Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize, has hope in young people


LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) – Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author Wole Soyinka sees his country’s many problems – poorly governed politicians, systemic corruption, violent extremists and bandit kidnappings – but he does not despair.

At 87, he says Nigerian youth can have the energy and the know-how to get the struggling country back on track.

It is up to the new generation “to decide whether they want to continue on the same single track train,” or chart a new course, Soyinka told The Associated Press.

Soyinka credits young Nigerians – around 64 million between the ages of 15 and 35 of the country’s over 200 million people – for trying to fundamentally reform the country. He cites the October 2020 #EndSARS protests against police brutality, comparing it to “positive pools of resistance” during the years of military rule that Nigeria endured for nearly 30 years.

Although the protests of a year ago resulted in shootings and the deaths of more than 30 protesters, Soyinka says the widespread protests on social media show the promise of young people to achieve change.

“The kind of energy and intelligence that created the #EndSARS movement is one, for example, that can be used on a much larger scale to involve masses of people,” he said.

In her first novel in nearly 50 years, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on the Planet”, published in September, Soyinka created a fictional Nigeria plagued by crime, corruption and chaos with a ruling party oppressive called People on the Move. Party (POMP). And the people are anything but happy, although there is an annual festival with the ironic name of the People of Happiness.

The satirical novel depicts a trade in human body parts – by a company named Human Resources – and a pastor of a mega-church who preaches Chrislam – a mix of Christianity and Islam. Yet Nigeria’s blunt portrayal of Soyinka is also mixed with a spirit of hope.

From Freedom Park in Lagos, Soyinka spoke to AP about her vision for her country. Similar to the setting for his novel, Soyinka said he believed the current system in Nigeria was not a “functional and productive” system.

In 2015, Soyinka supported presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari and called on Nigerians to forgive the leader for his past as a former dictator who ruled Nigeria from 1983 to 1985. Today, Buhari is president and Soyinka the critic.

“From the middle of the first round of his government, he has failed on several levels and it is up to Nigerians to wake up and reverse the direction in which they are taken,” the author said of Buhari, 78. . administration.

He said Buhari used to “put people in boxes” when they disagree with him, including separatist leaders Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, currently in the custody of the Nigerian secret police. .

Soyinka says Nigeria started moving in the wrong direction in 1955, when the West African giant began extracting “undeserved and undeserved wealth” from oil.

“We didn’t make anything from petroleum, we just used it crude for what it is, sold it, took the money and wasted the money,” Soyinka, who in 1986 was the first black author and the first African to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

“Productivity has gone down and the small economies that support a people… have started to disappear,” he said.

Although the enormous wealth derived from the export of crude oil has made Nigeria one of Africa’s largest economies, its people continue to struggle against poverty and underdevelopment.

Ten years after Nigeria discovered oil in large quantities, it suffered its first military coup in 1966, opening the floodgates for a succession of dictatorships that occupied Nigeria for almost every year until 1999 when democracy has been restored.

It was during one of these military regimes – in 1994 under the late Sani Abacha – that Soyinka, a thorn in the flesh of military heads of state, voluntarily went into exile after leading pro-democracy protests.

It has been over 22 years since Nigeria returned to democracy, but Soyinka believes the nation has “never really recovered” from those years of dictatorship. Plus, he feels that most of the changes he fought for have yet to materialize.

“What we still got was to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Every leader comes and says, ‘Oh yeah, I’m listening to the people. And they want to change. Therefore, let’s meet and tinker with the constitution. Rather than going deep inward and creating a society that is totally different from what exists. Once in power, it is the same result.

In the northeast of the country, a 12-year war against Islamic extremists Boko Haram and their offshoot of Islamic State West Africa province, extremists continue to ransom the region, banditry that had led to the deaths of thousands of people and kidnappings. many, including schoolchildren, are raging in the northwest and central states, while a violent separatist movement is emerging in the southeast.

Soyinka thinks things would have been different if the leaders had not “pretended that what was happening was just a blip on the screen, when it was very deep inside the company” .

“They refused to act at the right time. They made compromises. They calmed down. They apologized. They even rhetorized the danger, the reality. And in the process, we have completely lost our humanity, ”he said regretfully, his face suddenly solemn.

“So every time we point the finger at the state, the rulers look at us and see themselves as a reflection of the rest of society. Pot calling the black kettle. (They say,) ‘Come and chop small. We are the same.’ And, of course, we move in and cut with them. This is what happened to us as a people… Everything has lost its value.

Soyinka says that to turn the tide, Nigeria must undergo a “brutal” and “marathon” soul-searching in which “we call each other names and speak the truth without any compromise”. The country needs a leader who will “take the bull by the horns” and recognize that “so far everything is bad,” he said.

Soyinka travels abroad to promote his novel and he continues to comment constantly, often calling on leaders of successive governments. He admits, however, that he’s not as strong as you might think.

“I’m really tired,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m just living a normal life as best I can. No special recipe or anything like that. Just take each day one at a time.

He’s also tired of reading his own obituaries. In Nigeria, false information about Soyinka’s death is on the rise on social media, the most recent dating from mid-October. He said he probably read the news of his death more than he read his own works.

“I’m starting to get sick of dying,” he said, waving both hands as if renouncing death itself. “There is nothing creative about it. I get bored every time I read my obituary. This has been going on for years. “

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