SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 – Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has called on the Federal Government to urgently investigate allegations of maltreatment of Biafra supporters in the Eastern part of the country by the military with the aim of punishing those found culpable.
Soyinka spoke on Wednesday in Ibadan, Oyo State, Southwest Nigeria at the Christopher Okigbo Conference, with the theme: “Legacy of Christopher Okigbo-50 years”. The event was put together to mark the golden jubilee of the passage of Okigbo.
He said: “There is a video clip going viral showing allegedly the dehumanisation of Biafran supporters in the East. It shows some civilians being made to run a gantlet of whips and then being made to crawl, being lined up in a pond of mud… I do not say this video is genuine. It could be IPOB propaganda, it is possible but I am saying to the military that you can’t afford to stay silent when that kind of documented allegation is making the round of the world.
“The image of the military very often is the image of the nation. I want the military and the government to examine this video and the source and let the nation know whether the soldiers that participated in it have been identified and have been punished or prove to the nation that this is pure propaganda video. Such thing has been done before. It happened in Baga in the North, and that is the mission as my message on behalf of Christopher Okigbo to the military and to the government. We want an answer”.
The Nobel laureate regretted that the situation that propelled Okigbo to join the Biafra army and fight for freedom till he died was still very present in the country.
“I am looking at history repeating itself. We are celebrating Christopher who was a poetic embodiment of that movement at that particular time and who put his life on the line for a conviction that sent him out. When we were still thinking of meeting him here for a literary conference, meeting him there for a conference, Chris was already committed. And when the moment came, it was not enough that he smuggled in arms, he went in, joined the others and took up arms for his conviction. I am looking at this young people on the street behind the banner, organising, once again, reaching that stage when they also are preparing to put their lives on the line.
“And it is not enough to talk Python Dance or Crocodile Smile, these borrowings from other people’s language and to say we are ready for you anytime and while the other side says oh yes, we are waiting like Trump and the rocket man in North Korea, the unbalance of terror and so on, and this is what we are now echoing on a mini scale in this country. A mini scale but with enormous consequences for all of us and it seems as if we are about to repeat history but at its worst. Maybe it is about time again that we writers, colleagues of Christopher make a concerted move to avert this disaster which politicians have the habit of getting us into,” he stated.
Speaking further, Soyinka said, “Each time I hear python dance, crocodile smile and what goes along it that we are not mobilising against anybody or group and that it is kidnappers we are after, I ask are you talking to children? What is this language? This morning, I picked up newspapers and in them, the Air force said they are joining in the dance. So they fly up there to look for kidnappers?”
According to him, “This is not what a 50 year advance in human intelligence and historic experience should be. There has to be a way out of the repeat of the cyclic stupidity which overtakes human beings and communities periodically time and time again”.
Soyinka, who pointed out that he looked forward to meeting the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai with the aim of discussing a number of issues bothering on security, said the resurgence of militarism was beginning to take its toll on the civilian population and the military, and that the soldiers were again beginning to behave like masters of this land.
“They humiliate and dehumanise civilian population. What you are confronted with when you open pages of newspapers everyday is the military is either beating up policemen or beating up the civilians or making them crawl. This type of unacceptable habit, this sense of military superiority is beginning to creep back into this nation and it is fueling even what you might call separatist movements”, he said.
Soyinka, who stated that he was yet to have the opportunity to personally congratulate General Buratai and his soldiers for their bravery, and their performance over and above the call of duty in ridding the nation of deluded religionists who were enemies of the country, however, appealed to Buratai to keep his boys in order and make them understand that they were not master of this nation.
“It is that kind of mentality which leads to people to say alright we don’t want to be part of that polity. If you think that we are dominated and we are under policy and ideology of submission, we are going to show you differently”.
Soyinka also said “This anniversary (Okigbo anniversary) is taking place at a critical moment for the nation as a corporate body, as many of us, as individual, for millions who are not here with us today but, confronting a choice: a choice which is come about as a result of much mis-governance in this nation, as a result of leadership alienation, marginalisation of millions not just in the East alone. I am talking across regions. I am talking across classes, lack of opportunity and so on. And it is this contradiction within society which lead to what is confronting the nation at this moment”.
Soyinka noted that as the nation was slowly overcoming the menace of Boko Haram, it was being confronted with the menace of Fulani herdsmen who felt they own the nation.
“They feel that they own every square inch of the nation, anywhere, anytime and that if it is not ceded to them, they must take it by force. They feel that they must humiliate, and dehumanise other people in other areas of the nation be it Benue, Anambra, Ogun States. The menace is everywhere. And when people see that they cannot look to the responsible structure of governance, to look after their security and their livelihood, in other world when they feel marginalised, on a seemingly structured ways, then they move toward their own structuring, which can lead to violence”, he lamented.
Also speaking, Prof. John Pepper Clark lamented that for the past 50 years, Nigeria’s situation had not improved for the better, as the various issues that divided the nation were still present in the nation’s system.
According to Clark, Nigerians were seeking for restructuring because there was a need for a genuine one that would make everyone have a true sense of belonging.