He is Prof. Chinua Achebe
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Professor Michael Mbabuike
Professor Okey Ndibe
Okey Ndibe is an associate Professor of Literature at Simon’s Rock of Bard College in Great
A former student leader who survived torture under the Abacha regime, Omoyele Sowore is a pro democracy activist, and is widely considered his generation’s most respected and outspoken investigative journalist.
Sir, in a historic vote,
Prof. Wole Soyinka
Prof. Wole Soyinka
I believe it serves as an impetus for PRONACO to accelerate the tempo of presenting a people's constitution to the nation, and a lesson to all sit-tight aspirants on the African continent!
ON: Nigerian leaders seem to have an obsession with self-perpetuation. This was the case with Gowon, Babangida, Abacha—and now, Obasanjo. What do you think accounts for this fascination, and what strategies must Nigerians adopt to combat it?
This situation, of course, is not peculiar
to Nigerians; but I suppose we are very
Part of the frustration of Nigerians, in
addition to the lack of fulfillment in every facet, is a deep-seated sense of hurt about the quality of leadership
MM: Are you advising us to be like Ogun--the great creator and destroyer? I
mean, the winner is always right, as the saying goes; but how are the people of
It is a multi pronged approach, I agree, and we are already operating now. We are challenging, not only the present system, but the past. I’m talking about the work of the on-going National Conference. Many people who thought the process through will understand why the present regime was so desperate to stop that conference. Because it goes beyond merely providing the constitution, offering an alternative constitution to the people; the methodology dictates that it is time to restore sovereignty to the people.
This is why Obasanjo and his government were so scared of the conference. They threatened at the beginning that we would be charged with treason; the police breathed fire, and said they would disrupt the gathering. We said no: sovereignty lies with the people, and the people have not yet enjoyed that sovereignty; they have not been allowed to express their sovereign will for so many decades. And as long as we are operating a constitution bequeathed by the military—even if it is the most perfect constitution in the world—the people must still have a voice and say, we’ve examined this constitution, and endorse it, in toto. But the people must have a chance to debate, before making it their choice.
And now Obasanjo takes that constitution, quickly summons his own confab
for political tinkering and gerrymandering, and sends Mr. Mantu round to present it. Now Nigerians are seeing the hollowness, the ludicrousness of this exercise,
and they are comparing it to what is going on right now at Shangisha, in
OS: I am more interested in the third stage, because I have experienced the last two stages you mentioned. Many in my generation are tired and frustrated with the idea of speaking to the press, marching in protest only to get shot at and killed. I want to ask directly about the 3rd stage engagement. At what point do you think people should start considering a higher level of resistance, for example, armed struggle; considering that all these characters you described are not only brutal, but wicked, and have no regard for life and the rights of Nigerians to organize peacefully?
I have been issuing very loud warnings to the police, telling them not to allow themselves to be used. Nigerians have experienced far too much brutality at the hands of the military and the police, as well as the secret services—especially under Abacha. I think the stage of a critical mass is very close to us. And if, under what is supposed to be a democratic dispensation, the police turn out to be instruments for the furtherance of state terror, that third stage may be reached sooner than many people imagine. It is not I who will advocate it; I can only warn that I see the signs. And I can see signs of what you just said. I know I understand this, and people are saying it. There is a level of frustration. It is because we don’t want things to reach that stage that we keep shouting these warnings: the military and police -- do not allow yourselves to be used in instituting terror, because if the third stage is reached, you will have to answer for your crimes against the people. One is fervently hoping that that ultimate stage will not be reached. But all I can do is scream warnings, and also engage in the mobilization of people for popular protests.
MM: Prof, in the third stage engagement, the winners are, supposedly, in the right. In other words, people do everything in their power not to become the loser, because ultimately the winner is right. You have subscribed to that theory before in your writings.
That the winner is right?
No, absolutely not; not at all… The winner seizes power, yes; but it doesn’t mean that the winner is necessarily right! I don’t subscribe to that, at all. If I may just say this; this warning is being demonstrated in what is happening in the Delta region, the oil region. And the intransigence has been partly fuelled by the demonstration of the present regime to stay in power through might and through fraud. And so the militants in that area are saying: alright, we’ll have to speak the language of force. They don’t want the continuation of the present regime, because it will only carry on the policies of the past. The Delta region has seen, over the last few years, that their lot has never improved, has not become better, at all. And so why should they now subscribe to this self-perpetuation that guarantees their continuing impoverishment?
ON: We have seen that most Nigerians
are opposed to any plot to elongate the term of the president. However, a substantial number are worried about
who comes next. Some think it might be Babangida, a terrible, terrible, prospect, indeed. Some think it might be Atiku or Marwa; neither of them, an attractive choice. What kind of
Well, I’m very glad that you stressed the
fact of what, and not who comes next. Each time we want to get rid of a nasty at the top, people always say, yes; but who do you have to replace him? That question I never take at all,
because we know that there are an abundance of people. Even the party I inaugurated -- when we started working
on this party about two years ago—was actually inaugurated in
We have attached to the constitution now what is, in effect, a people’s charter; the minimum that every citizen has a right to expect from the state, from the collectivity. And this we want to be part of the constitution, so that individuals and groups can actually push for these rights on the strength of the documents, the protocols that we plan to hold the nation together. I am not so romantic as to think that overnight, we are going to have a transformed society in which suddenly, services are available for the disabled. But this is the goal, and anyone who is not working towards the attainment of these goals, the people have a right to remove from office.
OS: There is another question regarding the political party issue--why can’t the activists have one single political movement in which there is a Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Gani Fawehinmi, and all the “big names” in the movement? There does not seem to be unity in the movement. How would you respond to that?
Well, at one time, we were driven apart by ideological rigidities; but I think a lot of that is in the past now. I don’t know if you listened to Gani’s statement when Beko died? He said: “I don’t care about the past; all I know is that we must all come together.” It is a critical moment for all of us. I have sent word to him to say -- Gani, stand by; we have work to do! We are reaching out in many directions. I think we’re going to see a change between now and the next elections.
Recent reports in Nigerian Newspapers suggest that you may be interested in running for the presidency. What role can Nigerians play to make this a reality?
Nigerians will have to learn that working with others to create a new, progressive, platform as an alternative to existing choices is not the same as nursing political ambition.
In other parts of
I am confident, I am pretty confident!
He may hope to turn himself into another Mugabe; however,
Sir; how do you respond to the phenomenon of "godfatherism" in Nigerian politics?
The greatest disservice President Obasanjo has done to the nation is to have promoted the cult of godfatherism, its illegalities, its naked violence, and its corruption.
ON: Your new book, You Must Set Forth At Dawn has just come out. You are not only a writer, but an activist, an agent provocateur…something of a conscience of the nation. How do you reconcile such diverse demands?
I don’t know about
Prof. Wole Soyinka at Princeton University Commencement robed for an honorary degree
Prof. Wole Soyinka at Princeton University Commencement robed for an honorary degree (2005)
Okay, from time to time I resent it very strongly. Let’s say I’m in the midst of, or planning a particular creative project. I’ve become internally committed to it, and something external impinges—like, what you’ve just mentioned; the politics of one’s existence—and of such urgency, that I have to abandon my project. And then there come strong resentment: Oh my God, not again, not again. When will I be able to plan my life according to my immediate moods, and so on? But it’s only in terms of those periods that there is resentment.
ON: You’ve just published a political
memoir that spans your many years of active engagement in the political life of
first and foremost apologize to everyone for being foolish enough to say that I would not write my biography beyond
the age of eleven. It was very presumptuous of me, because I underestimated the amount of provocation I would receive
later in life. But ideally, ideally, I think one really should not go beyond the age of innocence in writing one’s
autobiography. And the age of innocence ends at about eleven. After that, you’re no longer spontaneous. A child
is a spontaneous being; that is why that period in one’s life is the most truthful. At a later age, you begin
to hedge a little bit, create gaps-- deliberate ones, which could even be accounted as lies--on account of other
people, or simply because you think the actions involved in that period are not yet over. So whilst you don’t set
out to be dishonest in writing a book about adult life, you cannot be totally truthful—because you’re hiding something;
you have to. I wrote
During the weeks of waiting—I mean, I came
out really not expecting to stay longer than a week, and I stayed for weeks—during the weeks of waiting, I projected
what we might have to do to force Babangida out of office, and I realized that this was not going to be child’s play. I had envisaged a very
serious action by the people. So I thought, as I sat down twiddling my fingers for two weeks, that I had better
reconcile myself to using the two weeks to set down something about my past, if only for the coming generations
to understand what is sometimes required of one in times of political crisis. That was the real motivation for
O.N: But what triggered your writing of You Must Set Forth At Dawn?
In the first instance, I was fed up with
people—you know the kind of critics I am
So experiences like that began to make me feel, well…hadn’t I better start setting certain things down? But when I actually conceived the writing was during the period of Abacha’s regime—and the fight involved in getting him out struck me as being likely to be even more deadly than what was planned for the ousting of Babangida. So I said to myself: well, may be it’s time again to start putting something down. The occasion again was the uncertainty about the future—it was a time, as you know, when I was wearing all kinds of disguises, because I was being hunted all over the world, and I wasn’t about to give up. And to tell you the truth, when I look back on how repetitive life had become, it seemed to me that I should write these things down in a book for the young generation, so that they would be able to see the Sisyphean task one finds himself burdened with; may be they’d find some other means of contesting the unacceptable impositions of life. So the motivation was to talk to the younger generation; but of course, by the time you start writing, it becomes a work on its own, and goes beyond that. That was the reason for the memoirs.
ON: You mention the repetitive pattern of life; one pattern for you seems to take on life as an exile. You were jailed by Yakubu Gowon, and subsequently went on exile. Ibrahim Babangida exiled you. Abacha did the same, and now you are on some form of exile. President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government has decided that your voice must be discounted, if not silenced, on account of what a government spokesman described as your godlessness. How does it feel to be a citizen of a nation where those in power feel compelled to physically remove you from the national space or to contrive to remove your voice from the national discourse?
I have become reconciled to the fact that there will always be those who don’t want to hear bad news—that is, bad news for them. They don’t understand that sometimes what they consider bad news for them is really good news—because it means a call to self-examination vis-à-vis their conduct towards the people they’re supposed to rule over. It’s a call to their conscience, a call to re-think. But unfortunately, power ever loves only its own, and, therefore, no contrary voices. So I have accepted that as part of the occupational hazard one has to confront. What we are going through right now is perhaps one of the saddest chapters of my entire political career. To find, at the head of government, someone who has run that country as a dictator, unchallenged! And then who virtually had one foot over the edge of extinction—eventually pulled back by the hair thanks to the efforts of people like you and me, the international community, and the internal struggle--in other words, a man who has tasted the other side of life.
He comes out, and is put back in control
of that same space, that same real estate. Instead of just staying one term—in fact, his second term was already
too long--instead of saying, okay, may be I can now put into structures, actualize, and realize those ideals I
thought of in my earlier coming, and then take a bow and go out, he’s planning to subvert the constitution, and
doing so in the crudest way possible. This is through bribery, intimidation, blackmail, the misuse of state agencies,
sending the SSS (State Security
Service) to break up opposition meetings in halls that have been paid for by people, tear gassing, right, left,
and center, the opposition either in
OS: I’d like to ask—in view of a statement you made recently, that you’re worried about the next generation in terms of activism; are you going to set up a foundation that can sustain some of your legacies in the struggle so that young people may find in you a source of support and inspiration?
First of all, I have a foundation;
Prof. Wole Soyinka at Bard College
Prof. Wole Soyinka at Bard College
Hopefully, how one has responded to events—and this includes the political party that was set up, which I was informed a few days ago had been registered; its registration saved us a lot of litigation, because we were going to go to court to fight this all the way. The principle of the right to associate culturally, socially, politically is for me so fundamental to social existence that I cannot accept the notion of an arbitrary body deciding whether I am qualified to set up a political party or not. But it looks as if we’ve been registered. That party will be there for frustrated young people, idealistic young people—and also older people; I’m not discriminating. So young people who say we have no political platform with which we can associate—all right, there’s a fresh one which can be owned by the young generation. That’s the whole purpose of my setting up the party.
MM: What is your advice to young African writers? What should be their mission?
First of all, I always say to them when I’m asked that question; write, just write. Just write, and prepare a basket to receive your rejection slips. Receive your rejection slips and write again. And write again. That’s the first thing. The second one is truthfulness. A number of our writers, I’m afraid, wasted a lot of their talent in writing, their genuine talent and creative authenticity, by being too ideologically driven. That does not mean one should not have an ideology in writing. One should allow, however, that ideology to percolate through the manipulation of character and so on and so forth—not to begin with the ideology and then you want to weave a work of fiction around it. I believe that’s the wrong way to go about it, because then you’re driven by something external to your real, genuine, creative impulse. But if you’re guided, if you’ve already internalized a political ideology, it would percolate through what you write. A number of second generation writers spend too much time trying to ideologize their writings, and then end up writing propaganda. And they are capable of much better. So be very truthful to your impulse; don’t allow exterior dictates to control the direction of your creative impulse.
MM: In Dance of the Forest, Black history is a tragic cycle of errors; but you do not appear to indict, accuse, suggest or recommend punishment for white complicity. You seem to be very hard on the Black characters. Why so?
This was 1960, and we were about to obtain our independence. For me, that moment was a moment of very deep and honest introspection. There comes a moment when the child matures, and if the child keeps looking back and saying, “My teacher did this, my father did this; therefore, I cannot lift a foot until I have screamed loud and long,” well, that’s one way of doing it. On the other hand I can say --to hell with these people who tried to mess up my life; I now want to seize hold of my life. And for that, you begin with introspection, with self-criticism, analyzing just where you have come from. When you’ve gone over that phase, when you have really established yourself, you’re strong enough now to tell the others where to go. After Dance of the Forest, both my political writings and some fictional work obviously deal with the role of the white man in our affairs.
The destruction of the organic system of
productivity in our society is something which I have stressed over and over again—also pointing a finger at who
destroyed it. Whether you talk about the slave trade or you talk about the colonial experience, the intervention
in our proper development, our own self-direction; whether you talk about the
OS: In view of that, how is it that you are not an arrow head of the reparations movement?
But you’re so wrong. I’m not the arrowhead
of the movement, but I have a very substantive role in that. In fact, I have been taken up by all kinds of outside
commentators who in fact accuse me of trying to shift the responsibility for the parlous condition of
When a woman is raped, one of the things she demands is that the rapist first admits the crime. For that rapist to continue denying the crime is itself a second rape. That is the way women explain it. And the same thing is true for us. In fact, I have gone so far as to propose that what we are looking for is not monetary reparation, although that certainly figures into the equation; whether through debt forgiveness or whatever. But the return of all the looted African treasures would be a beginning towards an acknowledgement of a historic guilt of immeasurable magnitude.
MM: I would like to follow up on the last question. In a lecture you gave at Harvard in 1997, you argued for reparation for African Americans as well as for any group robbed of its humanity. How do you respond to the African American economist, Thomas Sowell, who contended that the relative economic backwardness of African Americans is significantly attributed to the backwardness of the family structure?
If he is saying that the family structure
was weakened, in fact destroyed, by the experience of slavery, which reduced, in fact, virtually rubbished, the
authority of the parental sector of the family—there, I agree. We saw the same thing happen in
MM: You have been accused of Godlessness...
MM: And have you now become spiritual?
The answer to that is yes…I think
Prof. Wole Soyinka and Beko Kuti
Prof. Wole Soyinka and Beko Kuti
OS: Another important question for my generation is the issue of confraternities for which you’ve had a fair share of beating from the religious right as well as secular groups, including the government. What is your take on what is happening on Nigerian university campuses today? Do you feel you have done enough to bring an end to the mindless blood-thirstiness on our campuses, and the gangsters who are operating these cults?
A similar issue is being raised here in
Now those ones referring to themselves
as fraternities today on our campuses are common criminals. They are criminals who are backed by political godfathers
and academic godfathers. I have cited the example of the vice chancellor of a university who employed the services
of these cults. They became his security outfit. You had to go through them in order to reach the VC.
He gave them cars, gave them money. The guilt, the crime really, is a crime of society. This is what I have been
stressing to people. When I speak about this issue, even when I made a documentary, not long ago, people think
erroneously that I am trying to exonerate myself, because I started the first fraternity in
I have a few prescriptions. The first thing is that you stop referring to members of these fraternities as students. When they commit a crime, they are criminals, and should be rightly treated as such and jailed. Those who kill, torture, or throw acid on one another over females and similarly inane rivalries should be treated like rapists and arsonists. As long as we keep calling these reprobates members of fraternities, we are glorifying their existence. No! So many of them are, in actuality, armed robbers; they associate with robber barons and receive stolen goods. During my research, just to find who was behind these characters, we made a lot of unbelievable discoveries. There are highly placed public and society figures, including police commissioners and military officers who protect their children when they commit obvious criminal offences!
ON: Allow me to ask this question since we are talking tangentially about our educational system; it seems, in the view of many, that the Nigerian university educational system has collapsed. There used to be a time when people like you and Chinua Achebe and other outstanding scholars happily taught in Nigerian universities. I refer to that period as our renaissance moment. But during the Babangida and Abacha regimes, there was a flight of intellectuals out of the country.
Oh, the flight began even before Babangida’s time...
What then is your view of the state of education in
The problem has to do with power versus
intellect. Those who are obsessed with power cannot stand intellect. From Gowon’s time, the universities have been under siege; a situation that has severely escalated with every
dictatorial regime. The suspicion, the hatred of intellectualism has deepened, becoming almost a credo for successive
his first coming—you remember his assault on the universities? It’s become a habit with military administrations.
Unfortunately, the university dons played into the hands of power. People who should demonstrate and behave with
professional pride, actually went a-begging: “This is my CV sir; please sir, I want to be on this commission, I
want to be in this parastatal...”
Then, of course, the choice of vice chancellors…oh my God. One vice chancellor earned the name of “gate keeper”
to a politician, a political leader in
The thing is what can we do to restore
the integrity of campuses? The first thing is this: we have too many university campuses at the moment. The teaching
capacity has been spread so thin that the quality of teaching has declined tremendously. Then there is poverty
to be dealt with. Universities have been deliberately impoverished. Even when I taught in the
Whether one is talking about the disciplines
of the humanities, medicine, or engineering in
We need a drastic re-start. I insist that our universities should be closed down for a minimum of one year, so that we can go back to the drawing board. People may think this a drastic measure and, perhaps, excessive—but I insist that you can’t use band aid to cover cancer. This period has to be very well planned, because you can’t just throw students out on the streets. But I believe that the population of Nigerian students can easily be absorbed and employed -- with very good planning -- for a year in national service, by various arms; not just the state, but the private sector. They may be sent out to earn a responsible living as part of their national service, so that they, in fact, perform their national service in that year. At the same time, a congregation of Nigerian universities should be actively involved in fund raising as well as forming committees to harmonize courses, and also study the various campuses to see which ones are actually functioning at the university level, and not merely as higher institutions. And this doesn’t apply to private universities, by the way. The private universities—I haven’t visited them, though I understand they’re pretty good—this doesn’t affect them.
And this shouldn’t affect those institutions that feel that they’re all right. However, those institutions who accept that they do have a real problem in reestablishing educational standards, I think, should join this exercise voluntarily. And that’s another thing, by the way. When I say that these universities should take a year off, I’m not advocating that the government should close down universities. I don’t understand why people should think this, at all. What I am asking of the university communities is to have the autonomy to re-examine themselves, and hopefully come to the conclusion I reached many years ago: that unless they voluntarily close themselves down and institute a collective congregation—including staff, students, town and gown, all the various facets--I don’t think any achievements can be made.
OS: You rightly mentioned that people are criticizing your suggestion to close down certain universities. People believe that the Obasanjo regime, for example, might actually be thrilled for this to happen. Without the presence of university students, public officials can plan to embezzle as much money as is possible. This is why people argue for the closing down of Aso Rock, before anything else, and then putting someone there who is responsive to your suggestion. If the universities close down now--as you know, the vice chancellors are appendages of the federal and state governments--this will prevent any autonomy of the universities. You know, professor, that these vice chancellors are marionettes of people in power. Can you address this contradiction?
WS: It is not a contradiction. You’re saying that if students are away from the campuses, the people in government would be free to be as corrupt as they want. But many of the students have been co-opted, in any case; has corruption gone down, has the malfeasance of the regime diminished? Isn’t the student union of the nation, at the moment, calling for the extension of Obasanjo’s stay? Many of the students have been co-opted; they have lost direction. They have failed to understand what the mission of students should be. Some of them, in fact, don’t even understand what student culture is all about. You might have read in the papers that I became so mad at a group of them, because they had a grievance and came and disrupted Beko’s funeral. It was such a mannerless and crude thing that I didn’t expect from students! But you see; they haven’t had the chance to absorb a positive student culture.
Now, left to me, I agree with you—I’d close down Aso Rock tomorrow. I have been trying to close down Aso Rock for many years. Who is going to object to that? I don’t. So if you have a means of doing that, I’m with you all the way. But in the meantime, what do we do? We have to leave Aso Rock to try and mend itself as best as it can. We in civil society should try and urge civil society of its funk. There’s a serious problem in civil society; sometimes civil society is its own worst enemy. So we’ve got to tackle all these with both hands and both feet, preferably together; but if you can’t do it all at once, then do it one by one!
MM: Back to the theme and theories of
the god of Ogun and Ogunnism—the one that destroys and rebuilds--how
do we connect this with what is happening today in
That’s a huge question. I think the mistake some of us make is that unless there is a comprehensive form of action taking place simultaneously, we cannot save the nation or the society. I know that for totalistic action, we must have a holistic picture of society, as well as a holistic strategy. But we can’t practice all this at one and the same time. No society is really geared towards that kind of transformation. And so we must begin somewhere. Strengthening civil society is what many people now realize is actually part of the beginning. We’ve got to recognize that the salvation of society rests more on civil society than on government. And so we begin strengthening civil society, whether one is talking about women’s organizations, civil liberties organizations, committees for civil defense, lawyers, and so on.
The labor movement, of course, is a critical part of that—so that we don’t have the kind of abortive march that took place, for instance, the other day, and ended up as just a march. You’ve got to organize in such a way that there’s a step beyond. The march becomes a platform for the advancement of labor claims. That’s the first step. The second is to use that platform to strengthen democracy. This democracy is not a mystical thing. Democracy is participation, accountability, instituting and overseeing checks and balances, defining the limitations of power, and ensuring that those limitations are observed. Ensuring that there is a common recourse for justice, and that means strengthening the judiciary and defending the judiciary. The judiciary has been rubbished by this regime in a way that is unprecedented. This regime flouts the decisions of the judiciary. And when I talk about strengthening the civil society I am also referring to the kind of action that was taken by the Nigerian Bar Association to boycott the courts. That kind of action, when it is repeated, and then joined by labor organizations, market women and student organizations, very soon, the regime will understand that it is completely isolated. So that’s what I mean when I talk about strengthening civil society, making it function, and then building it up gradually until the moment comes when people get up and say: enough; we’re terminating this season of anomie or governmental anomie.
Certainly, at my age, I have a very strong, very carefully calibrated sense of the instrument of violence. We live in a violent world, we cannot say in a purist way that we’ll never revert to violence. No. We’re saying that violence itself has its time. It requires a very careful sense of timing. It is something to be avoided by all possible means, because the end of violence cannot be predicted. So one has to be very, very careful. I know that we debated this in the opposition circles during the Abacha regime. Even in my memoir, I refuse to say categorically whether we reached that point or not, for the simple reason that I don’t want people who read what we have to write about that period, to be misled. I’m sorry; but many young people find violence glamorous. As a young man I never found violence glamorous, even if I considered it a sometime necessity.
When that moment happens, one is then mentally, psychologically, even philosophically prepared for it. And that’s the essence of Ogun. Ogun is not something arbitrary. Ogun is a metaphor for my formative and creative instincts. Ogun is not a mindless perpetrator of violence. Ogun represents, for me, an acceptance of that sector of human impulse which unfortunately, from time to time, finds itself the last resort for redressive action. So my attitude to violence is a very careful one. We agonized over this during the Abacha years. I don’t like to talk about it for the simple reason that, thank goodness, we never reached that actual stage. But to say that we did not debate it, and even girded ourselves towards that moment if it had to come, would be a lie. We had to!
ON: Your Nobel acceptance lecture was
titled “This Past Must Address Its Present.” Some Nigerians have the sense that egregious crimes have been committed
in their nation over the past seven or so years. I want to refer to several unsolved murders that have happened
in the country, the abductions of a state governor, the three day wholesale destruction of public property in
I do, I do, absolutely! The blatant crimes,
for example, are the ones we should begin with —the sack of Anambra…the abduction of its governor, at the time;
what is happening in
OS: You once declared that you would go after Dele Giwa’s killers until they were found and exposed. You said the same thing in the case of Bola Ige; as a matter of fact you said you knew some of the people involved. But for a while now, we haven’t heard from you regarding the pursuit of your declarations.
No…I sent a note to the Justice Oputa panel, and said: ‘here is a piece that I have. It’s my hope that when this piece is added to all the other pieces, we might actually get to the bottom of this.’ Nobody has the full picture; that’s the problem with these murders. But if we all contribute what little pieces we have to the jigsaw puzzle, then we can get a very clear picture. It’s the same thing with Bola Ige’s murder. I am convinced that we have one or two pieces that would lead to the solution of that crime. In fact I think they’re very potent pieces. I would like to see a commission on these murders. If this happens, it doesn’t matter much the conclusions of the commission; the public will unambiguously obtain a series of pictures pointing to the ultimate responsibility. That is the use of commissions.
And that is one of the reasons why I criticized
my friend Gani for taking the
actions that allowed Babangida
an excuse not to institute a commission. I challenged Babangida at the time, and he said, “What am I supposed to do? Your friend has threatened to go to court
to stop this commission, and so on; if we continue now, they’d say we are not obeying the law.” Even though the
law had not been put in place, Gani
was threatening that if they set up the commission, he would go to court. Commissions are useful things, as I write
in my memoirs. Even the Fela
commission of inquiry that concluded with the issue of an “unknown soldier,” was still a very useful thing, because
through the commission, we knew who gave the orders for the mayhem that was visited upon Fela’s
OS: Hon. Sola Adeyeye once said that you were extremely close to serving in the Obasanjo regime in his second cabinet, because you were both discussing with Bola Ige to help Obasanjo. You never responded to that statement.
That I was close to serving in Obasanjo’s cabinet?
OS: Yes, that there was some discussion between you, Bola Ige…
No, you misunderstood that completely. Sola Adeyeye could never have suggested that I was close to serving in Obasanjo’s regime. He never said this; no, not at all. What he said was that Bola Ige—because we discussed with Bola Ige about his serving—and Bola Ige said that we must assist Obasanjo to succeed. That’s all he said. You know Sola Adeyeye is a very emotional person. After Bola Ige died, the way he talked about that episode was as if Bola Ige made us swear that we must help. No, it was not like that; it was Sola Adeyeye’s emotive way of speaking. No, what Bola Ige said was that we must do everything to help Obasanjo to succeed, because this is one of the best chances the nation may have in a long term to achieve many of the goals which he, Bola Ige, believed in. So it was just part of the conversation. But to serve in an Obasanjo cabinet…what for? No, Sola didn’t say any such thing.
OS: Even then, you initially collaborated at COJA, and then you left, which led to angry letters between you and Obasanjo?
Yeah; but this wasn’t a paid job. See, I always say this: I can do anything for anybody as long as I’m not paid. Once I am not paid, I’m quite happy. Road Safety, the games, which was a big challenge, and which was an opportunity to bring in a lot of artists -- I have no problem with that. This includes what people see at public events. You might have even seen me and Obasanjo chatting together, discussing the affairs of the nation, with me offering advice on something I believe in. I consider that any opportunity to reduce the handicap the nation has towards self-fulfillment is an opportunity that should not be wasted. But it does not mean that I am working for anyone. I will collaborate with anyone who has the benefit of the nation in mind. But if someone is a proven killer and enjoys killing and torturing, like Abacha, then I won’t go near that person. And, if I see a little bit of virtue in someone, even a little possibility of achieving things for our people--never myself, never myself--then I’d do what is necessary to help. And I’d do it, step back, and not stay there.
MM: In your 2004 Reith lectures, you
argued that the world has not fundamentally changed after 9-11. Would you agree that the attack on
I said that the world still looked the
same to me in reaction to an understated,
Prof. Wole Soyinka
Prof. Wole Soyinka
Of course, the world has changed a lot. Anybody who travels—and I am a number one frequent flier—knows the difference. I know the difference. What used to be a casual experience—I pick up my bag and go to the airport—has become… “Oh, my God, not again; I have to go through all these machines…take off your shoes, and so on and so forth. And then even more profound, the consequences for American policy, and therefore the safety of the world. The world has become more dangerous as a result of the American response to 9 /11. Much more dangerous. The threat by fundamentalists has quadrupled. The sense of “we and they” in the world has become even more polarized as a result of American external policy in response to 9/11.
I have always made a distinction. If somebody
blows up our tallest building in
We now have the president of a state who
is still not man enough to admit that he committed a hideous blunder, by invading Iraq, and then by behaving like
an occupying force to the extent that he tells other nations, including the United Nations, “Maybe we can find
some little thing for you to do.” You know, strutting around... And then blunder after blunder, demobilizing the
rank and file of the Iraqi army. It’s not the rank and file we should be after; soldiers have to take orders. And
so you create a complete state of anarchy in the state—which, of course, spreads itself to surrounding areas, affects
many other countries…poisons relationships between people, creates suspicion...so it’s a very completed scenario.
I am afraid that were
MM: Could you please speak to the predicament of the Nigerian Diaspora?
There is a medical association, in the
After Obasanjo handed over power to Shagari, I persuaded a number of people to return. One medical
doctor sold his lucrative practice in
I have the same fear you have--that expression
is a very poignant one--that anybody who builds a house now in
OS: I hope you don’t mind my asking this; but how much are you worth, sir? You’ve won the Nobel Prize, and profess in a great many universities. According to Marwa he wrote a book, became a millionaire, and now owns an airline. I don’t even know that you own a car?
I can tell you…I should be worth more,
by the way. I have two houses. One is in
BNW Advocates' Island
BNW Advocates' Island
You are right; I don’t own a car in
ON: So your major income comes from lectures?
From lecturing, yes.
ON: Let me end with a double-pronged question. You have described your generation as wasted. Some, in my generation, however, feel more wasted than yours, and many more see your generation as having wasted itself, and then ours, in addition. How do you observe the generation that came after yours? Finally, when you examine the state of African writing—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, et cetera; do you see a robust and vibrant literature?
I think there is very robust literature
coming out from
I believe that every generation wastes itself. I don’t agree that one generation wastes another. Your generation has been busy wasting itself either by collaboration or by refusal—and I mean this very seriously—to take a very active role in any political situation. But I cannot say I am optimistic or pessimistic. I think all my life I’ve always said that I am a realist. I’m also pragmatic. If something is wrong, then it has to be fixed. And it’s got to be fixed through a strategy that ensures, first of all, that it doesn’t get broken again; that it lasts. That task, I have to say, is for future generations.
Thank you sir, for sitting down for this conversation!
You are welcome.
Key: Okey Ndibe =ON
Omoyele Sowore = OS
MM = Michael Mbabuike
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.
Founder and Chairman, Board of Directors of the Chinua Achebe Foundation
Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Professor Wole Soyinka in Conversation with Omoyele Sowore, Michael Mbabuike, and Okey Ndibe