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This is the Wole Soyinka article everyone’s talking about



by Wole Soyinka
I had fully attuned myself to the fact that our Owu retiree
soldier and prolific author is an infliction that those of us
who share the same era and nation space must learn to
endure. However, it does appear that there is no end to
this individual’s capacity for infantile mischief, and for
needless, mind-boggling provocations, such as his recent
‘literary’ intrusion on my peace.
Perhaps I ought to interrupt myself here with an apology
to some mutual acquaintances – ‘blessed peacemakers’
and all – especially in this season of ‘peace and goodwill
to all men’. Please know that your efforts have not been
entirely in vain. I had a cordial exchange with Obasanjo
over the phone recently – engineered by himself, his
ground staff and/or a chance visitor – when I had cause
to visit his Presidential Laundromat for the first time ever.
During that exchange, I complimented him on making
some quite positive use of landed property that was
acquired under morally dubious circumstances, and
blatantly developed through a process that I denounced
as ‘executive extortionism’. That obscene proceeding has
certainly set a competitive precedent for impunity in
President Jonathan’s recent fund-raising shindig,
editorialized in THE PUNCH (Dec. 23, 2014) as “Impunity
Taken too Far”. So much for the latest from that direction
– we mustn’t allow Handing-Over notes between
presidents to distract us for too long.
To return to our main man, and friendly interventionists,
you may like to note that I went so far as to engage him
in light banter, stating that some of his lesser sins would
be forgiven him for that creative conversion of the
landscape – a conversation that he shortly afterwards
delightedly shared with at least three mutual
acquaintances. I promised a follow-up visit to view some
mysterious rock script whose existence, he informed me,
was uncovered by workers during ground clearing. The
exchange was, in short, as good as ‘malice towards none’
that any polemicist could hope to contribute to the
ongoing season of peace and goodwill. Obviously that
visit will not now take place, any more than the pursuit of
vague notions of some creative collaboration with his
Centre that began to play around my mind.
That much I do owe you from my report card. Perhaps
you will now accept that there are individuals who are
born incorrigible but, more importantly, that some issues
transcend one’s personal preferences for harmonious
human relationships even in a season of traditional good
will. The change in weather conditions sits quite well with
me, however, since we are both acquainted with the
Yoruba proverb that goes: the child that swears his
mother will not sleep must also prepare for a prolonged,
sleepless infancy. So let it be with Okikiola, the overgrown
child of circumstance.
One of the incessant ironies that leapt up at me as I read
Obasanjo’s magnum opus was that we are both victims
of a number of distasteful impositions – such as being
compelled again and again to seek justice against libel in
the law courts. I felt genuine empathy to read that he still
has a pending thirty-year case instituted by him against
his alleged libelers! Judgment was delivered in my favour
regarding one of the most nauseating only this year, after
surviving technical and other procrastinations, defendant
evasions and other legalistic impediments for nearly as
long as his. That leaves only a veritable Methuselah on
the court list still awaiting re-listing under the resurrection
ritual language known as de novo. Unfortunately, not all
acts of defamation or wilful misrepresentation are
actionable, otherwise, my personal list against this newly
revealed fellow-sufferer would have counted for an
independent volume of the Nigerian Law Report since our
paths first crossed during the Civil War. My commitment
to the belief in the fundamental right of all human beings
NOT TO BE LIED AGAINST remains a life obsession, and
thus demands, at the very least, an obligation of non-
commission among fellow victims.
I must, therefore, reserve a full, frontal dissection of
Obasanjo’s My Watch for later, most especially since the
work itself is currently under legal restraint and is not
readily accessible to a general readership. So, for now, let
me single out just one of the most glaring instances of
this man’s compulsive career of lying, one sample that
the media can readily check upon and use as a
touchstone – if they do need one – in assessing our
author’s multifaceted claims and commentaries on people
and events. I refer here to the grotesque and personally
insulting statement that he has attributed to me for some
inscrutable but obviously diversionary reasons. In the
process, this past Master of Mendacity brazenly
implicates an innocent young man, Akin Osuntokun, who
once served him as a Special Adviser. Instead of
conferring dignity on a direct rebuttal of an ignoble
fabrication, I shall simply make a personal, all-embracing
I despise that species of humanity whose stock-in-trade is
to concoct lies simply to score a point, win an argument,
puff up his or her own ego, denigrate or attempt to
destroy a fellow being. However, even within such
deplorable species, a special pit of universal opprobrium
is surely reserved for those who even lack the courage of
their own lies, but must foist them on others. When an old
man stuffs a lie into the throat of an age-mate of his own
children – omo inu e! – we can only pity an irredeemable
egomaniac whose dotage is headed for twilight disgrace.
D.O. Fagunwa, the pioneer Yoruba novelist, was a
compulsive moralist. I suspect that he may have exerted
some influence on our garrulous general, resulting in his
pupil’s tedious, misapplied and self-serving deluge of
moralizing. It seems quite likely indeed that the ghostly,
moralistic hand of Fagunwa reached out from the Great
Beyond, sat his would-be competitor forcefully before a
mirror and bade him write what he saw in that image. I
invoke Fagunwa because, at his commemorative
colloquium in Akure in August last year, I drew my
audience’s attention to a remarkable passage in
Fagunwa’s Igbo Olodumare. The passage had struck me
during translation and stuck to my mind. I found it
uncanny that the original creative moralist, Fagunwa, had
captured the psychological profile of a being whom I have
been compelled by circumstances to study as an eerie
creation, yet this was a character Fagunwa was unlikely
to have encountered in real life at the time that he
produced that work.
The section comes from an account of a visit to the abode
of Iku, Death, the terrifying host to Olowo-aiye, the
narrative voice of the adventure. Iku, the host, had been
admonishing his guests through the histories of seven
creatures who were not permitted a straightforward
passage to Heaven or Hell, but were subjected to
admonitory punishment at the halfway house to the abode
of the dead. The most horrendous tortures were reserved,
it would seem, for the last of the seven such ‘detainees’,
and I invited my audience to ponder if they could identify
any prominent individual, a public figure whose life
conduct seamlessly fitted into Fagunwa’s portrayal, which
went thus:
“The seventh…. is not among those who set out to
improve the world but rather to cause distress to its
inhabitants. It was through manipulations that he attained
a high position. Having achieved this, however, he
constantly blocked the progress of those behind him, this
being a most deplorable act in the eyes of God, and rank
behaviour in the judgment of the dwellers of heaven –
that anyone who has enjoyed upliftment in life should
seek to be an obstacle for those who follow him. This
man forgot the beings of earth, forgot the beings of
heaven, in turn, he forgot the presence of God. The worst
kind of behaviour agitated his hands – greed occupied the
centre of his heart, and he was a creature that walked in
darkness. This man wallowed in bribery, he was chairman
of the circle of scheming, head of the gang of double-
dealing, field-marshal of those who crept about in the
dark of night. With his mouth, he ruined the work of
others, while he used a big potsherd to cover the good
works of some, that others might not see their
attainments. He nosed around for secrets that would
entrap his companions, and blew them up into
monumental crimes in the eyes of the world. He who
turns the world upside down, places the deceitful on the
throne, casts the truthful down – because such is a being
of base earth, he will never stand as equal among the
My co-occupants of the High Table, in side remarks, and
those who came up from the audience afterwards to
volunteer their answer to the riddle, without exception
named one individual and one individual only, even as I
remained non-committal. Indeed, one or two tried to put
up a defence of that nominee, and I had to remind them
that I had named no one! Fagunwa wrote largely of the
world of mongrelized creatures but, as I remarked, his
fiction remains a prescient and cautionary mirror of the
society we inhabit, where beasts of the forest appear to
have a greater moral integrity than those who claim to be
leading lights of society.
In this season of goodwill, we owe a duty to our
immediate and distant neighbours: CAVEAT EMPTOR! Let
all beware, who try to buy a Rolex from this indefatigable
watch peddler. His own hand-crafted, uniquely
personalized timepiece has been temporarily confiscated
by NDLEA and other guardians of public health but, there
is no cause for despair. Such has been the fate of the
misunderstood and the envied, avatars descended from
the heavens before their time, the seers, and all who
crave recognition. Our author invokes God tirelessly,
without provocation, without necessity and without
justification, perhaps preemptively, but does he really
believe in such an entity? Does our home-bred Double-O-
Seven believe in anything outside his own Omnipotency?
Could he possibly have mistaken the Christian exhortation
– ‘Watch and Pray’ for his private inclination to “Watch
and Prey? This is a seasoned predator on others’
achievements – he preys on their names, their
characters, their motivations, their true lives, preys on
gossip and preys on facts, preys on contributions to
collective undertakings…..even preys on their identities,
substituting his own where possible. Well, hopefully he
may actually believe in the inevitable End to all vanities?
So, let our Great Immortal, the Unparalleled Achiever,
Divinely appointed Watchman even on the world that is
yet to come remember Fagunwa’s Iku, the ultimate
predator whose visitation comes to us all, sooner or later.

Chei! There is death o!

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