March 4, 2009

How IBB robbed Nigeria of nationhood –Soyinka

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has painted a vivid scenario of how the former President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida robbed Nigeria the golden opportunity to attain nationhood through the annulment of the presidential election of June 12, 1993 won by the late M. K. O. Abiola.

Soyinka, who was delivering a lecture, entitled, “Between Nationhood and Nation Space,” as part of the late Obafemi Awolowo Centenary activities at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Kofo Abayomi, Lagos on Tuesday regretted that one of the ways a country could attain the much-needed nationhood was allowed to slip away.
His words: “Sometimes there are events, even of a fortuitous nature,

such as a concerted resistance to external aggression and domination, that can forge such organic bonds of common identity, survival and internal consolidation, that the nation space becomes, virtually overnight, a nation.
“An election, in very special circumstance, can prove such a catalyzing agent. On June 12, 1993, this nation space did have a chance to claim the beginnings of nation-being. Would we have emerged effectively as a nation? I am no prophet and have no interest in hindsight. I insist, however, that the nation claim did stand a chance of embarking on the route to affirmation.

“A democratic election, let me repeat again and again, is only one of the several means – as witnessed in the very special case of post-apartheid South Africa. Most nations we know of on this continent cannot even boast of one defining moment, a moment when the possibility of nation actualization was handed to them. Our chance came to us on June 12 1993, and we blew it,” Soyinka lamented.
While exonerating other Nigerians from the sad episode that has caused the country undeserved setback, the concerned Nobel Laureate put the blame squarely on the door steps of Babangida and some of his co-travellers, saying he did not believe in undeserved guilt.

Hear him: “No. I do not believe in undeserved guilt. The insincerity, indeed hypocritical, double-talk and matching conduct of a handful of individuals, their abuse of the trust of the people, scattered the hopes of that moment of nation-becoming!”
Going down the memory lane, Soyinka recalled how a winner emerged after an election that was universally adjudged the freest in the annal of Nigeria and how somebody annulled it under a flimsy and unacceptable excuse.

“A candidate – may I please remind you? – won a mandate across the national landscape, unambiguously defeating his opponent. That contest was universally adjudged to be impeccably fair.
“The aspirant to the mantle of state subdued his opponent even in that opponent’s most intimate constituency – his local ward. Now let anyone tell me that this did not resound like the starting-pistol of a nation race, a marathon of course, not a sprint, but a leap forward from the starting-block after so many false starts, several of them deliberately planned and cynically executed.

“The overseer of that debacle, General Ibrahim Babangida, then embodiment of the state, has finally opened up and conceded the undeniable – that election was true, and a victor emerged. History has taken note of his confessions and History sits in judgment, no matter what excuses are invoked by him. (But) None is acceptable, least of all the totally incongruous plea that, as the then Head of State, he feared that, that nation enterprise would be aborted by a military coup. I find that plea an afterthought, and unconscionable.

His loss of nerve - if that is what it was indeed – constituted a gross act of governance dereliction at a crucial moment. There were consequences. There were casualties. Homes and businesses were destroyed. (And) Nigerians perished.”
To Soyinka, other leaders, who came after Babangida also did not help matters just as he also blamed religion for making attainment of nationhood a mirage.

He spoke further: “Given recent events, I cannot end without mentioning, albeit briefly, the increasing reactionary role of the religious factor. Religion is one enemy of anyone who aspires to dictatorship in secular matters, we can call ourselves a nation. A theocratic order is anathema to nation-being, since it implicates exclusion, not inclusion.

“Only the secular order embraces all. To Religion all its deserving – spaces of privacy, protection, and cultural identity. Any religious following can evoke parallel but opposing sets of protocols, citing the authority of some unseen and unknowable god in realms that have no perceptible contact with the actual.

“Religion must therefore submit to community, to nation, otherwise co-existence becomes impossible and the human entity reverts to a state of brutishness.”
The Nobel Laureate, therefore concluded thus: “And thus, finally, the question: is Nigeria a nation today? My answer is - Not yet. Is Nigeria aspiring to be a nation? The answer - Unsure. Can it? Possibly. Should it? My answer to that is absolutely non-sentimental, purely technical and subjective.
“I prefer not to have to apply for yet another visa when I need to travel to Enugu or Borno.

If it is any consolation – let us simply remember – we are not alone in this predicament. So, for now, we may continue to sleep, dream, open our eyes at dawn on the recurring vision of nationhood on the horizon, hopefully not receding, indeed, almost close to touch, requiring only the complete surrender of hegemonic dreams, the ethos of inclusivity, the recognition of religious privacy, community primacy, and the manifested will of the authentic landowners of – a designated nation space.”

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