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Nigeria is disintegrating before our eyes, says Soyinka

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor (Deputy Editor, News)
29 October 2021   |   4:22 am
The venerable writer and Africa’s first winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka, has described the country as being in a mess and gradually disintegrating ‘before our very eyes.’ The renowned playwright spoke, yesterday...

Prof. Wole Soyinka at the media parley titled, COVID, Technology and Citizen Banishment,<br />in Lagos…yesterday. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

• Narrates tortuous ordeal with COVID-19 travel processes returning to the country
• Tasks FG on efficient management of international travel portal

The venerable writer and Africa’s first winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka, has described the country as being in a mess and gradually disintegrating ‘before our very eyes.’ The renowned playwright spoke, yesterday, at a media briefing held at the Freedom Park, Lagos.

He said this while reacting to a question on the situation in the Southeast. Responding, the playwright was pessimistic about solution from government, saying: “We are in a mess. This country is in a mess. It is disintegrating before our very eyes.

“The government is floundering. It is not mainly that the government is devoid of a holistic solution, the problem really is that this government does not have a holistic grasp of the problems of the nation and environment in which we live and the time in which we are living.”

Soyinka, who didn’t think that it should be more difficult to enter one’s country than to leave, bemoaned the lack of efficient service on the part of those managing the country’s online travel portal, as he narrated how he was ‘banished’ from entering Nigeria when he was in France recently.

While speaking at the news conference with the theme: ‘Covid, Technology and Citizens Banishment,’ the Nobel laureate said he was denied his right to movement twice, describing his experience as banishment.

Soyinka called on the Nigerian government to respect the universal principles of fundamental human rights by allowing the citizenry to exercise their freedom of movement as occasion demands, just as he decried a situation where officious government agents would make Nigerians feel like exiles when returning to the country from anywhere in the world. “Nigerians should be allowed to come into their own country through the front door,” he said.

He further tasked the Federal Government on efficient management of the Nigeria International Travel Portal following his failure to obtain a travel permit on a recent return trip to Nigeria.

The portal is a mandatory website for all travelling passengers to Nigeria to visit and obtain the permit to travel. It was established in compliance with international travel protocol in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All travellers are expected to present a copy of the travel permit at the point of boarding. After a series of complaints in its earlier days, advance payment for post-arrival COVID-19 test was no longer required to obtain the permit.

The professor said a few months ago when he wanted to come into the country from Paris, at the point of boarding the aeroplane, he was told he couldn’t get on board.

“I had my vaccination, I had taken the 72-hour COVID-19 test, I was negative but there was one more, there was a new one called PCR which the Nigerian government had begun to insist on,” he said.

PCR means Polymerase Chain Reaction. It’s a test to detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus. It is a COVID-19 travel test requirement for travellers coming in and out of the country.

Soyinka said he believed it was his fault, so, he went back to Paris with his luggage. But it happened the second time a week ago despite following all travel protocols and having the PCR.

“This time, I had my PCR and of course it did not happen to me alone, there were other Nigerians who had a similar scenario, they couldn’t leave because they had already passed the immigration.

“I don’t think it should be more difficult to enter your country than to leave until recently,” he said, adding: “Not being able to return to your own country is a kind of banishment. It is a feudal punishment that doesn’t belong to this modern age.”

On the last occasion, the writer was at the Air France desk where he was told he would not be allowed to board without the travel permit. He had attempted to obtain it the previous day but could not due to system error.

“Between 10:00a.m. and 2:00p.m., we kept working to get the travel permit. Some people changed the password on their computers for me to access the portal. There were six Air France staff trying to help me get the permit to get into Nigeria.

“We got the receipt of payment for the post-arrival test but did not get the permit to enter Nigeria, which has a barcode. The process itself is remarkable. I don’t believe that the Ministry of Health or the Director of the relevant authorities created the questionnaire where majority of the questions have nothing to do with COVID-19?”

The professor said at a point, in a bid to gain entry into the country, he almost took a flight to Lome. He added that it took “special permission” for him to enter his homeland.

He said it was disheartening to see fellow Nigerians sleeping on couches, “trapped in limbo,” because some government officials are technologically inefficient.

Soyinka pleaded with the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs to stop treating Nigerians as criminals and illegal immigrants. He suggested that the Nigerian government should provide an emergency line should there be technological hitches.

“Why should we be punished because some people are technologically inefficient and yet, they are imposing this technological requirement on passengers? It is not a pleasant sight to see your fellow Nigerian lying on couches, trapped in limbo? That’s wrong.

Whoever is in charge should proceed to design something that is easier for humanity to fulfill and also to have a back-up situation. When technology breaks down, human intelligence should come to the rescue.”