Playwright and social critic, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has taken a swipe at some individuals trying to reduce the worth of the June 12, 1993 presidential election struggle by robing it in ethnic garb.
The election, won by the late business mogul, Bashorun MKO Abiola, was annulled by the military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (retd.).
The Nobel laureate, in a statement on Tuesday titled, “Democracy Day Primer (1),” noted that even before the annunciation of June 12 as Democracy Day, the “same nihilist voices” were already primed to degrade it and ridicule what should be a potent signpost for future generations.
According to Soyinka, such voices even make desperate efforts to annul its history, no different from the original act of annulling an event “universally acknowledged as the fairest, the most orderly and peaceful election ever conducted in Nigerian history; a chastening contrast to the 2019 general elections.”
He said, “Next, I found it equally lamentable that anyone should attempt to reduce the June 12 struggle to that of an ethnic project. It is a depressing travesty of the realities, a denial of the existence of a nation’s collective sense of justice and its tenacity in pursuit of that objective.
“No one denies that the immediate family of a victim of robbery feels the pangs of dispossession more keenly than others. The truth, however, remains that the entirety of the compound itself was violated, arrogantly and contemptuously dispossessed.
“In this case, its very aspiration to a unified identity was simply ground underfoot, compelling a return to the starting block, and even several milestones behind! Disenfranchisement is the ultimate stigma for any free people. Again, despite official hostility, corporate blackmail and even victimisation of some adherents of that date…”
Saying he would not participate in this year’s June 12 celebrations by choice, Soyinka said the decision was part of his training exercises to withdraw from public space.
He added, “A resolution that I first half seriously injected into encounters over five years ago. That absence applies, not to the official celebration alone – of which I have never been a part anyway – but to the annual ritual by civic groups, a ritual of both tributes and defiance that has been unflaggingly observed till now.
“However, regarding the earlier Abuja ceremony that signalled the state’s reversion to June 12 as the most truthful expression of a people’s democratic will, I did attend, even at the cost of breaking a journey on the way to Brazil. That event, for some of us, represented closure – at least substantially.
“It was a reunion of sorts, a cauterisation of many internal, invisible, and yet suppurating wounds, and private thanksgiving – for some of us – that the only route that appeared left for the recovery of a people’s dignity was abruptly, and ‘providentially’ closed by the timely demise of a singular human perversion. The nation was saved the anguish of the unknown. That sense of relief, on its own, is worth celebrating.”
The playwright further said that those actively involved, no matter how ‘tangentially’, in the events that flowed from the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election – largely of blood and lamentations – the restoration of that date to a slot among the milestones of nation building would evoke, side by side with a sense of elation, a mood of sobriety and reflection.
Soyinka stated that this was especially when one recollected how many productive projects were derailed, lives destroyed, many tortured and traumatised by that experience, including those who paid the supreme price.
He added, “However, there is even more matter for discouragement, so we should not be surprised at the ethnic caviling. After the annulment, I recall that when we tried to mobilise opposition to that sadistic impostor, fanatic voices of ethnic irredentism informed us bluntly, verbally and in print, that the Yoruba should go and solve their problems themselves, since we had let them down in the lead-up to the Biafran war of secession, and should seek no collaboration from that side of the Niger.
“One recognises, in today’s renewed voices of ethnic denigration, the same chant of a hate chorus, the fanning of divisive embers. It is gratifying therefore – and here we come to some cheering news – that this tendency has become a source of concern to many of the leaders of that former secessionist state. It led to recent counter efforts under themes such as Hands Across The Niger, later followed by Hands Across The Nation, encounters that have taken place both within the nation and outside her borders.
“It is crucial that those laudable initiatives continue in the same spirit of civic responsibility and nationally craved closure. We must, however, sound warning: these high-minded efforts are increasingly vitiated by the fanatic and obnoxious voices of an irrepressible handful. No, we are not speaking here of organised protests and demonstrations to keep Biafra alive – for those of my school of thought, these are both legitimate expressions of the democratic will, and cannot be suppressed. We refer specifically however to abrasive, irrational, and irreverent diatribes of purveyors of unrelenting discord.”
Soyinka, who said everything in Nigeria was a fodder for controversy, noted that such had been for formal restoration of June 12, 1993 to its rightful place on the podium of Nigerian history.
He said, “Let us address some brutal truths. One comment regarding this formalisation especially rankles, since its accompanying train of remarks indicated that it was not a mere aberrant individual, but a revelation of a group sentiment. It was sent to me through the usual Internet link and was, undisguisedly – a mock lament, a condescending swipe at the Yoruba race – yes, directly indicted – for being so naive as to have fallen for an obvious vote gathering ploy.
“First, I was not aware that the Yoruba, acting as ethnic entity, ever made a statement that promised to reward the government with their votes in return for this alleged June 12 bribe. The serious, problematic bribe – the Minimum Wage concession – of course receives the scantiest of attention – beyond solidarity calls and insistence on implementation. Never mind that, North to South, East to West, numerous tiers of government are scrambling to find ways and means of ‘settling’ an agreement directed from the centre, with no corresponding consultation with states.”