by Shaka Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, our Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka is at it again, treading a familiar path. Only that this time, he is not openly endorsing President Muhammadu Buhari but is helping him on the road to 2019 by undermining and distracting from the common and altruistic objective to get Buhari out of power in 2019. It is imperative that we call him out now to either save him from himself, or save Nigeria from him.
He does this cleverly by regularly taking umbrage at former President Olusegun Obasanjo for his past “sins”. He started this crusade against Obasanjo just when he saw that the former president had become the most potent and formidable opponent to Buhari’s 2019 ambition. Recall that Soyinka, Obasanjo and others helped to install and guarantee “change” in 2015. It is perplexing that at a time like this – when we are dealing with the “sins” of the present that pose an existential threat to our country; when all hands must be on deck to exorcise this “change” that has gone awry from our national psyche for the good of all, Soyinka, our wordsmith who should know better, focuses on Obasanjo’s past. What is the new provocation this time if not to counter him for Buhari’s benefit?
This is not the fiery legend we once knew, and for some of us who still treasure the Soyinka of old, we should all help retain whatever memories of his past interventions that shaped our admiration of him. We should hold on to them and tell our children what they missed. Maybe, it will mitigate that powerful feeling of disappointment against his pro-Buhari rhetoric.
In Soyinka’s own words, “Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future.” A mere three-and-a-half years ago, the leaders of the All Progressives Congress led by Bola Tinubu visited Obasanjo at his Ota hilltop mansion and lobbied him for endorsement of their “change” agenda. And he did. They then appointed him the “navigator” of change. Soyinka only made a feeble denunciation of the move but did not produce a documentary, or write a book to expose Obasanjo’s hypocrisy or “sins”. Soon afterwards, he and Obasanjo sailed together on the same boat of change. They both endorsed Buhari for president.
His personal animosity for the former president whom he (Soyinka) had declared would continue in the hereafter didn’t get in the way much then. Why? Because they shared a common objective to get the last government out of power. So it was perfectly okay then for the sworn enemies to put their enmity aside and worked separately, or together to achieve a common purpose. Let me remind Soyinka that when Obasanjo made the sensational false claim that 1,000 politicians had been placed on a watch list and the last administration had a hit squad of killer snipers, the then opposition latched onto it to advance its propaganda. Obasanjo was not one of the greatest hypocritical leaders this nation had ever produced at the time!
As Obasanjo made those wild claims, Soyinka on his part, held world press conferences to either attack the then first lady, Patience Jonathan, or the government. I don’t know if there was some kind of coordination. I doubt there was. But the coincidence of purpose was instructive. Let no one pretend here that those attacks did not chip away something from the last government.
But now that Obasanjo has fallen out with the fake agents of change, and is working hard to defeat Buhari’s lying APC government, our Nobel laureate has suddenly realised that the man is a hypocrite. Can anyone beat that? This is exactly the moment when you tell your teacher, “Teacher, please don’t teach me nonsense.” There is a saying in the land of my fathers that when you spit into the wind, it comes back and lands on your nose.
There is nothing new about Obasanjo that Soyinka has told us that we don’t know already. None of the “sins” he mentioned approximate to this appalling tragedy we have on our hands. To choose this time to attack Obasanjo for galvanising the opposition against Buhari is tantamount to endorsing the status quo in another guise. Who told our laureate that those long, big-worded essays or arguments against Obasanjo’s course, which in any way, have been rehearsed again and again, would whittle down support for Obasanjo’s goal to get Buhari out in 2019? Despite being a difficult person, Obasanjo has somehow claimed the high ground by showing contrition over his role in foisting this calamitous change on Nigerians, while Soyinka is at best equivocating, and at worst undermining the collective efforts.
He was one of those who threw their heavyweight behind a nepotistic, clannish, provincial and clueless, ethnic irredentist to become president. We have seen the near-irreversible damage Buhari has done to those things that hold this fragile nation together. We have seen the senseless carnage unleashed on communities by the Fulani herdsmen from hell. And the indifference of this government to it knows no bounds. Human life is now worth far less than that of a cow. What used to be was that when a person died, or a child was born, or a couple was getting married, etc, a cow was slaughtered to mark the burial rites or event as the case maybe. Under Buhari, when a cow is stolen or killed, human beings are killed and houses razed to the ground as revenge. These disturbing ironies are the more urgent emergencies staring us in the face.
Our laureate would do well to focus on documenting these killings by Fulani herdsmen and compile statements by top officials of this government that buoyed the herdsmen on an unending killing spree. He should document the complicity of the security forces and all enablers of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity for a date in the future at The Hague. This is the least he can do as a form of atonement for helping to foist this tragedy on us. This would no doubt help in the healing process to come after this grave national injury.
Another option for Soyinka is to either join the burgeoning coalition or form his own group to get rid of this disaster as a way of atonement, instead of engaging in diversionary sabre rattling about how hypocritical Obasanjo is. Anyway, I have some pertinent questions for him: is Bola Ahmed Tinubu not a hypocrite? Is Yemi Osinbajo not a hypocrite? What of Rotimi Amaechi, Babatunde Fashola, and Adams Oshiomhole? Who is more hypocritical than Buhari? It smacks of “nauseating hypocrisy” for Soyinka himself to regularly attack Obasanjo and remain silent when his “political associates” have committed worse atrocities.
Recall that sometime ago when the economy was in free fall, our Nobel laureate visited Buhari at the Presidential Villa. When he emerged from the discussion with the president, he promised to speak on the state of the nation in two weeks. Well, two weeks came and passed, Soyinka failed to address anything of significance. Instead, he told journalists who had gathered to hear him deliver his verdict that he had “changed” his mind. For many who were already suspicious of his position on this government, that added to the growing evidence of how our ex-fiery activist had lost his ability to speak truth to power.
Now, if I may ask, does Soyinka really know the implications of another four years of Buhari? Farmers in the middle belt, the food basket of the nation, can’t go to their farms anymore because of the herdsmen attacks. They are hungry, marooned in IDP camps. And I ask again: did Soyinka not read what the presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina said? According to Adesina, it is better to give up ancestral land for ranching than to be killed? In other words, Nigerians are being forced to give up their lands with a gun to their heads. With this plague in the land fostered by the herdsmen, why is Soyinka focusing on Obasanjo?
If anything, Nigerians are more likely to forgive a man like Obasanjo who having realised his mistake is taking all necessary and legitimate steps to right that mistake than listen to a man who having realised his mistake, at least in his heart of hearts, is stubbornly refusing to own up to it, and is even distracting from a collective effort to correct it.
Now to the crux of the matter: Soyinka’s main grouse with Obasanjo is that he is the wrong person to lead a recovery. While many including myself share that sentiment somewhat, I hasten to add without equivocation that Soyinka himself is the wrong person to say this. He is conflicted and afflicted by the same disqualifying measure that made Obasanjo less worthy. I am struggling to find the moral basis for Soyinka’s stance because I think he is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism and the egregious dereliction of duty and outright abdication of responsibility to protect lives that have sadly become the hallmark of the Buhari presidency. I am not persuaded that his recent interventions carried the force of character and conviction that had shaped his life’s works and earned him the stature and acclaim he enjoyed over the years. There was a certain weakness and a condoning texture to them.
You see, if Soyinka is not working for Buhari, who then is the beneficiary of his new campaign against Obasanjo? The timing and frequency of his attacks are quite significant. They are a clever diversionary tactic to weaken efforts to get Buhari out in 2019. The calculation seems to be if you weaken and discredit Obasanjo, you would have removed the most potent voice of the opposition against Buhari. It is doubtful if Obasanjo was still supporting Buhari whether Soyinka would have launched his campaign against the former president.
Truth be told, our laureate has descended to the mundane. He recently called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate a petition purportedly written by former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu against Obasanjo. Even the most ardent of Soyinka’s supporters would find this not just funny, but totally ludicrous. Kalu, a diehard Obasanjo hater, has been facing trial on fraud charges for over 12 years. His trial is a result of his investigation for fraud/corruption which dates back to the Obasanjo presidency. This has adversely affected his business interests. Since he decamped to the ruling APC (he would join any party in power to save his neck) and has been campaigning for Buhari, key EFCC witnesses against him have been disappearing in an effort to frustrate the conclusion of his trial. Cunning Kalu has been playing the game very well by always singing Buhari’s praises since he knows very well that his continuous freedom from jail depends on such antics. This was the same man whose petition against Obasanjo Soyinka is urging EFCC to act on.
The “interest convergence” is clear to the discerning: Buhari for 2019. It is obvious that Soyinka is working discreetly with his “political associates” some of who have mind-boggling corruption cases/allegations hanging over their heads. It is instructive that he has never condemned them or called on the EFCC to investigate them for their financial escapades. Surprisingly, even the corruption allegations that have plagued this government, involving jaw-dropping amounts that could “hammer someone into the ground”, have not attracted the attention of Soyinka. Clearly, where his “political associates” are, there his heart is.
Soyinka may do well to write a petition to EFCC to investigate Baru’s claim that the national daily consumption of petrol spiked to 60-65 million litres from 30-35 litres between last and this year. If he doesn’t see corruption and fraud there, many Nigerians see it. Our laureate should ask EFCC why Babachir Lawal has not been prosecuted. And also what has become of Abdulrasheed Maina’s probe and others.
There is some kind of perplexing irony about the Soyinka-Buhari relationship. Let me refresh your memory. If I recall correctly, when Soyinka endorsed Buhari in 2015, he did say he had inquired and got the assurance of Pastor Tunde Bakare that Buhari had actually changed. For those who don’t remember, Bakare was Buhari’s running mate in the 2011 presidential election. What am I getting at here? Well, Pastor Bakare has since bolted, having seen that Buhari’s actions have since contradicted the assurances he once gave Soyinka. More interestingly, Bakare, a vociferous Obasanjo critic, in a bid to save Nigeria, has put his differences with Obasanjo aside and was at the meeting Obasanjo held with some Yoruba elders to strategise and form a united front against Buhari in 2019. But Soyinka, pandering to the interests of his friends, has stayed put.
Recently, I was at a loss for words that Soyinka was present at an event where Buhari honoured that cunning betrayer called Babagana Kingibe along with the late MKO Abiola as heroes of democracy. Also, a few weeks ago, Soyinka idolised Buhari as a born-again democrat for respecting press freedom. The cold irony here is that the same man holds a medal of infamy for violating the rule of law and disrespecting court orders not favourable to his government. Unfortunately, Soyinka so eager to burnish the image of this government chose the convenient one.
It is amazing that despite Buhari’s unarguable failure, Soyinka still backs him and his counterfeit change. Instead of hiding behind targeted attacks on Obasanjo, he should come out and take a stand like he did in 2015 when between “the meek” and the “extremely dangerous”, he embraced the latter. This time, discreetly treading the same path as his “political associates”, it looks like he has chosen the kiss of death.
- This piece was written by Shaka Momodu/Thisday