By Ignatious Okpanachi
When Brian Froud, a British fantasy illustrator and Jessica Macbeth co-authored a strange work of fiction entitled ‘Faeries’ Oracle’, they knew they would ruffle many feathers in the literary world. This was because the book focused on magic, surrealism, divination, spiritism and extraordinary powers, in an era when modern religion and science have not only redefined our reality but have assuredly assumed a disposition that severely deprecates belief in mediums. It also didn’t help matters that the authors adopted an unusual genre in favour of accretion of texts, radiant cards, paintings, drawings and illustrations in one work of art.
However, what it lacked in presumably wrong choice of form, theme and scheme, it made up for in its poignant portrayal of some human characters, especially that of the sage.
Here, the authors venerably imbued the sage with all the attributes of power and wisdom, ostensibly arising from his capacity to “look into other worlds, other realms, and the wisdom buried deeply within each of us… having become more deeply immersed in the inner landscapes of knowledge, inner vision, contemplation, and spirit.”
Going through this chapter titled, ‘The Sage’, and thoughts of all those rare attributes, automatically conjures the awesome larger-than-life image and profile of no other persona than that of Professor Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s most visible literary giant and the only Nobel laureate in our firmament. In fact, no living mortal can successfully challenge the fact that his rare interventions on national discourse had so far been pointed, incisive, fair, rational, agenda setting and almost flawless.
In a recent interview he granted Channels Television which focused on books and writing,
Soyinka was voluptuously in his element and proved true to type. His eloquent dissection of the state of the book in Nigeria left all lovers of art and the written word enthralled, with many wondering how he alone, managed to amass that level of penetrating erudition and deep contemplation, having sat in the same classrooms and passed through the same teachers as the rest of us.
Yet his attempt at assessing the last general elections and its outcomes, where he praised the Buhari administration to high heavens and concluded dogmatically that Nigeria would have collapsed if Jonathan had won the 2015 polls, obviously fell short of this elegant categorization, muddled up his own public record and left our own W.S. punching below his weight.
It simply showed that every star has its skyline, every sprinter has his track and every sage, his sphere. And for an intellectual, it becomes even more lethal, to venture into an unknown turf without the benefit of rigor and diligent research. If that happens, any attempt to dominate spaces clearly outside one’s scope, easily betrays the true motive of the intrusion. He will either be struggling to maintain his standing on a strange ground or be fighting piteously to cover up his predisposition.
Granted that the interviewer overreached himself by taking Soyinka out of the familiar terrain of literature and art to demand of him, on the spot analysis of politics. Even then the Nobel Laureate couldn’t have offended any soul if he had limited himself to the exercise his God-given freedom of judgement where he had quickly expressed his fondness for President Muhammadu Buhari, over former President Goodluck Jonathan.
But it then became an act of hubris when Soyinka, apparently blinded by the bravura of his conviction, failed to rise to the occasion to dispassionately volunteer his views when challenged to assess the seven months of the Buhari Administration, even after he had glibly put a nail on the possibility of Jonathan continuing in office, without giving credible reasons for his strange conclusions.
And for such error of judgement, Froud and Macbeth have the most acerbic words. For every sage that misapplies his wisdom, they have the following to say of him: “Twisted, the Sage’s accumulation of facts and information becomes unwisdom—knowledge misused and distorted, facts distorted for selfish purposes, information used to the detriment of others.”
While comparing the two presidential candidates for the 2015 elections, Soyinka had said: “I became convinced that if this country underwent four more years under President Jonathan, the country would run aground completely.” Haba Professor! Where is the empirical evidence that supports such indiscreet generalization?
Prodded on to justify his choice, amidst the worsening misery of the last six months and the dismal growth prognosis stemming from the new administration’s obvious lack of vision and economic direction, Soyinka simply affirmed that Buhari’s performance in office so far“ has proven that there is such a thing as a born again democrat.”
And to think that this defence is coming not long after Soyinka described Buhari as a “devil for whom in my calculation, no spoon existed long enough to justify the risk even of an impromptu snack.”
A friend who was reviewing this interview with me did not waste time in agreeing that Soyinka’s position didn’t add up and insisted that, for once, Soyinka has allowed his prejudice to colour his intervention on a burning national issue. He drew my attention to the fact that the Nobel laureate who placed a blanket condemnation on the last administration had on the same breath praised the outcome of Jonathan’s national conference as the best so far in the country’s history, and had even gone ahead to urge Buhari to implement its recommendations.
If it was convenient for Soyinka to isolate the national conference as a plus why did he withhold from telling the nation that the few measures being implemented by this government are policies of the past administration? Beyond the on-going arrests of corrupt politicians the only far-reaching, sustainable anti-corruption measures so far adopted are the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Intergrated Personnel & Payroll Information System (IPPIS)which tracks ghost workers and checks other leakages in public services. Incidentally these were programmes introduced by those Jonathan put in-charge at the finance ministry.
Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi, Agriculture Minister Chief Audu Ogbe and Power, Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola who are the only ministers in the new cabinet to have taken the lead in speaking about their programmes, have all indicated that they would go on with the Jonathan policies. While Amaechi had vowed to continue with the rail projects in continuation of Jonathan’s rail restoration programme, Ogbe did not pretend that this government has an alternative to the globally acclaimed Agriculture Transformation Agenda, which brought this country close to self-sufficiency in food production. On his part Fashola, a very practical and goal-oriented man in the corridors of power, who unfolded his plan only this week, had praises for Jonathan’s reforms in the power, and transport sectors. He even went ahead to boldly proclaim, against the run of public opinion, that Jonathan constructed more roads than any other administration.
Soyinka will soon discover that he would be standing alone in praising the Buhari Government, especially as he deliberately failed to raise the red flag on obvious and avoidable sloppiness on the side of the new government. Is Soyinka happy with the excruciating but unending fuel situation, spiraling decline in naira value, prevarication and tardiness on the issue of subsidy, embarrassing lack of economic blueprint, constant demonisation and criminalisation of Nigeria and Nigerians at international fora, as well as Buhari’s abhorrent disdain for those he governs, who only get to hear about his plans and decisions from those he addresses while abroad? Juxtapose those with the method of the Jonathan era and please help spot the difference.
It is within the boundaries of Soyinka’s rights to brand anybody a born again democrat. But any fair assessment should have admitted that this toga first belonged to Jonathan who organized world acclaimed free and fair general elections in both 2011 and 2015 and the isolated state government elections. I believe that Soyinka would have seen that Buhari’s INEC has failed in organising credible elections in just two states-tiny Bayelsa and Kogi- the results of which have remained inconclusive. It is a defect that even Buhari himself has admitted, supporting the position of local and international observers that the elections were flawed.
And talking about Amaechi, we know that Soyinka had in the past understandably openly fraternized with him by attending almost all of the annual Portharcourt book events. But would the sage, in all honesty, be at ease to address him as an ‘honourable minister’, especially knowing that he was dully indicted by a judicial panel of enquiry on issues of massive corruption?
Soyinka also waxed lyrical about the revelation of alleged diverted billions and huge sums we are told are already being recovered. However, being a sage whose word is almost law, he would have gone ahead to point out all that is wrong with the spirited anti-corruption war, especially as it now affects our disenchanted military.
I have heard well informed people say that the on-gong deep exposure of the details of military spending in the name of anti-corruption war is ridiculing our military before the international community. An expatriate friend of mine with close links to the military of one of the advanced nations, while reviewing the emerging scandals in the office of the National Security Adviser, actually faulted the alleged diversion of the funds to causes other than security issues.
But he was quick in faulting the current leaders who he accused of exposing Nigeria’s top security secrets to the whole world, because of political reasons. It is his considered view that the military worldwide hide money for such things as standard practice for intelligence gathering, payment to trouble makers or society bad boys under such innocuous sub-heads as stationeries and even toiletries. “How do you think America gets its top secret intelligence and keep their streets clean? We pay people! But you won’t find a budget sub-head reading bribe money or payment to bad boys,” he said. He then drew my attention to the heightened tension and uprising across the country which he attributed to the abandonment of pure military duties while focusing on probes and exposure of the military’s budget lines and unorthodox spending.
Soyinka is so precious to us that we wouldn’t want him to be stained by the murky waters of politics. Next time he wants to run commentary on our leaders, he should be honest enough to state facts as they are, without allowing his preferences to alter his wisdom. Less he would be running the risk of reducing himself to the status of a lawyer, who otherwise would have been celebrated for his brilliance, but who is now only perceived from the prism of the client that hired him.
-Mr Okpanachi, a public affairs analyst wrote from Makurdi, Benue State