Wole Soyinka has said in a Bloomberg interview that “Nigerians must show a Nelson Mandela-like ability to forgive president-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s past as an iron-fisted military ruler”.
He claimed: “I criticized him for certain acts during his stint as a military dictator, but I also insist that it’s about time we try our best to be mini-Mandelas, to learn there’s a moment when we must put the past aside.”
There are several things wrong with Soyinka’s position.
We must not forget the past because those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are condemned to repeat them. The past is a relevant guide to the present and helps shape the future. Soyinka may be willing to “forgive” and “put aside” the past to justify his U-turn in supporting and investing hope in someone he had virulently criticised in the past. But he should not be recommending this for others.
Secondly, the Mandela analogy is flawed. Mandela advocated reconciliation in South Africa and this was music to the ears of the white minority that benefited from apartheid. But the real issue of righting the wrongs of economic apartheid, which meant that the black majority lived in deprivation and poverty, was never addressed in a major way.
It is all very well to preach forgiveness if the wrongdoer shows remorse and is repentant. But Buhahari has never shown any inclination to admit he was wrong when he was a military dictator. In fact, he has worn his time as a dictator as a badge of honour and used it as evidence of his suitability to fix Nigeria’s problems.
Another reason for Nigerians to ignore Soyinka’s call to “put the past aside” is that the man himself admits he is optimistic about Buhari’s win and as opitimistic as he felt at the end of military rule in 1999. He admitted that he has been disappointed since and that optimism at the end of military rule was misplaced. Now, he is claiming: “Against my rational instincts, I believe that we have here a genuine case of a born-again democrat”.
I’d suggest Nigerians follow their rational instincts and ignore Soyinka who has abandoned his. There is no rational basis for optimism about Buhahari.
The past does not provide any basis for optimism. And the present – from Buhahari’s chronic inability to present a coherent and cogent appraisal of how he would address Nigeria’s myriad of problems, to the fact that the characters around him were significant contributors to the malaise of the last 16 years, shows that anyone that is optimistic right now is setting themselves up for major disappointment in the next few years.