Open Letter To Prof. Wole Soyinka
I MUST begin this letter by introducing myself. Yes, to introduce myself! I have addressed you as ‘father’ and that is what you are to millions all over the world. So, I must establish my ‘sonship’.
Sir, your paternity status is not limited to just your biological children, for you have prodigiously fostered many children, like God’s promised-Abrahamic descendants, as numerous as the ‘stars’ in the sky.
It extends to millions of people you directly or indirectly groomed during your tour de force in various Nigerian universities – in particular, the University of Ibadan and later the then University of Ife, and most importantly, through your prodigious literary/intellectual production and your very unambiguous socio-political and cultural interventions in Nigeria and throughout the world.
These interventions were expressed through essays, plays, poems, novels, autobiographies, and the founding of socio-cultural organisations such as the National Association of Sea Dogs (Pyrates Confraternity), the Palm wine Drinkers Club and NALICON (National Liberation Council of Nigeria).
Through these media, you have given birth to millions of men and women who are groomed to think and act through the prism of your intellectual, cultural and social milieu. Sir, I am one of these men!
My name is Onu John Onwe, a Nigerian from Ebonyi State. I went through all the stages of educational development approved by the Nigerian State and capped the efforts by being awarded a degree in law at the University of Benin in 1991 and called to the Nigerian Bar in 1992.
I have been in active legal practice and also hold politics as a vocation by serving the two governors of Ebonyi State (2001 to 2011) as Political and Legislative Adviser. I subscribe to the membership of the Peoples Democratic Party.
With the above introduction properly put in place, I must now proceed to inform you the object of this open letter, which I would otherwise have sent to you if I were seised of your mailing address (electronic or ordinary). Hope, you don’t mind, Sir!
As was said in the preceding paragraphs of this letter, I have encountered and interacted with you through the medium of your intellectual production, that is through your books which were recommended secondary school textbooks in literature such as the “Trials of Brother Jero/Jero’s Metamorphosis, a play that prophetically chronicled the nefarious activities of religious charlatans, forewarning the commercialization of religion by modern day pastorpreneurs.
And later in the university I collected and devoured a number of your literary masterpieces, namely: Camwood on the Leaves, Death and the King’s Horseman, Madmen and Specialists, Opera Wonyosi, The Lion and the Jewel, Kongi’s Harvest, The Road, Before the Blackout, Play of Giants, Requiem for a Futurologist, Season of Anomy, etc.
Also were your books of poems, after the whetting of the appetite provided by the secondary school recommended readings such as Abiku, Night Rain, Telephone Conversation, comprising “Idanre and other Poems”, “Poems of Black Africa” (ed.), poems in “Modern Poetry from Africa” (ed.) etc.
Your novels and autobiographies have had very lasting influence among Nigerian youths including me: “Interpreter”, the prison notes (“The Man Died”), “Ake: the Years of Childhood”, “Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years” and the magnum opus, “You Must Set Forth at Dawn.”
If any Nigerian has had any profound influence over Nigerians of the generation from 1960 to the present day, it must be you and your triplet-brothers; Chinua Achebe and JP Clark; but I must confess that apart from your intellectual production, your socio-political and cultural activism tips the scale to establish your preeminence.
So, it is in this wise that most members of the generation spanning the period 1960-2015 regard you as a father and so you stand in relation to them in the mould of ancient Roman Paterfamilias.
So, sir, when you make public statements, be sure that you are addressing the generality of Nigerians, and in particular, this very important age group spanning over 50 years, and that your judgment or decision should have them in contemplation as your critical constituency. Their feelings and fears must be factored in such decisions or judgments.
It is in light of the foregoing that I make bold to state that you, our father, may not have had a distilled and well-considered reasoning in the declaratory intervention in the 2015 presidential election entitled, “The challenge of change: A Burden of Choice” syndicated and published in The Guardian on Sunday of February 8, 2015 on page 58 and in other national newspapers, where after beautifully analyzing the situation, you endorsed the APC Presidential Candidate (General Muhammad Buhari) as your preferred choice even though with “a heavy heart.”
And today (May 6, 2015), I read a report of the lecture you were reported to have delivered at the Hutchins Centre for African and African-American Research in the Harvard University at Cambridge, Massachusetts as contained in the Daily Sun, May 6, 2015 on page 6 and the New Telegraph of May 6, 2015 on page 41, where you allegedly restated your conviction in that General Buhari Endorsement, as widely reported on February 8, 2015, and capped it up with your acerbic denouncement of the Igbo as being “unrepentant and resolute towards their strategic objective of secession…” and further condemned them as a people whose political judgments are ruled by their “stomachs” or “personal gains.”
Your grouse against the Igbo is simply because they voted PDP and Jonathan. What a verdict, sir! We will come back to that, even though you have since denied authorship of those statements on Ndigbo
Like you, sir, many Nigerians with historical circumspection were quite disturbed and concerned about the 2015 General Elections. But unlike you, sir, their concerns were not so much about the APC’s General Buhari or the PDP’s President Jonathan winning the presidential election and indeed the other elections.
Their concerns were hoisted on the fact that the elections would not produce any fundamental change in Nigeria.
These circumspect Nigerians were not sold to the noise-some mantra of mere change of leadership as the APC, the key opposition party, was drowning Nigeria with. No! Nigerians were agitated on the question whether President Jonathan, given a second chance or General Buhari given his antecedents, can effect a change in the structural foundation of the country, which in actual fact is the real change Nigerians want and which you have risked your life and committed the better part of all your existence to.
Is the change Nigerians want the mere change of leadership? No! These Nigerians were agitated on the question – which of the parties can effect a change in the structural and constitutional foundation of Nigeria, which is the real change Nigeria wants. Not the mere change of leadership as championed by the amalgam of parties (CPC, ACN, ANPP and a faction of APGA and some mal-contents within and outside the PDP, which desperately wanted to seize political power riding on the back of the far Northern agitation for power-shift scheme that enjoyed subtle endorsement, and guarantee by Americo-British neo-imperial interest, appearing as “officious bystanders.”
I know that you have very strong reservations about the Jonathan Presidency as can be gleaned from your widely circulated criticism of Dr Jonathan entitled, “Soyinka: Jonathan Acting like Nebuchadnezzar” published in the New Telegraph of Wednesday, December 3, 2014 on page 14.
There is no doubt that you, like many others, like Eze Festus Odimegwu, were grossly disappointed in Jonathan’s certain policies or failures to the point of embracing just any change. But taking it to that level missed the point.
And that point is the greater question of how to entrench political justice and equity in Nigeria.
Recall sir, that in 2011 this particular political tendency had tried to dissuade President Jonathan from contesting the 2011 Presidential Primary of the PDP, arguing that he could not claim the unexhausted two tenures of the late President Yar’Adua.
Leading Northern political leaders including Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, General Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau, etc., had banded together to wrest political nomination of the PDP from Dr Jonathan but failed.
This failure so incensed some of the northern leaders that some of them threatened that if President Jonathan succeeded in using power of incumbency to retake the presidency that the North will make the country “ungovernable” and true to that threat, the country has been ungovernable since then and Dr. Jonathan is being judged on the basis of lack of mettle to contain the Islamic insurgency sweeping greater parts of the Northeast and Northwest and some part of the North central zones.
And recall, sir, that up till April 2014 when the Chibok girls were kidnapped, key opposition (APC) leaders had always politicized the fight against insurgency and even tended to take side in favour of the insurgents.
The APC had always criticized and ridiculed the Jonathan presidency’s effort in containing the insurgency, as if it wanted the insurgency to continue to fester in order to use it as a cheap political point, which is exactly the sole point it has hoisted its change-mantra.
Note also that some foreign nations and their media institutions, especially The Economist had been upbeat in washing down President Jonathan as “a failed president” and polishing and holding up General Buhari as the only person who can fight and win the war on insurgency.
And it is on record that some of these foreign nations have contributed significantly in reducing the president’s fighting capacity by refusing to sell arms to Nigeria and even blocking other avenues for sourcing arms and equipment to contain the insurgency. Once the right arms were sourced you could testify to the capacity to fight the insurgency as events of recent weeks have shown.
Father, what is to be done now that your candidate has swept the poll? Nothing much, other than to appeal to you not to be too far from the corridors of power, so as to protect your children. You have always upheld the tenet of justice as the bedrock or first condition of humanity.
And it is due to this reasoning that you as a young man endured a two year and four months prison incarceration, part of it in solitary confinement, just because you did not join the bandwagon to which many including the leading political leaders of your ethnic group joined to help bludgeon the Igbo-led Biafra into submission in accepting the forced unity of Nigeria, contrary to the Aburi Accord freely negotiated and agreed by the leaders – General Gowon and General Ojukwu.
And even when you were released from prison in January 1969 and on alighting from the plane at Ibadan Airport when you were confronted by a battery of pressmen, you had one statement for them: “To Keep Nigeria One/Justice Must Be Done”.
This slogan, a clear opposition to Gowonic slogan for forced unity, was quite courageous and heady, given that period of Nigerian history when it was ‘lawful’ for the ruling junta to kill without question. Looking back, it was a statement in courage, wisdom and integrity, what with the Nigerian military government’s slogan of “To keep Nigeria one/is a task that must be done”.
Sir, all your life has been consumed by the quest for justice for individuals and communities in Nigeria as encapsulated in your work, “You Must Set Forth At Dawn”, where you concluded that “I had nothing against the oneness of Nigeria …what I do contest is the basis on which a nation calls itself one… I had long resolved that this basis could be one only: equity between the constituting parts. In short – political parity, also known as political justice for the parts within the whole.”
Not even the sharp rebuke offered you by no less a person than the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, your kinsman, Chief Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, when he retorted to your call for justice that “justice not only existed in the nation but was well and thriving”, could intimidate you.
So, it was a bombshell to me when I read the declaration you made in your said lecture against the Igbo.
And first response was: what happened to all that resolutions about Biafra and the factors and circumstances that led to it as ably documented by you especially in “The Man Died” and “You Must Set Forth at Dawn” and in other writings.
What must have changed or what truth or new knowledge did you unearth about that historical period to warrant your new judgment on the Igbo? When did it become a crime to support a party and its candidate in a plural democracy?
Sir, that declaration against the Igbo, (which you have since denied and I believe that you were misquoted), tantamount to ethnic profiling and racism and alleging active secessionist plans is a charge of treason against them.
But if I may ask: when did electoral choice become a crime? For choosing President Jonathan against the Far North’s clear unequivocal choice of General Buhari translates to crime by the Igbo whereas the Hausa/Fulani is absolved of any offence.
Coming on the heels of Lagos’ Oba Akiolu’s threat against the Igbo is in sync with the anti-Igbo sentiments which over the years had been carefully nurtured and entrenched in Nigeria that one can say that every nationality in Nigeria finds it convenient to believe the anti-Igbo prejudices, and to distrust and fear them.
And you ask why? The answer lies in the fact that the Igbo have been unjustly misunderstood in Nigeria. Igbo phobia and bogey of domination of Nigeria were erected as a totem before gullible Nigerians.
Political charlatans and scoundrels in Nigerian political space use this totem to whip sentiments and cause mischief against the Igbo at will.
The very virtues of the Igbo such as their republican orientation especially egalitarianism, merit-based socio-economic enterprises and their readiness to make wherever they reside home attract suspicion and misunderstanding.
This ethnic distrust and fear have fuelled several pogroms against the Igbo in the North since 1945 to 1966, when on July 29, 1966 the counter-coup makers who eventually seized and conquered Nigeria personally directed and conducted the pogroms against the Igbo and concluded it with a civil war, where it galvanized all the ethnic nationalities (sans their differences) in Nigeria and won.
And that military victory ordinarily should have been taken as the Nigerian version of the Hitlerite Final Solution to the Igbo Question in Nigeria. But it failed to achieve the object because after the war, reparation policy consisting of the “abandoned property” in Port Harcourt and the entire then Rivers and South Eastern States and the “20 Pounds” and the glass-ceiling placed on the Igbo in the civil and public services of Nigeria failed to achieve the Final Solution.
In concluding this letter, I, one of your numerous children, while acknowledging your right to endorse and vote, as you have done on March 28, begs to question your endorsement of APC’s General Buhari because that endorsement runs counter to all that you had fought and stood for.
General Buhari, as a person may be a nice man and has his virtues like any other person, but he is one of the infamous proud Chief Architects of the so-called “New Nigeria” that is hoisted and built on murder, lies and injustice on July 29, 1966 and thereafter.
And the wages of sin is death and destruction as Prophet Micah warned the ancient Israelis in the Holy Bible’s book of Micah of the destruction of Jerusalem. However, he prophesied redemption through Christ.
Many Nigerians, including you and I are thoroughly disappointed with President Jonathan, having dwelt in the past six years on irrelevant issues of failed infrastructure instead of galvanizing Nigerians to dismantle this hollow edifice called Nigeria that is built on lies, murder and injustice and reconstruct same on the basis of republican values founded on justice and equity as you stated in your books and have fought always.
It was this sense of disappointment that must have been responsible for very intelligent role models like you and Eze Festus Odimegwu (the former Chairman of the National Population Commission) who had disclaimed all the censuses of Nigeria as frauds, which remains one of the central pillars of the unjust Nigeria, in his press interview in the Daily Sun (February 17, 2015) to turn round now to be supporters of General Buhari against Dr Jonathan.
But given Eze Odimegwu’s grievances with the Nigerian censuses, how can he get remedy from Buhari, one of the architects of that injustice and even if the APC can table such issue, you can be sure there will be no ‘change’ with the new power brokers from the North represented by Governor Kwankwanso, who actually went on behalf of the Northern Governors to order President Jonathan to sack Odimegwu, and is sure to be one of the powers behind the throne as Buhari becomes President.
In the light of the foregoing, I plead with you not to be replaying that endorsement of APC’s General Buhari as you did in your Harvard Lecture for it will soon be proved as having been made in error.
The endorsement will surely give you heartache that is sure to come because sequencing of the APC/Buhari crowd and shadow government headed by 1966 – 1975 Super Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Ahmed Joda shows clearly where the APC and General Buhari are coming from and where they are going.
Do we need any prophet to tell us that APC and its government are disasters waiting to happen? This is because APC does not stand for change, but rather the restoration and consolidation of the old thoroughly discredited order that has held Nigeria down since 1914 and only by default resuscitated and offered some respite by the blunders of General Obasanjo and President Jonathan.
The APC will be worse than PDP because it is a platform of strange bedfellows bonded together only by their common quest to seize and restore the Far North’s claim of right to the rulership of Nigeria. The crisis awaiting the APC will be worse than that of the PDP because theirs will be actuated and deepened by tribal and religious bigotry and that will be disastrous for Nigeria.
The national leadership of APC being claimed now by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and silently and benignly acquiesced to by the Hausa/Fulani hegemony from the CPC, ANPP and the mal-contents that decamped from PDP will be violently contested and rubbished in due course.
The vulture is a patient bird! Of course, change of the constitutional foundation of Nigeria will never be a priority as the focus will be ‘anti-corruption war’ that may consume some disaffected members of the elite but the structural base that breeds it will remain unchallenged and unchangeable.
And so the anti-corruption war will go interminably until General Buhari gets bogged down and of course the economic and social conditions of Nigeria get worse and the new controllers of levers of power will turn the presidency to a musical chair rotated among tired men of power until something gives way and Nigeria breaks down violently. This scenario sure to happen will not be your wish for your children.
So sir, let us look beyond APC to see if other social forces now lying dormant and confused can stake a claim to claim and restructure Nigeria for equity and justice as you canvassed in January, 1969.
It is true Nigeria missed the chance to change its destiny under President Jonathan but finding alternative voice to APC and PDP remains the most rational choice between the devil and the deep sea.
This is a difficult request, but see what you can do.
Onwe, Esq. (Former political and legislative adviser to Ebonyi State Governors, 2001 – 2011 and doctoral student of law wrote from Abakaliki.