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Wole Soyinka and epiphany

Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke recently about how Nuhu Ribadu, the former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss had an epiphany moment when Ribadu realised that he was being used as a tool by then president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Soyinka said in an interview with the EFCC magazine: “I warned your former boss, Ribadu, I told him that your task will be done when in the course of your investigation, you discover that the source of the problem is the very person who appointed you.

He looked shocked a bit, and eventually he and I met in London, after he was removed and El-Rufai was also on exile after they tried to kill him. We met and Ribadu refused to sit down. I asked him to sit but he said no, that until I accepted his apology, he wouldn’t sit down. I asked what apology? And he said ‘I should have listened to you. I failed to listen to you. Something you have said to me and I failed to listen’.

Ribadu admitted that he realised very late that Obasanjo was using him.”

Why it took Ribadu that long, after he had lost his job and Obasanjo was no longer in power, to realise what most perceptive people could see, should be a matter for another discussion. But the irony is that Soyinka, himself, has been in similar situations of having to face up to reality very much later in the day. Respected Nigerians with some credibility like Soyinka and Ribadu have always performed the role of tools for providing a cover of legitimacy for the rulers that have ruined the country, and they are usually among the last to wake up and smell the coffee.

Soyinka admitted recently that he was optimistic when Obasanjo, a former dictator was (s)elected president in 1999, only to realise later that that optimism was misplaced.

In 2007 Soyinka wrote: “This intervention has been provoked, not so much by the ambitions of General Buhari to return to power at the head of a democratic Nigeria, as by declarations of support from directions that leave one totally dumbfounded. It would appear that some, myself among them, had been over-complacent about the magnitude of an ambition that seemed as preposterous as the late effort of General Ibrahim Babangida to aspire yet again to the honour of presiding over a society that truly seeks a democratic future. What one had dismissed was a rash of illusions, brought about by other political improbabilities that surround us, however, is being given an air of plausibility by individuals and groupings to which one had earlier attributed a sense of relevance of historic actualities.”

He went on to write about “a far graver, looming danger, personified in the history of General Buhari. The grounds on which General Buhari is being promoted as the alternative choice are not only shaky, but pitifully naive. History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future. Of course, we know that human beings change. What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances. Public offence, crimes against a polity, must be answered in the public space, not in caucuses of bargaining. In Buhari, we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that this is one individual who remains convinced that this is one ex-ruler that the nation cannot call to order.”

Soyinka added: “Buhari enslaved the nation. He gloated and gloried in a master-slave relation to the millions of its inhabitants. It is astonishing to find that the same former slaves, now free of their chains, should clamour to be ruled by one who not only turned their nation into a slave plantation, but forbade them any discussion of their condition.

So Tai Solarin is already forgotten? Tai who stood at street corners, fearlessly distributing leaflets that took up the gauntlet where the media had dropped it. Tai who was incarcerated by that regime and denied even the medication for his asthmatic condition? Tai did not ask to be sent for treatment overseas; all he asked was his traditional medicine that had proved so effective after years of struggle with asthma!”

After claiming that “history matters”, Soyinka then performed an amazing U-turn before the last presidential (s)election with a “declaration of support” for Buhari arguing that: “there’s a moment when we must put the past aside.” He went on to claim that: “Against my rational instincts, I believe that we have here a genuine case of a born-again democrat”.

Soyinka, like Ribadu, for reasons best known to him, has chosen to ignore his own words and the lessons from history. President Buhari, just like Obasanjo before him, has already started using the EFCC for selective prosecution, while ignoring the massive corruption of those in his party.

Soyinka will soon be waking up to his misplaced hopes in Buhari being dashed, and the reality that only the deluded refuse to see because they fail to follow Soyinka’s own wise counsel: “What the claims of personality change or transformation impose on us is a rigorous inspection of the evidence, not wishful speculation or behind-the-scenes assurances.”

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