Soyinka, gravely concerned about Nigeria, warns against slide towards civil war
Posted by SaferNigeria
On 10 January, Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World Service, expressed profound concern about recent developments in the country, warning against a slide towards civil war.
Soyinka’s warning came against the backdrop of rising sectarian tensions in the country. In recent weeks, Christians and southerners have been repeatedly targeted in gun and bomb attacks staged by the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram. In reaction to those attacks, hoodlums have attacked mosques and predominantly Muslim northerners in Edo and Delta States, and there have been threats of similar attacks in some other southern states.
These attacks and threats have created tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and sent thousands fleeing back to their states of origin. They have also raised fears of a wider religious conflict.
A report by the French news agency, AFP, said Soyinka, in the interview, blamed this ugly turn of events on political leaders who spread religious intolerance.
Asked to comment on President Goodluck Jonathan’s statement on 8 January, in which he said the security challenges posed by Boko Haram were, in some respects, “even worse than the civil war that we fought” in 1967 to 1970, Soyinka said: “It’s not an unrealistic comparison — it’s certainly based on many similarities. We see the nation heading towards a civil war”.
Also asked whether the current unrest could threaten the stability of the Nigerian state, Soyinka replied that: “It is going that way. We no longer can pretend it’s not. When you’ve got a situation where a bunch of people can go into a place of worship and open fire through the windows, you’ve reached a certain dismal watershed in the life of that nation”.
The Nobel laureate said the Boko Haram challenge had been brewing for some time.
He said: “There are people in power in certain parts of the country, leaders who, quite genuinely and authoritatively, hate and cannot tolerate any religion outside their own. When you combine that with the ambitions of a number of people who believe they are divinely endowed to rule the country and who… believe that their religion is above whatever else binds the entire nation together, and somehow the power appears to slip from their hands, then they resort to the most extreme measures”.
In this process, he said, “Youths who have been indoctrinated right from infancy can be used, and have been used, again and again, to create mayhem in the country”. He added that: “Those who have created this faceless army have lost control”.
In the 1960s, Soyinka took bold steps in trying to prevent the Nigerian civil war (also known as the Nigeria-Biafra war) and he paid a heavy price. In 1967, his visit to the secessionist enclave of Biafra, in a desperate effort to pull the country back from civil war, resulted in his arrest and imprisonment without trial by the Federal military government in Lagos, headed by General Yakubu Gowon. He spent about two years in jail, mostly in solitary confinement. Unmoved by that experience, he has remained one of the most consistent voices for justice, human rights and peaceful co-existence in Nigeria.