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‘I want to see the trains, don’t bother me about loans’

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Wole Soyinka

We Are Not Operating As A Nation, Says Soyinka
• Faults Gumi Theory

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has urged Nigerians to spend less energy questioning the number of loans being taken by the Federal Government to improve infrastructure, stressing that the benefits of rail transportation far outweighs the value of the loans.

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He also said that controversies over the Chinese loans miss the point, since, according to him, “It is up to legislators to decide where loans come from.”

His words: “I take loans as a human being, how much more if you are running a country and you need facilities, as long as you work out how to repay the loans. It is beyond my competence to look into the terms of borrowing and repaying the loans.

“I want to see the trains. I grew up seeing the trains. It is about time we got the trains back. Don’t let adverse terms scare us. That is what the economists and the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) exit for. That is why the procurement agencies are there. That is why we put the Senators there.”

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While expatiating on the importance of rail transport, Soyinka urged the Federal Government not to do away with the old rail lines. He said the old rail line would be relevant in the area of moving cattle as well as providing security for herders amid the current hullabaloo over AK47 welding herders.

“The old rail lines should continue because we have to move cattle, the rail is one of the best ways of moving cattle.

“While the cattle are in the trains, the police should protect them rather than Fulani boys wielding AK47 with which they menace everybody. Let us have a new structured movement style through the rail lines rather than having policemen protecting individuals.”

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The venerable writer, who spoke in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, criticized the process of attaining political office in the country, said, “It is we citizens who must now take our destiny in our hands.”

He said: “If I may just go back to security a little bit, one of our problems is that we don’t have a sense of continuity. That means that we don’t heed warnings. And even with warnings, when we notice that something abnormal is happening, we don’t project from that to ask ourselves, what does this signify? What may come after this? How did this abnormality take place?

“My mind is on one of the very first experiences of herdsmen violence. How many years ago was a general murdered on the expressway, while changing his tyres? The whole story ended with the affirmation that herdsmen came out of the bush and accosted this general and something or the other happened and they butchered him.

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“This was followed not long after with a similar episode also in the south. This, somehow, does not resonate with anybody. It happened and people felt that was the end of it; a few years later, of course, a real massive herdsmen-induced hemorrhage began to take place.

“I travelled to give a lecture in Enugu and travelled to Benue when these things happened. When Benue came under fire, I mean consistent fire, and Miyetti Allah was sounding ultimatum — I don’t know what the road is like now to go from Enugu to Makurdi and other parts, but I don’t advise it even for young bones — I took that trip and back also by road because it was essential for me to liaise with Benue people and exchange notes on what we have been seeing here and also to sympathise with them and express my outrage at the attitude of the centre.

“If you remember one: Buhari was eventually persuaded to go there and commiserate with them or do something and what did he do? He got there and said, ‘you Tiv people, learn to leave like good neighbours’. This was after killings, which transcended to three figures.

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“Two, one of his spokesmen, when the mass burial took place, said Governor Ortom was making cinema show because there was a barrage of cameras and so on — you know, he was supposed to bury them in the secret, perhaps, in the bush, and forget them.

“A former Head of State even went there to lay a wreath. A spokesman of Buhari, who was not immediately sacked, said Ortom was putting on a show and so, because of the symptoms, it is why I am being very closely related towards what is going on around the governor, the people and to the Benue people.

“They were truly the first to face the fire, which the whole nation is facing now. Sorry, I don’t like to repeat the whole story, because it does not seem to make any impact on the people.”

The Nobel laureate said he became sufficiently alarmed at what he was seeing in the bush, remarking, “You know I live partly in the forest. I became sufficiently alarmed to seek an appointment with the late General Owoeye Andrew Azazi, the former Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff (COAS), but we already knew enough about the infiltration of Boko Haram into the structure of governance.

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“I was sufficiently alarmed that I refused to meet him in Nigeria. I contacted him and said anytime he is outside Nigeria; I will try and organize myself so we can meet. I said, I don’t want to talk to him in Nigeria, because, even your Security Services, has been infiltrated by Boko Haram and, so, we met in London.”

Making a case for the restructuring of the entire national security architecture, Soyinka decried “this very minimalist structure of defence and protection of the people.

“And so, when people ask me what are the remedies and so on, I say: ‘go back to what has been proposed. Go back to Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) report. Let me remind you, it (conference) lasted one year and some months, and a draft constitution was proposed.

“It is in print and was presented and nobody said this is your constitution; we just said this is something a collection of people across the nation, across professions, across ethnic groups, across religious beliefs, all were carefully selected.

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“Every single aspect of this nation was covered in that exercise, which I said lasted over a year and whose propositions were there for people to look into. Then, there was of course, the one by Goodluck Jonathan, it is still there; what happened to it? Prof Akinyemi was the secretary and they worked very hard.”

On the issue of negotiating with bandits for the release of abductees, especially school children, Soyinka stated: “I support any kind of effort and I actually find laudable, any action, which involves personal risk.

“The question, however, is what I call the Gumi approach, is the theology that goes with it. That’s problematic. It looks safe to say he is going there to plead the cause of violators not the violated. That, for me, is my problem with what I call the Gumi theory.

“He is using the language, which for me, is pernicious. In a moment, he will get the victims feeling guilty that they allowed themselves to have been kidnapped in the first place. That is the logical conclusion of that kind of language.

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“If he says he goes there to negotiate, negotiation has been taking place with bandits throughout history in the entire globe. I was involved in negotiation by MEND, for instance, and it was possible for me to relate to MEND, but at the same time, and ask them, I said I do not approve of your kidnapping.

“I think I was probably the first person in this country to speak up against such tactics. That is talking about adults, how much more vulnerable children. So, Gumi needs to get both his approach and his language right, so that he doesn’t present himself as being complicit to the very phenomenon of kidnapping.”

He said calls by activists and agitators for creation of O’odua Republic or Biafra won’t surprise anyone, noting: “For a start, we are not operating as a nation, by which I mean we are not operating on a constitution that has our will.

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“This kind of call, we didn’t experience it, did we at the immediate post-independence until the first military coup? We didn’t experience this kind of loud and determined sequence of calls from different parts of the country.

“I know at one stage we had Araba. This was after the first military coup and the Araba secession, which came from the North and that has been echoed over the years from different parts, simply because the events, the issues, which resulted in one section wanting to secede have never been addressed.

“On the contrary, those problems have been compounded by the centralised constitution imposed on the nation, which even negates the limited autonomy of collective action of the components of what goes by the name Nigeria and we have been regressing ever since.”

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