Soyinka, others laud Lagos elite’s role in Nigeria’s evolution
Soyinka spoke Tuesday in Lagos at the public presentation of Dr. Patrick Dele Cole’s book, Modern and Tradition Elites in the Politics of Lagos, while reviewing the book.
Humorous and lively, the literary giant began the presentation on a lighter mood with the warning that evoked wide laughter among members of the audience that he would depart from “the formula that is fast gaining ground among reviewers” and titled the review “Learning From Yesterday.”
Soyinka, however, praised Cole, whose efforts in writing, he said made it possible. According to him: “Thanks to the diligence of our chronicler, we are enabled to weed out the pretenders in our own time and evaluate the contributions of genuine leaders to the very formulation of both our collective and individual identities,” such as Herbert Macaulay and Henry Carr, who are captured in Cole’s book.
According to Soyinka: “All of us here have passed through the electoral process furnace before now… and I suspect we would mostly agree that never before have we been subjected to this level of sheer venom, crudity of and vulgar abuse of language in such prodigal quantities as in this current political exercise.
“The very gift of communication, considered the distinguishing mark of cultured humanity even in polemical situations, has been debased, affecting even thought processes, I often suspect.
“Speaking as objectively as is possible in such circumstances, I would say that, among the various camps, the most reckless and indecorous has sadly proved the incumbency camp, where restraint has been thrown to the wind with such abandon that even highly privileged spouses have publicly urged supporters to stone any voices raised in opposition to their cause.”
On the historical personae in the book, Soyinka said: “Perhaps, the most memorable personae in this work, for instance, are two pivotal figures in the Nigerian nationalist struggle, even though convergence from two contrasting personalities and ideological tendencies, and who emerge as crucial protagonists and luminaries of this history in the making. It is impossible to think of either without invoking possibilities of what other directions a colonial Nigeria could have taken without the emergence of one or both – I refer here to the flamboyant and tempestuous Herbert Macaulay, and the more reserved, erudite and conservative Henry Carr – rivals, yet collaborators.”
He decried the foul language and hate speeches that have characterised current political campaigns, saying never before had Nigerians been so subjected to what he called “sheer venom, crudity and vulgar abuse of language in such prodigal quantities as in this current political exercise.”
He said what the current political actors have done is to take Nigeria to “hitherto imaginable low in the art of public persuasion which – we have a right to imagine – forms the foundation of political life.”
Soyinka also took a swipe at former President Olusegun Obasanjo, describing his hastily launched books as “three tomes of doctored and self-serving narratives,” and charged Cole, who used to be adviser to the former president, to give him tutorial on how to write history, advising that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.”
Apart from tasking Cole to teach his former boss, Soyinka also urged him to investigate allegations that the Presidency was training some 1000 snipers and write about it. He insisted that there were more political murders during the former president’s reign than at any other time, even during Gen. Sani Abacha’s time, who could not boast of 1000 snipers at his disposal.
On this task for her husband, Cole’s wife had to plead for leniency on behalf of her husband. Soyinka also charged Cole for denigrating African religions by calling the practitioners ‘pagan’ in his book.
Soyinka cautioned: “Any more of that condescending stuff and I shall invoke Ogun, Sango and other Yoruba deities to pay you an re-educational visit and then you‘ll see whether your Christian eponymous patron saint, Saint Patrick, can save you from their corrective can for your profanity.”
A guest, Mr. Adeniyi Kunnmola lamented the absence of history in schools and pleaded with the eminent scholars present at the occasion to prevail on government to reintroduce the teaching of history in secondary schools, as a way of deepening their understanding of the young ones in the evolution of the country.
Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian, Prof. Wale Omole praised Soyinka for doing a “content-analysis of the book” through the review while asking other book reviewers to take a cue from that formula.
For The Guardian newspapers, the book launch was a reunion of sorts and this point was echoed by the Publisher/Chairman, Mrs. Maiden Ibru, in her terse remarks.
She began by celebrating the keynote presenter, Soyinka, while reminiscing on her interaction with him as his student at the University of Ibadan between 1969 and 1972.
“He is an African who has absolute command of the English Language. And in those days, we had our sectional exams in the Trenchard Hall. As students, we got into that hall, we looked at the questions and everybody turned to one another asking ‘what does this man wants from us?’ It was all grammar upon grammar! When I say ‘go’, Prof. WS would say ‘proceed’; when I say ‘start’, he would say ‘commence’… So, what we did was to cleverly write everything we knew about that particular question and allow the Prof. to sheave out the relevant part…”
Mrs Ibru also spoke on the relationship between her family and the author’s.
“Dr. Patrick Dele Cole, actually knew my husband when he was 12 years old; he was his senior at Baptist Grammar School before he moved to Igbobi College. Ditto Chief Olusegun Osoba… in fact, the duo – Cole and Osoba – are godfathers to two of my daughters. So, we have all come a long way, I have known them for about 40 years and they have really become confidants.
“Dr Cole’s style is, generally simple; his narrative really takes you to all nitty-gritty as evidenced in the excerpts of another book rendered by Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi. Dr. Cole will give you all the details; you can actually picture the whole scenario as if you are actually there. His policy, most time, is ‘talk through.’ And between him and his wife, when they are talking, every sentence is punctuated with ‘talk through.’ Oga talk through o and congratulations!”
Responding, Cole said: “I have pretensions of being an academic at some point and I was teaching. The book that you have in front of you is, in actual fact, my thesis for my Ph.D in the University of Cambridge. I wrote it in 1974. The thesis itself was presented in 1969. But as Prof. Soyinka has pointed out nothing much has changed. The only thing that has changed is my singular failure to be able to educate some Egba people on how to write properly (laugh). And the coming together of the three main classes i.e. the tradition, the then elite, and the educated others… these three groups came together to insist that even the British subject should be treated accordingly. I am glad that Prof. Soyinka had pointed out the highlights. It is not today that the judiciary had been messing up, and they would continue to do so unless there is change. But I am not going to bore you. I will urge you to read the book. Unfortunately, it is an academic work, but there are quite interesting moments. More than anything else, I want to thank you. We are not doing the launching of the book in the sense that people will not come and say, they are launching it by five or ten million Naira. This is not to say I do not need five or ten million Naira, but if you have five or ten million Naira, I am standing here, please bring it! All contributions are welcome! Most important, I want to thank you for your presence at this occasion.”
Other personalities at the occasion included chairman of event, Prof. Edward Ayensu from Ghana; former Ogun State Governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba; wife of the author, Mina Cole; Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, who anchored the programme, Managing Director of Guardian Newspapers Limited, Mr. Emeka Izeze, former Editor, Lagos Life and ace photographer, Sunmi- Smart Cole; The Guardian Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Debo Adesina and Editor Martins Oloja.
Others were General Manager, MUSON Centre, Mr. Gboyega Banjo and Chairman, Vanguard Newspapers Limited, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu.
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