On Kongi’s New Book: You Must Set Forth at Dawn

Unfortunately, from my perspective, there are whole chapters missing from Soyinka’s story. There are key players missing who do not feature even in Soyinka’s shadows as he tells his version of the struggle for Nigeria. They will have to write their own books. One key player missing in Soyinka’s book is the Internet. Too bad. Whatever were the strengths of the pro-democracy movement, the Internet amplified them with startling force. The Internet was a leveler; you did not need a boat load of money to “fight” the enemy. Suddenly one could create a one-man army and suddenly Nigeria’s conventional forces of evil found that they had no choice but to fight these new rag-tag armies of strong-willed individuals.And the term “Internet warriors” was born. Unfortunately, whatever were the weaknesses of the prodemocracy movement, the Internet also amplified with startling clarity. The prodemocracy movement did fritter away its energies in high decibel bickering while Nigeria burned. Meanwhile its numerous and frequent communiqués confidently proclaimed to the world the coming end of Abacha’s dictatorship. I used to half-joke that Sani Abacha would die of old age and the prodemocracy movement would claim credit for his demise. Regardless, the Internet does not get credit in Soyinka’s book for a lot of the work that went into fighting the dictatorship. A lot of people did not get credit for their contribution to any attempts to free Nigeria from her harvest of locusts.Rather Soyinka treats them as if they were mere props in a badly written play or if they were unlucky, hapless sidekicks in Soyinka’s restless quest for what seems to elude him each time he charges out on yet another journey of search and rescue.

I will say this about Professor Wole Soyinka: In his own inimitable way, Soyinka has put a lot of his own time and resources into the struggle for the heart and soul of Nigeria, most especially in terms of the pro-democracy struggle of the nineties. And in his own inimitable way. All of Nigeria ought to be forever grateful to this giant of giants. However, his book comes across as mostly all about his exploits in the struggle for Nigeria and oh there was a supporting cast of hangers -on and side-kicks. Even by his own admission, he is not a team player, Kongi. There is a quixotic streak to his adventures and he unwittingly reveals himself as a brilliant, perhaps eccentric loner with little patience for disciplined processes. In a revealing part of the book he derides Chief Anthony Enahoro as fixated on processes and procedures and so on:

“Chief Tony Enahoro… thrived on endless meetings, copious minutes, points of order, standing orders, and the moving and seconding of motions, counter-motions, and amendments to motions…. I began to avoid meetings that should normally have enhanced our collective efforts, since they led nowhere and only ate up scant time and resources – flying across the Atlantic Ocean or the American landmass deserved some concrete justification in planning and results!”

Wole Soyinka

Chief Enahoro will not be amused at Soyinka’s unnecessary roughness but it is hilarious and when you stop laughing you go, this is one cat that doesn’t like a leash! My own analysis is this: Soyinka’s strength, Soyinka’s allure lies primarily in his stature as an international figure and in the eloquence of his powerful voice. He also has access to powerful people and places. All these attributes were precious money in the bank for the pro-democracy movement. But when it came to organization, even in his book, you come away dizzy wondering what all that drama was all about. Everything is long on high drama and poetic license but short on follow through. There was a lot of thunder but rain hardly came.

Soyinka is brutal in his treatment of those who accepted assignments with military dictators but attempts rather unconvincingly and awkwardly to rationalize his controversial relationship with Ibrahim Babangida, arguably Nigeria’s most evil dictator; a man Soyinka once termed the listening president. Babangida gets a good, well-deserved dose of abuse from Soyinka’s pen but the uninitiated reader would not know the full extent of his relationship with Babangida. Similarly, the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola was no angel. However, Soyinka’s treatment of him in the book was basically a hagiography. It would have been useful to briefly explain the context in which Nigerians decided to support en masse this generous-hearted but flawed leader.

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