Prof Wole Soyinka said so many right and proper things in his recent and now controversial Channels television interview which aired on Monday, April 3, 2023. But quite clearly, the Nobel laureate is unaware that his barometer for reading the atmospheric pressure is now cranky and needs a fix. I say that because Kongi uncharacteristically erred in labeling the Labor Party VP candidate, Dr Yusuf-Datti Baba Ahmed, as “fascist.” And he stumbled again when he suggested that the conduct of Obidients cost Peter Obi a (deserved) victory at the polls. In his heyday, Soyinka himself could have exclaimed: “Such monstrous incongruity!”
To set the records straight, Obi did not lose at the polls. On the contrary, the man won by a handsome margin. He only “lost” in the journey between the polling units and the INEC Situation Room where the results were announced. And that is now the subject of a pending litigation. So, technically, he can still retrieve what he “lost.”
Yusuf-Datti’s crime, according to the revered Nobel laureate, is insisting that the FG would have ended democracy in Nigeria if it swears in the president-elect on May 29 before those challenging the results of the elections have exhausted their constitutional rights of judicial redress.
How the great literary genius Prof Soyinka missed the salient point in Datti’s warning (that justice delayed is justice denied), but rather chose to dwell exclusively and repeatedly on the “threat” in his voice and demeanor is something that beats me. Ideally, both style and substance should have been interrogated.
Nor do I know what influenced the choice of the word “fascist” by the erudite professor of Comparative Literature. Whatever it was, this usage didn’t quite sync with my understanding of the word and its origins as a student of the social sciences. So I went back to secretly research the definition of “fascist” and “fascism” so as not to betray my “ignorance.”
I found a simple and accurate definition in The Britannica Dictionary. It says FASCISM is : “a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government.”
Mr Baba Ahmed is neither in government nor speaking for government. He is in no position to be equated with a dictator “organizing society” in his own way. On the contrary, he is a lowly opposition contestant challenging the outcome of an election which was universally acclaimed to have substantially deviated from its own guidelines.
Yusuf-Datti was calling for the preservation of democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law through a fair and timely resolution of pending electoral petitions – before anyone is sworn in. He was calling for justice to be done and to be seen to be done before handing over power to a potentially wrong person. His call was actually against “fascist” tendencies by a sitting government which apparently paved the way for election results to be fiddled with in favor of its own party.
At the time that Soyinka spoke, members of the same ruling party were openly appealing to religious and regional sentiments to gain traction in the media. Not to mention ethnically profiling and violently intimidating opposition voters immediately before.
Therefore, to label Mr. Baba Ahmed’s impassioned call as “fascist’ beats any logical or semantic imagination. It is most probably a misnomer. Perhaps Prof Soyinka meant to say that Mr. Baba Ahmed came across as threatening and confrontational; a disposition that serves him no obvious good since he and his party are already in court. But “fascist”? Naaa! It is quite unusual in socio-scientific and literary terms for victims of a dictatorial government to be referred to as fascists.
We all know who the real fascists are in Nigeria today. They are those who have compromised the electoral system to deliver a false result. Now, they are beating down the opposition, blackmailing rival candidates, sabotaging other political parties, dodging court summons, and attempting to maneuver the judiciary into delaying the course of justice so as to re-install themselves in government.
Even if Prof. Soyinka used the term fascist in the sense that Mr. Baba Ahmed was canvassing a single and uncompromising viewpoint, I am surprised that he (Soyinka) left the primary offenders and chose instead to label and blame the victim as fascist – apparently for shouting that they have been robbed!
Perhaps Prof Soyinka is speaking in tongues or with tongue-in-cheek, or has invented a unique form of irony. Otherwise, he might be guilty of selective perception. Little wonder he is currently getting a roasting from the intellectual wing of the Obidient Movement.
Obidients have so far conducted themselves with uncommon dignity in Nigeria’s current circumstance. They have remained civil and peaceful, restricting their “aggression” to ideological disputations within online and offline spaces. Against physical attacks and provocations by their opponents, they have been remarkably calm.
This must be largely due to the exceptionally humble and exemplary manners of their leader, Mr. Peter Obi. In other climes or under a different leadership, things might have been messier by now, especially in the face of unethical tactics by elements of a broken regime that won’t go away peacefully.
Compared with how APC and Buhari supporters conducted themselves in 2011 and 2015 against a fading PDP government, and how APC and Tinubu have conducted themselves in Lagos since Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivor became a “threat” to their honeypot, Obidients will surely qualify as saints.
There are two reasons why I won’t join the roasting of our revered Prof. Soyinka. First, he is exactly the same age as my father – 88! So, I am sentimentally compromised. Besides, where I come from, age is almost deified. Second, Kongi has more than paid his dues in the struggle for a better Nigeria. I recall his “fascist” adventures in the 1960s, when he held a gun to the head of a radio announcer to stop the broadcast of a disputed election result. I recall his journey to Eastern Nigeria in support of a beleaguered Biafra, then under the guns of a “fascist” Federal Government.
So, if at old age the great one stumbles once in a while, I am personally inclined to forgive (and overlook) his trespasses. The old lion does not hunt with the same prowess he was once known for. Age afflicts us all. To know this is to know peace.