Between Prof Soyinka and General Babangida

The current face-off between Professor Wole Soyinka and retired General Ibrahim Babangida provides an intriguing find. It rekindles the old memory when some of the best minds in the land compromised their principle to serve under the juntas they often criticized. It is an issue I would never understand even if these pious and enlightened men rationalize their approach, which I think was unfavourable to the masses.

It provokes me to look in retrospect and highlight what actually went wrong in those days when the so-called democrats allowed themselves to be manipulated by successive military goons. What exactly was on their beautiful minds when they agreed to serve under these Khaki boys who knew so little about governance?

These two men are Nigerians whose paths have crossed. It is quite reasonable to suppose they should hate each other. Somehow their shipboard romance flourished swiftly to the utter surprise of the right thinking populace who violently believe in what the professor stands for, which apparently is in antithesis to that of the General.

One is an intellectual, a foremost dramatist who became the first African laureate of the Noble Prize – in Literature. The other is a retired soldier who swore to protect his country from external aggression but later betrayed that oath by becoming the 8th President of Nigeria from August 27, 1985 to August 27, 1993.

The professor hates injustice and embraces freedom of expression; he believes in the equality of human beings and fundamental human rights; above all, he seems to be a principled man. These things obviously describe the struggle of Prof's life. Reports have it that when he was a young man, he held a radio station against what he perceived as injustice.  

The General on the other hand has been feeding fat on the abandonment of democratic principles. The annulment on June 12, 1993 of presidential elections adjudged to be free and fair and believed to have been won by MKO Abiola still serves as Babangida's view on democracy. Apart from the devaluation of the country's currency, the killing by a letter bomb of Dele Giwa, a magazine editor critical of Babangida's regime in 1986 remains controversial till today.

In fact the Oputa Panel Report concluded that "On General Ibrahim Babangida, we are of the view that there is evidence to suggest that he and the two security chiefs, brigadier General Halilu Akilu and Col. A.k Togun are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb. We recommend that this case be re-opened for further investigation in the public interest."

The reason behind the recent exchange of hot words between these two Nigerians stems from the invitation extended to Babangida to give a keynote address at the Grand Award Night organized by Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), which the literary giant had objected. The event was meant to celebrate Nigerian literature.  Soyinka dismissed Babangida as an arch-enemy of humanity and of the humanities, adding that he prepared the ground for the late Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo to ride roughshod on the Nigerian people.

Reacting to the professor, Babangida described such criticism as ungodly for the Noble laureate to "selfishly cast aspersion on his fellow human being," adding that it was amusing that Prof. Soyinka who served under his administration can now claim to be holier-than-thou. Kassim Afegbua, Babangida's spokesperson says, "the professor is suffering from intellectual (senility) which is unfortunate. This is a man who after creating crisis in the country will run abroad. He is a man of dual personality and contradicting posturing."

It could be recalled that the professor served the military junta as Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission. Isn't it then amusing that Prof Soyinka who was part of military oligarchy is now claiming to be holier than thou? And this is where the Prof is vulnerable to attack. Although I respect and admire the literary giant, I would never buy any argument as to why he chose to serve under the military dictatorship. In retrospect, perhaps the worst mistake this giant has made in his life.

Surely Babangida's administration was marked by human rights abuses, economic strangulation, and dictatorship etc; we should not forget that the literary giant gave credence to Babangida's rule by serving under him. The ex-dictator proved adept at accommodating and manipulating public opinion and even buying off the opposition, earning the nickname Maradona (from Diego Maradona, the legendary Argentine soccer star).

Although Babangida is a Nigerian citizen and he is free to be invited and accept such invitation, it is sickening that a man who appears to have raped his motherland would still be relevant in the society. What examples are the organizers of the event setting? That as long as you survived robbery operation, you may as well enjoy the loot without any fear? That end justifies the means? That a failed coup plotter is a villain, while the successful one is a hero?

Consequently, I charge here that Professor Soyinka should have known better; he should have known that his holiday romance with people like Babangida would hunt him throughout his life. He should have known the meaning of evil genius. Babangida did not invite Soyinka or any other intellectuals to his regime because he respected them but to mock them, to show their hypocrisy. And they all fell for his trick.

I am not surprise to hear a Babangida apologist saying, "I do not think Wole Soyinka is the most appropriate person to pass judgment on IBB government. He was a participant as he was in charge of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC).

The eminent professor might have served under the military because of what he termed, "My preoccupation is with human lives. I care for them. I invented the first road safety corps in Africa because of human lives."

The question remains to what extent should journalists or writers serve under the government they criticize! Why should a respected critic or writer serve as a spokesperson for a man or woman who had hijacked the leadership of his or her country?

While I am quick to forgive the professor for serving under the junta, I am not ready to forgive the retired General. The reason for my stand is because, the professor has made up for his error of judgment by his continuous fight against injustice, while the retired General is still walking our street with the pride of a locust; even still nursing the ambition to rule us again. Shouldn't they all bury themselves in shame?

Copyright 2007      mysmallvoice@yahoo.com



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