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Yoruba Nation: I’ll Speak When The Time Comes –Soyinka

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Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, was a special guest on ARISE TV NewsDay on Monday, June 14. Soyinka promised to speak on the agitation for a Yoruba nation when the time comes and expressed dissatisfaction with democratic practices under Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, among other issues. Excerpt: 

 It’s been 22 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria and 28 years after the annulment of June 12 presidential election. Would you say the ideals of June 12 have come to fruition? Do you think we have imbibed them in our democracy? 

I am beginning to believe that many people have very different definitions of democracy, especially democracy in action, and that applies particularly to leadership. In recent times, I’ve begun to wonder whether this government, led by Buhari, really understands the implications, the full responsibilities and commitments involved when people say they are practising a democratic regime. One has become alarmed, not for the first time – by the way – about the understanding of democracy as emanating from the top hierarchy of governance. 

Looking at recent events, you said the government acted petulantly in banning twitter, over a week on now, what do you think was achieved with the suspension? 

Yes, this is one indication of what I am saying. In aborting or truncating the various channels of self-expression open to any populace or any kind of polity, you are absolutely abrogating the very essence of democracy. Democracy is not a sequence and series of spasm of symbolic gestures such as restoring June 12 as Democracy Day. That is purely symbolic; it is an act of restitution. In fact, I read comments from some people saying it was just a deceit – how can it be a deceit when it was never a reality? That restoration was obviously a symbolic gesture which was very calculating, by the way, but it has to be manifested consistently and without exception in the act and when you truncate any channel of self-expression of a people, you are literally becoming an enemy of democracy. It is so obvious and so plain; I just don’t understand why one even has to expatiate on it. 

What do you have to say to the roles being played by those around the president? 

Well, about the people in government around him, it’s about time he sacked most of them, anyway. They are not doing him or the nation any service, they are distorting. They are just people who will say to him what they think he wants to hear, so if he’s depending on them, his government is doomed and so is this nation, unfortunately. There is nothing wrong in a government being doomed, the people know how to find themselves but, unfortunately, the causes of disintegration or destabilisation of everything that we have ever known, everything we have ever built up, is going to rebound most negatively on the nation and, during this so-called Democracy Day, it’s time for some drastic rethinking on the part of this government. 

Looking at the role of the people in all of this, would you say that the Nigerian people have been too docile for too long or are they just complacent? 

Let us go to a statement made recently by one of the governors – I think it was the Oyo State governor. It had to do with the recent attack, the butchery which took place in Oyo State, which is one of those defining moments. It is not the first though but I am saying it is one of the most recent defining moments for the future of this nation. And he was saying, I cannot defend my own people but we’ve set up the structure of defence but we lack the equipment, and he is speaking not for himself, he is repeating what everybody has been saying. We lack the equipment, we are ready to order it, we are ready to pay for it, we are waiting for the authorization from Aso Rock. I expected a leader to leap into the fray and say immediately that what authorisation are you waiting for? Your people are being killed and you need this, I am going to facilitate it, come and see me in Aso Rock. This governor is articulating the misery, the despair, the desperation of his own people who say we are being butchered everyday serially, collectively, and we need this to be able to protect ourselves and, therefore, continue to be part of this nation. Well, are you surprised then that the people then get up? Where did Sunday Igboho come from? What brings up individuals like Igboho? It is when they feel that they are not being listened to and that their very existence is in jeopardy, is in fact in great question. So, when you ask me what do the people feel? You hear it everywhere, you see it and you hear it in all those rallies, saying we have had enough, we are going Oduduwa way, we are going Biafra way. If the Benue people, for instance, felt that they have the logistics to even talk about secession, they would have been the first talking secession, considering what’s been happening to them in Benue over the past few years. But nobody seems to be able to find a solution. So, you should not be asking me what the people are feeling or saying, it is out there on the streets. Why was Amotekun created? It is an act of desperation, of frustration. Every day, people are being kidnapped and it has become a business and, then, somebody comes on air and acts as if all is well. I am saying this nation is about to self-destruct. I am not the only one saying this and it is about time Buhari and his government listened and took actions; otherwise, we will not be celebrating another Democracy Day come next year. 

Come 2023, what would you like to see in Nigeria as a way forward? 

First of all, Buhari must address the nation and I don’t mean the kind of interview he did the other day which was of him to tell Nigerians that he was hale and hearty. He must address the situation, of course using his own words. I am using my own word; that we are in a state of war and that we must be prepared for the worst but at the same time that the government is in full solidarity behind the people, and that sacrifices will be made here and there, even go as far as saying that some of our present lifestyle, things we could take for granted, we may for a time have to do without them simply because we have internal enemy force which is eating into the intestine of the nation. In other words, first of all, begin talking to the people like a leader, and a leader who is awake to the realities of the situation. Then let us see actions actually being taken. I am tired of hearing, for instance, don’t worry, you will see differences in a few weeks’ time. I think we are a bit tired of that. He is got to put his cards on the table, he’s got to put people into confidence; he’s got to stop exuding a false confidence because that kind of confidence is totally false, it is not based on realities and we have got to see an acceleration of actions to retrieve this nation from the very edge. It’s no longer the problem of the people; it is the problem of leadership because the people have shown themselves ready to act to save their own community. 

You recently dissociated yourself from the call for a Yoruba nation. How do you think the agitations for secession have been handled by both the federal and state governments, and do you totally disagree with the agitations? 

I am glad you mention the politicians. I think the politicians are not doing enough. NASS, Senate, if they study the Constitution very carefully, they’ll find that they have certain powers which they haven’t touched and I have discussed this with constitutional lawyers, by the way. There are certain powers, there are certain areas which they can force and they can compel this government to act the way it should and that applies especially to governors. The governors themselves are too tentative. I have used that expression before, they are too timid. There are certain areas of the Constitution that they can push so that we can get a sense of governance at all tiers and not just at the top, not just at the grassroots but at all tiers. I think the people are ready to move and to stand behind their own leaders. On the Yoruba nation, when it is time, I will make a statement on it. I respond to it only because I want to use your channel to appeal to people to stop putting words in my mouth. Such people are stupid, they are morons – if you think you can pressure me to speak by stealing my identity and putting words in my mouth on social media, you are wasting your time, not only that, you are just acting in a destructive way because you deceive people, people misunderstand the position one takes and they become confused. So, give up this game, this childish and moronic game of putting words in Wole Soyinka’s mouth and putting them on social media. 

Do you believe Nigeria can continue as one? 

Not if it remains this way. Not if it fails to decentralise. Some people use the word restructuring, some people use the word reconstruction, but if Nigeria fails to decentralise, and I mean to decentralise as fast as possible manifestly, not as rhetoric, then Nigeria cannot stay together. Again, it is not Wole Soyinka saying this, everybody is saying it. 

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