Soyinka: Rationality, Ethics, and Nigerian History, By Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo

As a Nigerian citizen who works with other citizens in PREMIUM TIMES for the public good of our country, one is always burdened and weighed down by our previous attempts and efforts at-substantively speaking-“making Nigeria work and great”.

Faced with obvious ethnic and religious divide-what Mr. Wole Soyinka has called a  “Nigerian disease of self attribution”-a citizen’s nationalist energy is often mocked by daily jingoist jingles from some fellow citizens.

In accepting to provoke debates for a nationalist rebirth, we are aware of the tweets of retreat from the center and from the nation by some. We see a defense of tents, huts, religion, villages, hamlets, zones, “my own” “our own” “your own” “their own” “they” “us” and we wonder if we (me and my colleagues in PREMIUM TIMES) are not alone in our belief about Nigeria’s possibilities and need for a nationalist rebirth.

Then something happened a while ago. One of the two surviving member of the Nigerian literary “quartet” spoke. The eternal had called the other two of the “quartet”-Christopher Okigbo and Chinua Achebe- may their souls rest in profound peace. Of the two that remain-Mr. J.P. Clark and Mr. Wole Soyinka, the latter opened up, and breathed life and coherence into my muffled and sometimes incoherent thought.

When he spoke, it is as if he lives in me and I live in him with respect to the need for a nationalist rebirth and a negation of the “Nigerian disease of self attribution”. With vintage exactitude, he poured tonic into my incoherent voice. He took it, filled it, and gave it back to me.

Here him in me and me in him:  “It is a Nigerian disease. Nigerians need to be purged of a certain kind of arrogance of expectations, of demand, of self-attribution, of a spurious sense and assertion of entitlement. It goes beyond art and literature. It covers all aspects of interaction with others. Wherever you witness a case of ‘It’s MINE, and no other’s’, ‘it’s OURS, not theirs’, at various levels of vicarious ownership, such aggressive voices, ninety percent of the time, are bound to be Nigerians.

This is a syndrome I have had cause to confront defensively with hundreds of Africans and non-Africans. It is what plagues Nigeria at the moment – it’s MY/OUR turn to rule, and if I/WE cannot, we shall lay waste the terrain. Truth is, predictably, part of the collateral damage on that terrain.”(Wole Soyinka, 2013).

But Mr. Soyinka is not the issue. The issue is the application of his voice to how some of us construct Nigerian history and how the irrationality in this construction, which he calls our attention to, diminishes us. That irrationality is the village, hamlet and hut mentality with which we construct Nigerian history. Take the Nigerian political situation and the last three presidents as examples. You can start from the present and work back or vice versa. It does not really matter.

Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency was said to be “the turn” of the “South western” people.  But nobody asked the turn for what and turn to do what? And nobody cared whether Mr. Obasanjo won the electoral votes of the “south west” people whose “turn” he “served”! Basic common sense requires that we ask how anyone could have   “served” the “turn” of people whose mandate one did not have.

For Mr. Obasanjo never won  the election among the “people” he was supposed to have served  yet he “served” the “turn” of the people  whose vote he did not get! In the imagination of the “turn by turn” disease, it was sufficient that Obasanjo is a southwestern name, it is therefore justified to say that he “served” the “turn” of “southwestern people”.

Similarly, Mr. Yar’Adua  was supposed to be “serving” “Northern”  “turn” when the eternal called. But when Mr. Yar’Adua was called eternally, the advocates of “turn” lost their voices, they got into trouble which is what to do with the “North” which given the “logic” of “turn” thesis  has not completed “their turn”! See?

Failing to resolve the absurdity the   “turn by turn” thesis created with the death of Mr. Yar adua, the “turn” landed on  Mr. Jonathan. As the “turn”  landed on Mr. Jonathan, we were not sure whose “turn” Mr. Jonathan would “serve” or “complete” –or both-given that the “North” has not completed “their turn”.

The “serious” issue is that since Mr. Jonathan is not a “Northerner” how can he “complete” “Northern”  “turn”? The ethics of the tradition of  village history writing is not concerned about this form of irrationality.  For immediately the “turn” landed on him, the bell started ringing that it is the “turn” of the ‘South-South”!  But who “made” it “their turn”  –death or democracy? -when the “North” has not completed “their” “turn”?

The Peoples Democratic Party carried the village and hamlet  turn tradition to a ridiculous and absurd conclusion  during the recent elections in the Nigeria Governors Forum which duly elected Governor Amaechi of Rivers state  as chairman when the PDP  “turned” a consensus for Governor Jang(within PDP only) into an “election” (within the larger non-PDP NGF forum) by  claiming that they   presented  Jang because it is the “turn” of the “North”! The turn mentality is an ugly kiss of the irrational and the absurd in our public lives.

These are loud questions about the “turn” thesis, the disease of self-attribution, for given the  logic of turn, we must ask the following questions: when is the turn of “south east” or “east”? When is the “turn” of the “middle belt”? If the “North” did not complete its “turn” when will “they” complete it? If the “south south”, “south west”, south east” have “turns”, why should we have just “one uncompleted turn” for the “North” why should we not have “North east” “turn”, “North west” “turn”, “North Central” “turn”? When will it be the “real” “turn” of “south west” given that democracy requires that you must vote for the person representing your “turn” and “south west” never voted for the person-Mr. Obasanjo- who was made to “take” “their turn”?

Soyinka’s apprehension of the disease of self attribution shows an exclusivist political ethos that not only threatens Nigerian citizenship, it distorts the way we think of God-given resources to humanity but which are now ethnicized. Rather than the language of sharing, of common fate, of common citizenship; on the contrary we now dubiously invent   the language of antagonistic opposition of   “our/their resources”,  “our/their oil”  “their/our groundnut” “their/our cocoa”, “their/our rubber”, “their/our cattle” , “our/their coffee”, our/their palm oil” etc.  As it is with politics, so it is with  economic and natural resources. It is silly. It is absurd. It is ungodly.

The irrational and the unethical accompany the “turn” thesis because when it is my “turn” “you” “lose”, when it is “your” “turn”  “I” “lose”! At the end of the day we all lose as a nation, and as one people under the sun, because these “turns” have not turned things around for Nigeria for we have never gotten the best person to lead us as president with the “turn” disease.

Take a very “small” example: today despite the “turn” thesis Nigeria has the highest number in the world of children out of school (Premium Times June 11 2013), and Nigeria has the largest number of children in the world that contact the HIV virus everyday (Premium Times June 27, 2015).

So, when will the “my/our turn” thesis turn things around for these children? It will never because “turns” do not address social policies and programs; rather “turns” speak to and promote the irrational in us, the hut, the village, the tribal, the zone, the irrational “me” and “them”. “Turns” do not promote citizenship. It destroys it.

Fellow citizens, can this be happening in the same country whose scholars used to boast of being part of the best in the world? Can this be the same country that produced the literary  “quartet” Mr. Soyinka alluded to?  Where have those scholarly brains gone? The “turn by turn” thesis morally diminishes me, it diminishes you.

No wonder Wole Soyinka openly said he is morally diminished by this thesis, these turn republics, these ethnic republics, and that Nigerian and African history is deeply impoverished by this “turn” thesis.  I concur.

For me and my family, we turn away from this “turn” thesis.  Fellow citizens, what do you think? What about you and your family as fellow citizens for this civic responsibility to our nation? Nigeria starts from our responsibility at homes as parents, as baby boomers and as retired baby-boomers, and as simple common folks around the block, around the street corners?  So what do you think?

Adeolu Ademoyo (aaa54@cornell.edu) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.


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