AT 79, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Prof. Wole Soyinka, seems not to have lost his zeal for standing up against those he perceives to use their public office to oppress others in Nigeria.
And though the afternoon open-door lecture series was supposed to be a commemoration of his birthday, he quickly swapped the garment of a celebrant with that of a political activist as it became necessary. Referring to the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan’s alleged meddling in the affairs of Rivers State and abuse of power, Soyinka asked, “What’s the problem with Madam Shepopotamus?”
Fielding questions from a member of the audience at the African Centre in Covent Garden, venue of Saturday’s “WS79 – Memoirs of Our Future: An Audience with Prof. Wole Soyinka,” he said he was not afraid to stand up and call the First Lady to order and also educate her if she cannot take a cue from how other first ladies behave.
“People said I call her a domestic appendage, what’s the problem with that? What’s the problem with Madam Shepopotamus?”
Pressed to comment on the lingering political crisis in Rivers State, Soyinka revealed: “What happened in Rivers began long ago, before five decided that five was greater than 27. If we don’t move in support of the truth at certain mathematics, we shouldn’t be surprised if the next mathematics anomaly takes place at our doorstep.”
He added: “We move when there’s interference, when all roads are closed – for hours - because she’s going to her hairdresser.”
He argued that if members of the civil society do nothing when such abuse is taking place in Rivers, Ibadan and Lagos, then Nigerians should not be surprised when a curfew is imposed the next time she is visiting their state.
He called on Dame Jonathan to take a cue from President Barack Obama’s wife, stating: “We ask unelected people to look around and see how the Mrs. Michelle Obamas of the world are conducting themselves,” adding, however, that if the Dames of this world do not learn, “we must educate them.”
Asked if he was a friend of the embattled Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Soyinka replied: “That Amaechi is my friend is not an allegation,” because he would be friends with anyone who has been given the mandate of the people through the electoral process.
According to him, he is not afraid to be associated with such if they are fulfilling their obligations and responsibilities of governance. He added: “To say the Governor of Rivers is my close friend is like saying Kayode Fayemi or Dr. Babangida Aliyu or Governor Ibikunle Amosun or even the Second Republic Governor, Mohammed Shugaba, in Shagari’s administration, is my friend.”
However, Soyinka said ‘it’s not a matter of friendship,” but defence of democracy and truth, stressing that he would not be afraid to switch loyalty if the people he once praised change and start oppressing the very people who elected them.
Meanwhile, he commended Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State who he said has provided educational opportunities for all in the state.