There is a raging social media debate revolving around Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, and his purported silence concerning perceived wrongs of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The 83-year old Soyinka has been accused of losing his voice and unable to criticize Buhari, who he endorsed in 2015. Soyinka’s supporters have countered mostly along the lines of the fact that the man has been involved in activism for over 50 years, and his critics should find their own voices and take over the baton.
But is it true that Soyinka has been completely silent under the Buhari administration? Below are five times in 2017 in which he spoke about actions of the Buhari government.
1. In February, when the police insisted that a planned protest by music legend, Tuface Idibia, could not hold, Soyinka did two things:
- He spoke publicly about it, even writing an op-ed, in which he accused Buhari’s government of continuing in the tradition of previous governments in attempting to stifle the rights of Nigerians to freedom of peaceful expresion.
“Again and again, efforts, both under military and civilian orders have been made to stifle the rights to freedom of expression by Nigerian governments – Buhari, Babangida, Obasanjo, Abacha, Jonathan….and now again, Buhari?” he said. “These efforts have been, and will always be resisted. It is a moral issue, as old as settled humanity. It has been settled in other parts of the world. Nigeria cannot be an exception, not as long as her citizens refuse to accept the designation of second, even third-rate citizens.”
- He took action. Soyinka sent a message to “the Inspector-General of Police, through the Commissioner of Police, Lagos state, urging both to respect and safeguard the constitutional rights of the people.”
2. When Buhari refused to release details of his health status (as he still continues to till this day), Soyinka made several comments on the matter.
In Lagos, he said:
“Why is the president hiding his state of health? He’s supposed to understand he’s public property…
“Once you are in Aso Rock, or you occupy a similar position, you have a responsibility to come out frankly to your citizens.
“Guarding your state of health like Donald Trump is guarding his tax returns is not what we expect from a Nigerian president.
“Let him address the nation and stop all these speculations which creates unnecessary political manipulations among other things,” he said.
At an event in Paris, Soyinka said:
“He is ill, there’s no question, and I wish for heaven’s sake that he would just be honest.
“Illness is part of our existence. Buhari owes it to the nation and I don’t know why he and his advisors are being so coy about it.”
3. On the Buhari’s government refusal to release the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim Zakzaky, Soyinka had this to say in an interview:
“It is illogical and unwise, the continuing detention of their leader in jail. I don’t see why he (Buhari) is still keeping their leader. It is wrong and violates his human rights.”
4. On whether he was satisfied with Buhari’s performance in office, Soyinka hasn’t been very categorical. On some issues like fighting corruption, he gives Buhari a pass mark, on some other issues, he blames the Jonathan administration for laying the seeds which placed the country where it is right now. And on some others, he believes Buhari deserves criticism.
Here’s what he said in a September interview in response to a question asking him to assess the Buhari government:
“It is a large question. There are areas of yawning gaps; just take security for instance, the average citizen feels less secure now than it did a few years ago, that is evident.
“The economy, there is a big question on it right now; fortunately everybody admits that we went through a very bad patch. Right now, it’s a question of have we come out of it or not; if in fact there is no question about it, the past few years have been years of internal economic disasters for the average citizen, but it is a question of who laid the seed?
“When and where and how were the seeds laid for the agony this nation has gone through in the last few years?”
5. On the issue of restructuring of the polity – a major priority issue for the Nobel Laureate, he criticised Pres. Buhari’s argument against restructuring by claiming that the unity of the country is not negotiable.
“That is another ploy to sidetrack the issue. Nobody is talking about disuniting Nigeria, we know there are movements for secession, but let Buhari and others go and address this separately.
“This should not be mixed with the demand of a nation for reconfiguration, people should stop answering demands for secession by pretending to answer the demands for reconfiguration.
“Secession should be a different thing. To try and suggest that the moment you say restructure, you are calling for disintegration, is for me intellectually dishonest, that is not the issue at all.”
He has also criticised the presidency’s argument as championed by Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, that what Nigeria needs is a restructuring of the mind and not of the polity. Also, he said in September that the clamour for a Buhari second term is “sickening”. His argument was however not completely against the president’s second term as it was against the fact that it was too early to have that conversation.