Nothing reveals the ‘Soyinka temperament’ more than a Soyinka cornered; -the Laureate on the defensive. And his rebuff of public opinion in accepting to serve IBB’s military regime as pioneer Chairman of Federal Roads Safety Commission, was just offensive enough; -especially to the sensibilities of the pro-democracy activists of those days. In torrents, the criticisms came. And Soyinka chose an interview with African Concord Magazine, (14 Aug 1988, vol. 4 No 16), to hazard a defense:
On why he accepted to serve a military junta, he said: “the process of change is a collective struggle… what I do at (FRSC) is not appointment… I accepted an assignment, a peoples assignment”. On the fact that since he took up that ‘assignment’ he had kept mum over controversial national issues, Soyinka retorted angrily: “To suggest that I became silent because of my position, is madness! I think the people are mad! Or they are stupid! They are willfully ignorant! They like to deceive themselves because they try to project their own image on other peoples.”
On the obnoxious Structural Adjustment Program SAP of the IBB regime he said: “All critics of SAP would become more credible if they didn’t just say abandon SAP… Nobody would say abandon adjustment. All human beings and societies adjust.” On Military Governments generally (and especially now that he was in the service of one), Soyinka said: “in every non-democratic government, there are two tendencies, the fascistic and the liberal. You have them even in some so called democratic governments.”
But Soyinka did not say what IBB’s was: liberal or fascistic. If he dared to say liberal –even though he implied so- Soyinka’s ‘metamorphosis’ as an unapologetic surrogate of a military junta would’ve been complete. And if he said fascistic –which he never implied it was- it would then beggar the question: how much less fascistic than a political platform in Benin 25 years later where sharing a venue with the same IBB would be anathema?
By the way, talking about platforms again, when Soyinka was asked by the team of African Concord interviewers whether he could attend a forthcoming seminar on Structural Adjustment Program then organized by some Marxist pro-democracy group who was poised to give the IBB government hard knocks for its economic policies, listen to Soyinka: “whether a meeting is being summoned by Marxists, the Christian Union, the Muslim Council, or the Medical Council, it is the subject of national interest that matters.” You would then wonder: how much has this ‘subject of national interest’ changed when it comes to Buhari and Jonathan? So much I guess..!
By the way Soyinka even back in his hay post-ivory-tower days was a virtual felon of the literary arena -a convicted turn coat of a kind. Or so his compatriots said. Once he was fiercely ‘anti’ ‘Negritude Movement’ (an African literary fraternity back in his active days which celebrated ‘black’ and ‘African heritage’). Literary greats like Achebe and Leopold Senghor were some of its passionate pioneer promoters.
Soyinka’s controversial anti-Negritudist-black-sheep-role was a subject of intense rebuke and condemnation by the Achebes and the Senghors of those fiercely anti-imperialist literary struggle. Soyinka was to repent in his later works; especially in “The Critic And Society” which is laden with the desperate effort to wriggle out of the guilt-cage of an ideology he had arrogantly regaled in to the angst of his literary compatriots. Yet his repentance did not save Soyinka from the occasional bash especially of unforgiving Achebes and Senghorites of those days who never forgave his needlessly “hostile, adversarial” past against the movement.
As FRSC Chairman, Soyinka’s naivety in thinking he could escape the inevitable ‘Penkelemess’ (peculiar mess) of Public office, proved both the witty fool and indeed the foolish wit in him. His demystification happened while in this office where he was accused of using “his friend,(Dr. Olu) Agunloye as a conduit” for contract scam. African Concord Magazine was the first to break the news on “SOYINKA’S SHADY DEALS” from a petition purportedly written by one Major R. O. A Salawu (rtd), an uncompromising Council Member and Director of Operations of FRSC who Soyinka schemed out to bring in Agunloye.
There were allegations of FRSC’s cheques lodged into secret personal accounts; companies covertly mushroomed by Agunloye for Soyinka to award contracts to; Soyinkas’s foiled attempt to plant huge amount of money in the accuser’s account and the single-handed creation of an illegal Post of Director of Organization/Chief Executive for his friend (Agunloye) who was also doubling as Consultant to the FRSC using a private company, Faggol.
Soyinka made history by being the first in Nigerian to be appointed into a Federal office and who would illegally appoint his friend as his Deputy, make that friend the Exchequer of the Commission, and later impose the same friend as his successor.
The stench of this rot at the FRSC and the barefaced manner Soyinka was riding roughshod against established rules were so much that Major Salawu (Soyinka’s accuser-whistle blower) was quoted as saying “I will be glad if I am removed from the fold of these rogues… It is a pity to find myself in a wrong circle.”
When confronted by Editors of African Concord Magazine (17 Oct 1988 Vol. 2 No 29) with facts and documents, including copies of banks cheques, listen to the sudden linguistic descent of this once bombastic, magniloquent Laureate: “..they can go on and publish anything they want. We’ll all meet.. If it’s a crime to be patriotic, then I am ready to be hanged.. Jesus Christ! Ha Ha! No No No! this is really too much!.. this is even the REASON WHY(sic)…they do not. They do not. I mean, real…look, if I; if I
…Later sha, later for that, later for that…” I am quoting Soyinka word for word.
This confused ‘guilt-act’ contrasted sharply with an interview Soyinka granted the same Magazine only a year previously (14 Aug 1989, Vol. 4 No 16) when he was defending himself against charges of turning coat while his friend, Gani was languishing in jail. Then there were no documents and copies of cheques confirming his fraudulent deals. Thus he was relaxed, bumptious, contumely and his impertinent self. Hear him: “we are really talking about newspaper columnists, …the average vocal Nigerian critic… There is something you must know about Nigerians. I mean the noisier section of Nigerian critics, (media?), I call them disco critics. You know the rhythm of the disco; Gboom, gboom, gboom. No variation, no subtlety, no complexly it’s just the solid beat, gboom, gboom ……”
But in July 1989, knowing that silence would not be golden, Soyinka’s Lawyer, Dr. Oluyemi Kayode-Adedeji slammed a N10 Million suit against Major Salawu at an Ibadan High Court (suit NO. I/547/89). Ironically this suit was before a Judge whose wife –hold your breath!- whose wife was a sister to Soyinka’s wife. And two months later, Salawu made a defense before this judge backing up his claims. Soyinka and his friend Agunloye, later quietly abandoned the case. Making you wonder whether Publilius Syrus, the Greek philosopher was right when he said: “He who flees from trial confesses his guilt.”
Said Major Salawu’s lawyer, Akin Ladipo in an interview with Conscience Magazine, Soyinka’s activities at the FRSC “exposed his hidden personality as a corrupt, fraudulent, dishonest and non-principled man covering himself with a toga of radicalism.” Soyinka he said: “is a social critic who does not want to take responsibility… He believes in imposing change from above, that is why he does not belong to any group.. Soyinka is pseudo-radical. Even on the campus his colleagues called him that…”
Yet I, for one, believe that Soyinka’s questionable puritanical- exhibitionism seems like commitment of a lifetime. Making it thus neither true ‘critical idealism’ nor ‘idealistic criticism’. It is a foolish consistency which, as they say, is usually the hobgoblin of little minds! Ironically in Soyinka’s case this consistency is dedicated to the quixotic pursuit of ‘lofty’ but ‘impracticable ideals’ -namely the angelisation of the political playing field. Soyinka forgets therefore that by the token of similar logic, his “corrupt”, “treacherous” and ‘turn coat’ FRSC past also de-legitimizes his claim to space on the political level playing field.
Soyinka is neither a critic nor a radical. He is a cynic and a rabble rouser. And like all cynics, he “knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” He should not tell us who or who not to vote.!