By Soyombo Opeyemi
he revolutionary was to lament later that he should have indeed escaped! “I fault myself now…recognising that since I had settled within myself all doubts about the bankruptcy of Gowon’s moral order from that moment of his release of the two murderers, it was not enough to send word to a band of emasculated intellectuals. I should have done then what I now stand accused of doing – escaped.”
In spite of his embittered articles in the press condemning the carnage perpetrated or condoned by the Federal Military Government, Soyinka was never under any illusion about the futility of secession, in a context. The loss of his excitable friend, Christopher Okigbo, in defence of boundary was sobering enough. “It is better to believe in people than nations… And any exercise of self-decimation sorely in defence of the inviolability of the temporal demarcations called nations is a mindless travesty of idealism. Peoples are not temporal because they can be defined by infinite ideas. Boundaries cannot.” The revolutionary never saw hope in Enugu nor Lagos. So also were Alale and Banjo. It is better to defend humanity, ideals than boundaries. The trio were united on this score: Estatierra/ Este aire/ Este cielo/ Son los nuestros/ Defenderemos – those lines by Castro – This earth is ours/ And the air/ And the sky/ We will defend them. “In defence of that earth, that air and sky which formed our vision beyond lines drawn by masters from a colonial past or redrawn by the instinctive rage of the violated we set out, each to a different destiny.” A melancholic peroration indeed by the poet: Banjo, Alale to the firing squad, Soyinka to prison…
The book features also the exuberance and excesses of Gowon. On that former, I have always argued, could be located the immediate reason that led to the Civil War. I refer to the youthfulness of some of the gladiators. Gowon, 32; Ojukwu, 33; Danjuma, 28; Katsina, 33; etc. Where is age? Where is experience? Some of them were not even married as at the time they held the most important posts in the nation. The fratricidal war, I humbly submit, is, also, a price the nation paid for youthful exuberance.
The encounters of WS with Col. Fajuyi, his philosophy, the complicity of the judiciary in the crisis of the West, especially their last tete-a-tete three days before he met his untimely death… are all absorbing.
To suggest that Soyinka suffered in prison is to detract from what he went through in solitary confinement. No word can describe the tedium of solitary confinement, especially as a prisoner of conscience. He tried to make the most of it within the limits of human endurance. Even death would have been a triumph at a point, as he became a living skeleton. His will was stretched but not broken. It is to his eternal credit that he never accepted a life under an insupportable system as a substitute for his freedom. Unknown to many, every dictator, military or civilian, since then, factors in Soyinka in all they do or fail to do.
The Man Died in the contemporary Nigeria, what lessons? First, we say ‘never again’ to military rule. It is a curse for any people created by the Almighty to be ruled by guns. In the contemporary world, military rule is tantamount to terrorism because what it seeks to do is to drive fear into the populace as a prelude to domination. The military, as it is the practice in developed climes, must subordinate itself to all civil authorities. The army must never be used for political ends by the President. The misuse of the police and armed forces in 1964/65 elections played a major role in the incursion of the military into governance and the attendant wanton depradations. The rule of law must become an article of faith, any infraction attracting condign sanctions from a truly independent and apolitical judiciary. No one should ever keep quiet in the face of injustice or tyranny. Neither race, tribe, colour nor religion should henceforth define our lives but the content of our character. Those in power must be committed to the welfare of the citizens.
Congratulations to my intellectual avatar, Wole Soyinka, on this grand, momentous occasion of his 80th birthday.Concluded
Soyombo Opeyemi via firstname.lastname@example.org