To assume that our icon and respected professor of English Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka is adjudged a "Saint" by many in Nigeria and the world would probably be a correct assumption. There is nothing wrong in this because as we all know, the pantheon of saints is filled with men and women who were once ordinary mortals. Given the length and substance of contributions of the revered Professor to struggles for social and civil development in Nigeria and his constant quest for a fair political system for the country, it is one's candid opinion that he deserves his sainthood.
When a human being reaches the pedestal of sainthood, he is no longer a private property. He is like a comet. He draws attention wherever he goes and wherever he shows up. He becomes the barometer with which others are measured. He becomes the standard to which many aspire. He becomes the property of all those who adore him and those who worship at his feet. He becomes a public figure whose all acts and utterances would elicit more than ordinary interest and scrutiny. He is passionately admired and reverently regarded. In the eyes of his devotees, he could hardly do any wrong. As a result of this, much would always be conceded to him while much more would continue to be expected of him.
Responding to a "saint" who has many non-questioning admirers, is a difficult task because such a venture is fraught with danger- yes, the danger of being misunderstood. But as Professor Soyinka himself would testify as a proud son of Oodua, in Yorubaland we respect our elders very tremendously, but we are never afraid to ask them questions and hold them accountable. Thus, in this follow up that would be my final commentary on this issue regardless of what serves as its concomitants I would maintain the respect I have for the revered Kongi in full.
I am sure that the Professor would be disappointed if I fail to respond having suggested in his "TEA BREAK IN NAIJA," that Remi Oyeyemi is "irresponsible." He claimed that I, REMI OYEYEMI am "a faceless individual." WOW!! This is an incredible claim by a Professor known for his intellectual prowess and diligence. After reading his piece, my first inkling was to let the matter rest. But it is difficult to let the highly esteemed Professor get away with the less than classy act of calling this writer "irresponsible" and a "faceless individual."
It is amazing that this eminent Professor who accused me of not doing my "home work" is actually the one who failed to do his home work. In his response to my initial piece, he implied that he has many friends in the media who have decided against using some stories or articles about him (Soyinka) that they deemed unworthy in the past. If he had bothered to ask around the same media circles that he boasted about, at least one or two people would have told him that REMI OYEYEMI is not "faceless." Going beyond that he could have picked up his phone to speak to some of the political personalities that he mentioned were on the plane with him on his escape from Benin to Lagos, and some of them would have told him who REMI OYEYEMI is.
Professor Soyinka used the word "abuse" to describe the publication of my article by SAHARAREPORTERS. In my book the use of this word is in itself an "abuse" by my dear Professor. Needless to say that SAHARAREPORTERS is an unbiased medium that has often allowed the publication of all sides of an issue. To use such words to describe the medium's act of publishing my article is a misuse of the word "abuse". It is a serious challenge to have to say this about the distinguished Egba Englishman famous for his seminal command of grammar and dexterous aptitude for the use of diction.
The Professor suggested that SAHARAREPORTERS ought to have reached out to him and ask him about the details of what was in my article, most of which have been in the public domain except the questions that I raised. Wole Soyinka is advocating censorship? This is stranger than fiction! I am flabbergasted about this because I know how the Professor has always condemned censorship in the Nigerian society when some of our media houses were closed down especially during the era of the deadly duo of Generals Mohammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon. What could have changed in the years gone by to get him to wantonly exhibit the same attitude that he called "dictatorial conceit" in describing my article? Is this a case of "pot calling the kettle black" when Professor Soyinka accused me of "deplorable tone of pomposity ....... that sets one's teeth on edge."
Before we move one, for purposes of clarity, it is important that the following "pertinent issues" as Professor Soyinka called them in his response are noted by the readers:
- Did Professor Wole Soyinka get to Oshiomole's House in Benin or not?
- If he did, why was the Media led to believe that he turned back at the Benin Airport?
- Why was it not reported in the Media that he met with IBB in Oshiomole's Home before deciding not to attend the rally?
- Why must Kongi wait until IBB's controversial interview before telling the public that he actually met with IBB whom he wishes the world to believe he is not supporting, in Benin as he admitted in his response to Remi Oyeyemi?
- Why did Kongi have to wait for Remi Oyeyemi's article and about 54 days after the fact to now suggest to the public (in Tea Break in Naija) that the Media reports of his visit to Edo State were not very accurate?
Professor Soyinka wrote the following:
".....I remain in ignorance also of how the Nigerian media reported the Edo incident. Beyond my brief comment on return to Ikeja airport, I declined to give any interviews on the incident. I left the airport before the AC delegation. By agreement en route from Benin, they would do the talking. My only interest was to return to my US engagements without further loss of valuable time."
The reports of what allegedly transpired in Edo State came out in all the national dailies on April 30, 2010. The Ibrahim Babangida's interview came out 44 days after on June 13, 2010 in the COMPASS Newspaper. My article which was a reaction to IBB's interview was actually submitted within 30 minutes of its completion on June 20,2010. If the media had misreported what transpired in Edo State in regard to Professor Soyinka as he implied in the quote above by claiming to be ignorant of "how the Nigerian media reported the incident," the esteemed Professor had 44 days to set the record straight, before IBB had the chance to open the can of tea. But Professor Soyinka did not do so for reasons best known to him.
Since he also admitted in the quote above that "By agreement en route from Benin, they (the AC delegation) would do the talking," where then is the fault of Remi Oyeyemi if Professor Soyinka's friends gave less than complete version of events to the Nigerian media? It is assumed that before the Professor would agree that these friends of his (the AC delegation) should do the talking, he must have had a modicum of trust in them and believed that they would do a good job of it. If Professor Soyinka believed that the Nigerian Media did not do a good job reporting the events that occurred in Edo State, where was he in the previous 44 days before the IBB interview? And what is wrong if Remi Oyeyemi seeks clarification about the confusing reports?
Professor Soyinka was upset that my "article premised on a profusion of ÔÇśifs', ÔÇśmaybes', ÔÇśmight bes', ÔÇśit is possible that', ÔÇśalleged', ÔÇśreportedly'." It is surprising that my highly esteemed Kongi did not know that the reason for that was because I, as a public commentator and admirer, was giving him benefit of the doubt which I believe he richly deserved. I wanted him to come out and clear the air about the insinuations that IBB was making in his interview. He has done that, but he was greatly mistaken by trying to blame Remi Oyeyemi for omissions that are patently Wole Soyinka's.
Then Professor Soyinka made the following confession:
".....I indeed met and exchanged ÔÇśpleasantries' with Babangida. When I discovered what had brought him into Oshiomole's visitors' lounge ÔÇô in company of at least some twenty-odd other guests, including Governor Sylvia of Bayelsa ÔÇô when I found that he had been invited to the rally, and that David Mark was also invited as Guest of Honour, I organized my leave-taking as fusslessly and efficiently as I know how, with a fortuitous timing that enabled me to hitch a ride in the chartered plane that brought AC leaders to Edo."
Professor Soyinka needed to have gone beyond this mere confession to show Remi Oyeyemi's "irresponsibility." Where in all the MEDIA REPORTS was it reported that the Professor "indeed met and exchanged ÔÇśpleasantries' with Babangida?" It meant that if IBB, who probably have a different motive for the revelation of that happenstance, did not reveal such in his COMPASS interview, the world would have been made to believe that our revered Professor turned back from the Benin Airport? Doesn't the Professor know that it is better that the world be made aware of what happened as soon as it happened rather than let it filter out? Does he not know that it would look "somehow" if this is heard third hand? Does he not see the ramification for his credibility in this context? Does he think this would be an issue if he had made the happenstance public before now rather than allow his friend IBB do this?
With due respect, after Professor Soyinka made the above quoted confession that he actually met IBB and exchanged pleasantries with him, it is highly preposterous, for the highly esteemed Professor to contend that he finds "Oyeyemi's article pretentious, pompous and irresponsibly misleading." How is Remi Oyeyemi's article "misleading?" Have you not just confirmed and confessed to exchanging "pleasantries" (whatever that means) with IBB? What is "pretentious" about Remi Oyeyemi's article when he (Oyeyemi) insisted that there was nothing wrong if you chose to drink tea with IBB and still not support him, but just make that clear to the observing public so that your actions were not misinterpreted? It is inaccurate to describe Oyeyemi's article as "pompous" when all he was trying to do is to get clarification to an obvious obfuscation, except that our esteemed Professor thinks he ought not be questioned about his acts and utterances when such are unclear?
If this were to be the case it would be very unfortunate. Apart from the fact that it is against our culture in Yorubaland to shut up a younger person who has a legitimate concern, Professor Soyinka has put in about five decades of fight to creating a society where no one would be above the law and everyone could be held accountable for their choices and actions. To try and suggest now that he has to be an exception to this rule is rather baffling and confusing. Even the Great Obafemi Awolowo was not immune from constructive criticism from both friends and detractors alike. So, why is Wole Soyinka an exception?
In his "Tea Break in Naija," Professor Wole Soyinka jabbed adroitly like Joe Frazier, pummelled nimbly like George Foreman and deftly danced around like Mohammad Ali as he employed his arsenal of diction to challenge the credibility and pertinence of my article. But dexterity at the usage of grammar and adept application of Lexis and Structure to convey an abstract idea in a mechanically accurate way does not necessarily equate unassailable facts. Some of the facts are as follows:
- That it is true that Professor Wole Soyinka met IBB in Oshiomole's house in Benin;
- That Professor Wole Soyinka did not turn back from Benin Airport to return to Lagos as claimed in the media;
- That Professor Wole Soyinka contracted the Press Briefings on the Benin Saga to his political friends some of whom I also happen to know;
- That Professor Soyinka has a duty to check the media reports of the Benin Saga and ensure that he was not misrepresented, but he chose not to do so;
- That the ignorance claimed by Professor Soyinka about "how the Nigerian media reported the Edo incident," seemed a second thought and appeared to be a ploy to absolve himself of responsibility about the inaccurate media reports (as he now suggests) on the Edo incident;
- That Professor Wole Soyinka did not shun the Benin rally because of Babangida as the media and the rest of us were made to believe but because of David Mark and he (Soyinka) confirmed this in his article responding to Remi Oyeyemi;
- That Remi Oyeyemi is not "irresponsible" as claimed by Professor Wole Soyinka in his article "TEA BREAK IN NAIJA" for asking the germane questions that clarified these issues.
Professor Soyinka wrote inter alia:
"However, Ibrahim Babangida, in the account offered by Oyeyemi, was absolutely correct in one aspect. I have no personal problem with him or with any other individual to whom I openly identify as a political adversary. " (emphasis mine)
This is very incorrect. Presently, I am not a reporter, just an op-ed contributor or public commentator. I was not reporting from Edo State. The account referred to is not my account. It is IBB's account of events as reported in the interview granted to COMPASS Newspaper. It is amazing that Professor Soyinka would falsely attribute this to me to make a case of "irresponsibility" when it was clear that this was quoted as coming from COMPASS in my previous article. However, Professor Soyinka does not have to be defensive about his relationship with IBB, more so they have worked together before. All of us have the right to change our views or opinions about events and personalities.
Thus when Professor Soyinka added, "Babangida does however have a huge problem of political deficit with me, and with the nation, and that is the albatross that constitutes his problem," he was just addressing the heart of the matter. This is the reason why dalliance with IBB should not be shrouded in a cocoon of secrecy so that others might not misinterpret and have unnecessary suspicions. It is also begging the question that Professor Soyinka would suggest that it was wrong for his choices and actions to be scrutinized by members of the public like Remi Oyeyemi when in fact he is not just a public figure he is also a celebrity adored by many and taken seriously by not just a few.
My highly esteemed Kongi also wrote as follows:
"Did Babangida really say we had tea together? I am learning of this weird claim for the first time. So what should I do? Sue him for defamation? Oyeyemi owes it to his readers to unravel the earth-shaking details of this tea session. Was it with milk? Cream? Sugar? Biscuits on the side?"
Sincerely speaking, I did not expect Professor Soyinka to be unduly ridiculous as he manifested in the above quote. With due respects to the esteemed Professor, the questions in the above quote sound a little languid as far as the issues at stake here are concerned. All Professor Soyinka had to do was to call for a copy of the COMPASS Newspaper interview that I referenced in my article to confirm what Babangida said or did not say. Remi Oyeyemi did not make anything up. The basis of my article was the IBB interview which portrayed the Professor in a less than candid manner. All that was needed was that the revered Professor should clear the air. Babangida has made his own revelation for whatever reasons known to him, it is now up to Professor Soyinka to tell the world any yet unknown aspects of the happenstance that IBB might have mischievously withheld and to sue IBB if he so desires. As to "the earth-shaking details of the tea session," it is one's hope that the Professor would not wait until another revealing interview comes out before he scrambles to scribble another tenuous defence of his acts of omissions and or commissions.
Between Remi Oyeyemi and Wole Soyinka, only one person has worked for Babangida in the past and that person is NOT Remi Oyeyemi. Thus for those readers who are quick to conclude that this criticism of Uncle Kongi is as a result of my fondness of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida I am recommending the following past articles by Remi Oyeyemi to them - QUESTIONS IBB MUST ANSWER published on July 12, 2002; A TALE OF TWO TRAITORS published on December 27, 2002 and FALAE'S IBB GAMBIT published on August 25, 2003 all of them on www.nigeriaworld.com. I have been involved in the media either directly or indirectly for about 25 years now. I do not need any publicity stunt. And this is not one either.
Hopefully by now, the highly esteemed Professor would have discovered that I, REMI OYEYEMI, am not "faceless." This he would have found out if he did a better home work in the media and political circles that he was quick to flagrantly flaunt before rushing his rejoinder for publication. It is hoped the esteemed Professor would cease throwing around words like "home work" until he is able to lead by a personal example and spare the rest of us sanctimonious preachments. Regardless, I still maintain that everyone has the right to drink tea, "something stronger" or whatever with whomever he so chooses and can politically support whoever catches his or her fancy. But there is no reason to be defensive and camouflage actualities from those who expect candour and openness from us. Simplicita.
And this is my final word on this issue.