For Me, It is Humanity First: A Conversation with Wole Soyinka

For Me, It is Humanity First: A Conversation with Wole Soyinka

Tuesday, December 29, 2020 3:34 pm


Cover on Professor Wole Soyinka

 

Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, Wole Soyinka’s third novel, was published in November 2020. Bookcraft organised readings in Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja in December to present the 506-page novel. The attendance was impressive. On 28 September 2021, Penguin Random House in the US and Bloomsbury in the UK will publish the new novel simultaneously. The gap between his last two novels—The Interpreters, published in 1965, Season of Anomy, published in 1980— and Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, is filled with over thirty works spanning different genres— drama, poetry, memoirs, essays, songs and films. The singularly memorable lingo, ‘’Metal on concrete jars my drink lobes,’’ with which Soyinka opens The Interpreters is part of the enduring appeal of the novel. The last famous sentence of Season of Anomy,”In the forest, life began stir,” holds a ray of hope for humanity. At the end of Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, however, it is difficult to be hopeful, given the relentless devaluation of human lives; the sinister collaboration of the secular and the spiritual; the chicanery and viciousness of political power; and the barbarity, madness and the blood-lust prevalent in the civil society which Soyinka chronicles with ferocious rage, flaming anger and damning indictments. The system of government in the novel is quasi-parliamentary in which the president is just a shadowy figure and the prime minister is the one calling the shot. Election, in this imaginary Nigeria, is held every six years. Events that happened in Ibadan in real life are now transposed to Badagry. The fiction, in many other ways, morphs into reality and reality itself morphs into this fiction. Or, to echo the award-winning Indian novelist and essayist, Arundhati Roy, who says in Azadi, her brilliant new collection of essays, that some of the events ‘’are about how fiction joins the world and becomes the world.’’ According to the narrator, this is a story of ‘’a nation where the hopeless make room for the dubious and the dubious for the clamorous.’’ The narrator’s emotions are smoothly distilled.

Professor Wole Soyinka. All photos by Ayodele Efunla

After watching yet another murder of an innocent person by a savage mob, on his way to Badagry, Lagos, this time around a law enforcement officer, Dr Menka Kighare, who appears to believe in the humanist philosophy of Soyinka, says in frustration: ‘’It challenges the collective notion of soul. Something is broken. Beyond race. Outside colour or history. Something has cracked. Can’t be put back together.’’ Kighare is giving vent here to the sickness of the spirit in the face of devastating horrors. There are other instances of cynicism, despair, pain and sadness in this novel. But it is not all gloom. Soyinka carefully balances the profoundly tragic with the immensely comic. There is a sense in which the visible darkness in the novel makes a normal person yearn for light; for compassion, for kindness, for honesty, for character—in short, for humanity. There is also a sense in which the overwhelming pessimism and sadness are constantly made bearable by Soyinka’s inventive, playful, dazzling and cinematic rendering. The vivid portraits of his characters—major and minor—make them unforgettable. The novel, bursting and seething with energy, is a hymn to a beautiful and compelling writing. For me, nowhere is this more powerfully illustrated than in the passage on arson of Hilltop Manor in Jos.  Wole Soyinka describes in granular detail the kinetic energy of an inferno in a prose charged and threaded with immense vitality and literary intelligence. In order to bring this explosive force to life, he personifies it. Effortlessly, finely wrought lines come flying at you. Soyinka’s gift of dramatic discernment is on full display. From one liquid moment to the next, he laces the novel with humour, history and fantasy as he reveals some of the ugly, dastardly things that the inhabitants of the land of the happiest people on earth do in their private and public lives. The result is a sparkling and masterly work that is  at once fascinating and disturbing.

On Wednesday, 16 December 2020, at the Freedom Park, Old Prison Ground, Broad Street, Lagos Island, Lagos, Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature, spoke to KUNLE AJIBADE, Executive Editor/Director of TheNEWS and PM NEWS on what motivated him to write Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth. Photos by Ayodele Efunla.

Kunle Ajibade (KA): There are many grim realities in Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth. We shall peel the tragic layers as we proceed. Yet Nigeria, which this novel mirrors in its nakedness, still rocks. It moves on with gaiety, with incredible indifference to its multiple glittering tragedies. This country is like a behemoth feeding on the intestine of its own children. There are several instances of decapitation of human heads in the novel by some sadistic traditional rulers during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and now by thugs who are paid by politicians and ritualists. Student cultists pay Boko Haram killers for steady supply of human heads. You even reference the atrocities of Nigeria-Biafra war; the sadism of the child soldiers in Liberia who cut the hands of their victims; the Okija shrine and its macabre stories; hundreds of people killed over beauty pageant; the governors who are paedophiles and rapists who escalate cases of vagina fistula; many lives ruined on account of under age marriages; the Maitatsine fanatics; the kidnap of school girls by Boko Haram; the thriving business of kidnapping for ransoms; and the increasing number of male and female bombers. Some of the past memories toss up similar events in the present. At the centre of the novel is a meticulous description of a secretive but booming trade in human body parts and hunger for human flesh which some deranged fellows in the novel say is delicious. The high demand for human body parts leads to steady supply, hence a lucrative trade in these human body parts used in rituals for wealth, fame, power, longevity, American Green Card, etc., etc. Dr Menka Kighare dismisses this act as primitive, irrational and unscientific, but the ritualists and their many clients, and those who are addicted to eating human flesh, will disagree with him. Why is the loss of respect and value for human life one of your major concerns in this novel?

Wole Soyinka (WS): My answer to that goes to the heart of my philosophy of existence—humanity first. Other things can follow: development; ideology; religion; relationship; nature phenomenon, etc, etc. At the base of it all is humanity. Even nature does not exist if humanity does not. Over the years, and beginning from quite early, I’ve consistently developed more intensely a recognition and commitment, that the centre for my existence–of visible, provable existence— is humanity. My first commitment before anything else, even ideology, is at the service of humanity, not humanity at the service of ideology. However, it’s amazing that I have continued to believe this because what I’ve witnessed since my childhood has been a reduction of the value of humanity— the respect for human being, the human other; the other person. It has reached a level where it sometimes surprises me that human beings still talk to one another in this country. We’ve reached a level of suspicion so much that it’s a marvel that even when we see a friend coming, that we still have such faith that we don’t go the other direction saying, we don’t know what that person is up to.

Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth

The causes of this are, of course, multiple— religion is one of them. Was it not in this country that a young Igbo trader, Gideon Akaluka, was detained by the police in their station because his wife was accused of using pages of Qur’an as toilet paper for her baby? A group of angry Muslims in Kano then broke into the police station, brought out Akaluka, killed him and walked round the city with his decapitated head. It was later proved that the woman who allegedly used pages of Qur’an as toilet papers was not even Akaluka’s wife. Till date no one has been arrested for murdering the young man. And that kind of event has set a pattern. Not so long ago, didn’t a Christian priest lure his girlfriend, his mistress, into a church on the pretext that he was about to pray for her and better her life, then kill her, bury her remains under the altar in order to give potency to his communion with God? These and many, many more happened in this country and outside. Move to Uganda. If you don’t believe in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, his particular kind of religion, he slices your nostrils, slices your lips, mobilises and co-opts children as child soldiers, brainwashes them into committing the worst atrocities and so on and on. It’s like a fiesta of blood has overtaken everything else in this country called Nigeria and outside. Accidental discharges at roadblocks are often not even accidental. It’s a question of Oh, you offered me, a full uniformed policeman, a mere one hundred naira? Then a gun to that head and it is blown apart. It cuts across all strata of society; those rich politicians who order body parts in order to make money. So stupid, so callous and brutish and primitive they actually believe that by eating somebody’s liver they can become millionaires overnight, or become ministers. Sometimes, even professors do it.

Professor Wole Soyinka

And students who, to prove how brave, how solid they are as human beings, form gangs and cults, and they go out and raid rival cults, cut off their heads and stick those heads on poles. They are not from poor families. In fact, their families will come to their defence and make them get off the hook. But as part of their ritual indoctrination, their rites of passage, they kill fellow students, cut off their heads and thus debase even the meaning of fraternity, which is brotherhood. Confraternity, which is the original intent and the philosophy of the very first fraternity that we know of, that I was part of in this very country, as one of the founders at the University of Ibadan.. And, of course, those students are co-opted by outside societies, by politicians, by business moguls. They are armed with the latest weaponry and they are set upon one another in massacres that go on in schools, tertiary institutions, percolating all the way down now to secondary schools. We heard, not so long ago, one incident of even slightly below secondary school. So what other environment do I write about except this kind of environment— at least in this manner— except this environment which oppresses my existence? The enormity of bastardization of humanity that goes on here oppresses my existence.

Cannibalism, anthropophagy, as some call it, was almost prehistoric, primordial. There was a kind of mystic approach to it at the beginning. Some people believed that by eating the flesh of somebody else, the energy of that individual would pass on to you. It was the principle of primitive warfare also, that it’s not just enough for you to kill your enemy, you transfer the life force of that individual to yourself by making sure that you eat at least a part of it. Even in Christianity, you notice that symbolically the original eating of another person has been transmuted into a process which is called communion. Even the very principle of the cycle of seasons has to do, also, with that element of human sacrifice and sometimes cannibalism. But that’s at the very beginning of humanity. Humanity has evolved, has learnt its lesson—sometimes the hard way. Wars, for me, are really an expression of a certain aspect of cannibalism; hence that play of mine, Madmen and Specialists, in which I try to say to people, why do you go so readily to war? Isn’t it better to use your head than to eat another person’s brains? Just use your head and sit down, which you would do ultimately, rather than go to war. But people still tend to think principally, primarily and definitively that only a war will solve a particular problem. That primitive thinking is universal till today whether you talk about Asia or even some European countries and so on. So, that’s on one level of primitivism. But, at least, one could even understand the tendency towards this at a certain stage of human evolution. It is still not really acceptable, that in order to preserve yourself, you destroy another human being. It’s not noble; it is definitely ignoble.

Professor Wole Soyinka

In the novel, I deliberately set off Menka’s outburst in the club house at the Hilltop Manor in Jos quoting a newspaper. That was a newspaper report. I leave the actual names there, the report as it happened, the report of the police just to set off the whole process. At least that section is meant to say, Listen, this is not just fiction, this really happened and you can go and check it out. But the corruption of our humanity has intensified in so many directions. And if I may go back, I remember Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, the woman who was lynched in 2007 by Yan Kalare boys at a secondary school in Gandu, Gombe state. She was invigilating an examination when a boy walked in with a copy of the Qur’an. She asked him to dump the Qur’an and other books somewhere in the classroom. She was strict; she didn’t want the students to cheat. These were children we were trying to bring up to be human beings, to be adult; mature human beings—‘’Leaders of the future.” What did they do? Those pupils set upon her, started beating her, she fled to the principal’s house, those school pupils pursued her, dragged her out– and then the principal surrendered her— dragged her out, stripped her naked, put tires on her and set her on fire. Those same children graduated to tertiary institutions and became the kind of students we were talking about earlier: those who do not hesitate to cut off the heads of their fellow students, and use them as totemic poles, goal posts, for soccer. Those were the kind of boys who would rush to the banner of a fundamentalist preacher who said, I don’t want any more beer around. Let’s go round and destroy all drinking places. In the process, they not only destroyed, they set upon a driver who happened, unfortunately, to be driving a truckload of beer which he had been doing, for his own legitimate business, as normal routine. He didn’t realise that there was now some sanitation exercise going on! They dragged him down from the window of that truck, set the vehicle on fire, set him on fire after having beaten him into a stupor. And so, we are already coaching the young to become barbarians and cannibals. These are the same people who then become the foot soldiers of Boko Haram, who consider the humanity as disposable for any kind of cause— theocratic or secular. This is where Nigeria is today. These are the ones who are recruited to slaughter farmers who are producing what you and I depend on for sustenance. They’re the ones who march into schools, slaughter the teachers for teaching; cut the throats of the children for learning. They are the ones who kill paramedics who are going around trying to inoculate humanity against diseases. But because somebody, somewhere, believes that it is against the will of God, therefore, you slaughter medical aid workers and then you even kill some patients.

And then, we come all the way to after this book was written. Some principled and galvanised youth, the kind of youth that you and I hope that we are evolving in society, of whom we are proud, organised themselves in a peaceful way, telling the state, your enforcement agency has gone too far. Enough of it, we are ending this reign of terror by that agency. I’m talking of #EndSARS protesters. For days, they ennobled and re-energised this nation. And what happened? How did it all end? It ended at the behest of the kind of sub-humanity that we are talking about. It ended with them going around, not just destroying, but slaughtering at will. They chased the police at the frontline, scapegoats, irrespective of who they were— whether they belonged to SARS or not. Those policemen became the scapegoats. Were they not human beings? They chased them. They set their stations on fire. They set them on fire. And how did they end up? They roasted—I use the expression deliberately as the language they used—they roasted these policemen and divided the flesh among themselves.

You see, we have very serious questions to ask ourselves. It’s not enough saying the enemy is just the state. The state comes out of our humanity. Those who are the figureheads of the state, they come from our own humanity. So we need a thorough internal interrogation of ourselves in this particular country. I don’t know what form it’s going to take, but it has reached the stage where I no longer feel a part of this humanity. I no longer feel a part of this environment. It’s either I’m crazy or the rest of this nation is crazy. I don’t know which is which. But certainly what I have lived with all my life as article of faith is being debased, not just before my very eyes, but all around me. I find myself contaminated as a human being by this complete negation and repudiation of what makes us different from the animals I go to hunt in the bush.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: At one of his meetings with Sir Goddie Danfere, the prime minister, who prefers to be called People’s Steward, Papa Davina, his spiritual adviser, says, ‘’Your interests and those of the Lord’s ministry are too deeply intertwined.” What unites the politician and the pastor in this novel is anything but spiritual. It is essentially material. Their dark alliance leads to killing of innocent people and the country itself. Could you share your thoughts on this dark alliance of the politician and the pastor and its effects on people’s lives?

WS: Since the discussion has been very dark and bleak so far, let me at least try and turn your question upside down a little bit and, for a change, talk about the positive aspect of this alliance between the politician and religion. There are individuals that I know, including politicians, who are deeply religious and who will cite religious precepts as their guidelines for their exemplary conduct in life and in office, their concern for humanity, their refusal to be corrupted. Let us always remember that those ones exist. I know people who are so principled and who cite their religions on both sides— Christianity and Islam. They would say this happened to me, this person came over to me, offered me this, asked me to do this and I said, I cannot do it because I cannot confront my God, the God I believe in, if I do it. I’ve cited it in the past, the liberating role which Islam played in the self-liberation of black people in the United States. When they joined the Nation of Islam, they used to be drug addicts, predators, rapists, number runners and so on. In prison, however, they encountered Islam and became transformed, positively militant on behalf of humanity, of society. They still exist; they’re still there till today. Liberation theology as well in Latin America, the good it did in countering the capitalist world spearheaded by the CIA, MI5, SAVAK or what is the Iranian version of that before the revolution by the Ayatollah Khomeini? Let us give credit where credit is due.

However, when you come to a situation where somebody calls himself a preacher, cut corner when building a temple, did not obtain a license, did not ensure that the building was structurally sound and the building collapsed on the majority of his worshippers from South Africa who died ‘in the name of God’, and that preacher said, No, it’s not my fault, it was an aeroplane which was flying past and the temple collapsed! Till today, that preacher has not yet been charged to court for manslaughter. I think the architect was hauled up to court. He had to give evidence and so on. But I haven’t seen that preacher yet in court. Now, that’s the kind of alliance which takes place between pastors and politicians which simply amounts to exploitation of religion. The creeping theology that if somebody has a following, that person has sort of earned for himself or herself a measure of immunity and that, of course, encourages impunity. Religion has been assuming a kind of alternative government in this country and dictating, very often, measures which should be taken by the government—even blackmailing through spiritual threats, spiritual blackmailing, and making government sometimes only too ready to be misguided, since it is very often a misguided institution anyway. So you have a collaboration of criminality from this side and that side, and the other. And then you have governors in this country, we’ve witnessed it, in recent times, pretending they are giving equal time to all religions. In actual fact, it turns out they are flaring hypocrites. It’s really their own religion they are promoting, giving unfair, undue advantage, but pretending that they believe that all religions are equal. In other words, they are just dividing human beings over and over again. Let’s be more specific. In Zamfara, which is now under siege by all kinds of illegal, insurgent forces, what did the governor there do when he imposed sharia laws on his state? He spent money which should have been used for development buying fleet of buses, to ensure the separation of the sexes. How idiotic that was. You lacked the funds, you’re just managing what you had, and then what you did in this modern day and age was make sure the sexes were separated. And for that, you invested in a fleet of buses. We have all kinds of religious imbecilities going on right, left and centre.

And what’s the result? The result is that as I drove through the street leading to this place this very morning, I looked through the window, shrunk back because there was a beggar family from that same region and the child was being pushed towards my vehicle to come and beg. I was embarrassed to be sitting in that car while a family— mother and several children were reduced to beggary. Now, those are the sort of people who should be the primary concern of governors, not a deity, wherever that deity is located. That deity doesn’t need you. That deity exists in its omnipotence—his or her omnipotence and so on. All you’re doing here is piffle; it doesn’t interest him. His demands or her demands, if they generally exist, are: Look after your own kind, primarily. Don’t create social situations which take them away from their home to become beggars in the streets of Lagos. Those who are responsible know one another. And anytime there is trouble— anytime they are in trouble— they deliberately foment a distraction. A distracting problem elsewhere so that you are busy with that. Let’s go back down memory lane. The beauty contest which took place in Abuja, which resulted in the death of nearly 300 people, the sacking of that city by religious fundamentalists simply because they didn’t like beauty contests. If they did not like that beauty contest, shouldn’t they have stayed in their homes? Who forced them? Did people force them to bring out their daughters to come and participate? Incidentally, there were contestants from some Islamic countries too. So, most times, this really is not about religion; it is about opportunists, bigots. We’re talking about fanatics, who will be fanatics. We’re talking about killers who will be killers anyway, whatever religion they believe in. Religion has become the excuse— the opportunity.

Over the years, we’ve been discovering that the issue in Zamfara was not even religion, but gold. Illegal gold mining had been going on for years and the banditry and some of the killings going on had not been about religion but about the who owned, who exploited and who profited from those gold mines, which had been hidden from the rest of the nation for a long time but which had been there. Some of us knew—we just didn’t know how rich those mines were. But in actual fact, the wealth of those gold mines can be used to develop that society in a way that will become the model state. But no, the leaders prefer to stir up religious differences. And so, while everybody is concentrating on the flare-ups, while the people themselves are being told that religion is their primary mission in life, just to be separated along gender lines, and so on and so forth, these leaders are busy exploiting the wealth of the nation, stashing it away for their own benefit.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: You actually tell the gold mining story in Zamfara in a more dramatic and thrilling way with the character of Dr Murkarjee, the Indian geologist and a prospector, in the novel.

WS:  That’s right.

KA: Still on religion. Papa Davina is a perfect representative of Pentecostal charlatans in Chronicles of the Happiest Peopleon Earth. He finds parallels in Lazarus in your novel, The Interpreters and Brother Jero in your plays The Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis. He describes his style as “unprecedented spiritual panache,” that he’s into “creative packaging.” He once told himself, “think novelty, think grandeur.” His church called Ekumenika, Oke Kanran-Imoran, the hill of knowledge and enlightenment, also known as The Prophesite, is part of the grandeur of Papa Davina. And when he was moving from his headquarters in Lokoja to Lagos, he promised himself that “he would dip his cheque book in the Lagos lagoon and bring it up dripping with proceeds from the nation’s petroleum flow.” According to him, the way you view the world is a question of special perspective. In one of his moments of self-serving exuberances, very early in the novel, he argues: “There are many, including our own fellow citizens who describe this nation as one vast dung-heap. But you see, those who do, they mean to be disparaging. I, by contrast, find happiness in that. If the world produces dung, the dung must pile up somewhere. So if our nation is indeed the dung-heap of the world, it means we are performing a service to humanity. Now that is—perspective.”He implores his faithful adherents to regard themselves as Seekers and he, as the Ultimate Guide and Perfect Listener. You tend to study these crooks diligently. Why have you always paid attention to religion generally?

WS: Curiosity. There are many disciplines and many forms of conduct of humanity which have fascinated me since childhood. And when I was at the University of Leeds, 1954—1960, to study Literature, I didn’t just study Literature. I studied, for instance, comparative religion, attended one or two mosques which we had in the North, especially in Hull. And each time we went there for debating competition with the University of Hull, and so on, I always took the opportunity to go to the Jewish Synagogues, where there were Rabbis, I even participated in séances because I was very curious to know if there was really anything in it. Is it possible that one can even speak to the dead? Can one speak to dead relatives? I took part in séances. I would walk, walk, and walk in search of churches. Of course, I was fascinated by their architecture. That’s another thing which I informally studied. Music, and other things. I’d walk into a church, not even knowing which church it was. I also travelled outside Britain, walked through some baroque churches, walked through Roman ruins and so on. What motivated me? What kind of people lived a thousand years ago in this kind of belief and so on? Why is it still prevalent? Why does it still have a hold on humanity? And so, I came to my own conclusions as observer-participant. When I went to the US for the first time, I made a beeline for those Pentecostal churches which I had read so much about and versions which I grew up with in Nigeria. I saw possession; real, real possession. So I can’t deny there’s something inside there, something inside human beings; extraordinary, even metaphysical, which can be brought out in spite of those individuals. If you’ve seen—and I’m sure you have—scenes of possession in which the human being undergoes contortions, that the human body loses total control and enters into spasms and it takes real, heavy stalwarts to lead that person out of the church. I have seen it happen on stage, on my stage. I’ve found that kind of human condition induced on my stage, in which human beings— my actors, actresses—become possessed without any effort from me. Just a combination of the language, the music, the mood, and in one or two cases, violent possession which my stage manager and I had to choreograph in such a way that we got the possessed out during performance. There is an aspect of spirituality into which I believe all humanity can tap, but can tap into that spirituality without degrading other human beings or without creating a new hierarchy of power which then contests with secular power and destroys society.

Professor Wole Soyinka

Spirituality, for me, is a very personal thing. I know what happens when I go in the forest, not really to hunt, but just to be by myself and experience a kind of tranquility which I do not find in urban society and commune with nature—and that’s my spirituality. It’s an internal thing. The crime, the criminality begins when spirituality structures itself in a way in which it wants to control the secular entitlement and the secular rights of humanity. That is when religions break up. One of the goriest expressions of that has been the contest in Iraq where the Shiites and the Sunnis wait for the spiritual day of each other and slaughter one another because one side does not believe in the particularities of history and heritage of the other; and then they butcher one another on their own holidays. Go round the whole world. Go to India; the Sikhs, for instance, have their problems with the Muslims, with the Buddhists, etc., all over the place. Whereas you can just sit in your home or retire to your meditation room and actually drink your fill of spirituality just by an internal process.

It’s been something with me since childhood. So, I very easily recognise charlatans. That’s why I am able to stress that religion is not all evil in itself, but it is so filled with charlatans that it has been taken over. It’s rather like Internet and the social media. This is beautiful, marvelous technology, so useful, so empowering, so ennobling, but it has been taken over by creeps, by morons, by cads, who make this platform their own. They muscle out the intelligent. Those trolls may have the latest gadgets in their hands, but nihilism is scrambling their brains. They can debase anything. Religious extremism has become humanity’s new normal of outright bigotry and intolerance.

KA: In the novel, political leaders don’t offer hope and redemption. They only surpass each other in irresponsibility. There is no commitment to anything that will make the imaginary Nigeria grow and develop; no obligation to anything of value. Many of them are just actively evil. They are corrupt and incompetent. They waste money on frivolous projects like Image Task Force which constantly burnish the image and identity of Sir Goddie Danfere. The major political party is the People on the Move Party, POMP. And its cardinal programme is anchored in festivals. It boasts of People’s fiestas; The Festival of the People’s Choice; The Bash of the Year; People’s Concordia; and Night of Nights. Meetings are held in Villa Potencia to plan for all these. There is also a huge ceremony around Independence Day Honours List every year. The government even has a Ministry of Happiness. Surrounded by madcaps like Shekere Garuba and Dr Merutali, the prime minister, a self-aggrandizing politician, who is clearly a psychopath, believes that a leader must be protected all the time by any means necessary. This is obviously a satirical barb. Do you think it will mean anything to many of our incurably shameless politicians who are described in this novel as social morticians and doctors of financial ledgers?

WS: Whether it does or not is no longer my problem once I have written it. Do you think it would have stopped them declaring a one-year celebration of Nigeria becoming 60?When that announcement was made, I said to myself, You know something, Mr Wole Soyinka, you should have been a prophet, because that’s part of what the novel is talking about: the whole institution of the Board of Happiness: one festival spilling into the next so that festivals are constantly in arrears and they occupy everybody. As this book was coming out, the government announced a one-year celebration for Nigeria at 60. Before that we had the centenary celebration and, of course, we had the 50th and now it’s the 60th, and they want a one-year celebration! When some of them read this, they would say, Is this not the same Soyinka who has been running Black Heritage Festival for Lagos State Government? Give me a break. Let him go and sit down. To them I say this: I ‘m not against celebration, I’m not against festivals. In fact, for me, festivals in the arts especially are part of what makes us human. Argungu festival brings in economy, enhances economy of that area, promotes the cult of fishing, then creates interest in nutrition, what role eating fish plays and so on. The ramifications of that kind of festival are enormous: exhibitions and so on, human expressiveness, painting, galleries and so on. Art is not a poor cousin of economics; it’s part and parcel of life. It is when festivals are used to camouflage economic and class distortions in society, that’s when festivals become a crime because they are used deliberately in the same way as religion and other human preoccupations negatively in this country.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: I can see that you sort of derive satisfaction in the fact that the colonial Hilltop Manor in Jos, where the British colonial overlords used to have their exclusive social events is set ablaze.

WS: From time to time, an author takes his impotent revenge on the unacceptable. The burning down of the Hilltop Manor, that colonial relic, is typical of my conduct sometimes when I symbolically, opportunistically, as a creative person, take my revenge on things which I don’t like. When I was a fellow at Cambridge University in Churchill College, I would come down from my room to have my coffee in the morning and each time I would see the bust of Winston Churchill sitting on the plinth and I would look right and left and see if I could push it down without anybody looking at me and send it crashing—that kind of impotent gesture. And the burning down of Hilltop Manor is my equivalent of that gesture. That feeling which, I hope, I made to fit into the story. That’s where artifice comes in. Secretly, I enjoyed burning down that manor even though it was for a totally despicable purpose. That’s where the mixture comes in of motivation and emotions. The colonial presence is still very much with us. Not necessarily a totally evil thing. So, it’s not a repudiation of every aspect of colonial heritage. It’s when we overvalue it, when we think that civilization does not exist except it is expressed in European terms, in colonial terms. And there are human beings among us today, even in positions of power, whose entire lives are wrapped up in colonial values. It rubs off on many of us; I know I’ve also been accused of being Eurocentric and so on. I say thank you very much. I take what I need out of anywhere: my travels, my birth, my experience. What I need for existential actuality I take from wherever it is, but I place it on the correct rung of acceptance, of valuation. I don’t say because this belongs to England, therefore England should monopolise it. It’s when you allow that to govern your existence that is when you become a Neither-nor, a pitiable creature. And so from time to time, you see, that is why I tend to burn down symbols like that.

KA: The media does not escape your critical gaze in this novel. Although there is a formal thirteen-member panel of the award committee, the originator, sponsor and sole organiser and one-man jury of Common Touch Award and Yeomen of the Year Award is the maverick Chief Modu Udensi Oromotaya, who is a restless hustler. He is the owner of the newspaper, The National Inquest, which is used as a fearsome weapon of subjugation and blackmail. He exerts huge influence in government circles. He is at best an image launderer. As someone who reads newspapers voraciously, who follows the news keenly, what do you think of the image launderers, the propagandists, the merchants of frivolities, the fan-fiction traders, who parade themselves as journalists?

WS: Like all professions, you have good and bad. You have really brave and praise-worthy journalists; those who stood up to tyranny. Those who have not hesitated to publish even at the risk of their existence, the well-being of their families and so on. We have them all over the place—the real icons, to use that favourite Nigerian word, of the media industry. Then there are those, who are just cynics, like Papa Davina. Papa Davina made up his mind from the very beginning and didn’t disguise it. He didn’t lie to himself. He said to himself, I’m going to make a living out of this thing and, better still, I’m going to relegate those who think they are the controllers. I’m going to show them style, I’m going to bring new ideas into the industry of spirituality and I’m going to make them look like primitives. And that’s what he set out to do.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: He says at a point, ‘’I do not belong to the vulgar traders in the prophetic profession.’’

WS: That’s right. Chief Modu Udensi Oromotaya also looked at the media industry and said, I want to make a special living out of it. And I’ve seen the weaknesses of society. I’m going to exploit those weaknesses: the love of vanity; the love of titles; the love of prizes. Oromotaya is another Papa Davina who believes in doing things the big way. He says I’m not a small hustler. Yes, I’m going to provide very good services, but at the same time I’m going to exploit the weaknesses of those who are also fastening on the weaknesses of society. Oromataya belongs in the company of villains: cynics and opportunists.

KA: Damien, the first son of one of the heroes of this novel, Engineer Duyole Pitan-Payne, is the mole in his father’s house. He is planted there to inform Sir Goddie Danfere, Papa Davina and others, the moment when his father cracks the code called the Codex Seraphinianus that contains the names of notable Nigerians involved in the illicit trade in human parts. They fear that with their names exposed they would be in big trouble. When he calls Papa Davina and say, ‘’Medina has fallen’’, the bomb explodes instantly in Duyole’s workshop. We are not sure who detonates the bomb that kills his father, but he is part of the assassination squad. He does it for money. This 35-year old man is a university drop-out. He has his own young family. Young people like him seem to be increasing by the day in the real Nigeria. Apart from their aspirations to have plenty of money, living big and desire for sex, nothing else interests them. As the narrator says, youths like him are not the nurseries that breed dreams of real transformation. Is this a criticism of the Damien types in this country?

WS: I’ve spoken about the wasted generation. When I used that expression, someone from the next generation said, You are lucky at least you are only wasted. He said, We are lost. He said, My generation is a lost generation. Damien is a representative of that lost generation. Those who use as excuses the failures— where they exist— of their parents, of the generations of their parents. But Damien to me is one of the causes of my personal interior despair because I’ve met many like that and it’s not just recently. I remember when I came out of prison and I found that I’d acquired the wrong kind of fan. We met eventually; he sought me out, but he sought me out for the wrong reason. And he said the reason he was so anxious to meet me was that he actually believed that I had been negotiating and acquiring arms for Biafra. And said he just admired me for that. I had to explain to him that, on the contrary, I was totally against Britain and other foreign powers selling arms to either side at all. Let them fight with bows and arrows. But what the young man picked out in what he thought was the justification of my ‘heroic status’ was that I had been purchasing and smuggling bomber planes to Biafra. That is a representative of the kind of generation we’re talking about. The rest for him was unimportant.

The Damiens of this nation frighten me. I’ve met them. I’ve studied them at close quarters, and I just shake my head, and say, If ever a revolution comes, it should be my mission, first of all, to take out characters like them because they are more dangerous than the originals that are even in the older generation who got us into this mess in the first place. These ones will do worse. It’s not peculiar to Nigeria though, I met them when I was on exile in Ghana. Those who shouted Blood! Blood!! Blood!!! More blood!!!!during the “revolution”, who saw to the lynching of the so-called kalabule .You know kalabule were supposed to be hoarding and the military regime made laws against hoarding and sent them to long terms of imprisonment, even shot one or two. We had youth, university youth, who went round and if you had more than one tin of sardine in your house, you were kalabule. They would drag out those poor women and then beat them to death in the streets. I witnessed how they dealt with a petty trader who had always had some stock. And without actually considering the existential circumstance of this woman, the students dragged the woman out and beat her to death. Somebody with a grudge had reported the woman. It was horrible. Those were supposed to be students; they were supposed to be analytical minds, forensic minds, supposedly trained not to believe in superficiality, to see what lies beneath any phenomenon. Damien represents all those mindless youths.

Professor Wole Soyinka

Such people always have a reason: ‘Abandoned by father.’ Not true, but as far as they are concerned, they are abandoned; and that is supposed to be justification for criminality. I’ve known youth who say, I will show him. I will show him I can do without him. I know one of such, for instance, who’s become a very successful young individual. Till tomorrow, he doesn’t want to see his father. There are elders who try to bring them together, but he said, No, just leave me severely alone. I’ve managed my life up till now. He supports his mother and said, I will show that I can maintain my mother. He is very successful. I don’t want to mention his name but I would have loved to point at him and say this is the kind of person I am talking about and others like him. Sometimes when I look at the pages of newspapers for what’s happening in the entertainment world, I see somebody saying, You know my father wants to meet me now, he wants to come and be my father now. No, it’s too late. I refuse him. I don’t accept the excuse of my father did this, my mother did that, therefore I’m embittered. This is refusing to accept responsibility for yourself no matter what’s happened to you in life. It’s cowardice. It’s opportunistic cowardice and it is more contemptible than those who even say, Look, I’m not about to spend my life slaving away in an office, so I’m going to become a drug carrier. I find that kind of person a bit more respectable than the one who says, My father did that, my mother did this, therefore, I have a right to rape, I have a right to join a gang of rapists and armed robbers and kidnappers, and so on. Existentialism requires self-acceptance, self-recognition, self-regulation and self-discipline.

KA: Apart from Duyole Pitan-Payne, his wife, Bisoye, and their daughters, the Pitan-Payne family, a reputable family in Lagos, is a dysfunctional one in this novel. The patriarch of the family, Otunba Pitan-Payne, alias Pop-of-Ages, is a mess. The adult children are not particularly good people. Even, more importantly, they wish Dr Menka Kighare, a very good friend of their brother, dead largely because he doesn’t want Duyole Pitan-Payne to be buried in Salzburg, Austria. You devote a lot of space to the drama of Duyole’s death, temporary burial in Austria and his eventual reburial in Nigeria. I’m just very curious about the parallel between the Pitan-Payne family and the family of your beloved friend, Femi Johnson, the thespian, insurance magnate and philanthropist who died in 1987. You’ve written about all of this in your memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, without the details of the frustration and agony caused by the family that we now have in this novel. What are you doing this for?

WS: Let me begin by stating that there is no work of fiction that does not owe something to experience, encounters. Action begins somewhere and then that action can evolve in multiple directions. Similarities will always be found, not merely between characters one has known and events that one has undergone. It is pointless to deny it. Something influences a work of fiction. Some writers are more blatant. Make no bones of it. For instance, Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children gives everything away about Indira Gandhi. I take a different kind of position that the writer has a responsibility to protect real people even when one is, if you like, eating from experiences with them, encounters with them and so on. While I will not deny similarities here and there, I want to stress that the novel is not an attempt to recount actualities in themselves. It’s very important for me to stress that. However, I have a deep-seated sense of obligation and it doesn’t matter whether that obligation is to the living or to the dead. Many people don’t understand this. I have obligations even to the dead. It all depends on what kind of obligation, what kind of circumstances and so on and so forth. That is just the kind of person I am. People I have known, I’ve interacted with, are not dead to me. No, they’re not dead. I have obligations to my father hence I named a foundation after him. I have obligation to my mother. And the same thing applies to friends, those with whom I’ve interacted in positive ways that involved the development of myself even if that kind of development had to do with me being in a position to benefit them rather than the other way round. So it’s not a question of repaying a debt, sometimes it’s reinforcing an attachment to that individual—living and dead. I’m being very careful about this. On the one hand, I want to answer your question quite honestly. Yes, this takes from some real life experience, very painful, traumatising experience, which I think was responsible for probably one-eighth of my white hairs.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: That reminds me of what your friend, Toni Morrison, told Elissa Schappell and Claudia Brodsky Lacour in a 1993 Paris Review interview that “In fiction, I feel the most intelligent and the most free and the most excited when my characters are fully invented people. That’s part of excitement. If they’re based on somebody else, in a funny way it’s an infringement of a copyright. That person owns his life, has a patent on it. It shouldn’t be available for fiction.” In the light of what you’ve done with the Femi Johnson story, and other events in this novel, what do you say to that?

WS: To a large extent, I agree with Toni Morrison. It’s a question of measure and proportion. I think she would be the first to admit that, based on the person is not the same as based on certain characteristics I’ve observed in a person. So, we have to be very careful with language here. To lift a person from real life and plonk that individual in a work of fiction is for me an infringement of the patent of that individual. But to write fiction based on events that happen, the labour, the duty, the responsibility of art is to create all kinds of distortions—and I use that word deliberately. That is where the creative part comes in. Distortions in such a way, on such a level, of such quality, that there is creative deniability.

KA: The Gang of Four (Gong of Four— they stylishly call themselves) around whom this novel revolves studied in Europe. They were all very brilliant and idealistic people. In their various universities they were excellent students: Engineer Duyole Pitan-Payne, now 62, Dr Menka Kighare, now 57, Prince Badetona, now 63, and Dennis Tibidje, exact age unknown—you know why! They were determined that after their graduation they would all come back to Nigeria, join hands with other compatriots and build an enviable country. Their high optimism is encapsulated in a vision called Brand of the Land. But one of them, Dennis Tibidje, very early in the university, committed rape, dropped out of school, escaped to Nigeria even before his trial by the university. The other three returned with their degrees. We meet them in the novel as Nigeria intensifies its efforts to kill their dreams. The most gregarious of this dream collective, with high spirit of enterprise, is Duyole Pitan-Payne. He is a consultant to the Ministry of Power. He has worked really hard to find solution to the incessant problem of electricity supply in Nigeria both for the domestic and industrial needs. But the cartel that benefits from the failure of electricity supply conspires against him. The prime minister is a member of this mafia. Indeed, he is not paid for a 14 months job he did for the nation. When he is lucky to get a UN job, the prime minister and the people around him are so happy, saying good riddance to bad rubbish mainly because he has written a damning top secret investigative memo sent to the president and the prime minister about the cartel preventing a regular power generation and distribution. The very week he is billed to travel to New York for the UN job he is assassinated. Prince Badetona, as soon he returned from Europe, joined the Civil Service. He rose, after he was denied his due promotion for some years, to become Super Permanent Secretary on Level 17 and was then made Chief Executive Director in a newly established Petroleum parastatal because he apparently agreed to do the bidding of the powerful forces that put him there by helping them to keep safe custody of their money. We meet him in the novel at a time that the same mafia is gunning for him. He is arrested with cartons of world currencies stacked in some rooms of his house. He is detained for eight months in the underground cell called The Strong Room where he, who was known in his undergraduate days as the Scoffer because of his principled positions, is now broken completely as he is made to count the monies over and over again until the counting mutilates his mind, a mind that used to be very good at figures in the university and for which he was the favourite of his professors and envy of his classmates. The narrator says, ‘’Only the devil could have dreamt up such torture.’’ How true! Three months after his release, Badetona, a man of little words has become almost wordless. He is made insane. Dr Menka Kighare, the brilliant surgeon, native of Gumchi village, now based in Jos, the capital of his state, is one day approached, shortly after he is given a national award, to become a partner in a thriving business of human body parts. Because he refuses, and he is determined to expose the people behind the business, his home and the surrounding area called Hilltop Manor, a fabled manor built by the colonial masters, is set ablaze. At the end of the novel, the rogue prime minister and Papa Davina, his able collaborator, contemplate implicating him in the assassination of his bosom friend, Duyole Pitan-Payne. The Fourth idealistic person, in their salad days in Europe, is now the most realistic: Dennis Tibidje. The rapist, the school drop-out and forger of documents, has transformed himself, in close to seven years, to Brother Tibidje, Apostle Tibidje, Farodion, Teribogo and Papa Davina, Papa D., for short. He has had some training in Nollywood and Callywood in Port Harcourt and Calabar, spent time as a desperate refugee in Newark in America, started grooming himself for his ministry in Liberia, The Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Kaduna and Lokoja before he came down to Lagos where he now has a mansion of a church in Mushin called the The Prophesite. Duyole Pitan-Payne once said of him, ”Faro is a special case. I think we’ve lost him completely.” The multi- talented Papa Davina’s hubris knows no bound because he knows he has a winning formula with which to dominate his country. See how the best in school, the principled, the honest, the visionary, are wasted. Why do you make the country’s perennial betrayal of its gifted citizens so central to the novel? Could this be part of why the novel is jointly dedicated to Bola Ige, Femi Johnson and Dele Giwa?

WS: Yes, the best die first and are usually killed. They don’t die natural deaths. Those who survive, therefore, have a great responsibility, and when I talk about having a responsibility to the dead, this is part of it. That I’ve never been able to lose track of my link with Dele Giwa: the way he was killed. And the timing: if you remember, it was at the time, in 1986, of my Nobel Prize announcement and for him to be butchered that way was very painful to me. And Bola Ige, one of our best minds, to be slaughtered at a time that he was preparing to go to the United Nations, in New York, of course, just like Pitan-Payne, was very tragic. The tragedy, when I spoke about the wasted generation, is not just about who were killed. It’s all about those who had visions in their idealistic state, like the Gang of Four, and who never could realise them one way or the other in this country or who expended so much that what they gained in the end is just a fraction of what they felt they could have realised of the clear visions of their youth. So, yes, you’re quite right, the idealistic tend to die first. It’s only the very, very lucky ones who scrape through who manage to survive—very lucky, only lucky. Doesn’t mean that they didn’t have their brushes, but somehow, they’re lucky. That’s why there’s always a certain sense of indebtedness for me. I feel one can never settle those debts on behalf of those who did not survive. This book is also about that. As for Papa Davina, I leave him and Sir Goddie Danfere together to slug it out. You can see that a new conflict, the conflict of villains, is just beginning at the end. It is deliberate.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: It is not clear at the end whether Dr Menka Kighare will be safe or not.

WS: Deliberate. It’s all deliberately left to hang. It’s a question mark. I like works with question mark ending.

KA: Albert Camus in his ‘’The Artist and His Time,’’ his interview published in The Myth of Sisyphus, says, “If we are not artists in our language, first of all, what sort of artists are we?” As depressing as the malady and the absurd in Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth are, I think that the gripping, frequently harrowing, evocative and descriptive language in the book is an enormous achievement. Why is precision in the use of language so important to you?

WS: Not just precision. Language has always fascinated me. The protean nature of language interests me a lot. Don’t forget I grew up in a remarkable language, a tonal language, a rich language. When people talk about influences, they mention somebody over there, an Asian there, a British something, a metaphysical poet there and so on. They always forget that I’m a Yoruba, and I always have to remind them, I’m a Yoruba. I was raised in the Yoruba language and all my creative life, not even consciously, I bring the Yoruba language to whatever language I use. Whatever language I happen to be using at the moment, French or Spanish, which I speak,  even for a day, the thought process, the interstices of what comes out, as a different language, actually has its root in the Yoruba language. When I do an interview in Yoruba these days, or I speak Yoruba, people say, Ase ogbo Yoruba! I would then tell them, Bi n ba gbo Yoruba ki ni mo fe gbo?

So, I live inside Yoruba language, and it is perceptive people, especially those who study the language like Akinwumi Isola and some others who know that, and they remark it. But others don’t. English, which is the language many of us use, is a vehicle, a medium for me between my Yoruba and the expression within the outer world. There is that interior dynamic going on all the time when I write. It took me a while to understand it myself. It was something I was just doing naturally. It’s only when people like you then ask questions about language that I reflect. I sometimes recover the process of expression, the process of thought, between thought, conception and expression and then I realise, yes, I’m constantly within the Yoruba milieu, its complexities, its opaqueness, its richness, and substituting the lack of tonality in the language I’m using. As you know, tonality is so integral to Yoruba language and I find that I’m constantly compensating for that lack, and sometimes may be overcompensating, but then that’s the nature of the art; it is a truthful condition of the art. One can go overboard from time to time. I absolutely agree with Albert Camus: If we are not artists in our language, first of all, what sort of artists are we?

KA: I find the eight reasons in the novel for which Badetona eventually succumbs to superstition, under an intense pressure of Jaiyeola, his wife, who is a fanatical believer in Papa Davina, very amusing; the anecdote of Sir Goddie Danfere about a catholic Father who steals wine from the vestry in his own church is very, very funny even though the joke is actually on him; Godsown Pakari’s Ziggurat or Death-anecdote is not only a comic relief but a lesson in survival and pragmatism; the inventiveness of the lingo of Duyole Pitan-Payne and Dr Menka Kighare is light-hearted. Their words and phrases may well enter the lexicon one day; Papa Davina’s assault, in his church, of a woman from whom he is trying to exorcise the devil of barrenness, is as tragic as it is hilarious. This is the scene that gives him the Teribogo moniker; the trial of governor Akpanga for calling himself Comrade State Servant after the prime minister’s moniker, National Servant, is laughable, particularly when the semi-literate governor, in the course of the melodrama at his trial for identity theft, doesn’t know the meaning of the word copyright. When he is asked, ‘’Chief Akpanga, have you ever heard of identity theft? Do you know the meaning of copyright?’’Poker faced, he responds confidently, ‘’Oh, you mean I did not copy it right?’’; and who will forget Mamma Kressy, who is a bundle of fun in the novel? These are some instances that readily come to mind now. Can you talk a bit about your use of comic stories in this predominantly tragic novel?

WS: You are now going deeply into creative waters which require elaborate exposition. Comic relief is an integral part of tragic presentation in all cultures, and not merely in drama, poetry, love songs, ritual and even mask sculpture thrive on it — just take a look at those masks — Yoruba, Ibiobio, Igbo, etc. etc. Grotesquerie integrated into the numinous. It is part and parcel of the order of existence. Even death has its ludicrous side.

Professor Wole Soyinka

KA: Facts of history, geography and memory are liberally used to make up this fiction. Why did you settle for this creative strategy?

WS: For this work, I required self-recognition and immediacy. I wanted to leave little or no room for escape or evasion.

KA: Not many people were expecting you to write a new novel at 86. Still, very soon, you will publish a collection of new poems and a book of many of your literary essays, a sequel to Arts, Dialogue and Outrage. How do you explain this burst of creativity in your old age?

WS: It is the tyranny of over-sensibility to events around me. Many of the themes in this novel have been explored in my essays. You just pointed it out. Some of the themes are even in my memoirs; some are dramatized in my plays. But then, you find that the cumulative impact of those events, those experiences in my life, have never really left me completely. I have dealt with them in plays, in poetry, dealt with them in essays and so on and yet I have not exhausted them and they are raring to burst through to the surface. I think it’s quite natural that they will tend to burst through that particular patch which I have not explored sufficiently. So it’s like I have become rather bored with saying the same thing in a particular medium and since the themes do not appear to be exhausted, they force their way through a medium in which I don’t normally operate. That enables me to be creative and inventive. The medium gave me a totally new scope, a plenum of expression which triggers off even different approaches to the same themes. Sometimes the form controls, or at least it galvanises, the emergence of themes or story itself. Beyond that, I have no other explanation. But the novel has been dying to get out for donkey years until I found a congenial space to start writing it, thanks to Manthia Diawara of New York University for making his cottage in Yene, Senegal, available and former president of Ghana John Kufuor and Addo, his son, for hosting me in their place in the hills of Aburi, Ghana. The tranquility of those places helped me to completely detach myself from the very oppressive Nigerian situations which kept invading my creative space in Abeokuta. You know, that first step is always the most difficult part. Once I was able to do that, then it just came far more easily. Once I entered into it, I couldn’t tear myself away from the work until I got to the stage where I could call my publishers and say, I think I have a novel. How soon can you publish? That’s a glorious moment.

KA: In ‘’African literature and the CIA’’, a lengthy monograph, written by Caroline Davis, published on 14 December 2020, Juliana Spahr is quoted as saying that you had “unusually close ties to the US government even to the point of frequently meeting with US intelligence in the late 1970s.” What were you meeting the CIA intelligence about?

WS: It beats me! You know, there’s something weird about my life, about my existence, that each time I think I’ve arrived at some point where I can relax, just do things that I want, in my own order, sequence of undertaking priorities, this kind of painful distraction will just crop up. It is true that after this novel I planned to move straight to work on my essays and new poems and so forth. No pressure , I thought. Then along came an aspect of my life I never knew anything about, and so another chapter has begun because, obviously, I must now set aside my immediate plans and tackle this new Wole Soyinka whom I’m meeting for the first time, this man who meets frequently with the US intelligence, CIA— to give it its normal acronym. Let me tell you for now: I am going to pursue these women, Caroline Davis and Juliana Saphr, to the ends of the earth and into the pit of hell until they reveal to the world, when and where I was meeting CIA agents. What were we discussing? What was the purpose? Who introduced us in the first place? I want to know when I was recruited. I want to know how much I was being paid? I want to know my pension scheme? Although I’ve been fighting to collect my pension in Nigeria, as you know, over the past 15 years, I’m going to push that one aside. Forget that one. I repeat: I’m going to pursue Caroline Davis and Juliana Saphr to the ends of the earth and into the very pit of hell until they provide answers to those questions. The rest of that article, of course, will be treated on the academic level. We are going to organise a seminar in Harvard University, where I’m a fellow, as soon as COVID-19 allows everybody. These two women will be invited to repeat all the things they have written down; to repeat their inferences which are free. All humanity is free to make inferences out of anything including the sculpture sitting next you; you can make a thousand inferences. That is freedom of expression, freedom of imagination, the analytic freedom of the academic world. But, when it comes to statement of fact, they will be put to the utmost rigour, if necessary, in an international court of law. The battle is joined. The Republic of liars has now extended from Nigeria to the United States.

I can tell you that these women have disrupted my programme, my normal schedule again— yet again. Something always does, but eventually I get round to doing what I set out, but what a waste of time. What a waste of energy at my age that I have to deal with this kind of rubbish! Although it is not only about me, but I have been picked as the arrowhead for the most putrid, insolent and asinine attack. To show you the nature of these so-called scholars we are talking about, to show you how dishonest, how lacking in integrity they obviously are, Davis on page 7 writes: “Authors within this network who were direct recipients of CIA patronage included Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Esk’ia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi, John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, Christopher Okigbo, Dennis Brutus, Alex La Guma, Grace Okot, Kofi Awoonor, and Ama Ata Aidoo and, to a lesser extent, Ngugi and Head.” You see how they have brought the cream of that generation of writers to imply that they never merited their status on their own, and that they were creatures of CIA. Me, of course, as Mr Principal CIA.

But keep that in mind and listen to another passage on page 42.Davis writes: “Shortly before this, in April 1967, further revelations of the CIA investment in anti-communist operations worldwide were published in the US magazine Ramparts, and the allegations were confirmed in an article by former CIA officer, Tom Braden, in The Saturday Evening Post of May 1967. This was evidently the moment that Soyinka became aware that he had been covertly funded by the CIA via the Transcription Centre.” I’m going to go back to the first statement. Listen: “Authors within this network who were direct recipients of CIA patronage…” that is on page 7. Then, Page 42: “This is the time when Soyinka became aware that he had been covertly (in other words, secretly) funded by the CIA via the Transcription Centre.”These are the kind of scholars we are dealing with. But now, a new work has been imposed on me, when I’m supposed to be enjoying Christmas, New Year and so on. I accept this new fight. But they should prepare because I’m following them to the ends of the earth and to the pit of hell until I get retraction.

 


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