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Published On: Mon, Jan 19th, 2015

De-constructing Soyinka (I)

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Prof. Wole Soyinka

Tuesday Column by Mohammed Adamu

Woyinka wrote off Jonathan, as a divisive President who cultivates “the high and holy company of acknowledged spokesmen of God”; likening the President to Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar; or Rome’s Nero, -who ‘fiddled’ while the Empire burned. In fact Soyinka said that only four characters could vote Jonathan come 2015: the ‘intellectually blind’; those ‘blinded by ethnicity’; those blinded by ‘corruption’ (and thus scared of the advent of righteous governments) and those suffering from a combination of these.

Then Soyinka lampooned General Buhari as the insipid vomit of our decadent military past; that his candidature is unpalatable to the democratic taste buds of modern day Nigeria. In Buhari he warned: “we have been offered no evidence of the sheerest prospect of change.”

And so instead of a man with a military past, Soyinka advises that we stick to the more putrid vomit of a Nebuchadnezzar-Jonathan in whom, ironically, ‘we have clear evidence’ of what exactly to harvest: a terrible continuity and a cataclysmic end.

Thus Soyinka appears to me to be more ludicrously tragi-comic with life’s practical realities than he is plainly melodramatic even in his imaginary world of stagecraft and make-belief. To prefer Jonathan to Buhari is, as the English would say, to defend being cleverly penny wise and clueless-lly pound foolish. Sometimes you wonder what exactly Soyinka is?: Critic or Cynic? Radical or Rabble Rouser?’

Either way, we need to probe the credential of Soyinka’s self-acclaimed qualification either to pontificate on what is politically-correct or in deed to prescribe to others what the democratic-electoral good conduct should be.

How credible for example is this Soyinka’s unforgiving aversion for military men with ‘undemocratic past’? Remember he once left the venue of a ‘One Man, One Vote’ Rally in Edo State in protest of the presence of former Military Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida who was then one of the PDP Presidential aspirants; raising the question does ‘democracy’ have a myopic sanctuary for the retreat of unforgiving, puritanical dissenters, like Soyinka, but abhors any refuge for the accommodation of repentant undemocratic actors like Buhari or IBB?

Because the last time I checked: ‘differing without dissension’ and ‘disagreeing without being disagreeable’ are some of the veritable hallmarks of democracy. There cannot be rational debate where political actors flee the political ‘platform’ in rejection of the very basis of democratic culture namely mutual tolerance and accommodation. To sacrifice ideological discourse on the altar of Soyinka’s brand of puritanism is to place a stranglehold on the jugular of democracy!

Soyinka’s action in Benin betrayed crass ignorance of the diverse semantic forms of the term political ‘platform’ itself. To have a narrow perception of ‘platform’ only as a ‘venue’, ignores the fact that figuratively-speaking even the ‘ballot paper’ and the ballot box are ‘electoral platforms’ shared by parties and candidates of mutually divergent ideological posturing; just as ‘INEC’ itself as an electoral umpire, is a veritable ‘institutional platform’ from which candidates of different parties are thrown–up for contest.

By the way the entire ‘polity’ itself is an all-embracing political ‘platform’ for the eagle, the kite and even the little puny sparrow of the democratic enterprise to live and to let live. And like Oshiomhole himself said in his repudiation of Soyinka’s platform puritanism: “I don’t believe in the politics of exclusion….”

But those who know Soyinka beyond the façade of his Laureate know him as the archetypal Professor of the dismal art of attention-seeking. I believe that Soyinka is an over-constructed, largely false-living legend. Some call him the intellectual “gadfly”; I call him the ‘cynic-critic’ –one who relishes more in the pain of his criticized objects than in the noble end of ‘criticism’ itself. His compatriots in the literary arena say he is as guilty for his bite-for-bite’s-sake in political criticism as he is in his literary brand of ‘art-for-art’s-sake’.

Thus if Soyinka’s abiding fault in literature has been his refusal to move from ‘art-for-art’s-sake’ to the more Avant-garde genre of ‘art for man’s sake’, conversely his abiding fault in politics would be his stubborn refusal to embrace the ethos of liberal democracy as against the politics of exclusion..

Yet others, in praise, call Soyinka ‘The Kongi’; personifying the living character of his famous play, ‘Kongi’s Harvest’ which many literary critics say inadvertently parodies Soyinka himself as an obsessive self-centrist and a disguised dictator, -a character covetous of power and dramatically adept at grabbing the limelight. Soyinka himself, in the preface to the play says that it “has all the bite of Chaplin’s ‘Great Dictator’ especially in the scenes in which Kongi is engrossed in self-image making.

But I think Soyinka fits more into the role of his other character, Brother Jeroboam in the play ‘Trials Of Brother Jero;’ -the ‘character’ described even by Soyinka as “the rather less than holy west African beach divine”; a charlatan preacher who uses spiritual “superstition” for his own Personal aggrandizement.

S. Oladunjoye in the article, ‘The Tiger Without Fangs’ says Soyinka “is a good dramatist but may and could sometimes over dramatize.” Reason some call him “a rebel without a cause”; or a “maverick,”- one I would say more in touch with his feelings than in contact with other’s reality. Solitary like a snake, Soyinka’s rabble rousing finds nerve in the cowardly conviction that when matters come to a head -or as they say: ‘when the come come to become’-, he is after all not encumbered by the same socio-cultural trappings –like family, work etc- to which we are all slaves to. When the roof comes tumbling Soyinka is most likely the rodent not to be at home. Plus the man knows his NADECO routes like the palm of his hands.

Many of his critics believe there is a manifestation of a peculiar “Soyinka temperament” in most of his plays; -a ‘temperament’ best described as a narcissistic personality disorder, usually involving people with “grandiose sense of self-importance’; who seek excessive admiration from others and fantasize about unlimited success… (people who) believe they are special, unique or superior to others;” but who indeed are usually arrogant without confidence and often have “very fragile self-esteem.”

Lets face it, over the years, the Media, has unwittingly acted to conceal the true ‘Soyinka Temperament.’ We have petted and over indulged this man raising him virtually above human frailty and beyond reproach. He is cast as a living legend with an un-blotted escutcheon by a media that is either ethno-centrically biased towards his feats and foibles or psychologically cowered into convoluted deference to the acclaim of his Laureate without scrutinizing the fragility of his self-esteem.

And having been virtually elevated to an angelic station Soyinka’s ways reveal a ‘persona’ living in a delusion of deific –near divine sense of iconic grandeur; the kind that sees itself as the last masterly piece of God’s-hand-work. Thus he walks with the extra-terrestrial gait, not just of a ‘Super-human,’ but a ‘Supper-alien’. Soyinka has learnt to walk and act with the pretentious gait and gusto of infallibility which manifests every now and then especially in his probative and re-probative intrusion into our national politics usually with a warped, often highfalutin pedantic barometer that seldom respects the diversity of our situation.

While his friends the late iconic-critic, Gani Fawehimmi, and the radical politician Balarabe Musa were in detention, Soyinka, against all counsel, accepted a Federal Military Government appointment, as Chairman of the Federal Roads Safety Commission, FRSC under the same IBB he would not share a platform with.

For a man who elevated the art of ‘criticism’ to the prickly estate of bellicose cynicism and who, like George Bernard Shaw would say, always left “no turn un-stoned” in his ‘public cynicism’, this was as tragic-comic as it was ideologically melodramatic. Some with a jive at his play ‘The Lion and the Jewel’, said that the ‘The Lion’ at last had found ‘Government’ the veritable search ground for his long lost ‘Jewel’. Others wondered if Soyinka ‘The Kongi’ had finally turned coat, succumbing to the lure of public office.

The then ‘African Concord’ Magazine in its 14th Aug 1988 edition wrote that Soyinka was now a “handicapped radical.” -a ‘critic’ who, in the words of John Wilket, was once proud to find faults, but is now “ruptured in defeat”. Soyinka’s somersault was like completing the poetic circle of Alexander Pope’s postulate of the fate of all politicized Poets which he said is usually from “wits”, then “turned critics next”, and finally “proved plain fools at last”.


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