Nigerian laureate Wole Soyinka lashes out

 
People gather around burnt cars near St Theresa Catholic Church after a bomb blast in the Madala Zuba district of Nigeria's capital Abuja on 25 December 2011. Two explosions near churches during Christmas Day services in Nigeria, including one outside the country's capital, killed at least 28 people amid spiralling violence blamed on an Islamist group. Boko Haram's escalating violence could threaten the very core of Nigeria

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Even by Nigeria's raucous standards, it has been a frenzied few weeks here - a resilient nation galvanised by mass protests against the removal of fuel subsidies, and wrenched apart by the increasingly violent actions of the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

On a steamy morning in Lagos this week, I went to see Nigeria's Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka - a man who manages to be simultaneously irascible and avuncular - to get his perspective.

"I ceased using words like optimism and pessimism a long time ago," he warned me.

Start Quote

Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka

Very few people have seen Nigerian people on the move like that - not asking for a change of government - just asking for equity”

End Quote Wole Soyinka Nobel laureate

He had been giving a speech to a room full of uniformed Lagos students on the subject of human rights, during which he sought to contrast the twin, and sometimes fiercely contradictory, demands of peace and justice.

"The human hankering for equity," he called it with a nod to the mass protests that engulfed the country this month after President Goodluck Jonathan doubled - then almost un-doubled - most people's shopping bills overnight.

Like any sensible commentator on Nigeria, Mr Soyinka refused to buy into some grand scheme of success or failure.

He lashed out liberally - at the "madness" of Boko Haram's escalating "secessionist" violence and the "very real risk of disintegration" now threatening the nation.

"The government has got to take some very drastic action to contain this," he said, stressing the increasingly international dimension to "a very well-organised insurrection".

He was equally harsh on Nigeria's lavishly overpaid legislators: "We're being eviscerated by the maintenance of a top-heavy constitution… that breeds corruption" and a "warped and unworkable" centralised presidential system.

Instead of a cacophony of "monologues, we need to call for a national dialogue", he said.

Concerted move for change

But with the same breath, Mr Soyinka was celebrating the success of the recent fuel subsidy protests that forced President Jonathan to make a humiliating reversal.

"What we saw last week was not a process of disintegration. It strengthened society.

"Very few people have seen Nigerian people on the move like that - not asking for a change of government - just asking for equity, asking for the strengthening of economic and social justice.

"Sure it will [make a difference]. Government will see that society can mobilise - we've seen a concerted move for change."

Over the past week, in the slums and the suburbs of Lagos, from diplomats and businessmen, and in mosques and churches in the north of Nigeria, I have heard a similar, ambiguous chorus of fury, elation and uncertainty.

Nobody seems to believe things are beyond repair, but few buy into the simplistic notion of "Africa Rising" that so many Western investment firms are furiously peddling.

I will write more in the coming days - in the meantime I am signing off from a super-fast 3G connection in the back of a car trapped in one of Lagos's still notorious traffic jams, after spending a fascinating morning with the legendary musician and activist Femi Kuti.

 
Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    Wole Soyinka has always been the scourge of brutal dictators and the corrupt elite in Nigeria. The big shame is that we do not seem to have anyone of his stature and reputation, ready to take over the baton from him. However I am happy that he has seen the beginning of the stirring for justice and good governance in Nigeria, in his lifetime.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    You mentioned the Lagos traffic jams. They cannot be described, people who haven't been there will never understand. When it has already been an hour trying to get from Ikoyi Island to VI (which is perhaps 1km) and your driver is about to run out of petrol, there is only one option: flag down an okada, get on the back, and pray. Ask him to take you to Bar Beach. Mellow out.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 3.

    A national referendum to divide Nigeria into two North & South would solve Boko Haram -problem. However,the "New Nigeria" will have to contend with an economic refugee problem from the North which has no human/natural capital to be a viable country.More civil protest to hold govt accountable is needed.Condusive conditions,will bring Nigerians in the diaspora home enmasse to build their country.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    I could imagine how someone of your caliber would be frustrated with the recent events in Nigeria which you have predicted when you canvassed for the different communities to hold a sovereign national conference to discuss and fashion ways for the 160m people to be structured and governed.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 5.

    I would not like to bother you at this time that when you should be enjoying your good work but would appreciate if you could use your international reputation to let the UN know that Nigeria people would like to have two nations and that the population and religion difference is too much to be one country . The current marriage is not working and likes to file for divorce.

 

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