Prof. Wole Soyinka Offers Buhari Cautious Endorsement, Dismisses Jonathan’s Re-Election Hopes

February 7, 2015 3:33 am
Soyinka, who was most probably alluding to President Olusegun
Obasanjo, asked in the case of Buhari, “Would it be different this time
round?”
Calling for vigilance over Buhari’s candidature, he said, “Whatever
demons got into a contestant to declare the spread of Sharia throughout
the nation his life mission must be exorcised – indeed, are presumed to
be already exorcised. Never again must any leader ban the discussion of
democratic restoration in the public arena. Nor must we ever again
witness the execution – even imprisonment! – of a citizen under
retroactive laws.”
He noted Buhari’s persistence as a presidential candidate, and warned
him about the debt he owes if she took a chance on him.

addressing the press about the reign of impunity yesterday 
 Nobel Prize Winner Wole Soyinka on
Friday offered presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari qualified support
of his quest, as he rejected President GoodluckJonathan’s claims to
re-electability.
“The clock of Change cannot tick sufficiently fast,” he said with
just one week to the election, but warned that Nigeria faced a difficult
and queer challenge.  
“There are no blacks and whites,” he pronounced. “It is not a contest
between saints and demons, not one between salvation and damnation. If
anything, it is closer to a fork in the road where uncertainty lurks –
whichever choice is made.”
He questioned where the hopes of a Buhari presidency may lead, in
view of the resentment of his previous leadership with its record
of “grievous assaults against Nigerian humanity, with a landscape of
broken lives that continues to lacerate collective memory.” 
He wondered whether Nigeria could hope, in that regard, that the All
Progressives Congress candidate could be held to have
been politically “born-again”? 
​“It is pointlessly, and dangerously provocative to present
General Buhari as something that he probably was not,” Soyinka
wrote.  “It is however just as purblind to insist that he has not
demonstrably striven to become what he most glaringly was not, to insist
that he has not been chastened by intervening experience and – most
critically – by a vastly transformed environment – both the localized
and the global.”
In that consideration, he recalled that Nigerians have been deceived
before, drawing attention to an unnamed “former ruler,” who, having been
presumed to have been “purged and transformed by a close encounter with
death, and imprisonment, has turned out to be an embodiment of
incorrigibility on several fronts, including a contempt for law and
constitution.”
Soyinka, who was most probably alluding to President Olusegun
Obasanjo, asked in the case of Buhari, “Would it be different this time
round?”
Calling for vigilance over Buhari’s candidature, he said, “Whatever
demons got into a contestant to declare the spread of Sharia throughout
the nation his life mission must be exorcised – indeed, are presumed to
be already exorcised. Never again must any leader ban the discussion of
democratic restoration in the public arena. Nor must we ever again
witness the execution – even imprisonment! – of a citizen under
retroactive laws.”
He noted Buhari’s persistence as a presidential candidate, and warned
him about the debt he owes Nigeria if she took a chance on him.
“This persistent candidate seeks return, but let him understand that
it can only be as a debtor to the past, and that the future cannot wait
to collect,” he declared.  “If this collective leap of faith is derided,
repudiated or betrayed under a renewed immersion in the ambiance of
power or retrogressive championing, of a resumption of clearly
repudiated social directions, we have no choice but to revoke an
unspoken pact and resume our march to that yet elusive space of freedom,
however often interrupted, and by whatever means we can humanly muster.
And if in the process, the consequence is national hara-kiri, no one
can say that there had been no deluge of warnings.”
Restating the failure of Mr. Jonathan’s leadership, Soyinka posed one
final question about the Sword of Damocles that hangs over Jonathan’s
head in the form of his abandonment of the Chibok girls who were
abducted last April.
“If you had received of your daughter’s kidnapping, how
long would it take you to spring to action?” he asked of Mr.
Jonathan.  “Instantly? One day? Two? Three? A week?  Or maybe TEN days?”
THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE –  A Burden of Choice.
First, let us not simplify the challenge. There are no blacks and
whites. It is not a contest between saints and demons, not one between
salvation and damnation. If anything, it is closer to a fork in the road
where uncertainty lurks – whichever choice is made. Someone in the
media has called it a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea,
another between Apocalypse and Salvation. The reasons are not
far-fetched. They are firmly lodged in the trauma of memory and the
rawness of current realities. Well, at least one can dialogue with
the devil, even dine with that creature with the proverbial long spoon.
With the deep blue sea however, deceptively placid, even the best
swimmers drown. The problem for some is deciding which is the devil,
which the deep blue sea. For most, instructively, the difference is
clear. There are no ambiguities, no qualifications, no pause for
reflection – they are simply raring to go!  I envy them.
​Let all partisans of progress however constantly exercise
self-restraint in assessment and expectations. Facts remain facts and
should never be tampered with.  Verification is nearly always available
from records and – the testimonies of witnesses. Yet memory may prove
faulty, so even those who were alive during any political regimen should
exercise even greater caution and not get carried away by partisanship
in any cause, however laudable or apparently popular.  In the interest
of truth, embarrassing though it is, we are obliged to correct all such
tendencies openly, since revisionism is a travesty of history, and never
more treacherously so than in a time of critical democratic choices. I
apologize in advance to the authors of the instance that I must now use
as an example, apologize because it does not come close to the most
atrocious revisionist stances propagated in the past few weeks. However,
it is one of the most recent, is born of noble intent, but serves to
remind us of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good
intentions. From that same origination however also came a corrective,
and that very adjustment offers us optional routes in the way we deal
with historical facts, especially when we find ourselves on the same
side of commitment to the positive in a political cause. 
​In recalling, or commenting on any event that involves victim
and violator, there is a difference between “It never happened” or “it
was the accepted norm for the time” etc. etc. on the one hand, and, on
the other,  “we have forgiven what did happen”. Both positions converge
at the point of “moving on”. One, the first, however disparages and
trivializes the suffering of – in this instance – victims of the abuse
of power, dead or alive. In so doing, it also desecrates the memory of
these and other victims.  The second approach insists on its entitlement
to justice, waives that right by drawing on a store of magnanimity and
even – places the violator on notice! Its example also challenges the
adamantly unforgiving, challenges them to join in an exercise of their
own capacity for obliterating the past, acting in the collective
interest, and perhaps attaining closure. 
​When I read the statement attributed to a scion of a political
family that his father was “not jailed” but was merely “invited for
interrogation as required by military tradition and policies then”, I
felt deeply offended, but mostly saddened. For this adjustment of
reality provided evidence of yet another lesson unlearnt.  Exoneration
through denial, and without evidence of remorse or restitution by a
violator is a serious lapse in public accountability, and an invitation
to a repeat by the offender – or other aspiring emulators. In any
crisis, it is not unusual to find oneself in bed with ideologically
embarrassing partners.  Let it be understood that this does not require
that we actually begin to dress them in saintly robes. 
​What makes our situation especially galling is the fervid
intrusion of some opportunistic sanitizers who bear direct, sometimes
even originating responsibility for the plight in which a people have
been placed. These are individuals who should be doing penance, walking
from one corner of the nation to the other covered in the equivalent of
‘sackcloth and ashes’ for their role in bringing the nation to its
lamentable condition. Yet they insist on remaining obsessively in
the public face, preening themselves up for recognition as the primary
forces behind a nation’s renewed efforts to redeem and re-determine
itself. They are the promoters – actively or by default – of the current
national trauma of a Boko Haram malignancy, the anti-corruption
rhetoricians who however believe that they have literally got away with
murder. Rather than make reparations in any number of unobtrusive ways,
they impudently exploit a permissive, and despairing atmosphere for
regaining relevance.  The nation should watch out for their antics, even
while exploiting them to the hilt for the overall remedial purpose.
They owe the nation. We must ensure however that they are incapacitated
from making more mischief. I am consoled that not all the Nigerian
electorate is as simple-minded and gullible as they believe. 
​The nation finds herself at a critical turn, where the wrong
choice places it beyond all hope of remaining intact – and by ‘intact’ I
do not refer to breast-beating mantras such as the “non-negotiability
of Nigerian sovereignty”. I am speaking here of the viability of
whatever calls itself the Nigerian nation, its functional proof, the
ability to generate its very existence and cater for the future. Since I
still have some time invested in that commodity, the future – with
apologies to impatient Internet Obituarists – it becomes impossible to
refrain from direct participation in the process of, or the
encouragement of others, in the process of making a choice.  In any
case, I am compromised by the wiles of unprincipled campaigners whose
pastime is to propagate a choice I have never declared. It is meagre
consolation that I am not alone in being subjected to such fraudulence.
Even the dead, who cannot answer back, have not been spared.  In and out
of context, the ongoing campaign appears to have appropriated any
public figure as free-for-all material, to be quoted out of turn, his or
her utterances mangled and distorted, forced into incongruous contexts,
and sometimes, even in a counter-productive manner, although such
desperate campaigners appear blissfully unaware of this.  What is being
overlooked however is that, while facts remain constant, the environment
evolves, and may play a tempering role in the very evocation of a
record of the condemable acts of governance. I am not speaking of time
now – as a dulling agent of painful memory – but of the very actualities
of the present as an advocate of – at the very least – remission.
​ The era of this election offers an incontrovertible proof of
that reminder. Let us leave aside for a moment the parlous condition of
the Nigerian landscape and look outwards for some inspiration. We live
in an era that we, on this continent, may be forgiven for inscribing as
the era of The Mandelan example. Mandela’s life trajectory remains a
lighthouse in any voyage into uncharted waters – anywhere and any
time that a people’s history is cited.  Confessedly, we can only adopt
bits and pieces of this Monumental Examplar.  The bit that is called
upon in this instance is a virtue that is aptly designated civic
courage, an aspect of courage that enables one to make a leap of faith
when confronted with a near intractable choice.
​Let me state, right on the heels of that exhortation that the
acceptance of this imposition by society demands in its turn a massive
reciprocity, a condition of individual moral courage that manifests
itself in the ability to express contrition for the past, with its
implicit commitment to an avoidance of such acts as violated the
loftiest entitlements of human existence such as – freedom.  We have no
apology for declaring that our civic Muse is, summatively – Freedom. The
right of choice. Volition. The Right of participation in the modalities
of collective existence including its rituals, the sum of which is
routinely known as – Democracy. Its antithesis is enslavement, and we
who have undergone centuries of enslavement and disdain from the
imperious will of outsiders, have no intention of changing slave
masters, irrespective of race, colour, religion, social pedigree,
profession or political ideology. This is why, apart from a few deranged
species that have removed themselves from the definition of
humanity, we are united against the tyranny of Boko Haram and other
proponents of chains – visible and invisible – as the rightful portion
of their fellow beings. 
​Through participation, direct or vicarious, we find ourselves
landed within a system that has thrown up two choices – realistically
speaking, that is. Formally, we dare not ignore the claims of other
contestants. Of the two however, one is representative of the immediate
past, still present with us, and with an accumulation of negative
baggage.  The other is a remote past, justly resented, centrally
implicated in grievous assaults against Nigerian humanity, with a
landscape of broken lives that continues to lacerate collective memory. 
However – and this is the preponderant ‘however’ – is there such a
phenomenon as a genuine “born-again”? 
​It is largely around this question that a choice will probably
be made. It is pointlessly, and dangerously provocative to present
General Buhari as something that he provably was not.  It is however
just as purblind to insist that he has not demonstrably striven to
become what he most glaringly was not, to insist that he has not been
chastened by intervening experience and – most critically – by a vastly
transformed environment – both the localized and the global. Of course
we have been deceived before. A former ruler whom, one presumed, had
been purged and transformed by a close encounter with death, and
imprisonment, has turned out to be an embodiment of incorrigibility on
several fronts, including a contempt for law and constitution. Would it
be different this time round? Has subjection to police tear-gas and
other forms of violence, like the rest of us mortals, and a spell in
close detention, truly ‘civilianized’ this contender? I have studied him
from a distance, questioned those who have closely interacted with him,
including his former running-mate, Pastor Bakare, and dissected his key
utterances past and current. And my findings?  A plausible
transformation that comes close to that of another ex-military dictator,
Mathew Kerekou of the Benin Republic.Despite such encouraging
precedents however, I continue to insist that the bridge into any future
expectation remains a sheer leap of faith. Such a leap I find
impossible to concede to his close rival, since we are living in
’s present, in an environment that his six years in
office have created and now seek to consolidate.  That is the
frightening prospect. It requires more than a superhuman effort to
concede to the present incumbent a springboard for a people’s critical
leap.​
​I address only those who require no further persuasion that the
present is untenable and intolerable – and from virtually every aspect
of national life. All men and women of discerning can separate
actualities from their exaggerated rendition, can peel off the
distracting gloss that is smeared all over our social condition by those
who seek to blind us to an unjust and avoidable social predicament. We
have tasted the condiments of an incipient police state. We recognize
acts of outright fascism in a dispensation that is supposedly
democratic. We have endured a season of stagnation in development and a
drastic deterioration in the quality of existence. We are force-fed the
burgeoning culture of impunity, blatantly manifested in massive
corruption. We feel insulted by the courtship and indulgence of common
criminals by the machinery of power. The list is endless but above it
all, we understand when there is a failure of leadership, resulting in a
near total collapse of society.  We are now brought to a confrontation
with choice, when we must make a leap of faith, to open up avenues of
restoration.
​Leadership is, I acknowledge, an often imprecise expression,
conveniently absolving those who invoke its absence of the burden of
proof.  When I make that accusation, it is based on hard instances for
which proof is not only demonstrable in all spheres of governance –
and superabundantly so – but can be provided if challenged by anyone,
including the obscene convocation of the cretinous, who even believe
 that they have earned the right to poke their messy  fingers into
strictly family travails of a political contestant, that the medical
challenges within a family are matters of public relevance or offer the
slightest evidence of that individual’s ability to discharge public
responsibility. Some tactics deployed in the process of this political
campaign remain some of the most vulgar and sickening that the nation
has experienced on its democratic journey. Perhaps it is just as well.
The exercise on its own offers warning of  fascism in the offing if the
wrong choice is made, if the crucial leap of faith is rejected by the
faint-hearted!  Of course, it has not all been one-sided, but let
us leave the exercise of assessment to every individual capable of
applying the most stringent objective yardsticks. 
​Has the campaign in itself thrown up any portents for the
future? Let all beware. The predator walks stealthily on padded feet,
but we all know now with what lightning speed the claws flash into
action. We have learnt to expect, deplore and confront certain acts in
military dictatorship, but to find them manifested under a
supposedly democratic governance? Of course the tendency did not begin
with this regime, but how eagerly the seeming meek have aspired to
surpass their mentors! 
​We must not be sanguine, or complacent. Eternal,
minute-to-minute vigilance remains the watchword. Whatever demons got
into a contestant to declare the spread of Sharia throughout the nation
his life mission must be exorcised – indeed, are presumed to be already
exorcised. Never again must any leader ban the discussion of democratic
restoration in the public arena. Nor must we ever again witness the
execution – even imprisonment! – of a citizen under retroactive laws.
This persistent candidate seeks return, but let him understand that it
can only be as a debtor to the past, and that the future cannot wait to
collect. If this collective leap of faith is derided, repudiated or
betrayed under a renewed immersion in the ambiance of power or
retrogressive championing, of a resumption of clearly repudiated social
directions, we have no choice but to revoke an unspoken pact and resume
our march to that yet elusive space of freedom, however often
interrupted, and by whatever means we can humanly muster. And if in the
process, the consequence is national hara-kiri, no one can say that
there had been no deluge of warnings.
​The art of leadership is complex and unenviable. Among its most
basic, simple demands however, is the capacity for empathy, since a
leader does not preside over stones but palpable humanity. Thus, in
asserting a failure in leadership in a rivaling candidate, I pose only
one question, a question of basic humanism that is directed at a leader
who equally demands that a nation make a leap of faith for him also,
that a people presume his capability for self-transformation. That
question is this: 
​“If you had received news of your daughter’s kidnapping, how
long would it take you to spring to action? Instantly? One
day? Two? Three? A week?  Or maybe TEN days?”
​While we await the answer, the clock of Change cannot tick sufficiently fast!
 
Wole SOYINKA
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