In the nineteen-seventies, nineteen-eighties, and even up to parts of nineteen-nineties, journalists in the contraption called Nigeria – supported by human rights activists – developed and practiced a journalism genre that was branded “Afghanistanism”.
It was a kind of journalism-practice that ignored seriously contentious and controversial issues at home, for fear of incurring the wraths of the home government. Instead, journalists and human rights activists focused their attention on, and discussed controversial and contentious issues in faraway countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Libya, Brazil, and several other countries.
Then it was easy for journalists to ignore serious troubles at home such as Muhammadu Buhari’s War against Indiscipline (WAI) which brutalized citizens and trampled on their fundamental human rights. Instead, they discussed the Iraqi/Iranian war issues and such offshore issues. They would also ignore such issues as Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which distorted the country’s economy and inflicted so much hardship on the people, but would discuss the Pan American Airline (Flight 103) that was blown up at Heathrow Airport in 1988, known as the Lockerbie Bombing.
In the place of such journalism, journalists and activists busied themselves with foreign issues that had no bearing with the welfare of their people, such as the Watergate Scandal; the Nicaragua Contra-rebel’s arm scandal of the early 90s, Iran-gate; the 90 minutes at Entebbe; as well as the ill-fated 1979 rescue operation by the United States of America (USA) under president Jimmy Carter.
Somehow, at this critical time in the political development of Nigeria – a country which existence has expired – it appears Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, is laying foundation for another of that type of journalism, perhaps to be branded “Arabianistanism”, in the spirit of “Afghanistanism”.
How else could one explain the fact that Soyinka had ignored monumental human rights abuses being heaped on the people by the Buhari’s government; refused to speak out or organize protests against them, but chose to march against a death sentence passed by a court on a certain writer in faraway Saudi Arabia?
On January 14, Soyinka led the demonstration at Freedom Park in Lagos, as part of protests by world literary personalities against the death sentence. The world’s literary personalities held the demonstration in solidarity with the writer, Ashraf Fayadh, a 32 years old Palestinian Poet, who was sentenced to death by Saudi Arabian authorities. The protests totaling up to 100, was held in more than 44 countries of the world.
Fayadh was arrested in 2013, but was sentenced recently based on the contents of his poetry. The Saudi Authorities claimed he had breached their legal laws of converting to other religions, which is punishable by death, even though Fayadh denied the accusation. In Fayadh’s case, he was accused of converting to Christianity.
Soyinka criticized the judgment, seeing it as a product of “religious bigotry”. He said the sentence on Fayadh underscored the deeply flawed criminal justice system in Saudi Arabia, and is yet another example of the Kingdom’s disregard for human rights in a long list of many others. Describing religion as “an act of faith … a personal affirmation”; he explained that the protest was not a favour done to Fayadh, but favour done to themselves who held the protest.
But Soyinka’s position is difficult to comprehend. The judgment on Fayadh, was a conviction based on the laws of Saudi Arabia, even though it may have been manipulated by the Saudi Authorities to rope-in Fayadh. But it was a legal action taken legitimately by the Saudi government. But right under Soyinka’s nose, illegality is growing daily, and inhuman treatments are being meted out to citizens, and Soyinka had been taciturn over them.
Make no mistake about this; as a Christian, this writer believes that religion should be a personal matter for which everyone should be free to practice any religion he desires. As a matter of fact, it would gladden the heart of yours truly to have everyone in this world become a Christian. But, Soyinka’s seeming hypocrisy in the whole matter stinks to high heavens.
It was good that writers worldwide, especially those in the western world, participated in the protests. In their countries, human rights were being upheld, and it could mean they wanted it upheld in other countries upheld and replicated in other countries as well. But what was Soyinka trying to prove by being part of that protest? What was his justification for participating in that protest?
This Soyinka has been in the expired Nigeria while abominations upon abominations were being committed by the latest dictator in town, Muhammadu Buhari. He lost his courage; lost his voice; and lost his word-power. Soyinka was in this expired Nigeria when Buhari and his men massacred innocent and defenseless Biafran protesters – not once, not twice, but many times over – yet Soyinka said nothing. Soyinka was well aware that Nnamdi Kanu was kidnapped by the government of the now illegal contraption called Nigerian; he did not speak out against it. Soyinka knew when Buhari refused releasing Kanu, and former Chief of Defence Staff, Sambo Dasuki, even after the courts had – up to three times – ordered for their release, and he said nothing nor organized a protest against it. Soyinka was aware that Nigerian Army murdered dozens of shiite muslims and kidnapped their leader El Zak Zarky, he uttered no word in condemnation. This is a pity.
How then would he be organizing a protest against a legal action that took place in a faraway country and expect to be commended? This is not the Soyinka rational people used to know. Has he been a fake all these years? This Nobel laureate had done many great works in the past, which many people appreciated. But these days he appears to be losing it.
Is he getting too old for the rigours of activism? Is he getting too soft? Then he is free to retire to go and rest. Those who admired him will still celebrate him. He should not destroy his contributions to humanity with this “Arabianistanism” he is trying to promote in his old age.
By Tim Tochukwu