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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”.

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EFCC arraigns forex broker for alleged N2b investment scam in Uyo

The Enugu Zonal Directorate of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on Friday, July 19, 2024 arraigned one Rufus John Isip, a self-acclaimed forex broker before Justice C. S. Onah of the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

Isip was arraigned alongside his company, ITM-IT Resources Limited on an eight-count charge bordering on fraudulent conversion, money laundering and obtaining by false pretence to the tune of N2, 022, 081, 172 (Two Billion, Twenty-two Million, Eighty-one Thousand, One Hundred and Seventy-two Naira).

Count one of the charge reads: “That you, Rufus John Isip while being the Director of ITM-IT Resources Limited and ITM-IT Resources Limited sometime in December 2020 and May 2021 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, with intent to defraud, obtained the sum of (431, 331, 172. 00) Four Hundred and Thirty-one Million, Three Hundred and Thirty-one Thousand, One Hundred and Seventy-two kobo from one Michael Okon, the Director of N-Rex Resources Limited under the false pretence that it is an investment in Vandera, an online investment platform, on his behalf, which pretence you knew to be false and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1 (1) (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act”.

Count eight of the charge reads: “That you, Rufus John Isip while being the Director of ITM-IT Resources Limited and ITM-IT Resources Limited sometime between December 2020 and May 2021 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, converted the total sum of (N730, 870, 000. 00) Seven Hundred and Thirty Million, Eight Hundred and Seventy Thousand Naira to crypto currency (Bitcoin) and transferred same into your Binance Wallet knowing that the said money formed part of your unlawful act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15 (3) (4) of the same Act”.

He pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to him.

In view of his plea, Khamis Mahmud, counsel to the EFCC prayed the court to remand him in EFCC custody on the grounds that “we are still investigating him on other cases”.

The defence counsel, Samson Ewuje however, did not pose any objection.
Justice Onah adjourned the matter to October 14, 2024 for trial and the defendant was remanded at the Uyo Zonal Directorate of the EFCC.

Isip was arrested based on a petition from one Michael George, alleging that he lured him to invest in his online trading platform called Vandora.io. According to the petitioner, the defendant told him that it was more profitable to trade on his platform with a minimum trading capital of $100, 000. 00 (One Hundred Thousand Dollars) and that he would earn more profit if he involved more investors.

The petitioner thereafter invested, reached out to other investors and companies who also invested in the defendant’s phony online trading platform and after 60 days (as agreed) for the investors to start earning their profits, the defendant disappeared into thin air.

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EFCC presents more witness against Fayose in alleged N6.9bn fraud trial

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Friday, July 19, 2024, presented its 14th prosecution witness, PW14, Sahibu Salisu, a former Director of Administration and Finance, Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, in the trial of alleged N6.9bn fraud involving a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, and his company, Spotless Investment Limited, before Justice Chukujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The Lagos Zonal Command of the EFCC had, on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, re-arraigned Fayose and Spotless Investment Limited on an 11-count charge bordering on money laundering and stealing to the tune of N6.9bn ( Six Billion Nine Hundred Naira).

The defendants had first been arraigned on October 22, 2018 before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.

At the resumed sitting on Friday, Salisu told the court how he paid the sum of N200m and another N2billion to a firm, Sylvan MacNamara, for security purposes on the instruction of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).

Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, the PW14 , who disclosed that he served as the Director of Administration and Finance between 2011 and 2015, explained the process of payment, saying, “ Once the NSA gave approval for payment, we processed it accordingly. The payments we made were mainly for operational activities.”

When asked to state the roles of the NSA Office , he said: “The roles of the NSA Office are purely about the security of the entire country. And any money expended on security was expected to be retired.”

When shown a document tagged Exhibit S, which was the payment voucher raised for the fund, he said: “It is the payment mandate raised by me as the Director of Administration and Finance on the NSA’s instruction. The first figure was N200 million in favour of Sylvan McNamara and it was paid to the company’s Diamond Bank account. It was the NSA who gave me the account details.”

He said though the NSA did not tell him the purpose for which it was meant, the memo raised and the mandate payment showed it was for physical security infrastructure. “All the payments made from the Office of NSA were supposed to be for security activities and security structures,” he said.

When asked who signed the payment mandate, he said: “I will sign my own part as signatory B. “Thereafter, I would take it to the NSA for final signature, which was approval. Then, I would take the mandate to the Central Bank of Nigeria for payment.”

Giving further testimony on the exhibit S, he said the former NSA and him appended their signatures on it. According to him, the payment was made and there should be retirement, after the purpose for which money was paid for had been completed. He, however, stated that “ Up till I left the office, I could not say whether or not the money was retired.”

When asked about the exhibit S1, which was payment to Sylvan McNamara to the tune of N2 billion dated June 13, 2014, he said: “We paid the amount of N2 billion to Sylvan McNamara on the instruction of the NSA. I was not a signatory to this account, so I am not in a position to know whether it was retired after payment. The NSA and former Permanent Secretary, Mr. Ibrahim Mahe, would be able to know whether it was retired or not”.

Salisu, under cross-examination by the counsel to the first defendant, Ola Olanipekun, SAN, testified that all payments made by the NSA office were made through the bank and they had to raise the mandate before it was done.

When asked if the former NSA told him that the N200m and N2bn were for security purposes, he said: “No. The NSA never informed me that the money was for security purposes and the NSA never complained about this payment.”

During cross-examination by the counsel to the second defendant, Olalekan Ojo, SAN, Salisu testified that he was familiar with financial regulations, adding that “In relation to retirement, once money is given to a recipient, you are supposed to bring the receipt of what you have been asked to supply with a memo attached to it. That is the retirement of such a fund-the financial regulations only apply to public servants.”
According to him, the schedules of his duties did not extend to security matters.

When asked if he knew what made the former NSA to first approve the payment of N200million and subsequently N2 billion for Sylvan McNamara, he said: “As I said earlier, all payments in the office of the NSA are for security purposes”. Also, when asked if he made a statement to the EFCC when he was invited during investigation, he said, “Yes”.

Thereafter, Ojo tendered the statement of the witness and was admitted by the court as exhibit A19. The witness also confirmed to the court that no one ever queried the instructions of the NSA.

Counsel to the first defendant, Ola Olanipekun, SAN, made an application before the court, seeking the permission of the court to allow his client travel abroad on health grounds. There was no objection from the prosecution counsel.

In his ruling, Justice Aneke granted Olanipekun’s request to enable his client travel abroad for medical check.

The case was adjourned to October 18, 2024 for continuation of trial.

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NSUK 300-Level student killed in foiled robbery attempt in Akwanga

A 300-level student of Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Mustapha Osama, was reportedly killed in a foiled robbery attempt in Akwanga Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.

The incident occurred on Friday night around 8 PM along the Gudi-Akwanga road, according to sources.

Osama, who has been buried in Doma on Saturday morning according to Islamic rites, was said to have been hit by a bullet fired by the gunmen.

A family source confirmed that the deceased was driving when he was struck by the bullet.

The robbery attempt was thwarted by operatives of the Nigeria Police who responded immediately to a distress call, according to the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ramhan Nansel.

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