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Wole Soyinka, internet trolls and the death of discourse


Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

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.

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  • Mystic mallam

    Mr writer, we are not bothered about Soyinka’s theatrics with his American travel documents, that’s his personal problem as it neither affects lives in America nor Nigeria. What we admirers of Konji are concerned about is his deafening silence over the mayhem he helped create at home here in Nigeria, persuading us to support and vote for a man he very well knew had nothing, absolutely nothing to offer Nigeria. Surely, WS has heard his latest denial of responsibility for Nigeria’s economic melt down, still blaming past governments for 400% collapse of the Naira to other currencies, 18.6% inflation, galloping unemployment, desertion of foreign investors, unprecedented destruction of the manufacturing sector,,,,growing starvation in the land…. after nearly 2 years in office!! Yet, not a whimper from Konji, the man who taught us that the man does die in any man that shuts his mouth in the face of oppression. But he has no qualms complaining out loud because his preferred candidate in a foreign election lost out, how does that affect the cost of tuwo in Maiduguri?

    • Rubaji

      Igbo man, you never voted for Buhari and neither did you support him. Soyinka is Kogi and NOT konji! And a currency CANNOT lose 400 percent of its value. It is a mathematical impossibility! A unit has a maximum of 100 percent value. Stop trolling the internet and seeing your imaginary enemy in every commentator that exposes your Igbo foolishness. And get busy doing something worthwhile. So, shut up!

  • Mazi JO

    Verbous, but can be tolerated under its Editorial consignment. The truth with the Internet vandals is that they rarely edit what they put out there. You have to edit their venoms before you make any meanings of their so-called elixirs for our societal ills in their warped views. The whole piece could’ve been said in: The Professor’s destruction of his Green Card or not, is a personal case between himself and the US Justice Department, period. Do you think these dissenting graffiti artists go down the line reading your time honored well-laid-out thoughtful expressions? Farfetched; they wait for the next opportunity to vent ignorance.

  • Izeobor

    Who cares about Soyinka’s “green card”, which has actually changed color? In as much as this nonsensical bravado does not improve the lots of Nigerians which Soyinka helped to dwindle by his tacit support of an illiterate in government, citizens are entitled to their opinions no matter how weird. Constitutionally there is a provision for that. People should not be shut up because Wole Soyinka is a nobel laureate.

  • Chris Ofoluwa

    The recession we are experiencing transcends economics. It has also affected the the ability to reason logically, among many Nigerians. The Pull-Him-Down syndrome in its most virulent form.

    • Prince Awele Odor

      Chris, no one is pulling Wole Soyinka down or, I believe, intends to pull him down, by asking him to carry out the declaration that he made deliberately and arrogantly.

      It is simply a matter of Noblesse Oblige—nobility obligates.

      This means that his nobility obligates him to carry out his declaration that he will tear his green card. Otherwise, why should he be believed when he makes another statement intended for implementation by the government?

      But if the demand by Nigerians is seen as pull-him-down syndrome, it is right to say that he provided the cause of the syndrome or the pulling down action by precipitating that declaration and, therefore, has no one to blame for it.

  • Ukachukwu Chinonso


  • Prince Awele Odor

    Why did the author of this article, Mr. Kunle Okesipe, obviously intending to defend the emotional precipitation of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, concerning his expected outcome of the US presidential election, write in this article: “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”?

    This statement cannot be an intelligent argument in defence of the demand of social principle and honour made of Wole Soyinka to carry out his declaration that he will tear his green card if Trump won the US presidential election. Take note that even if it is held as a right argument, it still obligates him to carry it out. When he does that honourable thing, it will get to the Nigerian public as the declaration got to them. In fact the so-called argument is very much worse than the declaration that he will tear his green card.

    We speak about sycophants and other kinds of people who serve the interests of the people in government for money or job; would it not right to say that Kunle Okesipe’s “argument” presents him to a critical social population as a sycophant, errand moron, or incredible thoughtless defender of Wole Soyinka?

    Knowing that Wole Soyinka has given many advice and recommendations to the government and many social institutions which were carried out, made demands of the government which many people agreed with him were right and worked with him to achieve, condemned some economics, social engineering, and international relations policies of the governments and many people agreed with him were rightly condemned, and insisted that government acted on his criticism—in short, knowing that until the declaration was made, he was perceived as a man that is absolutely nationalistic, patriotic, right when he speaks and necessary for our development, Nigerians should rethink about acting on Wole Soyinka’s word if he does not carry out his declaration, as some of his advice, recommendations or condemnations must or, at least, may have been harmful to our social and domestic morality and national interests.

  • Tosin