubakar Abdullahi reports
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State recently said the state will hire mercenaries to fight bandits and terrorists, how do we get out of this problem that we are into?
I have said my ideas about the security situation. I’m sure all of us do. Everybody by now would have given it a lot of thought. And el-Rufai’s solution does not surprise me. I think el-Rufai has reached the end of his tenure and the only thing he thinks about is the extreme actions. Let us go back to the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, where we as parents and teachers are supposed to be the guidance, but we took our children and handed them over to these slave traders to do whatever they want. In effect, that is what we did but then we have to say it. I have said it and I have reminded people that the United Nations protocols forbid trafficking in human being. In other words, the era of slave trade is supposed to be over. If there is an event of violence that qualifies us to ask for external help, I think the kidnapping and enslavement of our children simply qualifies us. And so, rather than look for mercenaries, let us begin with the kind of international obligation we have fulfilled for other people who have asked for help internationally. Let us make it official, formal and admit that the situation has overwhelmed this government.
And we are saying that our people and children are being enslaved because a new era of slave trade is taking place and this is not a metaphor. We all know very well that they are being sold to the market in Tripoli. You know that Abike Dabiri went and rescued some of them from the slave market. In other words, Nigeria has become a slave depot because we supply the market only that we make it much easier than the original European slavers.
They had to hunt for their victims but these days, they just hand them over in trains. We are over-qualified for international assistance and let us stop riding on national integrity and false pride and say we have reached the end of our charter and we need help. It doesn’t have to be peacekeeping force only, we talked about technology earlier.
A lot of insecurity issues can be solved by technology. Some of us know that we survived only because of certain measures, mostly technological that we have taken. I have been burglarized and robbed on four attempts, one was eventually successful and another one half-successful.
One in Abeokuta and one in Lagos and these have been going on. Some people think I have certain information because most of the time what they look for are computers and anything to do with recording and we know that some of these acts are committed with security agencies’ assistance. I will tell you why, the one that took place in Lagos, a camp was set up in a rented place in a block of flats and the police where there for at least two weeks, interrogating people and gathering fingerprints and at the end nothing happened.
The next took place in Abeokuta, this time in the middle of the night we were at home and obviously they knew we were at home. So, I don’t think they just came to steal computers and so on because they knew we were at home. And I will tell you why, the television was on and when they left and they failed to break in and they realized that I got up, they ran away. I brought the police and nothing happened.
They waited again and I went to lecture at the University of Benin, they came again but they didn’t know how to get inside the house. Governor Amosun came because he was in charge then and the police also came and took things and statements away but they never interrogated anyone or any of my staff, they just took statement and that was the end of it.
Then, a year later I had the occasion to meet one of the officials of Department of State Services (DSS) and I asked him, in these days of high insecurity if you learnt that robbers attacked anyone and took away guns would you fail to interrogate those in the environment or those who have been named as suspects, would you just take their statements and leave it that way?
He said never and I told him this was what happened about a year ago. I gave them all the details, they visited and took photographs with me and said they will look into it. This was pre-COVID-19 and till today I have not heard one report from anywhere.
Does it look like these sets of politicians we have in power have the will-power to actually reopen murder cases like that of Bola Ige?
When you talk about investigation and justice, these people don’t know what they are talking about. I’m tired of repeating myself because it is very boring and exhausting especially when nothing comes out of your advice and suggestions. Like I said, one of these days, we will get to the bottom of all these incessant killings.
It is the same thing that is still happening today, can you imagine that I was burglarized four times by miscreants and up till today, there is no report from the police. So, it is from the media that I heard the president say he was going to reopen these files to see what the police have been doing or not doing.
And when you talk about security, therefore, you have to go beyond the agencies of security. Let us go outside the regular structures and go to the international community and say we need help. When one of the tragedies happened, we went to the US Embassy and said we need technical aid to solve this challenge. From the US Embassy, we phoned the president because they told us that they have offered assistance but the president said he doesn’t need them.
We decided to phone him and said to him don’t let it be heard that you were offered help to solve this murder and you failed to take the help. He said to us, they talked about lie detectors but you know Nigerians they can beat any lie detector. But we urged him to take the help and see how far we can go in addressing this murder.
Therefore, let us stop relying on our false integrity and say to the international community that this thing is beyond us. Give us all the assistance that you can and if it means establishing a UN unit to stop the slave trade why we go after the perpetrators of the crime.
When you mentioned that the APC government should have a rethink is it that they should have a rethink on how the government is being run or the appointment of Omisore?
It is an appeal to the leadership of the ruling party and I want to remind them that some of them are comrades who fought Sani Abacha to a standstill. I want them to go back to our meetings in Dakar, in South Africa and the meeting in London, which took people out of the country through the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) route to come and join.
And I want to remind them that we didn’t just talk about overthrowing Sani Abacha, some of these meetings which lasted for a number of days discussed the kind of order that should replace that murderous regime and the military regime generally in Nigeria.
In other words, when I used the word rethink, I want them to rethink all those moments when everything seemed possible. But realistically, we all know that we would be lucky to achieve onethird of all those marvellous visionary ideas that we had for a new society.
And even that onethird would have been sufficient as long as it was build around ethical feelings and it is that ethical feelings, which has been eroded us at the moment when we glorify those who have been involved in any way with violence and shoot them to the pinnacle of party organization. It is an appeal and a reminder to them that even if you what to honour them, let us at least display some kind of ethical spin, which we can boost that this cannot happen.
This is not just applied to party leadership, look at what has been happening at University of Ife. Look at the desecration of that space of learning. The desecration of the traditional institution even in the narrative and we should use this opportunity to ask the spiritual head of the Yoruba, this university is in your domain and the language of the response I heard, for instance, from the palace of our spiritual head was not satisfactory.
I did not hear of outright condemnation because these people desecrated the Yoruba tradition and they should be dealt with by the custodian of the tradition in a non-ambiguous manner. We need an outright condemnation in addition to whatever the federal agency is doing because it is the property of the federal government.
We need to look beyond individualism and our takeoff point should be the point of outrage. When I use the expression, for instance that Nigeria is seceding from humanity, we talked about IPOB wanting to secede, Odua wanting to secede and there was a time AREWA wanted to secede, sometime or the other somebody want to secede.
Kaduna has decided to secede by bringing in mercenaries to come and run the state but the entire nation is seceding from humanity itself. We are being brought to redefine what is human by what we do and what we can do that is what is happening to the nation. I don’t want to be part of a nation which has seceded from humanity.
In the build-up to 2015 general elections, a lot of people voted for President Buhari because you supported him. Seven years down the line, what do you think about the performance of this administration?
Interestingly, I was in Czech Slovakia on a literary event and it is amazing that we are everywhere and there was a Nigerian who came specifically to ask this question. He had no interest in the literature or any other thing. He just came to challenge me in Czech Slovakia.
I don’t know whether the audience knew about Nigeria but he said you are one of those who supported and who sponsored Buhari. And I said you really want us to discuss Nigerian politics here because this is a literary occasion.
And then I said to him, has it ever occurred to you that Buhari never won election in 2015, Jonathan lost it. In this country we are two kinds of people, there are those who see a problem and say let’s tackle that problem now and there are others who see a problem and say, who is responsible for that problem. In other words, they are looking for somebody to blame.
Sorry we must speak very frankly to ourselves, Jonathan had a chance to have won that election and I told him this, he blew it. He really blew it on many levels and when I met him, I told him frankly that I was not going to vote for him and I was not going to support him because he lost the confidence and trust of the people with a couple of actions and inactions including his failure to tackle corruption.
Despite that, it is false to say that I supported the election of Buhari. If I believe that that is what I should do, I would not hesitate one moment to come out clearly and say this is my candidate.
And I challenge anyone to show me where I said, vote for Buhari. Show me when, what occasion and in what language. But what I said very distinctly was do not vote for Jonathan and I do not regret saying it because the level of corruption at that stage was much.
I don’t like going back because Jonathan has redeemed himself in such a magnificent manner but it is a shame that one have to recall negatively but I think we should really search our souls and look into history before we say you told us this. Where they the only two people in the whole of Nigeria then, the answer is no. I told the youths to mobilize and give us a candidate and we will back their candidate and work for their candidate. But at no time anywhere did I ever say vote for Buhari.
Even I did not vote for Buhari. If you don’t believe me, go and ask the security man in Abeokuta who used to accompany me to go and vote, go and ask him if I left my house that day because I could not bring myself to vote for Buhari. But definitely, I was convinced that Jonathan should not continue as president and I have no apology for it.
And if you want to go into the whole history, we will do that, even when you talk about democracy and those who claimed to be democratically elected, is it democratic for instance at election time to risk people’s lives by compelling a plane carrying a member of the opposition to force it to turn back.
Is it democratic for instance to tell a governor who went to campaign in another state not to cross a particular line. Is it democratic for instance to shot on a campaigning group including governors, party leaders and party members? So, let’s be very careful about terminologies because I look very closely at people’s records.
One thing which did do, which generated controversy was that once you have voted Buhari in, I said let him do his work, at least give him a chance. That is the much that I did and that was when I used the expression, born again democrat.
And in any case, is it unusual for someone to be a born again democrat in the morning and become a Fulani herdsman in night. So, let us get away from all these blaming passing and I have no apology from what I have said because everything I said was from conviction and based on facts.
Let us confront the real issue, President Buhari has failed. I think even he would admit that he is tired. Even if he hasn’t said so, he is an exhausted man. There are no more ideas and he made the wrong statements at the critical moments. Buhari has failed the nation woefully from the day he went to Benue after the killings by herdsmen and said the people should learn to live like good neighbours.
When the farmers were killed and driven out of their farms, women raped, and people killed when they went for funeral of those who were killed by Fulani herdsmen. And I challenged him then to make an announcement that any illegal occupant of any farm or land should vacate it within 48 hours otherwise the full force of the national security would be unleash on them.
Twenty-four hours passed, 48 hours passed and years we are still where we are. I have a conviction based on knowledge of those close to him that having tasted the other side, after having been locked up without trial, after having been teargas by a former president, after having a feeling of victory from one minority judgement and feeling rubbed that should be enough to make somebody think based on his ideology. And so, I believe till today that Buhari was a born again democrat but it didn’t last very long and that is the reality of life.