Wole Soyinka is one of a handful of Nigerians with a colossal stature on the world stage. His Nobel Prize in Literature and command of the English language give him the platform for his commentary on all matters Nigeria to be heard across the world.
In the 1960s, Soyinka was a prisoner of conscience when he was jailed by Nigeria’s military regime for calling for justice on behalf of separatist Biafran rebels in the run-up to the Nigerian civil war. But in recent times, the literary giant has cut a diminished figure.
This stems from the illogical contortions he has performed since backing Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential bid over three years ago. Buhari seems to have a “reverse Midas touch”. King Midas, in Greek mythology, turned everything he touched into gold. In the case of “Emperor without clothes” Buhari, everything he touches just gets messed up big time. Nigeria has gotten progressively worse since he assumed power in May 2015, the economy went downhill, unemployment and poverty shot right up, violent deaths reached proportions last seen during the civil war. And Soyinka’s lofty reputation is also getting messed up in Buhari’s wake.
Soyinka used to be one of Buhari’s fiercest critics until he performed an incredible U-turn about three years ago. He claimed then that: “Against my rational instincts, I believe that we have here a genuine case of a born-again democrat”. Some observers linked this reversal with Soyinka being hosted in an 82m naira ($412,000) birthday dinner by the Buhari presidential campaign’s chief financier Rotimi Amaechi, then governor of oil-rich Rivers State. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo once claimed that Soyinka has an expensive taste in fine wine: “I know that if I want somebody to give me the best wine, one of the people I will go to is Wole Soyinka and I know he has a taste for good wine”. How much imbibing in his favourite tipple clouded Soyinka’s judgment, is difficult to tell. But it didn’t take long for Buhari to demonstrate beyond doubt that Soyinka’s faith in him was grossly misplaced and Soyinka’s taste in wine is better than his taste in politicians.
Last week Soyinka warned that if nothing was done urgently to stem the tide of killings and sacking of farmers and farming communities by Fulani herdsmen, Nigerians would know that “we don’t have a government”. It was painful to see such a giant of man in such reduced circumstances of making pleas to a Buhari-led government that has, from inception, demonstrated a remarkable deafness to the plight of ordinary Nigerians. They have refused consistently to listen and take action against killings by Fulani herdsmen and Soyinka is still retaining a forlorn hope that they will take urgent now.
Yesterday Soyinka said that he knew exactly “where I’m going to cast my vote” in the (s)election next year. His silence in not saying he will back Buhari again for president speaks volumes. He also asked Nigerians not to be plunged into “a zone of amnesia” but to go back and check the track records of anyone claiming to be messiahs. It is a reprise of what he said when he warned about Buhari in 2007: “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.”
It is a shame that Soyinka ignored his own wise words about the lessons of history, the dangers of “amnesia” and the importance of checking track records when he declared that Buhari was “a genuine case of a born-again democrat”. This has since proven to be bogus and Soyinka is now struggling to extricate himself from the mess without further damaging his hard-earned reputation.
Soyinka, a great storyteller, wouldn’t need anyone to tell him the moral of the story of his flirting with the disaster also known as Buhari. It is that those who sleep with dogs are bound to catch fleas. Buhari while running for president in 2015 said: “If what happened in 2011 [alleged rigging] should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.’’ He won that (s)election, but since his presidency many parts of Nigeria have been soaked in blood. His erstwhile backers like Obasanjo have abandoned ship, while Soyinka is desperately searching for imaginative ways to clean up the mess all over his body from embracing the Nigerian nightmare represented by Buhari.