Wole Soyinka: The Humanist Influence On Our Lives

Wole Soyinka: The Humanist Influence On Our Lives

Thursday, July 17, 2014 1:28 am

By Kole Omotoso

There is a smile special to Kongi. The face softens. The eyes twinkle but there is firmness around the mouth. The last of the smile remains in the eyes. Interpreted, it told you that no, he did not accept your position, but yes, you have his support for holding such a contrary position. This would be the beginning of perhaps a heated argument at the end of which a few bottles of wine would seal the discussion. It was well, and it is well that Kongi still has that smile. Because when I look back on our life at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, I would wish to have that Kongi smile to seal my own seeming contradictory radicalism.

Kole Omotoso

Kole Omotoso

Before I continue, please, whoever has my copy of The Anarchist Cookbook send it to Professor Soyinka or let me have it back immediately! I brought that copy with me when I returned to the country in 1972, sure that some of its recipes would come in useful in the forthcoming struggle that was bound to be part of the future of Nigeria. Our radicalism took personal symbolism. Some of us would not refuse to engage house help (because it gave people employment) but we would want our house help to sit with us at table to eat. Property was theft as far as some of us were concerned and we wanted to have access to, but not own, property. Socialism is the only system that makes millionaires of ordinary people, millionaires because they have millions of people to work together with and to share with. Kongi must have sympathised with these positions but also he would have seen the futility of it all.

Through the discussions we had within the Ibadan-Ife Group and the publication Positive Review, we came to the conclusion that unless we prosecute the atrocities of the past, our present would be continuous and our future imperfect. I personally still believe this in terms of setting things right in Nigeria. At that time (1979 – 1985) it would have been possible. We believed that we could be the vanguard that would in fact prosecute the atrocities of the past, distribute justice and set the country on the right path to growth and rectitude. We had contacts in the labour movement and we were in touch with some of the revolutionary individuals of the continent and of the world of radical change and transformation. Our publication Positive Review was getting reciprocal subscription from some of the radical publications of the times. We needed to take leave of our present immersion in the world of the pseudo-capitalism and military fascism in which most of us were university lecturers and professionals. We began to arrange for our families to leave our campus homes. Those of us who were married to partners from other countries were to arrange for our partners to leave the country for their safety. If necessary, they would take the children with them. Once we had evacuated our families, we would then either leave the campuses and go into the forest or stay on their as cover and begin the fight for a new Nigeria.

We would need arms. We would need money. For arms we would raid police stations and army depots. There were also local factories where small arms were manufactured. We would recruit small units of fighting forces who would arm themselves and fight for our vision of a new Nigeria. For money, the banks would be our sources. We would raid them and from there find the funds to pay for our revolution. Maybe at some later date we might have to do some other bourgeois-ly illegal things like smuggling and drugs and more raids on money places and palaces over and above banks. We had no doubt that we would be able to finance our revolution. And as our successes mounted, we would even convince others from the country who saw the rightness of our struggle to join us bringing their expertise and their material resources.

Even before we went into the forest we were already arguing ourselves blind about the ideological purity of those who would and those who would not participate in the struggle and the revolution. Initially, some were convinced we would all have to be soldiers. The fighting time would not admit of philosophers and such idea hands and minds. Everyone must come into the forest and be reborn in the company of ordinary farmers and carpenters and bricklayers and blacksmiths. When then would the revolution need our expertise, the things we were educated to do? Perhaps never, was the answer: we have been mis-educated. We have not been educated to be ourselves. We were consuming what we did not produce and producing what we did not consume. Egbe ni fun iru awon eniyan bayi! (Woe betides peoples of this kind!). We would all retrain ourselves for the second liberation of our country.

Before I speak of Kongi’s intervention, let me wonder if this analysis still holds for today. That is, “is it still important for Nigeria to go forward and prosper it is important for us to prosecute the atrocities of the past?” Even if this is so, is it only a military, either from the regular Nigerian Army or from a Guerrilla Army, that can prosecute these atrocities of the past? And finally, can we prosecute these atrocities of the past through a democratic system? The regular Nigerian military cannot do it. Over the years, under various military governments and especially from Babangida onwards, the military must have come to the conclusion that either in uniform or out of it, they would be forever the major element in the ruling of Nigeria for a long time. Therefore, they ensured that they civilianised the military that then militarised civilian life. Today, in the national assembly and senate, the 36 state houses of assembly, in government and in private business, the retired military are sufficiently represented to ensure that there can be no prosecution of the atrocities of the past through products of the Nigerian Army. As for a Guerrilla Army achieving the prosecution of the atrocities of the past, it was mute in our time and cannot be said to be certain today. And there are many reasons why the democratic process we have been pushing since 1999 cannot prosecute the atrocities of the past. Our justice infrastructure is decrepit. Our justice personnel are compromised. And our sense of justice is warped. So, if you ask the question from whence cometh our way out of our present rot? I would reply that we need to rebuild our justice infrastructure, re-train our justice personnel and re-orientate our thinking on justice in this country.

Back to Wole Soyinka. He called us to his house and spoke to us as an elder brother would speak to his erring siblings. He said that the system would destroy us, wipe us out like common criminals, mere irritants in the scabrous skin of the politics. May be, not in those words. May be, he didn’t even call us and we were not in his house that night late into the night. May be, it is my imagination that is making this up. I do know though, that after leaving his house that night, we never spoke of these things ever again.

– Kole Omotoso, popularly known as Yebo Gogo in South Africa, was a Professor in the Drama Department at Stellenbosch University.  His works include Just Before Dawn, Fela’s Choice and Memories of Our Recent Boom.

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