By Promise Adiele
I greet you, sir. I crouch and genuflect before your domineering presence – the irrepressible man of letters, the first black man to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Despite your recent paradoxical posturing, which suggests a striking alignment with corrosive forces in Nigeria, you remain a global totem of literary ingenuity.
You are a legend in the literature fraternity, a position you share with your late friends and compatriots Chinua Achebe and J.P. Clark. No genuine engagement of African literature is complete without a mention of your name. Besides your creative input to the literary family, you are a critic, auto biographer, activist, translator and a radical opposer to all forms of misrule. In appropriating Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron and subterranean agent of self-examination as your patron god, you challenge humanity to self-purify and reject all forms of subjugation. You are a great man and there is no controversy about it.
Sir, recently, the literary family was embarrassed when you engaged your children and grandchildren known as Obidients in a war of words. How can Soyinka, father, grandfather, elder stateman, Nobel laureate and a global icon allow his wards to denigrate him? Soyinka, the same one who, every year, sets many departments of English across the world on fire as they study his works. Sir, some people have earned PhD degrees studying your works and literary worldview, the same for master’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees.
You belong to the realm of the gods. You are a typical example of the biblical assertion “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.” But you traded your invincible status by engaging in verbal fisticuffs and linguistic onslaught with your children and grandchildren. You are wrong, sir. But we understand that the best men are still men. Even though you are Soyinka the Great, you are still a man; therefore, fallible.
Sir, literary criticism permits disagreement. Accordingly, I humbly disagree with your use of ‘fascism’ when you described Datti Baba-Ahmed’s comments during his interview with Channels Television. Was it a slip of the tongue or a deliberate attempt by you, the master of words, to exercise your right of poetic license? Fascism? No, sir, there was nothing in Datti’s statements to qualify him as a fascist. Fascism is an ideology associated with former Italian despot Benito Mussolini that emphasizes absolute use of powers without tolerating any opposition. Fascism is exercised by someone in power, especially military power. Datti is not in power. He does not have the structures to enact fascism. He said, if Bola Tinubu is sworn in as the President of Nigeria given that he won the election on the back of monumental fraud, it will signal the end of democracy in Nigeria. Sir, there is nothing fascist about that statement, however the length of our journey to redefinition.
Many people view it as an ideological dilemma for you to criticize Datti for suggesting the protection of our democracy while you looked away when Yemi Osinbajo of the APC threatened to form a parallel government in 2015. You also looked away recently when INEC, with Mahmood Yakubu presiding, grounded BVAS to orchestrate the worst electoral heist in living memory. What has happened to you, sir? It would be delusional for anyone to think that your words or ideas are sacrosanct. Because Soyinka said it, therefore, it is correct.
No sir! The current generation has gone beyond such a sycophantic, grovelling, obsequious attitude because it hinders existential fluency. The typical Nigerian youth of today questions and challenges everything. It is an objective reality, which unites his sensibilities. Your abuse of the Obidient family strengthens APC’s tyranny, further providing textures through which it is diffused, albeit subliminally. A careful logical introspection of your younger days decorates you with an Obidient garment. You were impetuous, young, daring, confrontational, fearless, and courageous. These are the manifest characteristics of Obidients, and they are following in your footsteps. But you insulted them, yes, you did.
Expectedly, Obidients challenged you. I must admit that the methods adopted by some of them were extreme and condemnable. But, sir, you embarrassed the literary family when you hurriedly issued a response, “Fascism On Course.” In that write-up, you descended low with some of the Obidient children and called them unprintable names, using inappropriate words. By doing so, you lowered your iconic head to allow your children and grandchildren to harvest it and, believe me, this generation will gladly oblige such invitation.
Kongi, sir, there are professionals in the Obidient family, doctors, lawyers, lecturers, bankers, engineers, journalists, entrepreneurs, business executives, diplomats and many more. Of course, in every family, you have all kinds of characters, some are brash, while some are temperate. The Obidient Movement is one large family with different characters pursuing one purpose – the dethronement of criminal structures in governance and the enthronement of dynamic, egalitarian, equitable and responsible government.
Sir, the Obidients are driven by your philosophy that “the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” The quote provokes delightful, radical impulses, which currently drive the Obidient Movement. They have refused to keep quiet in the face of APC’s unmitigated, dissimulating tyranny ravaging the country. When tyranny ruled the Nigerian state, you and your contemporaries challenged the establishment. That is exactly what the Obidients are doing now. At 31, you stormed a radio station armed with a gun to force the presenter to announce your election results. Imagine that an Obidient Nigerian, acting like young Soyinka, stormed Abuja with a 9mm Baretta gun, invaded the INEC collation centre and pointed it at Yakubu to stop him from announcing manipulated election results?
Imagine for one second what would have been the fate of that Obidient youth now. Sir, recall the abiding principles and compelling ideology of the Pirate Confraternity, of which you were a founding member. Many of your men are Obidients. Obidients are young Nigerians across ethnic and religious lines disenchanted with the roguery and pervasive attitude of the current political class. They have risen to say ‘no more.’ It, therefore, lacerates my heart when you describe them in those vile, insulting words. As an elder, your pronouncements should be conciliatory and peaceful.
The most shocking thing you did was to invite Datti to a debate on national television. Haba! That cannot be our Wole Soyinka. Inviting Datti to debate over what? Many of your disciples are embarrassed by this challenge. Has it gotten to the level that Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian custodian of literature, will go on national television to argue with a young man who can pass for his son? What will be the topic of the debate? Literature or politics? If it is literature, you will win.
If it is politics, especially in the last election in Nigeria, Datti will win. Whatever the case, it is condescending for you to ask Datti and your Obidient children for a debate on national television. From my records, they have accepted the debate. Of course, they will accept the debate. They are offering you your daughter Chimamanda Adichie, your potential successor to the Nobel laureate throne. These Obidient children are way ahead of their time. More than one thousand volunteers, all your children and grandchildren, are offering to debate with you. God forbid!
Please, sir, I plead with you to stop further exchange with the Obidient family. They are your children and grandchildren, young, vibrant, and angry. It is not gainful by any stretch of the imagination with your towering status to continue with your children and grandchildren who all read and still read your books to pass their examination. Sir, kindly enjoy your old age because it is by grace, that arcane principle of undeserved providence, that you are still alive. Some of us are praying to attain your age. In Nigeria’s current situation, the possibility of hitting 88 years seems a mirage, but we are hopeful. We need elders like you to make peace, advise people and especially speak to your children in a placatory tone. You are still Wole Soyinka the Great.
Sir, quit further exchange with Obidients, they are your children and grandchildren. Any day you answer the inevitable call, in commemoration of your life and times, there will be literary festivals across all universities in Nigeria, perhaps, all Africa. There will be lectures in public places across the world. Please, sir, do not erase that legacy. God bless you!
•Adiele, PhD, Mountain Top University first published this article in Daily Sun on April 12, 2023. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @drpee4