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Between Soyinka and Abacha’s ghost

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, or simply “Wole” to Nigerians, and the rest of the world, needs no further introduction in the real sense of the word.…

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, or simply “Wole” to Nigerians, and the rest of the world, needs no further introduction in the real sense of the word. He is the internationally renowned writer, and dramatist. He was the first African to win the Nobel Price – for literature – in 1986. In the past several decades, Soyinka has become famously or infamously renowned to Nigerians more for his extreme and often radical views in the realm of politics, rather than for his proficiency in the use of the English language.
His courageous, if somewhat foolhardy confrontation with a succession of military Juntas since the 1966, earned him universal acclaim but also monumental grief. Not wanting to be distracted from the speedy prosecution of the civil war, he was jailed by General Yakubu Gowon in 1967. His anger appeared muted under the turbulent, albeit popular, leadership of General Murtala Muhammad, and that of his successor Olusegun Obasanjo between 1976 and 1979.
It was almost predictable that he had a major falling apart with General Muhammad Buhari’s direct and unpretentious military administration, and he surely did after the retroactive application of the decree under which three drug dealers were convicted and subsequent executed. With General Ibrahim Babangida, Soyinka enjoyed a bitter-sweet relationship, which terminated altogether with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
But in General Sanni Abacha, who easily swept aside the Interim Nation Government installed by General Babangida to escape the storm generated by the annulment of the elections, Soyinka appears to have met his biggest adversary and nemesis even in death!
Against the wishes of the then fledging National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) who nursed the incredulous hope that the taciturn and dark-goggled infantry General, would swiftly hand over to the presumed winner of the June 12 elections annulled by his predecessor, Abacha proceeded to define his own brand of military dictatorship much to the chagrin of NADECO who were forced to go underground or flee into exile.
By his own admission, Soyinka initially fled into the neighbouring Benin Republic on a rickety motor-cycle using what he called the “NADECO route”. Today, we are only left to imagine how the experience must have been for Soyinka, with his grey Afro hair style and matching goatee, clamped firmly behind the back of a stinking commercial motorcyclist, as they bounced up and down the hidden and horrendously uneven dirt route up to the fringes of Cotonou in the dead of the night!
Beyond his rich catalogue of grouses against Abacha, it was certainly an experience Soyinka appeared not to have forgotten in a hurry. He has proved over time that it was not beneath his dignity to pummel Abacha even in his grave. In fact, he delighted in doing so. Soon after the General expired, he shocked international viewers with his him to “rot in hell” in an interview with the CNN; adding in a voice filled with cynicism, that he remained unconvinced about the news of his passing, since it was not beyond Abacha to “fake his own”!
The recent awards conferred on 100 dead and living Nigerians by the President Jonathan to commemorate the nation’s centenary celebrations provided Soyinka with yet another opportunity to lampoon Abacha, yet again.
Let us, of course, concede that we are all entitled to our opinions on the list of awardees released by the presidency, which included the name of the late Abacha. Given the way things have gone in this country recently, the surprise was that it did not also include the name of Dipriye Alamieseigha and his ilk. I am sure that much thought also went into the decision of the families of the late Gani Fawehinmi and M.K.O Abiola to reject the award with such measured language and dignity.  
In rejecting his own award titled “The Canonization of terror”, Soyinka also acted within his rights without the slightest doubt. What I found most regrettable, however, was the use of the unfortunate slaughter of innocent teenage students in Yobe state as a platform to have another dig at Abacha.
Soyinka, like most decent Nigerians, was clearly miffed that the centenary celebrations, and infamous awards, coincided with the gruesome killing of the students. But I was troubled that in the entire 836 words he used to reject his award, less that 50 expressed outrage at the attack itself. The rest were predictably used to demean Abacha and whatever remained of his memory, for the umpteenth time also incredibly questioning the right of the authorities to convey those who died or were wounded in the attack to a health facility bearing the late General’s name.
I thought that was petty, in my opinion. In one breath, he condemned the killings, yet in the next, an unfortunate impression was created that his greater outrage was in the fact that the survivors ended up in a health facility bearing Abacha’s name. What if there were no other health facilities within a hundred miles of the location? Should the severely injured students simply be allowed to die simply because Soyinka hated the sound of Abacha’s name? Should we have abandoned them because he continues to live in such morbid fear of Abacha’s shadow?
Given the severity of the attacks on his person, it not surprise that Abacha’s ghost – in the form of one of his son’s Sadiq, has written to question Soyinka’s wisdom in using the legacy of the late General as the only justification for rejecting the award. My duty is not to determine who is right, or wrong, among the two. Nigerians are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions. But in a sense, Sadiq Abacha has proved to be a better student of the present times than Soyinka.
In cataloguing the list of the numerous achievements of his father to prove that he was not all evil as claimed by Soyinka, Sadiq credited the General with the creation of Zamfara and Bayelsa states! And he was right. In the case of Bayelsa state, a graphic description of how it happened was provided in a lengthy interview recently by its first governor Dipriye Alamieseigha.
Now, only a man so blinded by rage, and prejudice, like Soyinka could so easily have forgotten that without Abacha, there would probably never have been a Bayelsa state. And without Bayelsa state, President Jonathan would never have been a Deputy Governor, the very platform that conveniently catapulted him to the presidency! Soyinka apparently forgot to include the fact in his equation hence his quandary.  
It tool Sadiq Abacha to teach Soyinka that with President Jona-than, loyalty and notions rewards have little do with our collective National interests. If it were not so, the same Alamieseigha would not have enjoyed a full state pardon despite his previous conviction. Even as I write this, the Bayelsa State Government has asked an Abuja Federal High Court to order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to immediately remit to it the N1.4bn, and another $1.3m recovered from a former governor of the state, Diepreye Alamieseigha.
Why then would Soyinka not give Abacha’s ghost a break for once?

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