Nigeria News

On Soyinka’s New ‘Leap Of Faith

Africa’s Triple Heritage thesis first proposed by Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah but given its strongest advocacy by late Prof. Ali Mazrui resonates with a forcefulness that speaks to Africa’s and Nigeria’s postcolonial development quandary. According to the thesis, Africa’s future lies within the framework by which she is able to traverse the dynamics of her Euro-Christian, Islamic and traditional heritage.

Due largely to Arab and European colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries, Africa inherited an incendiary mix of non-traditional religious ideals and sentiments that has done a lot to nuance its sociological and continental futures. This informed perspective explains the fundamental contradictions from which a new Nigeria (and Africa) must emerge.


It is against this background that Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka’s recent curious endorsement of General Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential bid can be usefully deconstructed. In what Soyinka proposed as a ‘Leap of Faith’ he told Nigerians why he did a 360-degree summersault to pitch for Buhari’s election over the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan.

The necessity for this analysis keys into Soyinka’s longstanding antagonism against Buhari who he had consistently dismissed as an unrepentant dictator with blood on his hand. Clearly, Nigeria remains a disputed project notwithstanding the compelling exertions of its founding icons and despite the denial mode many have currently chosen to hide under. Soyinka is not a neuro-scientist but a specialist in the literature genres of drama, novel and poetry.

The citation read by the Swedish Academy in 1986 during the Nobel award ceremony made this clear when it stated that Soyinka “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.” If Soyinka’s Nobel was in medicine and not literature then there would have been scientific bases to measure or validate his major positional sea-change from consistently writing off Buhari to prescribing him now to Nigerians.

Neuro-science studies the thought processes and internal architecture of the human brain and could predict and explain changes in that arcane theatre. On the other hand, if the Nobel laureate were an Ifa high priest with powers of divination, his recent summersault would perhaps have enjoyed some measure of populism given the subsisting environment of significant local fetishism. But he is neither a neuro-scientist nor an Ifa priest.

In what appears a hesitant excursion into uncertain territory, Soyinka observes that, “It is pointlessly, and dangerously provocative to present General Buhari as something that he probably was not.  It is however just as purblind to insist that he has not demonstrably striven to become what he most glaringly was not, to insist that he has not been chastened by intervening experience and – most critically – by a vastly transformed environment – both the localized and the global.”

Soyinka puzzlingly wants company in his astonishing leap of faith. His current position, in effect endorsing Buhari, contrasts violently with the position he passionately espoused on the cusp of the 2007 presidential election on the same general – and even until recently. Hear Soyinka: “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.” Juxtaposing the two positions raises some posers. Is Soyinka trying to exonerate Buhari through denial and without evidence of remorse or restitution by the erstwhile military supremo?

At the risk of being accused of intellectual vagrancy, is Soyinka attempting historical revisionism? Is he deploying literary sophistry to market a hugely suspect product with specific anti-democratic records? Is Soyinka’s new conviction triggered by an apparent reaction to the wide publication in advertorials of his bruising candid positions on General Buhari’s dictatorial past – a kind of revisionist make-good – burnishing a former harsh dictator’s image?

Cagily denying that he is not speaking of time as a dulling agent of painful memory Soyinka tells Nigerians that “while facts remain constant, the environment evolves, and may play a tempering role in the very evocation of a record of the condemnable acts of governance.” Shaping his argument on why Buhari has become his Prince Charming and should be an acceptable product now he observes that, “Of the two however, one is representative of the immediate past, still present with us, and with an accumulation of negative baggage.

The other is a remote past, justly resented, centrally implicated in grievous assaults against Nigerian humanity, with a landscape of broken lives that continues to lacerate collective memory. However – and this is the preponderant ‘however’ – is there such a phenomenon as a genuine “born-again”? Soyinka’s new position would have hugely benefited from his new principal had Buhari borrowed a leaf from a few African dictators that accepted their errors and recanted and were accepted back by their folks.

Some examples include – Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of Ghana and Mathew Kerekou of the Benin Republic who publicly recanted their crimes against humanity during their tenures as dictators. They were subsequently forgiven and given democratic mandates. Buhari has not done the same thing and his body language suggests such a course is against his nature.

The Nobel laureates reference to a “transformed environment,” ostensibly meaning a democratic milieu does not hold much water. Here is why. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was elected by democratic vote. General Obasanjo who has joined Soyinka in their new joint project almost deleted Odi and Zaki Biam under democratic environment. Egypt’s General Asisi, democratically elected hardly represents a shining example of democratic governance. Against the background of these facts, why should Buhari become a transformed man because he may become a tenant in Aso Rock?

Soyinka further rather weakens his case when he proclaimed he had studied Buhari from a distance and come to the conclusion that he will be a good democratic ruler this time around. An intellectual of Soyinka’s repute ought to have delivered a much better proposition. His words:”I have studied him from a distance, questioned those who have closely interacted with him, including his former running-mate, Pastor Bakare, and dissected his key utterances past and current.

And my findings?A plausible transformation that comes close to that of another ex-military dictator, Mathew Kerekou of the Benin Republic.”. Soyinka with this rather tenuous and naïve position reinforces the accurate perception that his forte is truly drama and not realpolitiks and raises veiled issues about his true motive of antagonizing President Jonathan on the cusp of a crucial presidential poll.

Democracy would lose its defining egalitarianism if it foreclosed freedom of choice and expression by its adherents. This enduring footing accommodates often unreasoned perspectives by forces that seek to diminish and divide. Against this backdrop, public figures who by dint of self-discipline and diligent application of the power of thought have achieved that delicate, firm balance between researched positions that informs and leverages society should be appreciated. It is within Soyinka’s right to decide who to vote for but he should not forget Dennis Brutus’ counsel that “writers must not live a lie.”

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