Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has given President Muhammadu Buhari a rap over the knuckles over poor handling of killings by marauding herdsmen as well as Boko Haram’s abduction of 110 schoolgirls from their hostels at Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State.
Speaking in Lagos on Thursday at the maiden edition of Ripples Nigeria Dialogue, with the theme ‘Rebuilding Trust in a Divided Nigeria’, Soyinka also condemned the president for choosing to attend the marriage of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s daughter to the son of the governor of Oyo State, Ajimola Ajimobi few days after the abduction of the schoolgirls.
Soyinka, who described the president’s action as “blasphemous” and “insensitive”, likened Buhari’s disposition to the killings and abduction of the schoolgirls to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s approach to the plight of victims of the 2002 bomb blast at the Ikeja Military Cantonment in Lagos.
Soyinka who titled his keynote address as, ‘From Miyetti to Haiti, Notes from a Solidarity Visit’ said Buhari who did not deem it necessary to visit Dapchi after the abduction of the schoolgirls or the victims of herdsmen attacks in various parts of the country until he was criticised, was not different from Obasanjo, who promptly visited the scene of the bomb blasts in Ikeja in 2002, but told the “bedraggled survivors (that) surrounded him, pleading for help, protesting, “What do you want me to do? I’m not obliged to be here!”
Soyinka said Buhari’s reaction was typical of the “presidential response” to crisis in Nigeria, from Obasanjo to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who waited for “nearly three weeks to accept that nearly 270 plus of our children had been abducted from Chibok village,” and “insisted that it was all a ploy by the opposition to discredit his government.”
He said he recalled that following the statement credited to Obasanjo on the scene of the Ikeja bomb blasts, he (Soyinka) called then President to protest and “chided him severely” but the response he got from Obasanjo was “Kampala tie niyen – that is your own Kampala,” which he said remained a riddle to him till date.
“Whatever the origin of that expression (Kampala tie niyen), it nonetheless takes us back to the nation’s latest Kampala in Dapchi and here I must express how gratified I was by the reaction drawn by another and contrasting event that took place not far from Dapchi and where that presidential declaration ‘I am not obliged to be here’ would have been more appropriate.
“… They said, ‘Oh yes, that wedding was a needed therapy for the trauma undergone so recently by the abduction of those girls.’ Now, that’s what I call blasphemy. I’m not a religious person, but that is blasphemy.
“…I talk of the Cana wedding. There are so many formulas that could have been adopted to ensure that the couple still had their wedding without the accompanied exhibitionist lavishness so soon after a national calamity.”
Soyinka also condemned the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali, for his “unacceptable” comments on the killings by herdsmen.
Soyinka, who recalled how during his visit sometime ago to Trinidad and Tobago, the country had witnessed a coup, during which its then Minister of Defence, “in that so-called coup” in Trinidad, was shot in the leg, said, “I consider that shot, however painful, a far more honourable wound than the wound sustained by our Minister of Defence, who shot himself in the mouth with some unacceptable commentary concerning the rampages of the Fulani herdsmen.
“What did you expect them to do?’ – This is after people had been killed in figures of hundreds – ‘What do you expect them to do if you block their route?’ This is addressing victims of Fulani herdsmen; this is addressing issues of rape, of massacre of the takeover of farmlands, the takeover of villages, all over Benue, Taraba, etcetera, etcetera.
“Land grabbers are trying to build on a piece of land that is not theirs ‘and you obstruct them, what do you want them to do?’ Farmers are squatting on land on which they derive their food and complaining, daring to complain, that cows were trampling on their farms and eating their crops. ‘So, what do you expect the cow owners to do?’’
The Nobel laureate said he was surprised that Buhari had not sacked the Minister of Defence.
He lamented that the excuse of some herdsmen for invading some communities in the south was that the Lake Chad had dried up.
He noted that Nigeria is not the first country to experience natural disasters, and that this was not an excuse to take guns to destabilise other peace-loving people in their communities.
“What did you expect them to do after their grazing routes had been blocked?” he quoted the minister as saying at that time.
“This is addressing people whose livelihoods and lives have been taken by the herdsmen, of massacre and of those whose farmlands and properties have been destroyed by the herdsmen from Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, and Plateau states.
“Land grabbers are trying to take over people’s land that does not belong to them.
“Farmers are complaining daily of cattle’s overtaking their lands,” he said.
And of course, let’s not forget the abduction of the girls, the latest, Dapchi. It’s their fault; didn’t they know that Boko Haram doesn’t like girls going to school? Stupid girls, stupid teachers, stupid parents; serves them right. It’s very strange to be able to say outside the world that the Minister of Defence is still in Buhari’s cabinet,” he said.
Soyinka said he usually got impatient whenever “I hear complaints such as Buhari has failed to go and sympathise with the people of Benue, with the people of Nasarawa, with the people of Plateau of whatever.”
He said what is needed is not sympathy but justice.
“We are speaking here of one eternal commodity that is a fundamental human deserving – justice. That’s what we are speaking about. Sympathy with or without the ostentatious laying of wreaths at the mass graves of victims by the new messiahs; sympathy is an ordinary commodity accessible to all of us. We are speaking, however, of a people’s need for security and where the structure for that fails, bring the perpetrators to book, even while emplacing deterrence measures against repeat.
“We are speaking of governance will and responsibility; the readiness to respond with massive punitive action when the fundamental security of a people is violated. We are speaking here of a President showing up at the arena of human desecration, not to shed any unjust tears but to read the riot act and give orders right on the scene of violation; order his forces into action against the arrogant blood-thirsty renegades of society who wallow in the blood of others, having been assured, some way or the other, of a cloak of impunity. We are speaking of the courage to declare such monsters terrorists, enemies of humanity with the same dispatch as the declaration of far less violent, far less distabilising movement or the disruptive and supranaturalist, and sometimes nasty, in their attestation and activities. We are speaking, in fact, for a culture of even-handedness,” he stressed.
ADDITIONAL REPORTS: PUNCH, INDEPENDENT