”This Presidential, N’Assembly Elections is Most Vicious Ever” – Soyinka

Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has described the presidential
and National Assembly elections as the most vicious, unprincipled,
vulgar and violent he had ever witnessed. In an interview with the GuardianUK
in Lagos on Sunday, the 80-year-old former political prisoner railed
against what is thought to have been the most expensive election in
African history:

“We’re talking about a very positive
response by the public in terms of determination to register and vote
but, you know, this has been one of the most vicious, unprincipled,
vulgar and violent election exercises I have ever witnessed. I just hope
we won’t go
down as being the incorrigible giant of Africa.”

Tall and thin with a shock of white hair and Socratic beard, Soyinka continued:

“The stakes appear to be so high that all
scruples have been set aside and it’s very distressing to compare this
election with the election of 1993, which was one of the most orderly,
civilised and resolute elections we ever had. This one was like a
no-holds-barred kind of election, especially, frankly, from the
incumbency side. One shouldn’t be too surprised anyway given the kind of
people who are manning the barricades for the incumbent candidate.”

Countless millions of dollars had been lavished on the election
campaigns, with commercials dominating television and newspapers for the
three months. Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) produced a
so-called documentary savaging Buhari’s character and last week paid for
a 36-page advertising supplement in leading newspapers. Cities have
been coated in placards and posters on a breathtaking scale.

“Most expensive, most prodigal, wasteful,
senseless, I mean really insensitive in terms of what people live on in
this country,” Soyinka continued. “This was the real naira-dollar
extravaganza, spent on just subverting, shall we say, the natural
choices of people. Just money instead of argument, instead of position

And of course the sponsoring of violence
in various places, in addition to this festive atmosphere in which every
corner, every pillar, every electric pole is adorned with one candidate
or the other, many of them in poses which remind one of Nollywood. 

I get a feeling sometimes that some of
these candidates were just locked in their wardrobes and they were told:
‘Just take selfies in there and don’t come out until you’ve finished
the entire wardrobe.’ All kinds of postures. Just ridiculous. It has
been an embarrassing exercise in terms of electioneering.”

The writer fears that Nigeria’s multi-millionaire tycoons will
continue to call the tune. Nigeria is ranked 136th out of 174 countries
on Transparency International’s corruption perception index.

“Obviously this money didn’t come from
personal pockets only, there’s no question. It’s been bankrolled by lots
of businesspeople – many of them I’m sure have been taxed indirectly –
and they’ll be expecting some returns for this outlay, and so how are we
actually going to get rid of this thing called corruption, if the
electoral process itself has been so corrupted? It’s a money election.
How on earth is that bugbear going to be lifted from the neck of
society? I just don’t know.”

Soyinka also told how he was recently invited by Jonathan, who has a “boyish charm”, to discuss various issues.

“We even discussed life after power,
whenever that takes place,” he recalled. “It was difficult for me to
decide from his side how readily he might accept defeat. He absolutely
swore that if he lost he was going back to [his home] Otuoke village. If
I take him literally, I think he will accept the result, but I’ve
learned never to trust any politician from here to there, even if
they’re just coming out of communion. So I really don’t know.”

He added:

“I think Nigerians have had a very rough
time over the last few years with [the Islamist militant group] Boko
Haram and all kinds of insecurity, failure of governance and so on. I
think we deserve to have this period as a period of comparative
tranquillity and peace of mind to reconstruct and address some really
fundamental issues of society. So I really hope the result, however
gracelessly or grudgingly, will be accepted by the loser.”

If it is not, however, chaos could ensure. Although both leaders
have sworn a peace pledge, it is unclear whether they can control their
supporters, some of whom have threatened a violent backlash. Soyinka
fears that political instability could be used as an excuse by figures
in the state security apparatus to seize power.

 “Even before elections there had been
discussions and preparation for ‘interim government’,” he alleged. “Why
on earth such a card should be on the table at all beats me. I asked
President Jonathan, ‘What is this business of interim government?’

“What he said was, ‘I could never be part of it. I would consider it a
downfall, a demotion. Here I am president of the nation, I was voted in
by the whole nation, why should I then accept an arraignment, which is
by a few people? I would consider it degrading to what I have attained
in life.’ That was his expression. But President Jonathan is in a cage.
He didn’t strike me as being aware of the forces which surround him.”

The author cited an incident earlier this month when Morocco
recalled its ambassador to Nigeria in a diplomatic spat over whether
Jonathan was trying to use the king of Morocco to win over Muslim
voters. The Moroccan royal palace said the king had declined a request
for a phone conversation, while Nigeria insisted that the two leaders
had spoken at length. Nigeria later backed down and admitted the
conversation did not happen.

“Here is a situation where a president did
not even know that a foreign country, a friendly country, had withdrawn
its ambassador from Nigeria. I was the one who told him. He jumped up
as if his seat was on fire. I couldn’t believe it … He was not aware
that for about five days the media had been absolutely hysterical with
this embarrassing situation between the two. It was that very night that
he made a public statement about it for the first time. 

So when I say that there is a force
around, I know what I’m talking about. There is a very sinister force in
control and it is that sinister cabal which is responsible for caging
him in and showing him what they think he should know about and keeping
away from him things which are not in their interest, and this for me is
the most dangerous situation that any nation can be in.”

Soyinka is scathing about Jonathan’s record as president, notably
his mishandling of last year’s incident when 276 schoolgirls in Chibok
were kidnapped by Boko Haram, prompting a worldwide outcry and social
media campaign.

“I think he is remorseful now, but at the
beginning he took it very lightly. He himself has admitted as much in
public. When you are informed that 200 children are missing, you don’t
go to dinner until you have got to the bottom of it. 

“But it took him I don’t know how many
days to believe, but it certainly took him about 10 days to react. Now,
for a leader of a people that is just totally unacceptable. Two hundred
people. And then his wife was telling the police to go and arrest people
who were protesting. The whole of that episode, I told him, whether you
win the election or not, you’ve got to do something to assuage the
feelings of people over that particular lapse. That was one horrendous
lapse of which no head of state should ever be guilty. You send children
to school to go and take an exam, and then you’re told they’re missing.
For me, the entire nation should not sleep until an answer to that
assault is provided.”

But while Jonathan is too weak, critics say, his opponent, Buhari,
may be too strong. He ruled Nigeria as a military dictator for 20 months
in the mid-1980s, cracking down on the media among others, but claims
to be a “born again” democrat who has contested three previous
elections, losing every time.

Soyinka admitted:

“My memory of General Buhari has become
rather mixed up. Four years ago I certainly wasn’t even prepared to
consider the possibility of a genuine ‘born-again’. But at the risk of
being proved wrong, I think we have a case here of a genuine
‘born-again’ phenomenon.”

The poet and playwright declined to say explicitly how he voted, but dropped a big hint by saying:

“Maybe we should all try to be a little
bit of Mandela. If Mandela could actually make a leap of faith towards
the Boers after the atrocities committed against the black people [in
South Africa], when the moment comes and the system under which we
operate has thrown up just two candidates really … I think I asked
myself: ‘Who would Nelson Mandela have voted for?’ and that’s the person
I voted for. That’s all I’m going to tell you.”


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