“Anyone who believes what I am alleged to have said must be a moron – repeat, a moron.”

“Only the mentally retarded will credit this comment attributed to me regarding the Ndigbo voting pattern in the last elections.”

  • Wole Soyinka

These are typically strident words from WS, designed to cut to and through the bone. Just who are these morons that WS reserves this latest iteration of his incandescent ire for? Do the patients of his surgery even know they are being cut? Let’s attempt to match the blade to the patient.

That the writer of the story and the editorship of The Cable have a few nuts loose in the head goes without the saying. But then, it’s a news organization and given a choice between credibility and momentary notoriety, I suspect many in the news’ organization’s imprint would choose the later, especially in this era of clicks. Remember, clicks don’t have emotions.

The real morons are not the half-wits ever teetering at the brink of online ethnic warfare, needing the merest nudge to mix it up in those depths of despicable depths. Their moronness is taken for granted. The totality of their actions is a hole-in-one. Now they are par for the course. No surprises there.

The real morons are not the undiscerning-schooled, us whom the fact of schooling remains lost on – and God knows there are plenty of us.

Notice that in his indictment WS doesn’t simply take aim at The Cable or whatever blog or online media carried the non-story. His indictment is targeted at a specific breed of Nigerian, the ones whom we should be able to count on in times of moral crises. Soyinka’s morons are us intellectuals, the self-appointed defenders of Nigerian forthrightness, us overly keen to be seen as rational, detribalized – whatever that means – and politically correct, us new breed of new, embracing Nigerian, the crumbling half-baked cake, the Moroni intellectualensis.

I was in a class where a lecturer indicted us – Africans, really – for not thinking (by which he meant critical thinking). I disagreed, and rightfully so because of how incapacity has come to define Africanness from at least as far back as Kipling. And then we determined thinking to be systemic as opposed to superficial, especially as generations of ancestors had, by privilege of precedence, harvested all the low-hanging fruit. Suddenly, he had a point. Why in this world are we content to scratch at a worn surface when digging can unearth treasures?

Only the Moroni intellectualensis would go to town on the alleged comments without pausing to give Soyinka’s antecedents a thought. In his thirties, Wole Soyinka spent a great deal of time in prison – most of it in solitary confinement – owing to his opposition to the war that jingoism drummed into imminence. It wasn’t that he was pro the Biafran – read secessionist – cause; “bluff,” after all, “is no substitute for bullets” and as events would prove, the great human toll would be too much to pay for stasis. But there was an opportunity for real, wholesome change in the Nigerian situation if grasped, and the exploration of this option earned him enemies and landed him cooling-off time in Gowon’s gulag. After all, wasn’t he quite the volcano? He could Vesuvius the Pompeii marked by his confinement for all they cared.

Shortly after the end of the Civil War, he was released. He then exiled himself because of the senseless triumphalism that had engulfed the nation or whatever part of it had deemed itself victorious, despite an official equanimity – no victor! no vanquished! – whose sincerity was as nonexistent as Beyonce’s MetGala getup – a Pyrrhic victory whose costs continue to be counted today.

I do not mention these by chance.

I was ready to believe that Soyinka said those words preconditionally, and only preconditionally: that he is an inveterate jokester who, if he had said those words at all, would have meant them tongue firmly in cheek, which a prankster might divorce from their context to create a scandal. But all around me, public intellectual after public intellectual threw caution to the dogs in the quest to win the award for Nigeria’s Most Dispassionate Critic and whatever adulation associated with that much coveted and beloved pedestal. The comments, even if they were true, appeared on the Nigerian space decontextualized and disembodied, devoid of tone or inflection or all the other markers that can distinguish speech from writing. Do his antecedents count for nothing? How can one reconcile such a statement with a writer of Soyinka’s sensitivities and sensibilities? How do these words fit into the universe of his long-time public intellectualism? How is it possible that Soyinka, with his keen eye for the spaces elided by the versus syndrome, with his “wide cultural perspectives”, deploy such a blatant, limiting and limited we-versus-them construct? And even if Soyinka really wanted to deploy such a construct, was he not skilled enough to subsume his sentiments in a mountain of verbiage only skilled critics could unearth after maybe decades of archaeology? It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. But first, a message from our sponsors: Gandhi hated blacks ergo Soyinka hates Igbos, especially that Chinua Achebe chap whom he robbed of a Nobel – at gunpoint would you believe it? – and not content subsequently crippled with the ominous gift of an unblemished white goat. Did you not know?

Now that rumours of the demise of the solid reputation of a man universally hailed as Nigeria’s moral conscience have been shown to be greatly exaggerated, will us morons who believed WS said that – and with a straight face! – subject ourselves to any self-examination? Or is it just all in a day’s work? The progenitors of Soyinka’s bashing – premature ejaculators all – now appear to be passing the buck to The Cable. Ah, where is your sense of irony vacationing? The Bahamas?


12 thoughts on “SOYINKA’S MORONS

  1. It is actually not surprising for a lot of reasons; TPATP (The.People.Are.The.Problem)disorder is very much alive here in these parts and it affects high and low, educated and illiterate, etc. The only solution is enlightenment or as the holy books direct; “renewing of the mind. Religion/Tribe becomes a gargantuan obstacle if we remain unscientific about them. A different event may have unfolded if we, the ‘educated’ morons had been patient enough to wait for proof before casting stones but we live in a “traffic-controlled” space offline and online where a second is too long a wait for “greatness”. About WS culpability, he’s human. He may have antecedents to suggest otherwise but he’s still controlled by change. I believe therefore that the best yardstick to avoid such ignominy as witnessed recently remains objectivity. We remain fools as long we are bound to our ethno-religious sentiments alone.

    1. But culpability would suggest that he’s guilty as charged, which is certainly not the case in this matter. Objectivity demands that the evidence – not sentiments now – is examined. But how do you examine anything when immediacy demands that you beat the gun? So, fine, you want to beat the gun; ok. The man’s antecedents must – repeat, must – then come into play: “Wait, could he? Is there anything in his biography that suggests he could?” The first condition of intellectualism is rigour. Mans gat work that brain. That’s how this intellectual thing works.

      1. Sort of harsh to blame people who believed the news. Are we all to start investigating news stories? Are we all literary critics, seeking to find the voice of the writer in statements? People who’ve decided to dramatise other people’s credulity really should point the blame elsewhere. What exactly is this rigour you speak of? Was anyone writing a dissertation? If the news source was a discredited publication, yes. But Cable had built a platform of credibility. No one should blame anyone for believing. Pass the buck to the Cable. Yes. Everyone else who was smart and psychic and rigorous to know he didn’t say that, calm down. You get a medal; just don’t give others a lashing.

  2. Wow! I enjoyed this piece so much! Well done!

    Now, to the matter at hand. Social Media brings with it the urgency to be ‘the first’ on many levels. First to break the news, first to critique an issue (even where knowledge is limited), first to ‘prove’ dispassion, first to say I saw it and so, the writer, reader and commentator are all in a rush. Now, what happens when you rush is that you don’t take time to think things through or objectively analyse all sides.

    I think the desperation to be an online overlord or to go viral has eaten deep into the heads that should be doing the critical thinking and so, we have many cases like this, far too many than I would like to admit. I love the fact that Soyinka was vindicated and even more than that, I love his comeback on the issue. Morons. Yes, there are far too many around.

  3. Nice analysis and flaming too. I think I should do a take on this. I’m not quite convinced with the conclusion. 🙂 Seems you’re taking a stab at “us intellectuals” in the guise of analysing Soyinka’s retort. In my opinion, Nigerian intellectuals deserve some whipping, but not on this particular basis.

    1. I didn’t set out to analyse Soyinka’s retort. I think Soyinka was wrong to be so broad. There are those who will believe it – and I quite clearly delineated these from those who should know better. So I only helped him limit the scope of the retort.

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