Wole Soyinka, internet trolls and the death of discourse
As I type this, there are possibly hundreds of Internet trolls daydreaming about having the last word on Wole Soyinka’s Green Card. I say get over it. It is within Wole Soyinka’s rights to destroy his Green Card, using any means convenient to him: to burn it, tear it, use it to wrap suya, convert it to a dustpan, feed it to his paper-eating dog or flush it down the water closet. It is his choice and not a zone for a cyber bully to legislate upon. Soyinka claimed to have destroyed the card. So be it. People who are still obsessed about it should get a life.
Those who find it difficult to live with that should find a noble cause to devote their lives to or just take a walk and watch a soccer match. It helps. The fact is when Soyinka promised to destroy the card, he never promised to call a press conference and destroy it amidst the chants of area boys and the cream of internet trolls. He never told anyone he would adopt Obasanjo’s protocol on membership card destruction, with the pomp and pageantry of rented deplorables. So why are the devotees of arson so fretful? A missed opportunity to take a selfie beside the meagre fire of a burning Green Card? Besides, it can be argued that Soyinka never even promised you anything except you are one of the Oxford students he was addressing when he made the vow.
Going by the drift of arguments on the net, many of the emergency interventionists who have constituted themselves into an unruly panel with a mandate to serve as the moral barometer of the universe and hold court over the fate of Soyinka’s card carry on as if he is, by default, answerable to them. Put mildly, Wole Soyinka has no point to prove to anyone: either to the card-carrying or honorary members of the Internet mob (both the educated faction and the illiterate splinter group). So people should learn to live with that. Whoever knows Wole Soyinka’s antecedents and still believes he has to bend over backwards to satisfy him or her on how he goes about relinquishing his U.S. privileges should simply wake up: it is morning. The pathetic argument that he should have shown video evidence of how he destroyed the card is sickening. To cite a case in point, when a former Nigerian, Olu Oguibe, relinquished his Nigerian citizenship, he simply posted his international passport online. And as far as I can recall, that gesture sufficed both for his detractors and partisans alike. Whoever is disappointed by the manner Soyinka has handled this should get real; it is not everything that is Nollywood. And anyone who still craves the sort of entertainment the guild of “cyborgs” demands is free to reach out for his TV remote control and switch to Africa Magic. I respect people’s right to be addicted to farce, but to attempt to conscript others into their script in order to gratify that addiction is not funny.
Since this issue triggered an internet meltdown in Nigeria, each time I see a social media post on it, I keep on asking, “Where is the rigour?” Where is the real essence behind the petty exclamations and feverish assertions? The wilful deregulation of logic in most of the comments on the social media is perhaps a manifestation of how the Internet (despite its usefulness) has helped to enthrone mediocrity. Where is the engagement? Where is the virility of Nigeria’s public sphere? How many people are engaging with the fundamental issues that led Soyinka to that decision? Is it not baffling that people can live with Trump’s racist tendencies, his misogyny and hate rhetoric, but go into the hysteria mode because someone has the guts to challenge the denigration of his human constituency through a symbolic gesture? Is that acquiescence not a form of “self-othering”, an attempt not just to validate but to celebrate the negative “otherness” ascribed to your person? In all seriousness, how many of these cowards can give up the privilege of teaching in a United States university for a cause? I mean any cause, either noble or ignoble. How many have even ever fought for a cause anyway, beyond spouting half-digested, recycled opinions across the cyberspace?
I have made an effort but I still fail to get the logic. Soyinka destroys his Green Card. How is that supposed to be a fantastic claim straight out of Macondo? The Internet habitués who begrudge him of not inviting them to witness the act should remember they never paid him to watch the ceremony. The fact that someone can kill to get a Green Card does not mean another cannot throw it into the trash can. Seriously, the fetishisation of the Green Card by Nigerians is beyond me. Of course, to people who could lie, swindle, go into “white fasting” or hide inside a plane’s luggage to get into the U.S., the Green Card is possibly a raison d’être: it’s their own Nobel Prize in existential invisibility, the Eldorado of dream artists. But perhaps there is the need to always remind the deluded that this fascination does not apply to everybody. Recently, Pius Adesanmi recounted how he returned his U.S. Green Card and the last time I checked the heavens had not fallen because of that. Thousands of the United States citizens renounce their citizenship every year and still get on with life. Take note of this you Facebook activists, social media warriors and intellectual wannabes!
Without any doubt, there is a new form of social McCarthyism developing in Nigeria with most of its practitioners headquartered on the Internet. The new form mirrors, in the social space (ethnic, political, religious and secular), the political attitude in classical McCarthyism. It is characterised by infantile fascination by the novelty of the Internet and a subsequent empowerment of prentice bullies to bandy around wild, indiscriminate accusations that lack substance. Just because of this Green Card, people have accused Soyinka of almost every ill on earth: from economic recession, Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to win the presidential election, to corruption in Mars. The only thing they have not accused him of is being the sponsor of ISIL. Whenever he intervenes in a national discourse they accuse him of partisanship; when he fails to talk, they wonder if his courage has failed him. Many of these muppets are grown up men who have not outgrown having a spokesperson speak for them. At their age, Soyinka was an international figure. Now I know age does not cure certain obsessions, including card-burning voyeurism.
Okesipe teaches Literature in English at Igbinedion University, Okada.