The bickering between Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and ex-President Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtd) continues. Sometimes simmering sometimes crackling it will never stop. There is no love lost between the two men. Obasanjo is the hedgehog and Soyinka is the fox if one uses Isaiah Berlin’s understanding of great characters. However, the bickering in question is over the contents of the memoir “My Watch” by Obasanjo which has seen Soyinka caught out with a hat trick; Obasanjo 3 Soyinka 0!
The bickering is about accusations of lies cast between both men’ Soyinka a Pyrate and Obasanjo a Kegite. When an artist lies it is because he is corrupt, the value of the artist is in his or her incorruptibility and their trueness to their art. When a politician lies he is just doing his job, the value of a politician is found in his or her election victories and the success of the policies they espouse. Both Soyinka and Obasanjo know this. Calling a politician a liar is a futile exercise and such a claim if proven would not change any reality. Calling an artist a liar is an assault and if proven will bring his or her art into question. Wole Soyinka lost that one.
Obasanjo is wicked to suggest Soyinka is Nigeria’s leading ‘connoisseur’ of wine. It is a sheer wicked tongue lashing. For a man like Soyinka who assiduously wants to be the face of all things decent in Nigeria to be reduced to being seen as an expert on a highly thought of European alcoholic beverage that is neither made nor widely appreciated in Nigeria is tantamount to what the Americans would call an “Uncle Tom” or South Asians would call a “Brown Sahib”. Taken further it tells of a man who has no place on the ground in Nigeria but lives in a European make-belief land superimposed on the Nigerian experience.
Hunting quail is not a Nigerian aristocratic sport or pastime. Hunting too is firmly associated with the privileged classes and aristocracies in Europe and the Americas. Hunting is associated with the poor in Nigeria and described as “killing meat”. So when Obasanjo says Soyinka is good at quail hunting again it is his way of “Wole you are so out of touch with the Nigerian reality”. But Obasanjo does not want to wake Wole up. Wole Soyinka lost that one too.
As for Wole Soyinka being a political illiterate I seriously doubt it. At least, he has had ambitions to be the president of Nigeria and won elections to lead the party into a general election. The party is or was the Democratic Front for a People’s Federation. A customarily right-wing name for a progressive’s party was not too good in the direction of nomenclature. Soyinka should have found a better name for the party. The man is a master of the English language! Let us not even go into the fortunes of the political party that would have made Wole Soyinka President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Calling Obasanjo an ‘economic illiterate’ is misplaced. Love him or hate him, Obasanjo is a neoliberal. Most Nigerian economists do not agree with neoliberalism. However, it is the dominant economic paradigm today in the world and as a military leader, Obasanjo was an African pioneer in embracing its policies. Any man or woman who has been head of state of a country for several years becomes a de facto economist in his or her own right since the political economy becomes his central governance domain. Calling Obasanjo an economic illiterate because some professor he disagreed with said so is so weak. Wole Soyinka once again lost that one too.
It must be appreciated that Obasanjo is an intelligent man and was an exemplary student. In his WAEC he achieved aggregate six (scored over 70 or 75 per cent in his best six subjects). Unconfirmed reports tell of an Obasanjo who was a ‘straight A’ student at every level he engaged. If Obasanjo had gone into academia and not the military he would have easily made professor and would have still been a very good politician. Some may dismiss such as mere counterfactuals but it fundamentally adds up. Wole Soyinka’s genius and works need no re-introduction.
Wole Soyinka Nigeria’s most famous intellectual can live with a lashing from Obasanjo in a well-received and famous ‘battle of wits’. After all, Obasanjo is trained in strategy and tactics; Wole Soyinka is a master of self-reinvention and showmanship and would love the ‘moment’ abundantly.