|Reviews of Nobel Prize winner|||||Comments on all Shakespeare's plays|||||Poetry reviews|||||Multiple reviews of same author|||||Haiti books||||
A reminder of where Nigeria is: It is on the horn of Africa.
To the west is Benin
To the south is the Atlantic Ocean
To the north is Niger
To the east is Cameroon
This set of essays is not an easy task for one not already familiar with the history of Nigeria from the early days of its post-colonial struggles. One would need a long score-card of principals in the struggles and also some decent history of this period in Nigeria.
I have neither. However, after having read this often very gripping work, I believe I have at least gained a decent foothold on what the key issues of the period were. For me that’s an advancement of understanding making the careful reading of the book to have been a worthwhile endeavor.
I offer below a brief summary of the essays in this volume.
In 1994, with Major Paul Okutimo in power there was a serious suppression of the people of Ogoni region. The area was rich in oil. Soyinka sees this as a prelude to the rest of Nigeria in the following years.
June 23, 1993 elections had betrayed the nation. Effectively a dictatorship was installed. Soyinka sees a plot afoot to “Ogonise” the whole of the south.
Abacha then assumed power in November 1993 and Soyinka is fearing for the worst.
This is a fascinating essay on the difficulty of establishing and defining a “nation.”
However, Soyinka is very worried that at the time of this essay he has a fear that
“. . . we may actually be witnessing a nation on the verge of extinction.”
In the essay he is concerned with what really makes a nation a nation. If one looks at history one sees brute force with international recognition.
He provides compelling examples from recent history – the creation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh out of the previous India and other such examples.
“. . . European imperialist powers who parceled out the African nations among themselves, separating ancient communities and yoking others together with not so much as a look at the humanity that actually peopled and cultivated the contested land.”
The question of “when is a nation a nation?” is central. After many examples of such disputes he concludes:
“. . . national status has never been absolute or a constant, and it has ever followed the politics of conflict, interest, alliances, power and even accident.”
He denies any notion of objective and “true” nationhood. It is always a social and temporal construct.
For Nigeria he sees the question as:
“. . . we must also not neglect to decide the precise nature of the problematic: That is, are we trying to keep Nigeria a nation? Or are we trying to make it one? The difference is crucial.”
He denies any notions of objective or “true” nation
June 12, 1993 is the critical date of the election setting up the current Nigeria.
The title is useful to keep in mind in reading this longish essay constantly referring to the failures of the establishment of the new “Nigeria.” It sort of reads like a constant indictment of the government, yet it is more a sober history of regrettable days, perhaps a necessary and expected period.
This essay is an “interlude” on the “spoils of office”, and the spoils of “power.”
Soyinka details the leadership of the Buhari-Shagari gangster-like gang who used violence and threats to control the spoils of Nigeria for the unscrupulous leaders who took their positions of privilege to be rights of birth.
It’s a very familiar story, so often achieved by extreme physical violence and murder in many lands and in some more sophisticated nations such as the U.S., where the “control” of nations can be achieved via wealth, through wealth is perceived to be “legal means.”
In this essay he will:
“Let is recapitulate, but placing the emphasis this time on the interior mechanics of the national space, especially as it provides for or deprives the inmates of the means to life, self-worth, and productive existence.”
I find the use of the term for citizens, “inmates” above, to be quite telling.
He points out that often the development planned by government is masked in the language of “for the good of the people” or even “this people” or “this region.” Yet he sees project after project seemingly to have little regard to the well-being of the masses of the people in any sense at all.
In this essay he keeps coming back to Nigeria’s working to host the 1995 junior World Cup of soccer championships, which ignored the good of the masses.
This sounded very much like this year’s World Cup sponsored by Brazil where all the hype was about how good this was for the people and it became an economic and ecological disaster.
He is focusing here on the major coup that occurred on June 23, 1993, just 11 days after the national elections of 1993 seemed to give great hope to Nigeria.
The nation had decided its future and its leaders, but General Ibrahim Babangida stepped in to annul the elections and established himself as the supreme leader.
The power of the dictator dominated. Yet the author feels the necessity to pledge his allegiance to Nigeria herself:
“. . . I accept Nigeria as a duty . . . I am bound to collaborate with fellow occupants in the pursuit of justice and ethical life, to establish a guaranteed access for all to the resources it produces, and to thwart every tendency in any group to act against that determined common denominator of a rational social existence.”
At this time there were government sponsored attempts in Rwanda of genocide. He worries very much about this happening in Nigeria or a long-lasting dictatorship being established.
He leaves this essay in a worried and especially pessimistic mood.
On May 21, 1994 four leaders in the Ogoni region were murdered, gunned down.
Despite clear evidence from national and international sources of an attempted cover-up, the government found writer Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 other officials guilty of killing the four Ogoni chiefs.
Soyinka published a protest and counter-argument in London’s Guardian newspaper, arguing that this was a show trial.
However, on November 10, 1994 an execution of Saro Wiwa was carried out.
Soyinka argues that it was the Ruling Council who had Saro Wiwa killed as part of its plot to take over the Ogoni oil fields.Bob Corbett email@example.com
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org