Soyinka declines to speak on state of nation
Those who had expected Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka to characteristically open up on the state of the nation at a briefing of journalists yesterday were thoroughly disappointed, as the scholar vehemently refused to talk.
Coming a week after he declined questions on the subject at the Presidential Villa, where he had gone to see President Muhammadu Buhari and promised to talk at a later day, journalists flooded the venue of the press conference in anticipation of big news. In the end, it was an anti-climax as he refused to fulfil his promise, despite all the prodding by journalists.
In fact, at a point, when it appeared he wanted to talk, he changed his mind, when his wife who was sitting by his side, signalled to him to refrain.
Though he admitted pledging to comment at yesterday’s event when state house correspondents approached him for comments, he however said he had decided not to do so anymore.
Asked to tell Nigerians if the president is committed to the welfare of the citizens from his (president’s) body language when he visited Aso Rock, Soyinka evaded the question and simply handed the microphone over to another person. He gave the same treatment to all questions pertaining to the state of the economy.
However, he had some words for President Buhari. The literary giant appealed to the Federal Government to respond positively to the dialogue overtures by the Niger Delta militants, in order to find a solution to the agitation in the area.
The scholar said the expected positive response from the government was part of the request made by some of the militant groups that had approached him for intervention.
Soyinka who made the appeal at the meeting, which was primarily organised to announce the take-off of the Lebanese-Nigerian exchange programme for Nigerian students, titled “Study Abroad in Lebanon (SAIL)”, stated that the militants feel the government is not responding seriously to their peace overture.
He said: “I wish to make an appeal to the government to respond positively to the outreach from the militant groups. That is a request which is being made by some of the groups, which got me into this interventionist role in the first place. At the moment, they feel that the government of President Buhari is not seriously responding to their own outreach.
“ So, I make this personal appeal to the government to respond positively, and lets us see where it ends. But I am not part of any international group. I was approached personally and I have been responding personally to some of these groups, just as I did when President Jonathan was in power and Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) was the umbrella body of the insurgents. So, I make an appeal to the government to respond to the efforts of these militant groups to arrive at holistic and comprehensive solutions.”
He alleged that a section of the media misrepresented him in the past with inaccurate reporting, urging the press to make accuracy its hallmark. It was however, not clear if his decision to decline comment on the state of the nation is related to the misrepresentation he complained about.
“The media has a huge role to play in the fight against insurgency in the Niger Delta. What we expect from the media is accuracy. There can be no invention, adumbration and not even second -guessing. You got to be accurate, otherwise, there would be loss of confidence. People have to be confident that what they said is what is transmitted. You cannot publish a statement saying I am part of an international group, when the international group is not even in existence.”
“There is no international intervention group that has been formed. The report went further to attribute to me a statement that the international group has already contacted President Buhari. What kind of extreme invention is that? How can a group, which does not exist be meeting with a head of state? Or how could I, who just happened to be meeting with the head of state, say that the two entities have met, when one of them does not exist?
“In fact, I have taken a decision not to speak about the Delta situation publicly. I will carry on with any assignment, which I feel I can handle towards resolving the issue. I will not speak to the press any longer because, I cannot spend my time correcting falsehood. I am not responsible for the falsehood, so its burden should not be placed on my head,” he declared.
While explaining his aversion to terrorism, he stressed that Boko Haram is a result of religious lunacy and intoxication. “There is no other explanation for it. If someone wants to kill you, I believe you have the responsibility to kill the person first. That is a responsibility to yourself. I don’t want to present myself as a candidate for Nobel Prize for peace. I am not a very peaceful person. I believe very much that aggression must be quashed by every possible means; killing of innocents, interventions in peoples’ lives, dictatorship, whether from the state or from civil society, any form of dictatorship, the kind represented by the so-called ISIS, al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram or Ansaru.
“The people who invade communities and go straight for their treasures, their intellectual heritage; who smash up mausoleum of the saints, who attack the famous libraries of Timbuktu, for instance, and burn manuscripts which are of ages, several centuries older than some of their scholastic works. People like that, I believe, are sub-humans and should be kicked aside. We have to enlarge people’s minds so that they do not think that they have the gateway to the truth, absolute truth, and that they must coerce other people into acceptance of their own narrow vision of truth.
“I’m not saying I am dedicated to peace, but I am dedicated to culture, to intellectualism, to the expansion of human horizon, creativity and all of that. Believe me, I am not an evangelist for peace; not when people are posturing, killing children, kidnapping pupils, whom we sent to go and learn,” he said.
Soyinka also criticised the removal of history from school curricula in Nigeria. “I learnt not so long ago that history has been taken away from education curricula in this country. Can you imagine that? What is wrong with history or may be I should ask, what is wrong with some people’s heads? History is so fundamental to self-knowledge, to identity; understanding where you came from and therefore where you might be headed. History is life! So, how can a subject like history be excised from the curriculum of any institution?” he queried.
The exchange programme, which is being administered by Wole Soyinka Foundation, is facilitated by Dr. Habib Jafaar, who said he was born in Kano, Nigeria. Jafaar noted that Nigeria and Lebanon share some common experiences in terms of culture, multi-religious and linguistics heritage.
He stated that the SAIL programme is an initiative of Cedars Institute, Notre Dame University, Lebanon, which is designed as an intensive course for international students, in the spirit of global effort to promote dialogue between cultures.
Five Nigerian students, selected by their faculties from universities across the nation, are expected to depart from Lagos on August 27 for Beirut. There, they will unite with their peers from other countries in an intensive and interactive course on a syllabus designed to broaden their world perspectives.
“They will be introduced to a modern middle-Eastern nation with a complex history, filled with scenic surprises, a rich and fascinating cultural heritage, and a long experience in conflict resolution through experiments in governance systems,”Jafaar explained.