Never again should Nigeria lose another 2.5 million people to war – Soyinka

January 13, 2020
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Prof. Soyinka

Prof. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate has warned that the nation cannot afford to lose another 2.5 million people to war as it did 50 years ago to the Nigerian Civil War.

He spoke when he delivered a lecture, titled: “Never Again.” to commemorate the 50th year of the Nigerian Civil War in Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.

According to him, “Any time that leadership, on whichever side, is about to repeat yet again the ultimate folly of sacrificing two and a half million lives on the altar of Absolutes, any absolute, we should borrow that credo, paint them on prayer scrolls, flood the skies in their millions with kites and balloons on which those words are inscribed: ‘African Lives Matter!”

He added that “For example, ask ourselves questions such as: What price ‘territorial integrity’ where any slab of real estate, plus the humanity that work it, can be signed away as a deal between two leaders – as did happen between Nigeria and the Cameroon. You seek an answer to the claims of territorial integrity? Ask the fluctuating refugees on Bakassi Islands just what is the meaning, for them, of ‘territorial integrity’?

“Again, I feel obliged to emphasize that this has nothing to do with whether or not one side was in the wrong or right, nothing to do with accusations of a lack of vision, of pandering to, or resisting the wiles and calculations of erstwhile colonial rulers, or indeed, taking sides in a Cold War that turned Africans into surrogate players and the continent into prostrate testing ground for new weaponry.

“No, we merely place before ourselves an exercise in hindsight – with no intention however of denying credit to those who did exercise foresight – we propose that the loss of two million and a half people, the maiming and traumatization of innumerable others and devastation on a hitherto unimaginable scale, by a nation turned against itself even as it teetered on the edge of modernity, provokes sober reflection. That’s all. Sober reflection.

“A re-thinking that is unafraid, especially as such scenarios, considered in some cases even worse, more brutish, have since followed. Need one recall Rwanda’s own entry into that contest in morbid pathology, one that surpasses the Biafran carnage when comparatively assessed in duration and population parameters? All remain active reminders to haunt Africa’s collective conscience –  the existence of which, I know, is an optimistic presumption – and appears to elude the ministrations of politicians and/or ideologues, or indeed theologians.”

He said there was need to borrow a leaf from brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, saying that he had  no qualms in reminding this, or any other Nigerian audience that, such was the ingrained slave mentality of the contemporary progeny of those who sold those exiles into slavery in the first place, that some in this nation actually considered it a duty, even honour, to take up cudgels on behalf of the denigrators of their own kind, of their own race.

“Thus, they proceed to insult those who respond in their own personal manner to such racists, however powerfully positioned and no matter where on this globe – but let that pass for now. My intention is to jog your memories regarding that spate of serial elimination of our kind – the African-Americans – by white police in the United States at that very time, an epidemic that merely actualized the racist rantings of the current incumbent of the White House as he powered his way to the coveted seat in the last United States elections. The African-Americans, tired of being arbitrary sacrificial lambs,the victims of hate rhetoric, went on nation-wide protest marches, carrying placards that read: Black Lives Matter.

“Adopting that simple exhortation enables us to include the millions of victims of failed or indifferent leadership on this continent who are more concerned with power and its accruements, who see the nation, not as expressions of a people’s will, need, belonging, and industry, but as ponds in which they, the bullfrogs of our time, can exercise power for its own sake. It is they who militate against ‘nation’, not – I shall end on this selective note – not the products of migration from purely nominal nation enclaves who perish daily along the Sahara desert routes, who drown in droves in the Mediterranean.

“They are the ones who confronted the question with, alas, a fatalist determinism. They asked themselves the question: When is a Nation?  And the answer of those desperate migrants is clearly read as: not when we left where we called home! As long as our humanity opts for unmarked graves in the Sahara desert, or in the guts of the fishes of the Mediterranean, their answer remains to haunt us all. Yes, indeed, let us internalize that Africa-American declaration as statement of a living faith, an expression of our humanity that may compel leadership to pause at critical moments of decision, thereby earn ourselves some space where we can re-think those bequeathed absolutes that we so proudly spout, gospels of sacrosanctity, pre-packaged imperatives or questionable, often poisoned“truths”that incite us to advance so conceitedly towards the dehumanization, and decimation of our kind,” he stated.

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