Soyinka flays ethnic colouration of MEND’s attack on Atlas Cove

We must begin by sending out our condolences to the relations of the victims of the Atlas Cove attack. We must deplore the necessity of any kind of action that leads to losses of Nigerians lives or even create an absence of insecurity. These are things that are lamentable, they are not normal to them, and we are not living under normal circumstances.

I will like to appeal for instance to various bodies and urge the Lagos State government to do something for the victims, for the dependants of the casualties of that attack and also, wherever possible, beef up securities because that is the responsibility of any kind of responsible government. Having said that, there are dangers, which are greater even than the blowing up of an oil depot anywhere. We are thinking about the conflagration but then, there are other forms of conflagration which can emerge from the kind of language, which is used and the kind of attitude that are expressed, whenever an unusual and abnormal event of this nature happens.

I particularly pick issue with the attempt to turn this into an assault by one ethnic group against another or by any organisation against an ethnic group; in other words, I insist that our response cannot be based on the kind of ethnic recognition. Yes, indeed, violence took place on Lagos soil, the Lagos State government that is responsible for the safety of its citizens, has a responsibility to act in a way, to reassure and to protect its own citizens, that is understood.

The governor is the Chief Security officer of Lagos and the constituency of the governor is Lagos State. But I noticed with great commendation that governor Fashola never attempted to turn this into an assault on an ethnic group, Fashola spoke as governor of Lagos, with the concern of Lagos, zone of responsibility and he stopped at that. What I deplore is the attempt by other groups to suggest that this was an assault on the Yoruba people. As a Yoruba man, I want to speak quite clearly I do not feel that I have been assaulted because of my ethnic affiliation and the reality of my ethnic grouping.

And it’s a very dangerous kind of game, far more dangerous than the explosion, which took place, from the kind of language that is used to try and turn this into an ethnic umbrage, not just for the Yoruba people, not just for Lagos State, but also for the entire nation. I think that elders, those who call themselves elders have to be far more guided in their language. Now, the facility has been blown up not too long, I’m not aware that it was labeled Yoruba oil depot, I have not seen any Benin, Hausa nor Ijaw oil depot.

So, where does ethnicity come into the picture? It’s a very dangerous use of language. And it appeals to sycophants, to those who are particularly prone to violence anyway to look for any excuse to inflict mayhem on any community. The language of ‘ultimatum’, the language of ‘we shall’ is unacceptable in a modern society especially given the very circumstances of the attack.

Now, let me use this opportunity also to say a word or two about violence. In the history of the world, there has never been any kind of movement, however principled that movement is, which did not have its share of the mentally unbalanced, of the opportunist. It is not usual and people should stop preponderant that MEND, if those who came are acting in the way of MEND are defending the same cause as MEND, if it found among them, those who actually have no political conviction of any kind, not even an ethnic conviction, but who are just there, it’s not unusual. Let’s not mystify violence. Violence has been institutionalised in this nation anyway and at no time under the last president of this nation.

So, let’s not over dramatize violence. Therefore, nobody in this country should expect an organisation like MEND to be composed entirely of angels that will be ridiculous. But MEND also has a responsibility to assist the general community in flushing out its own racketeers, its own extortionist, and its own opportunist. This is the responsibility of any liberal organisation.

The government of Yar’Adua is once again about losing an opportunity. Why do I say that? The hand of amnesty, the offered rehabilitation money, the proposed structure for demobilisation is okay but this government is making a fundamental mistake, it is isolating the problem. The crisis of the Niger Delta region can only be solved holistically because the core issue for which MEND is fighting for, from what I have researched, my contacts with some of the militants is exactly what majority of this nation has been fighting for, for so many years. The restructuring of this nation, the equitable rights, like fiscal federalism for instance, talking about issues of revenue allocation, derivation, generation. We are talking about the distortion that has taken place since this nation attained independence.

MEND in other words, is simple PRONACO by other means and what PRONACO was about was precisely to avoid the resort to these other means.

The aims of MEND and PRONACO, infact, tallies. And the problems of Niger Delta cannot be solved outside a holistic concept of what Nigeria should and what is meant to be and what the kind of extensive laborious exercise that PRONACO under took for nearly two years is precisely in order to avoid the means that has been actualised by organisations like MEND. It will be very foolish and naive for anyone to think that once you just solved the problem in a little corner, you have therefore solved the fundamental issues.

That is why we have to be very careful in our language of condemnation, in our language of resentment of any particular event, we should be very careful in the demonisation of an entire movement by a particular group, that for me is an irresponsible short sighted kind of approach.

Once again, I wish to re-emphasize the loss of lives and the fact that the violence shifted to Lagos. It is unlikely to recur if things move on at the projected tempo and pace.

We have had a lot of rebranding and MEND by coincident has an acronym, which poses itself as a kind of contextual option to rebranding. Is Nigeria really worth rebranding or is it mending that is required. If you have a rickety vehicle for instance, you can re-brand it and put a lot of things on it, but the engine is still going to knock, the bodywork is still going to fall to pieces, the paint will.

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