By Casmir Igbokwe
Professor Wole Soyinka is Nigeria’s elder statesman of international repute. As the first and only Nobel laureate in literature from Nigeria, his comments or actions draw global attention. Hence, he is supposed to weigh what he says and does at every point in time.
Unfortunately, his recent comments, especially with regard to the February 25, 2023 presidential election, present him in the mould of an elder who stays in an open place to defecate, thereby leaving his private part as a thing of ridicule for children to point at.
Speaking last Wednesday in South Africa at an event titled, “The Lives of Wole Soyinka – A Dialogue”, the 1986 Nobel laureate said Labour Party (LP) knew its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, did not win the presidential election but was trying to force a lie on Nigerians that Obi won. As he put it, “I can say categorically that Peter Obi’s party came third not even second and the leadership knew it but they want to do what we call in Yoruba ‘gbajue’, that is force of lies.”
Soyinka further accused the LP of taking over the organised labour movement and turning it into a regional party and all such nonsense. He claimed the LP attempted to send young people into the streets to protest against the outcome of the election on the banner of lies and deceit.
This is not the first time Soyinka would challenge supporters of the LP and its presidential candidate, Mr Obi, to a wrestling match. Last March, he berated the party’s vice-presidential candidate, Yusuf Datti-Ahmed, for saying that Nigeria had no President-elect and that Tinubu should not be sworn in because he did not meet the requirements of the law.
He also attacked Obi’s supporters popularly known as the Obidients, describing them as fascists. The Obidient movement fired their own missiles. Obi later visited the elder statesman and called for a ceasefire.
So, why did Soyinka decide to resurrect this quarrel? What has Obi or the LP done to him? How could he have accused the LP of attempting to mobilise young people to protest when it is obvious that most Nigerian youths are angry at the turn of events in the country and defer to nobody, not even Peter Obi?
Of course, LP couldn’t have kept quiet about the allegations against it. Soyinka, it said, exhibited dual character of someone who might be blinded by some chauvinistic tendencies.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Obiora Ifoh, the party said Soyinka might have said what he said based on information made available to him by those who shared the ‘Emilokan sentiment’.
“It is most befuddling as well as disconcerting that a detribalized and activist Soyinka would succumb to the groupthink syndrome that subscribes to State Capture by those belonging to the criminal fringe by any means, based on primordial considerations,” the LP said.
In any case, it is fallacious for Soyinka to categorically say that LP did not win the election. To the best of my knowledge, the Nobel laureate does not work in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He was not a returning officer anywhere during the election. He is a mere spectator like many of us who rely on the information dished out in the public domain to make our comments.
Besides, how did Soyinka in his wisdom come to the conclusion that LP turned the labour movement into a regional party? Party of which region, if one may ask? Did it become a regional party because its presidential candidate, Obi, is Igbo? Or, because the majority of the South-East people voted for it? South-East has been voting en masse for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before now.
Why didn’t Soyinka call the PDP a regional party then? And why didn’t he call the All Progressives Congress (APC) which has overwhelming support from the South-West a regional party?
One thing is clear: No matter whatever anybody does or says, the truth, like the moon, can never be covered by any human hand. No matter what the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT) says, the truth remains that the so-called victory of President Bola Tinubu in the last presidential election is highly contentious.
The PEPT simply affirmed his victory with a stamp of technicalities. It failed to dispense justice which it had sworn to deliver. There wouldn’t have been any problem if Tinubu won the election fair and square. Some of us would have congratulated him and prayed for his success in piloting the affairs of Nigeria.
But, he first sent some danger signals by urging his supporters to snatch power, grab it and run with it. His supporters did exactly as instructed. I don’t need to recount what happened in some parts of the country, especially in Lagos and Rivers States, in the name of election. The margin with which Tinubu purportedly won the election is even marginal. If the election was not rigged, it is possible that Obi would have won.
Though he won in Lagos, he was denied substantial number of votes his supporters gave him. His supporters were intimidated, harassed, attacked and some of them even killed simply for coming out to exercise their franchise.
Also, some markets populated mainly by the Igbo in Lagos were vandalized because the traders purportedly voted against the ruling party in the presidential election.
INEC worsened the problem with its partisanship. It transmitted election results electronically for the National Assembly election held same day, but could not do so for the presidential election. It came up with all manner of cock and bull stories, culminating in the surreptitious announcement of the result in the wee hours of March 1, 2023.
A credible observer like the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) said it all when it issued its report on the election.
According to the group, “The election exposed enduring systemic weaknesses and therefore signal a need for further legal and operational reforms to enhance transparency, inclusiveness and accountability.” Some ruling party agents attacked the report. But it is the gospel truth.
The EU-EOM has no reason to lie about the election. If it was after money like some local observers, it would have supported the APC because that is the party with humongous war chest.
In all we do, let us remember that our democracy suffers when we continue to live a life of lies, intimidation and alienation of a substantial part of our populace. We may think that nothing will happen. We may continue to gloat and make merry that we have snatched power and will rule for as long as we wish. But man can only plan for today. Tomorrow is pregnant. What it will bear wears a hat.
I have simple advice for our Nobel laureate: As a man on top of a palm tree, he should stop polluting the air and putting flies in great confusion. A beautiful face does not deserve to be pinched. He is Nigeria’s beautiful bride. He should refrain from actions that will taint his name and paint him as a regional or tribal champion.