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Wole Soyinka On Nigeria: ‘It’s Like Something Has Broken In Society’

Wole Soyinka On Nigeria: ‘It’s Like Something Has Broken In Society’

The Nobel Prize winner’s third novel takes aim at the country’s ‘deteriorating’ political and civil values, but he is heartened by young talent in the arts.

Wole Soyinka is vexed by the state of Nigeria. Barely a day goes by these days without a kidnapping of one sort or another — a politician and his retinue in Niger state; two nurses and a one-year-old baby, among others, from a hospital in Zaria; 140 students at a rural school in northwestern Kaduna state. Bandits — as the disparate gangs of armed men roving the country are colloquially known — have abducted at least 1,200 students since December, with around 200 still missing.

Meanwhile, the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency continues into its 11th year in the north-east and separatist movements burble in the south-east. The scourge of banditry has spread to every corner of the country.

“Even during the civil war, I do not believe that we devalued humanity as much as we do today,” says Soyinka, referring to the 1967-70 war that killed more than 1m Nigerians, during which he was held in solitary confinement for two years — scribbling protest poetry on toilet paper and packs of cigarettes. “It’s like something has broken in society, in something I used to take for granted.”

Soyinka, a lion of African literature, is less voluble in the flesh than he is on the page, where he has spent decades skewering sundry African dictators, despots and authoritarians. We meet at Freedom Park in Lagos, where the slight 87-year-old keeps an office. His voice is soft and plummy; his body smaller in person than his iconic white afro suggests in pictures.

The first writer from the continent to win the Nobel Prize for Literature — in 1986 — Soyinka is principally known for his plays. One of them, 1975’s celebrated Death and the King’s Horseman, is being made into a movie for Netflix by Nigeria’s most powerful film producer, though Soyinka says he hasn’t really thought about it much. “It has no particularly special impact on me; I see it as a work of art, a creative piece which can go anywhere,” he says.

What — as an observer, as a citizen, as a human being — appalls me is quote-unquote ‘man’s inhumanity to man’

For decades, Soyinka and Chinua Achebe were the main global representatives of Nigerian writing. But over the past decade and a half, a new generation of writers in the diaspora and in Nigeria itself — including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole — have taken up the mantle. For all his pessimism about the country — “‘hope’ is an expression that I no longer use”, he says — Soyinka is heartened by the explosion of young Nigerian talent in the arts. He says he keeps a stack of novels by young Nigerian writers in his car for reading during Lagos’s notorious go-slows, though he declines to name any lest he leave someone out.

Soyinka’s own new novel, Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth, published this month in the UK, arrives nearly a half-century after his last, Season of Anomy (1972) and his 1965 debut The Interpreters. The book is a brutally satirical look at power and corruption in Nigeria, told in the form of a whodunnit involving three university friends. They include a doctor who discovers a body-selling racket at his hospital, a Yoruba royal who has been tapped by the UN for a job in New York, and a rising Nigerian civil servant who looks the other way on corruption, alongside myriad dark and twisted characters from the world of politics, media and religion.

“What — as an observer, as a citizen, as a human being — appals me is quote-unquote ‘man’s inhumanity to man’,” he says. “And this has become the thesis, the essence of Nigeria at present on all levels, whether you’re talking about the consequences of corruption, whether you’re talking about the degradation of human life physically, whether you’re talking about kidnapping.”

An unapologetically political writer, Soyinka’s penchant for polemicising has landed him in prison, on the run or in exile repeatedly. He has spent a long lifetime in the front row, and often right up on stage, at almost every key event in modern Nigerian history. And he is savagely critical of the government of the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, an elderly, aloof ex-general, who ruled Nigeria in a military dictatorship nearly 40 years ago. It has, he says, “quite frankly proved itself to be nothing but a disaster . . . the leadership has been inept and it’s a tragedy for the nation”.

I hope that they have no doubt at all and recognise themselves, in a way, to show how much I despise them

Soyinka was born in 1934 to a shopkeeper and political activist mother and a father who was an Anglican minister and school headmaster, in Abeokuta, a town three hours outside Lagos, where he keeps his main residence. He began winning writing prizes at an early age before matriculating at University College Ibadan, graduating with a degree in English literature, Greek and western history.

In 1954, Soyinka enrolled at Leeds University in the UK, where his playwriting took off; after graduation, he wrote plays including The Lion and the Jewel, which brought him to London’s Royal Court Theatre. While in London, he began the string of unflinching plays — including A Dance of the Forests (1960), which attacked the corrupt new elite that took over Nigeria after independence — that would later win him the Nobel.

He’s still dealing with that corrupt elite in Chronicles, where it’s hard to miss the fact that the old man is having a blast, even as he, once again, deals with some very uncomfortable truths about his country. While the novel includes one or two characters modelled on friends, there are others — mostly political — Soyinka had to live with over the course of writing the book that he’d have preferred not to. “There are certainly one or two whom I hope that they have no doubt at all and recognise themselves, in a way, to show how much I despise them,” he says.

So why has Soyinka returned to the novel form, when the themes of power, corruption and greed in Chronicles could be tackled in more of the fiery essays he’s written for Nigeria’s top newspapers?

“In effect, I’ve been writing it for some time, in other forms . . . I’ve been engaged in the issues there through polemical articles, through poems, even in plays. But it just kept accumulating inside, as such issues continued to get worse around me,” he says. “I became so oppressed by the entirety of the environment, the politics, the deterioration of human relationships.”

Wole Soyinka accepts his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 © Alamy
“So it just was piling up, until writing a poem . . . was no longer enough, writing an article was not enough,” he adds. “I wanted to confront society with its true image and the fiction form seemed to offer itself as the only one that would relieve me a little bit of this decades-old burden.”

The coronavirus pandemic offered the perfect chance to finally lay it all out — as Soyinka spent months holed up in his forested compound in Abeokuta. He completed the book during two short, but essential, stints in Senegal and Ghana. “Those were very important. I could not start work on it until I was able to isolate myself from this environment completely,” he says. He also needed that space to get back into the mode of writing novels, a process he describes as “a kind of creative reportage”.

The result is an image of Nigeria that he felt the country needed to see. What was that image? “In some sense, cannibalism, if you like, of a strange kind, of a society which is actually eating itself, sort of self-directed cannibalism and the total deterioration of our humanity,” he replies. “That’s really what, just year after year, decade after decade, I have just seen what I considered as the true Nigerian humanity vanishing.”

Soyinka comes back repeatedly to the fact that Nigeria is an artificial nation state — “the British came and slapped some chunks together and said, ‘that’s yours’” — and that the secessionist impulse has always been part of the country’s DNA.

“Now, can Nigeria hold? I honestly don’t know,” he says. “I hope we manage to stay together because I have a feeling that the problems might be even more compounded if we break up. But it’s not from any sense of attachment to the concept of Nigeria. No, it’s just a pragmatic position that I hold.” No attachment to the concept, perhaps, there is something in the country to which he is beholden?

“For me, it’s just a place in which I live, where I hold my passport. But to whose people I feel obliged, because they are my people,” he says. Ultimately, “it is my nation — I am a Nigerian writer, that’s it”.


‘Look at How Stupid and Unintelligent you people are’ – Asari Dokubo Slams Those Saying Lagos Belongs to the Binis

Asari Dokubo has slammed Nigerians who are pushing the narrative that Lagos state belongs to the Binis. His comment comes days after the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare 11, said that the Binis founded some parts of Lagos state.

The Monarch’s comment sparked a debate with people agreeing and also countering the monarch’s assertion. Some people in their submissions, insisted that the Binis own Lagos state

In a video shared online, Asari asked which of the Obas of Benin owned Lagos.

He described those peddling the idea that Lagos belongs to the Binis as unintelligent and stupid people.

“Look at how unintelligent and stupid you are to say that the Bini people founded Lagos. It’s a useless argument.

“Daume also attacked Lagos and attacked Abeokuta and Daume is in Benin Republic. So Daume people will say they owe this place because they came to fight there?

Borogu, which of them is the Benin Republic, will now say that because they had their army all over the place in those days, Igbo-Ora and the whole Okedun belong to them?

“You don’t know history. The Bini army attacked Lagos Island. The Ijaw army ferried them to attack not the whole of Lagos, just Lagos Island.

“Lagos was five divisions, four of these divisions were in the former Western Region. You don’t know history. But they keep Talking about ‘Lagos belongs to Benin’ which Oba of Benin can Lagos belong to?

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Nigerians will soon enjoy improved Electricity supply — Power Minister

The Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, has assured that Nigerians will soon start enjoying improved power supply across the country.

This was even as he stated that the totality of the re-enacted electricity act has changed the entire landscape of the power sector.

The Minister disclosed this at the 3rd edition of the Power Correspondents Association of Nigeria annual workshop in Abuja on Thursday.

According to him, the 2023 Electricity Act has liberalised electricity generation, transmission, and distribution while also empowering states, organisations, and even individuals to generate, transmit, and distribute electricity.

He noted that the key part of the 2023 Electricity Act is the development of the Integrated National Electricity Policy and Strategic Implementation Plan.

“We are working with the National Council on Power (NCP) to develop and send the implementation strategy to the FederalE Executive Council (FEC) for approval,” he said.

Also, he said, “Part of the strategy in our road map is the emphasis on the bottom-up approach, unlike the top-down approach of the past.

“The implication, with the bottom-up approach, is that we will prioritise metering, distribution, and transmission infrastructure. In the short term, we will focus on customers down to distribution and transmission infrastructure. This is to ensure that a significant portion of what is generated currently gets to end users.

“We will also pay attention to the generation segment, particularly in areas of distributed (embedded) power from renewable energy sources, while at the same time advancing base load power through thermal and hydroelectric plants in the medium to long term.”

He further noted that the administration would explore the country’s regional energy potential.

“We will focus on solar energy in the North, mini hydropower plants in the Middle Belt and the Southwest, hybridised with solar, while our coastal states will be identified for wind energy utilisation.

Taking all the above into consideration, especially with the liberalisation of the sector, Nigerians will soon start to experience the objective that led to the Act, which is improved power supply across the country,” he said



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Court Remands 14-year-old Suspected Killer of FUTMinna Lecturer

A Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Minna, Niger State capital, has remanded a 14-year-old prime suspect, Joy Afekafe, over murder of Mrs. Funmilola Sherifat Adefolalu, an associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna.

The Nigerian Police, Niger State Command, arraigned the 14-year-old Afekafe on three count charges which include criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide and armed robbery.

The offences are in contrary to sections 97, 221 and 298 of the penal code law

The prosecution told Chief Magistrate Fati Hassan Umar that two other suspects in the crime: Wallex and Smart are still at large.

The prosecutor, DSP Ahmed Saidu told the court that the trio had invaded the residence of the deceased on the 28th of October 2023 ”where you took a knife in the kitchen and stabbed her all over her body.

”You also used a wooden stool and hit her on her head after which you carted away $3000, one laptop computer, one mobile phone, two power banks and a car battery.”

The prosecution added that as a result, “the victim was taken to the IBB Specialist hospital where she was confirmed dead by medical doctors”.

When the charge was read to Afekafe, she pleaded not guilty to the crime.

The prosecution pleaded with the court to remand the accused in the Correctional Centre to enable the Police forward the case file to the Director of Public Prosecution in the state Ministry of Justice for legal advice, adding that it is only the High Court that has jurisdiction to try the case.

Chief Magistrate Fati Hassan Umar directed that Afekafe be remanded at the Children Correctional Centre before adjourning the case to 11th of December, 2023 for further mention

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