Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, on Thursday said he had been contacted to intervene in the Niger Delta crisis, and appealed to the government to “respond positively”.
Mr. Soyinka, who did not clarify his role, lashed out at the Nigerian media, accusing them of “extreme invention” and “distortion of facts”.
At a press conference in Lagos, Mr. Soyinka said he would no longer be speaking to the local media over issues concerning Nigeria’s efforts to end militancy in the Niger Delta.
News reports had quoted Mr. Soyinka as saying that the services of international mediators would be sought to mediate between the Nigerian government and militants to resolve the Niger Delta crisis.
Mr. Soyinka had met with President Muhammadu Buhari on August 11, and when approached by journalists afterwards, he said they had discussed “national and international matters, general matters, that’s all”.
He, however, promised to schedule a press conference later to give further details about the meeting.
But on Thursday, Mr. Soyinka said he would rather discuss a Lebanese-Nigerian partnership involving his Wole Soyinka Foundation.
“I know that when I was – to use the press expression – ambushed at the Villa the other day, I did say that I would answer questions about my visit to the Villa at a press conference that I‘d already planned, which was this one as a matter of fact,” Mr. Soyinka began in a room filled with reporters of major Nigerian news outlets.
“But I always fulfill my word, and so I’m going to speak very briefly about that visitation. And what I have to say about it is that today is not the day for talking about that visitation.
“And the real reason is this, let me tell you media, the real reason is that I had a meeting in London in the House of Lords. The meeting was not about the main subject that took me to Aso Rock which is the problem with, among other things, the problem we have in the Delta.
“But I used that opportunity to meet a certain number of international figures, parliamentarians, royal heads, etcetera, to pass on a message internationally to prospective interveners to what’s happening in the Delta at the request of some of the militant groups here.”
Mr. Soyinka said that meeting in London was reported in the media and “was badly distorted”.
“Let me make a plea, it’s bad enough distorting whatever happens, events, statements on certain subjects, bad enough. But on an issue like the insurgency in Nigeria, the Delta in particular, we are on very very delicate grounds and the media has a huge role to play in that,” he said.
“And the immediate role people like me must demand of the media is accuracy. There can be no invention in this kind of situation. There can be no adumbration, there can be no extrapolation, not even second guessing. You have got to be accurate. Otherwise, there’s a loss of confidence and therefore a lack of solution. People must be confident that what they say to you is what you translate and transmit to those to whom you are sent.”
It was not the first time Mr. Soyinka would criticise the Nigerian press.
Last May, during events marking Mr. Buhari’s one year in office, Mr. Soyinka described a media report quoting him as declaring his support for the president as a “disgusting forgery”.
On Thursday, he said media reports that he was part of an international group mediating between the Nigerian government and the Niger Delta militants was an “extreme invention”.
“You cannot publish a statement to me saying I’m a part of an international group when the international group is not even in existence, there’s no international intervention group which has been formed,” he said.
“I think to go further and attribute to me a statement that the international group has already contacted Buhari, what kind of extreme invention is that? How can a group who does not exist meet with the Head of State? And how could I, who just happened to be meeting with the Head of State, say that the two entities have met when one of them does not exist?
“So please I implore you, media, in fact, I’ve taken a decision not to speak about the Delta situation publicly; just to carry on any assignment which I feel I can carry out on behalf of a resolution.
“I will not be talking to the press any longer, because I cannot spend my time correcting falsehood. I’m not responsible for the falsehood, and that burden should not be placed on my head.”
‘Respond positively’ to militants
Mr. Soyinka, however, appealed to the Nigerian government to hold positive negotiations with the Niger Delta militants in order to solve the crisis in the region
“I wish to make an appeal publicly to the government, and please report me accurately, to respond positively to the outrage from the militant groups,” he said.
“That is the request which has been made by some of the groups who got me into this interventionist role in the first place. At the moment they feel that the government of President Buhari is not seriously responding to their own outrage. And I wish to make a personal appeal to the government to respond positively and let us see where it ends us.
“But I’m not part of any international group, I was approached personally and I’ve been responding personally to some of these groups just as I did when President Jonathan was in power and MEND was the umbrella group of the insurgents.
“So I make that appeal once more to the government, please respond to the efforts of these militant groups to arrive at a holistic and comprehensive solution.
“Please don’t attribute to me things I never said.”