Wednesday 10 October 2007

The lion is the jewel - Wole Soyinka

The man over the boy

The contrast cannot have been any clearer as to see the HardTalk interview of the 1986 Literature Nobel Laureate; Professor Wole Soyinka by Stephen Sackur this morning putting the ordinary and lack-lustre Chief Ojo Maduekwe - the Foreign Minister of Nigeria in the shade.

It would contemptible to offer to compare these two personalities, but I was both pleased, impressed and proud to hear Wole Soyinka address the issue of his vocation and activism in relation to the politics of Africa.

It was also interesting that Wole Soyinka was not interviewed as a playwright on the sister programme HardTalk Extra, but on the substantive HardTalk programme with a live audience in Lagos that applauded at the end of the interview.

Nigeria is not a democracy

The Professor rubbished the context of Nigerian democracy highlighting the fact that the elections were seriously flawed and democratic institutions had been undermined by the executive in the tenure of the last President.

He was disgusted by the fact that political thuggery found expression and patronage from the ruling “democrats” but lauded the fact that despite repression and dictatorial tendencies the freedom of the press has been sacrosanct; maybe in another forum he can address the issue of quality.

Many would agree that it takes a special kind of temperament to get involved in Nigerian politics, even my foray into student union politics has taught me too much already – the Professor contented that he had a bigger forum with his work, writing and expression than to be subsumed into what is essentially a quagmire.

Complacency in Nigeria

He talked of his membership of a forum that is concerned about a creeping complacency and resignation to issues that have been abused in the country, especially that of the electoral process.

The fear is that many have placed their optimism for resolution in the future without really addressing the problems now. Another point he mentioned was that Nigeria is becoming a powder-keg ready to go off as people realise how resources are plundered to the detriment of others. The example he gave of shared poverty being a shared prosperity in Tanzania was quite an insight.

We should remember that the day before, the views of Wole Soyinka about the political situation were discounted by the Nigerian Foreign Minister, but it was Wole Soyinka that was invited by the US Congress to testify on the matters of the election.

A conflagration about to consume

In the end, the Professor is not advocating violence, his struggle is to bring the complete democratic process into all facets of life; but he also sees where resentment might eventually flare up into an unmanageable situation – our leaders need to take note of the fact that the people would only allow themselves to be taken for fools for so long after which, nobody knows what might really happen.

This interview was part of the BBC “Why Democracy?” season, it is a question that needs to be answered because like the Professor said, at independence, there was an aspiration and vision to bring radical change to Africa, all of which has floundered in the depictions that emanate from Sudan and Zimbabwe as the worst cases of egregious abuse of power in Africa.

Playing by the rules

Nigeria however finds itself in a situation where the rulers abuse the rules and processes with impunity and hubris, but we who seek justice and fair-play have to use the democratic rules of due process, the respect of the rule of law and an assuredly independent judiciary – impartial in its analysis, fearless in its judgements and courageous in debunking megalomaniac potentates.

From that point, Wole Soyinka represents a beacon of hope for Nigeria, he may never vie for President but he is a worthy president and representative of the hope and aspirations for a better governed and equitable Nigeria - He is the lion and the jewel [The Lion and the Jewel (1963) is one of Professor Wole Soyinka's best known plays] stating how precious democracy is to the real development of Nigeria.

It also means that those in power today might still be deprived of the mandate to rule if the electoral tribunal elects to invalidate the flawed elections of April 2007.

The interview (Real Media file, you can obtain RealAlternative [Link to executable] to play this back in Windows Media Player).

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