Conversation with Wole Soyinka


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Conversation with Wole Soyinka

  1. 1. By Any Means PossibleConversations with Wole Soyinka By Kayode Fayemi 1
  2. 2. Kayode Fayemi was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. He was educated at Christ‟s School, Ado Ekitiand then at Lagos, Ife and London Universities where he studied History, Politics,International Relations and War. He earned his doctorate degree in War Studies from King‟sCollege, London with his path-breaking study on threats, military expenditure and defenceplanning in Nigeria and has worked as a journalist, political consultant and defence analyst.He lives in London with his wife and son. 2
  3. 3. PrefaceThis work started life as a newsmagazine interview for a journal I contribute to in Nigeria,TheNews. It gravitated towards what you are reading due to the magazine‟s inability topublish the entire interview leading somewhat to a garbled interpretation of some of WoleSoyinka‟s responses in our conversation. As the first extensive interview given to any masscirculating medium since he left Nigeria in September 1995, after accusing the country‟sdictatorship of “murder by instalments” and embarking on a worldwide campaign against theregime, it naturally drew immediate responses from many. The interesting comments elicitedranged from the cynically negative to the fawningly adulating, with the majority steering amiddle course. What they represent is the diversity of opinion and richness of views in thecountry especially when certain individuals are involved, such as Africa‟s first LiteratureNobel Laureate and now one of Nigeria‟s foremost democracy campaigners. Love them orrevile them, you can hardly be indifferent to their actions and utterances.Even so, without seeking to accept the positive comments that almost always attend WoleSoyinka‟s actions as given, or rubbish the occasional negative ones as bloody minded, theresponses to the interview underlined, for me at least, the need for this short introduction tomy conversation with Professor Soyinka, first as a way of addressing some of the issuesraised by respondents, and second, as a way of dealing with a more genaral problem faced bymany achievers in political activism, moreso within the shifting quicksand of Nigeria‟sdemocratic development: how....?. He has started this process in Ibadan: The PenkelemesYears, his book of memoirs from “boyhood to young manhood” which did not address hispost-Nobel political involvement, of interest to many in my generation who have read TheMan Died and heard heroic tales of the immediate post-independence years, some of whichare now confirmed in Ibadan. Until the „grandson‟ of Ibadan perhaps addresses this periodin the life of Wole Soyinka, let us consider this a tentative attempt at deciphering the twistsand turns of the period.Let me declare my interest early on. I am not what anyone can call a detached observer ofWole Soyinka‟s life and works. I am more close to being labelled a passionate enthusiastand defender of the Soyinka mystique, especially having moved closer to his world view ofseeing the Nigerian struggle as one between authoritarianism and democracy, and not purelyan ideological fixation between socialism and capitalism. Since his exit from Nigeria lastSeptember, I have also had the privilege of working closely with him on a number ofprojects relating to reclaiming Nigeria from the marauding goons now running the show.But perhaps there is a deeper, more enduring connection elsewhere. To those who have readhis latest memoirs, I am a child of „Ibadan‟, born in that rustic city, in the thick of the Wild,Wasted, West. I came into this world smelling „the roast yam‟, that fire of destruction anddegradation that engulfed the Nigeria of yore and probably became a rebel of sorts, as aresult. I came to the conclusion in my formative years that unless we seized our future anddictate its direction as urged by Soyinka and others before him, nothing can pull our countryback from the road to perdition. Since the „smell of blood,‟ continues, „to hang in thelavender mist of the afternoon‟ as the late poet and Soyinka friend, Christopher Okigbo once 3
  4. 4. lamented, the reality of that early conclusion continues to haunt me. So, in that sense I sharewith Wole Soyinka a natural distaste for injustice and inequality and a spontaneous urge tochallenge authoritarianism in my search for enduring freedom.In spite of my natural admiration however, I have also had worries. I once shared some ofthe concerns our conversation drew, especially those relating to his role in “legitimising” theBabangida dictatorship. Indeed, as editor of the London based pro-democracy journal,Nigeria Now, I published two responses to Wole Soyinka‟s BBC Television documentary onthe Babangida transition programme in December 1992, from two prominent Soyinka fanswho felt short-changed by the less critical treatment given to the whole farce over whichBabangida presided. As someone who jealously guard his reputation. 4
  5. 5. IntroductionKayode Fayemi In Conversation with Wole SoyinkaKayode Fayemi: You‟ve said several times that we must not lose this struggle. Withthe military still in office and a huge pall of disillusionment in the land, some are alreadysaying this is not a winnable one. Even the Ooni of Ife invited some people to his palace tourge them to abandon June 12 and fight another day. Outsiders also say Nigerians arecowards. Do you really see this as a winnable struggle?Wole Soyinka. I believe Oba Sijuwade got good answers from the leaders he invited,so I won‟t dwell on his own perfidy, but I can understand people‟s frustrations. Whowouldn‟t be? After doing all that the military required of us: adhered to a flawed transition,voted in a free and fair election, demonstrated, protested and campaigned vociferously, all inour bid to rid our country of this malignant cankerworm, all that we seemed to have gainedin return was the murder of over two hundred harmless Nigerians, mowed down by Abacha‟sgoons and, a beleaguered country caving under the influence of rapacious ogres like Abacha.Yet the reality is different from this semblance of helplessness. Look, a friend of minevisited Nigeria during the two month oil strike last year. A permanent cynic. He used tobelieve too, that Nigerians are cowards. He called me up one morning and said, “Wole”,“This is revolution in the making” He would argue prior to that time that Nigerians willnever fight for what they believe in, but on the ground he had to change his mind. So, thepoint I‟m trying to stress is that people should not be carried away by mere appearances. Ican also understand foreigners who say we are cowards and go on and on about Nigeriansbeing doomed to a life under military dictatorship but they should also understand that ourmain weapon against this regime is the unshakable truth and moral superiority of ourposition. Yes, there is a certain gun induced eerie calmness in the land but then if the regimeis so sure-footed, why is it so threatened by the power of words, looking for enemies all overthe place? In the last one week, I hear they have picked up Wale Oshun, Femi Falana andmany others. Why are they paying lobbyists to tell lies to the foreign audience. Deep down,Abacha knows that the peace his regime enjoys now is superficial and temporary. So for me,the debate is not whether this struggle is winnable or not. It is simply that we cannot affordto lose it. The choice for us is stark. We either win it and begin to restructure our society orwe remain slaves forever. People should not let their frustration translate into despondencybut I urge them to listen, watch and see. This struggle is ours, we cannot abandon it.K.F: You say that, but as we approach another anniversary of the June 12 election, whatpeople see is the unmistakable return of the NPN, the nightmare visited on them over adecade ago, in bed with the people who sent NPN parking, while the person who won themandate of the Nigerian people remains in jail, and several prominent leaders banished toforeign lands?W.S: I‟ll try to elaborate on my earlier point by referring to a lecture I recently gave atHarvard University. In the lecture, I stated that if there ever was a successful coup staged 5
  6. 6. against the opposition, it was the Buhari/Babangida/Abacha coup of December 1983. As Iindicated, that was one coup engineered to save a defaulting wing of the hegemonicconstruct in order to save the oligarchy from itself. And, you will notice that immediatelythe regime was in place, it was business as usual, despite all pretensions in the opposite. Themain instrument for sustaining the decadent class in society was kept in place - importlicence. Hence, while it appeared that change was taking place, a lot of people were stillreaping from where they did not sow. Only after Babangida came in did things changeslightly, and even then, not for long. But it was that regime that struck a financial blow atthe heart of those who had always felt that Nigeria belonged to them. Unfortunately, what hedid was to create his own alternative power base in competition with the old guard, not tochange anything, the ban on import licence notwithstanding, but to perpetuate his staythrough the redirection of patronage. So, what Abacha is doing now is a culmination of allthat by bringing in the likes of Uba Ahmed and Ofonagoro, that vile character of the Verdict83 infamy. What this does however, is to bring into clear relief what this huge joke is allabout, and what should concern us is how to expunge this malignant tumour. How do wecutlerise it permanently? We have tried demonstrations, we have tried strikes, our people gotkilled needlessly.I forgot to also mention that we have worked very hard to win the support of theinternational community to assist us in isolating this regime and treat it as a pariah regime,untouchable by any decent, human society. We have had moderate successes in that. Wehave also had some reverses. For instance, we have the very stubborn, cynical governmentslike the British government, which, until very recently, suspends her values, in order tosupport Abacha. So when you have a lot of that what is left? Perhaps we need to beaddressing our minds to other mechanisms of expunging this cankerworm. Definitely, itmeans an intensification of the internal struggle at all levels. It is quite possible that we maybe witnessing the beginning of a civil war if these characters, Abacha and his goons insist oncontinuing their act of subverting the will of the people. I don‟t see any peaceful solution tothe crisis. I‟ve never said this before, but everybody, including Abacha himself, know thatwe have now got what amounts to a terrorist cell which is a law unto itself. Goons that areonly there to carry out Abacha‟s orders, not the state‟s needs. The army itself resents thissubversion of its raison detre. Of course, I mean the real army, the professional army. Theyconsider what is happening a disgrace. There are many people in the real army, who seeAbacha as the ultimate nightmare, and who Abacha see as an obstacle to his desecratingagenda. These people resent the kind of image they have, deservedly, acquired, fromNigerians. Some of them will like the opportunity to redeem their image, reform the armyand place the army at the service of the people. They are thoroughly ashamed by theshameless rapacity of their leaders like Abacha and Diya, and they are looking for a chanceto restore their credibility, and they know they can only do this by turning their guns againsttheir leaders. And they know that sooner than later, they have to do it. That is the stage weare now at in Nigeria 6
  7. 7. What then happens, when something triggers on this division and you have a sanguinarysection of the army. That is chaos! Another civil war, possibly! And there is no doubt at allthat we are nearer this juncture. The second angle is, of course, when the people intensifytheir resistance, their demonstrations, and Abacha‟s goons are ordered to shoot at sight andkill the people as they did in July 1993. At this point, I believe, they will turn their gunsagainst their masters. So that is why I am not very optimistic about a peaceful solution tothis crisis.K.F: The scenario of another civil war is extremely worrying, especially when oneconsiders that very few countries have fought two civil wars and remained intact. Isn‟t this apremature autopsy?W.S: I know it is very difficult for any nation to experience two civil wars and continue toexist as one country. But you see, we have here a treasonable situation. We have the closestto the condition of treason in which the criminals are the ones who are holding power. Andby criminal, I mean anyone who subscribed or still subscribes to the annulment of the June12 election is guilty of treason against the Nigerian state. Yet, we have here at the head ofthose holding the reins of power, and I distinguish between power and authority. Abacha,just like Babangida before him last year, whilst they can claim they have power, they do nothave authority. The man whose authority is recognised is the president who languishes injail and that authority rests ultimately in the hands of the people. Abiola is the custodian,Abacha has the power. When the people reassert that authority that belongs to them, I don‟tthink it is going to be very peaceful, and I don‟t see the survival of Nigeria, much as I wouldlike that to be the outcome, automatic of that challenge. So, it is no premature autopsy at all.In fact, it is no autopsy as yet, it is simply an assessment.K.F: You have been outside for a few months now shuttling from one continent to theother, even returning to Africa occasionally, all in the bid to keep the campaign against thedictatorship in Nigeria alive. Do you worry about your safety in exile since you havebecome a permanent feature on CNN and BBC Television?W.S: This has come up in discussions with people in the pro-democracy movement. Asyou know, I have also met some Heads of states and this issue has also come up in variousdiscussions. There is no doubt that one has noticed one or two tails, in gatherings, lecturesand so on. But while it raises questions about my personal safety, all one can do is to takeelementary precaution. Let us face it, I am 61, way beyond the life span of a Nigerian malethese days, so if I worry too much about that, I won‟t do anything and that is what they want.But then, what about the safety of millions of Nigerians being trampled under Abacha‟sjackboots. Seriously, those who are at home have more to worry about in terms of safetyreally. If they are not targets of armed robbers, Abacha‟s goons are out to get them.Here in London where I am speaking to you, their tailing methods are simply laughable. Theamateurish style make their efforts extremely laughable. I particularly recall the coincidence 7
  8. 8. of being picked up by the same taxi-cab twice within thirty minutes one occasion. When thepoor fellow was confronted, he could only mutter that he was just around my abode onceagain, I simply laughed. Most of the time, we just keep going with the necessary precautions.We also have our own intelligence and counter intelligence networks. And this is the otherproblem they face. Even people who work for them are patriotic in their own way. Call itperverse logic but they resent what they are being asked to do.K.F: What do you mean by that, Prof?W.S.: The truth is that these people are not legitimate even among their own operatives. Nomatter how well they pay them or the manifold increases in their salaries, this people also seethe sense in giving our relevant information about their masters. I‟ve heard how myunannounced departure created scenes of horror in the intelligence service. Innocent peoplewere hounded as a result and the Director of Road Safety Corps who knew nothing about mydeparture also removed. Yet the regime‟s problems is not with the low ranking officials,who have little or no respect for them anyway, but among their so called loyalists whosurround Abacha in Aso-Rock. The story of my departure will be told when we have dealt afinal blow on this cankerworm - but, yes, I take serious note of what we are lining ourselvesagainst - especially the extra-territorial activities of Gwarzo‟s goons. Ultimately though, thework has to be done and this is the very serious issue. And, I have stated over and over again,I do not see myself in exile, as long as I am spending every day, every second of my freetime in advancing the struggle against the dictatorship in Nigeria; being able to say to somegovernments to try and accept an objective analysis of the Nigerian situation. To be able togo back to foreign governments, as I have been doing since the collapse of the January 1996exit date for Abacha at the Constitutional Conference, and say, “Look, didn‟t I tell you thisthe last time I was here.” To be able to pick up the phone and call the foreign desks of somewestern countries, and say, “Look, have you heard what happened in Nigeria recently?Now, do you begin to believe what I have been saying to you, as an integral part of what ishappening.” Now, I have a sense of fulfillment doing all these. Therefore, I do not feel inexile. That is why I‟ve no base, I have only my suitcase and flight tickets. My base is oftenmy hotel room wherever I am. When I wake up every morning, I have to re-orientate and re-discover where I am. So, I am not in exile. Admittedly, this itinerant lifestyle can be verydisruptive, in the sense that I cannot now do some of the things I am used to doing at homebut I don‟t want to be too lost thinking about the disruption as long as the work gets done.K.F: What is your own objective assessment of the concern about Nigeria in theinternational community?W.S: I have to say that some damage has been done to our efforts within the last fewmonths, the most damaging of which was President Carter‟s uninformed remarks which Ihad personally taken him up on. Sometimes this happens, one has to go back to correct newlies or new versions of old lies. And there has been a blitz, a real propaganda blitz in the lastfew months by the government. And you can always tell that something sinister is underway 8
  9. 9. when certain things happen. There is a kind of relay or follow ups. When one lie is told, itis followed up by yet another set of lies. Their officials just happen to address conservativebastions like the Centre for Strategic and International Studies[CSIS] in Washington and thelies are always ancient ones. I was obliged recently to intervene in a programme on theInternet called “NAIJANET” A letter was sent to Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, a copyof which appeared on the NET. The letter was written by some faceless character, who callshimself Chijioke. This letter was backed by a heavy dossier which contained newspapercuttings from West Africa Magazine as far back as 1985, which at one point or the otherwere supposed to be positions or responses by certain individuals. It contained variousfabrications on Abiola, Beko, Ken Saro Wiwa, even me and a host of other people nowinvolved in the democracy movement. I read these things and simply wanted to ignore it atfirst, but then I changed my mind. The internet operates around the world and quite anumber of gullible people are out there who will read this, and, like poor President Carter,swallow their lies. Equally, the recipient of that letter, Mr Robinson of TransAfrica had notyet arrived at the point where he recognised the centrality of the winner of that election. Hisown approach at the time was, let us get rid of this dictatorship and so on. For him, at thattime, it is not very relevant to harp on the June 12 election. And, you can imagine - thispackage goes to him - containing at least on every page two lies, not to mention thedeliberate falsification of the context of events referred to in this letter. So, for a long time, Ithought I don‟t want to get involved in this sleaze baggage but then I realised I had aresponsibility , which is to write to subscribers of NAIJANET and pick out the lies in thisletter to let them know that this is the method of the regime at home - having lost allarguments. I was not interested in replying these character line by line, I just felt it wasnecessary to deal with certain inaccuracies - for example, to pick up an issue in the letter,and say - it didn‟t actually happen that way, I was there and I happen to know whattranspired. Who is this character who calls himself a student if he is not an agent of themilitary disinformation unit? And, in the last 48 hours, it has indeed been found out that thisperson is a paid employee of the Directorate of Military Intelligence who has been sent tomisinform world opinion.To give another example, ANI, Anthony Ani - the character in charge of Nigeria‟s finances.He had the guts to go to the CSIS in Washington to say that I, Wole Soyinka, wrote a letterinviting Abacha to take over government. He said this letter was published in TheGuardian. This is someone who calls himself a Minister and a Chartered Accountant. Manywere taken aback when he told this barefaced lie about “these so called democracy people.After all, they were the ones who asked Abacha to come in. Wole Soyinka, in particular, theNobel Laureate wrote an open letter to the General on this issue.” When those presentchallenged him and dared him to come up with his evidence, he remained defiant andunbridled. He first sowed the seed of these lies in Davos, Netherlands - at the WorldEconomic Forum there. There was a reception chaired by Sonnie Ramphal, formerCommonwealth Secretary General. There was no exchange at all. Everybody just gave setstatements. At the tail end of the symposium, Ani came back and said something aboutpeople inviting Abacha to come in. I went over to him after the event and said, look, you 9
  10. 10. don‟t have to lie - it‟s not necessary. Say what you have to say, perform your master‟s tasklike a good slave and go back home. It is not decent to lie. Emboldened by the fact that hemanaged to get away with that sort of mild response from me, the man got to America andrepeated the lie again, adding this time that it was published in the Guardian. So, I have justwritten an op-ed piece for The New York Times challenging Ani to produce this article that Iwrote in The Guardian. If it is true then I would abandon all I have done in the democracymovement, apologise to Abacha and become his Chief Propagandist. But if he has told a lie,then he should be sent back and not allowed to utter a word about Nigeria‟s finances or debt-reschedule. He should be sent back as empty handed as he came to Washington.K.F: But do you think that is enough. The World Bank and IMF would rather listen tosomeone like Alhaji Alhaji, not Anthony Ani. After all, it is an open secret that he is just afigure head in the Ministry. Consequently, don‟t you think he deserves to be punished forthis slander.W.S: You are not the first to suggest this line of action since Abacha and his clique arealways quick to accuse the local media of lies and falsehood. But perhaps there are betterand more effective ways of addressing their lies within the international community. At leasthere, they don‟t have monopoly over any medium. But coming back to my earlier point - thesheer tenacity of their lobby machine, apart from spending millions of dollars, they actuallyset about junketing abroad, collecting estacode and running around advertising agencies. Butwith all their millions, we face them with our kobo and, we are winning . But sometimes, itis a very frustrating having to correct their lies over and over again, even if there is no basisfor foreign exchequers or embassies to believe one word they say.K.F: What seems more frustrating though is the increasing attempt to isolate parts of thisstruggle by that same international community, as though they are more important than othercomponents of this struggle, rather than treating them as a part of the whole. For example,the genocide in Ogoniland has been the subject of considerable international attention, andrightly so. The problem is that some actually see it as the cause, rather than the symptom ofthe inequalities ever so prevalent in Nigeria. This „pick and choose‟ diplomacy boggles themind. Does it worry you, and if it does, do you often make the point to your audience?W.S: Yes, this is being addressed all the time. You have to recognise that people outsideprefer to latch on to a disaster situation - to a physical disaster situation, that is. The imageof devastated lands, and of course, with the help and assistance of the Chief EnvironmentalOfficer, Paul Okuntimo in his ethnic cleansing programme - is the language which strikes atthe emotional chord of the international community. We cannot help the fact that this createsan itemist concentration on the Ogoni situation. But we try to redress this all the time.Remember, one of my early articles made it very clear that the Ogoni situation is anexperiment in ethnic cleansing. Don‟t also forget that this is the first orgainsied resistance inthat oil region against the military mind of the dictatorship with the backing of SHELL. Ifthey succeed in this experiment, then the door is open in other parts of the oil producing 10
  11. 11. areas whenever they complain about the plundering and pillaging of their resources. Hence,it is important to make sure that this experiment ends in failure. And it will. So, it isimportant to highlight the Ogoni situation, if possible to the point of saturation. We mustbring it out before the world so that when similar things begin in other areas in the country,the world can be reminded of the devastation of the Ogoniland, and, hopefully, it willrespond much, much quickly. It took a while for the international community to acceptwhat was happening in Ogoniland. Now, with that consideration in mind, and the Ogonigenocidal pictures permanently interred in the minds of many, courtesy of Okuntimo‟sbrutality as depicted in the recent Channel Four documentary, when a similar action takesplace and Abacha pretends as though nothing has happened, hopefully the internationalcommunity will understand that we are not just crying wolf. But I will agree with youcompletely. The overall context is very important and, we cannot afford to lose sight of it.It is our responsibility to hammer it into the consciousness of the government and peoplehere, especially as it involves the complicity of their companies here.K.F: The last point about their companies also reveals aspects of their non-challance andhypocrisy as far as our struggle for democracy is concerned. Records recently released bythe Exports Credit Guarantee Department, and published by the World DevelopmentMovement show that weapons are still being sold to the Abacha regime, and all thesecontracts have been approved by their Ministry of Defence in spite of outright parliamentarydenials and or euphemistic admission to sales of „non-lethal‟ material. This is crucial whenone realises that other countries look up to Britain for leadership and direction on theNigerian question.W.S: What we have been trying to say to other countries in particular, is that it‟s abouttime to stop looking at Britain for leadership or a sense of direction. I refuse to accept, eventhough the facts point to the contrary. In principle, I refuse to accept when I speak to them,any notion of Nigeria being a special interest area of Britain. I refuse to accept that. And itis not just European countries who believe in this spurious notion. More importantly, is theneed now for the lead to be taken by African governments, not merely in denouncing, andisolating and stignatising Abacha‟s regime but in stigmatising Great Britain in its treacherousaction towards Nigeria. In other words, it‟s time for leaders who represent the moralconscience of that continent to stand up. We know what they‟ve been doing diplomatically,we know all about their “quiet diplomacy” but it‟s time to come out openly and denounceAbacha and denounce the actions of those who covertly, diplomatically or otherwise sustainAbacha‟s regime. Once somebody like President Mandela take the lead, takeover theleadership or the position of conscience on the continent, you find that European countrieswill then ignore British claims to a kind of pre-eminence of direction where theCommonwealth is concerned. Mandela‟s voice will, for instance, be of great assistance inmobilising opinion against the participation of Abacha at the next Commonwealth Heads ofGovernment Meeting[CHOGM] in Auckland, New Zealand. We know what the rules are,and we know the New Zealanders have made their position known in favour of thedemocratic struggle, there are certain things that can still be done within the rules to 11
  12. 12. convince Abacha that he is not welcome by the people of New Zealand. A rabid dog mustbe kept at a distance. It dismays me that some still want to feed this rabid dog rather than putit down. That, unfortunately, seems to be the British position. And this is not a question ofgiving the dog a bad name in order to hang it, the action or inaction of Great Britain, is ratherlike the expression, “Perfide Albion”, almost as if the British government is determined tolive up to that historic, linguistic position. Their stance on arms sale to Nigeria depicts thismore than any other issue. Consequently, to come up with the kind of excuses we‟ve had isinsulting to our intelligence. Weapons have been paid for long time ago, yet the ECGD nowsays Nigeria is their highest debtor, or the one about it not being a government togovernment sale, but an arrangement by a private company - this time Vickers and theNigerian military, nothing to do with Her Majesty‟s government. The most ridiculous,however, is the one about the non-lethality of the weapons supplied, whatever that means! Ifind it very irritating that they can come up with these spurious explanations. Orisha bo legbe mi, se mi bo se ba mi, the simple proverb encapsulates my own reaction to the Britishgovernment position on Nigeria. But let them just know that they are also blood-stained.People are being mown down by the same non-lethal weapons they have sold to thisdictatorship, their tanks, their armoured vehicles. This is what Abacha uses to dominate andterrorise Nigerians. So the British should not escape international opprobrium for its tacitsupport for this dictatorship. It seems to me therefore that there is a mystery surrounding theBritish government‟s reaction to Nigeria‟s democratic struggle, a mystery that can only besolved by psycho-historians - since it requires aspects of psychology as well as history. It isnot a field for writers like me.K.F: I also find it interesting that you mention the moral conscience of the Africanleadership. But when one juxtaposes this with an earlier comment you made about a club ofmilitary dictators in the West African region, reluctant to let go, can one really expect thisclub members to react to the moral conscience of other African leaders?W.S: Yes, it can happen, whether they like it or not. This is going to be a civilianinitiative, then the military can come on board. I‟ve said over and over again that Nigeriaholds the key to that region‟s (in)stability. The misuse of Nigeria‟s troops in Liberia, forinstance, under the guise of regional security, to protect Doe in Liberia, is what Abacha isnow using to shore up other criminal regimes like Strasser‟s in Sierra Leone and Jammeh inthe Gambia. Up till now, we have not totally sorted out what role our soldiers played in theousting of Dawda Jawara‟s regime in the Gambia. They were there, whether they activelyparticipated is irrelevant, they had already seen the „light‟ through their Nigerian brothers inarms.This tendency, has brought to the fore the need to demystify guns in our body politic. Wehave got to find a way of bringing the military to book, of subjecting them to the will of thepeople. It‟s happened in Mali. And it‟s going to happen whether they like it or not. When ithappens in Nigeria, all the satellites members of that club, of which Nigeria is the - Capo-Capo-chi chi - the Mafia chief. When that happens, we wouldn‟t even need to tell the others 12
  13. 13. before they pack and disappear. In other words, it is back to one of the reasons why the June12 election annulment is criminal. It was in the confidence that Nigerians was on course forthe democratic dispensation that we started the African Democratic League. We knew thenthat unless we export the democratic gospel, Nigeria was bound to stand alone. We werealready organising the first African Democratic congress in Benin republic before Babangidaannulled that election in order to further the interests of the military club. Since then, otherreverses have been suffered in the Gambia. What it then means is that those who are in thepro-democracy movement need their own club linking up not just in West Africa, but sharingexperiences across the continent.K.F: In other words, you are suggesting a pan-African assault that must be all embracing?W.S: Absolutely, this is what I‟ve been saying. Ee have to make them understand that ourstruggles are intertwined. We have to make them understand, especially in the West Africanregion, that they owe it to themselves, in their own interest to assist the Nigerian democraticstruggle in order to quicken the pace of others and improving the ones that are less thangenuine.K.F: But even as you propagate this, don‟t you see a Gaullist disinterest almost borderingon an expectation of Nigeria‟s dismemberment, as if there is something to be gained from thedisintegration of Nigeria by other countries on the continent?W.S: Let us concentrate on the African aspect of it first. There is, as you know, an envy ofNigeria on the continent. Some actually feel absolute contempt for Nigeria and Nigerians.But there is also a genuine concern about the future of Nigeria. Indeed, other Africancolleagues accuse one as though one is responsible for the whole mess. A recurrent questionis always “what is happening to Nigeria, When are you going to sort things out in thatcountry, “ and so on and so forth. Many of course are happy that Nigeria is cut down to size.The hand of the clock has been reversed in Nigeria. And you can see what is happening inSierra Leone and The Gambia. Now, as for the other countries, even those that are veryambivalent, some see Nigeria in terms of market, in terms of economic resources, othershowever, whose friends and satellites are benefiting from the mess in which Nigeria has beenplunged, simply argue that the country is too large, it‟s cumbersome, splitting it up might bethe „ideal‟ solution as if all our problems will cease to exist when that is done. You know,you can see where they are coming from and on the one hand, you accept that it is verydifficult to dispute. On the other hand, it also depends on the point from which they areassessing the problem. Even some Nigerians say it openly that they are no more Nigerians.They tell you to forget it - there is no other solution than to break up! You see, what hashappened has so traumatised Nigerians. To them, the argument is if this is what the cliqueruling Nigeria wants, well why can‟t we maximise our own resources and put it to use in asmaller area. Why should we keep spending all our lives fighting for one Nigeria when theunity does not exist. But the argument of those of us who have spent our time on the path ofunity is to persuade them that it is possible to have an egalitarian system within the country, 13
  14. 14. within the various interest groups - why don‟t they accept this point. It is very simple. Thelevel of sophistication we have in the country should make it possible for us to realise thatthe ruling clique and their goons represent only themselves and that they are a minority intheir own area, resented by their own masses. We cannot say because they come from onesection of the country, everybody from their section should be damned. If one analysecritically what happened on June 12, it is clear that it is the clique in the desperation toperpetuate themselves, who would not let go. Their aim is to continue the master-serfrelations even among their people. This is what is driving their domineering disposition, andit is what is responsible for the election annulment. So, one can understand the pall ofdisillusionment behind the call for a break-up or dismemberment but we must not allowourselves to promote such hasty generalisations.K.F: Let‟s talk about the role of the United Nations in all of this. I refer to the UN inparticular noting your role as a Special Ambassador for UNESCO. How long is it going totake the UN to break its silence on Nigeria. Is it when it becomes a Somalia or a Rwanda?W.S: First of all, I am not excusing the United Nations because I want Nigeria to be on topof the UN‟s agenda but I am just trying to explain the United Nations system as best as I can.The driving motor of the UN is more towards - medicine after death, not preventative action.We have to change the entire psychology of the organisation if we are to get it to play morepro-active role in world affairs.K.F: But that was precisely what Boutrous Boutrous Ghali promised in his inauguralprogramme - Agenda for Peace He stated categorically that his priority will be preventivediplomacy and the development of UN‟s early warning mechanisms. Whatever happened tothat ideal?W.S: Yes, thank you for reminding me. Boutrous Ghali has the right ideas but he is at thehead of a behemoth, a very cumbersome organisation that requires a sort of constantprodding. Again, one can understand why this is happening since the Security Council holdsthe ultimate power in the UN, not the Secretariat. At the same time, we have a responsibilityto keep plugging at it, and they have a responsibility to respond to our warnings. If youhave a potential Rwanda - although I don‟t think Nigeria‟s case will be that bad - I think theworst case scenario is more akin to a Somalia - I believe they also get reports from their owncountry risk assessors alerting them to the worsening condition in Nigeria, and from privatediscussion I know they are worried. But any time the opportunity exists one always drivesthe point home. I shall have another such opportunity early June to address the GeneralAssembly on a UNICEF programme, and I will seize the opportunity to re iterate how thefuture of the younger generations is being destroyed by the venal criminals at the top ofmany unelected regimes in Africa.We believe Nigeria has to be placed on the agenda of the Security Council in the same waythat Haiti, and South Africa before it got there. This is what we want. But it will help a lot if 14
  15. 15. we first succeed in having Nigeria treated as a problem in the Commonwealth. If wesucceed in getting her [Nigeria‟s] participation downgraded at the next summit, we wouldhave gone a long way in highlighting the problem. We know that certain rules guide theirmeetings but we have to get the Commonwealth to address the problem of Nigeria as well asthat of the other upstarts in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. This is where we areconcentrating our efforts now. If we get this done, the UN will find it difficult not to givethe same level of attention. We hope other governments, democratic organisations,parliamentarians, Congress people will complement that effort. If an organisation like theCommonwealth takes it upon itself to spearhead this diplomatic offensive, it is a lot easierfor others to come on board, I think.K.F: It is interesting you are detailing all these efforts you and others have been making.From what one reads in the Nigerian media of late, there is a huge dose of disillusionmentfed on rumours and deliberate disinformation. This is so rampant that some even begin toquestion the motives of campaigners like yourself. It simply means the ordinary people needreassurance about the sanctity of the mandate passed on June 12.W.S: All one can say really to people we are interested in - those we believe we representis that , please be mature. They should know by now that this regime is capable of anything .It has unlimited resources and has been wasting this on propaganda. We can only remindthem of how Babangida, Halilu Akilu and Chukwumerije lied openly, manipulating themedia before the cancellation and afterwards. We have to remind them of how they werebold enough to lie that Abiola had berthed a ship load of mercenaries at the Lagos harbour tocome and kill the Hausa and non-Yoruba residents of Lagos. They used this in causingdisenchantment and drove innocent people away from their livelihood. In spite of that,Chukwumerije was given a chieftaincy title in his village for work well done. That issomething on which Chukwumerije‟s people still owe me an explanation. And I/m talkingnow about their leadership. I have tackled one or two of them, by the way and theirexplanation was unconvincing. Somebody who had committed such treasonable acts againstthe Nigerian people. Abiola scored over forty per cent of the vote in Chukwumerije‟s areaand that is substantial following - and how can somebody - how can a man who so betrayedhis intelligence, his calling...Comrade, he calls himself Mr Comrade, yet he behaves likeGoebbels, and actually damaged the sense of solidarity and unity brought about by thatelection through irresponsible broadcasts on Radio Kaduna and despicable editorials faxedfrom Aso Rock to New Nigerian. All this they deliberately concocted.So, all I am saying to people is don‟t be fooled twice. If they tell you tomorrow that WoleSoyinka is a child rapist, just nod and say yes, we hear but what about June 12, 1993. If theysay Beko and the NADECO people have now taken to pimping or trafficking in drugs, justsay yes, we hear but what about June 12, 1993. Listen, if people want to be gullible, theywill be destroyed. I hope someone like President Carter who fell for such gimmicks haslearnt a few lessons from it. It is the duty of traitors to try and split ranks - to try and tar theother side with the same brush which actually applies to them - Ai tete m’ole, ole nkigbe ole 15
  16. 16. m’oloko. Let people just remember that simple proverb. Every lie, every pejorative liewhich is attributed to the pro-democracy activists is really a reflection of the realitysurrounding the traitors, those who have stolen power and the mandate of the peopleRight now, interesting things will soon start happening. There are going to be some otherorganisations that Nigerians will hear about in a very short while, a lot of re-grouping isgoing on among the pro-democrats. The movement is reviewing its strategy and we aredeciding on certain novel approaches which will require some kind of parallel organisation.There is nothing unique about this, it is the way the struggle has always evolved, it is the waythings develop. If you look at the history of struggle against all forms of tyranny anywhere,especially the ones against colonialism. In our situation, there will be an evolution ofarrangements as long as the ultimate objective, which is the restoration of the mandate ofJune 12, 1993 is concerned, people should not allow themselves to be hoodwinked by theregime‟s intimidatory and divisive tactics. The objective now is not just to drive themilitary from office, it is also to eradicate the militarist disease sowed in the minds of ourpeople, and we can only do this by keeping faith with the mandate of June 12, which is aclear expression of the people‟s will as indicated in the election.K.F: I don‟t think the man on the street will disagree with the broad thrust of the positionyou have outlined. But it seems the intimidation has become so intense that they believeonly the leaders outside can make this happen. I think they have made the mental shiftnecessary towards the evolution of the struggle.W.S: That is why I talked about the evolution of the struggle. But first of all, let peopleunderstand that there has to be a division of labour in every struggle. Even that division canbe reviewed from time to time. If there is a slack in one department, then the other side musttry and pick up the slack and assume responsibility which, may be, that section refused toaccept at the outset. This again, is in the normal order of things. The important thing, let mejust say, is for people not to lose their morale. There will always come a moment in everystruggle when everyone recognises what the most appropriate weapon of resistance is. Itwill be so clear that people will need no goading, they won‟t need a reminder, there won‟t beneed for any special educational processes. Sometimes, it is even the enemy who dictates tothe people what the next stage is. Although, of course, that is not an ideal situation. Wewant to be able to go ahead and have the enemy meet us.If there is war in that country, It‟s Abacha that must be held responsible. If there is civilstrife, it‟s Abacha and the small military clique surrounding him and its civil society acolyteswho are responsible for it. All the people ask for is that the establishment of their will.Nothing can be more peaceful than that. The moment comes when the people have to say - Iwill not turn the other cheek. But we must be prepared in advance for that moment. Unlessour people want to remain permanent slaves...unless they want to be insulted, humiliated anddehumanised by any tupenny, any ridiculous creature, simply because that creature has a gunand wears a uniform. If that is what the people want, then of course, it is their choice and 16
  17. 17. they are going to remain slaves forever. But I don‟t believe a life of perpetual enslavement iswhat they want. They have shown their preference through the June 12 election. I believethey will recognise that moment of change and the necessary methods of resisting anoccupation army will have to be put in place. That is where leadership comes in - that iswhere internal leadership as well as external leadership come in. There must be absolutecollaboration between the two as we cannot afford to lose this struggle. 17