African writers: Wole Soyinka & Zukiswa Wanner
Nigerian writer and political activist Professors Wole Soyinka has been at the forefront of Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement over the past 10 years. He lost his way during the Babangida regime in the 1980s when he agreed to Chair the Federal Road Safety Commission [1988-1991] and in doing so compromised the principles he presented to Nigerians and the world. General Babangida represented everything Professor Soyinka claimed to stand against. Military rule, Injustice, corruption, censorship, human rights – so why did he choose to participate in a military dictatorship? It was clear to me and many that this was a thinly disguised co-opting of Soyinka into the military project which Soyinka of all people should have known. Soyinka had been imprisoned for two years in 1967 by the military government of Yakubu Gowan and wrote about his experience in “The Man Died” and had to flee into exile following a death threat from General Sani Abacha in 1994. Times are different now and Professor Soyinka has managed to delete from collective memory of Nigerians, his temporary friendship with one of the country’s worst and most corrupt dictators. He is now once again at the center of political activism in Nigeria including the campaign to remove missing President, Yar’Adua. I made eye contact with the Professor at Lagos airport last November – I was arriving from Port Harcourt, he was traveling to Abuja. As he passed, hawkers, taxi drivers and passengers greeted him with much affection and it is clear he is both loved and respected by ordinary Nigerians. I also listened to him last year at the Nigeria Liberty Forum event in London. He has a commanding presence and is articulate and I can imagine he has a huge ego but this is just a feeling I have. He just doesn’t carry the humbleness of fellow Nigerian icon, writer Chinua Achebe. Nonetheless as we move towards the 2011 elections I hope the Professor will continue to speak out against corruption and political ineptness in Nigeria particularly as his nemesis, General Babangida is said to be running for President.