Wole Soyinka on Obama's Choice
The Nobel Laureate dissects the message the president's trip to Ghana should send to the corrupt and failing states of Africa.
Obama’s pronouncements indicate quite clearly that he would be the first to admit that his own nation is past master of corruption, both in its conduct at home and abroad, but he can boast that the Enrons, the Andersons and the Madoffs are mere hostages of time, that sooner or later, they end up behind bars. Obama knows that the contrary is the case with Nigeria, that the Madoff-Enron breed will be presented as the leading citizens of the Nigerian nation, feted countrywide, that after their openly inglorious careers in and out of office, thanksgiving services are held for them in church and mosque, that it is such should-be social pariahs that will be lined up for formal handshakes and photo-ops with him, photos that they will proudly bequeath to their children and grandchildren, hang on their gilded walls and pillars of criminal impunity to the eternal glorification of decadence. He has chosen wisely to go with the modest, unassuming flag-bearer of the redemptive theology of change.
The homecoming son knows that the Delta, Nigeria’s sole economic provider, for which all prior and potential modes of productivity have been jettisoned, is up in flames. I have wondered sometimes, by the way, whether it is a coincidence that one of the handful of officers of which the Nigerian army can be truly proud, now a retired colonel, has taken to ostrich farming not far from Abuja, the seat of government. It cannot be by accident. Sooner or later, I think he reasons, the occupants of So Rock, and the profligate “representatives” of the Nigerian people in the legislative houses will recognize the message of the ostrich, its fabled habit of burying its head in the sand of unconcern while the wind ruffles and exposes its behind. These days, it is no longer the wind, it is the fire, and only the ostrich does not yet recognize that its rear feathers are aflame. That is the lesson of the Delta uprising.
Sometimes it is necessary to spell things out for the megaphones of, and pretenders to, the mantle of leadership: What the Delta insurgents are saying to the uncaring state is that the present conflict goes beyond the decades-old contemptuous neglect of the goose that lays the golden egg.
They are annunciating, in clear terms, that a system that siphons off an obscene percentage of the national revenue to sustain the rites, rituals and member lifestyles of legislative houses, is ultimately unsustainable. They are serving notice—and their publicized manifestos adds up to no less—that the Nigerian state is itself untenable as presently constituted and governed, and must be taken apart, then re-assembled; this time in a manner that reflects the true aspirations and entitlements of the components and providers of that artificial entity. They are pointing out a noticeable constant: That time and time again, even when an incoming national leader has earlier promised no less than a drastic overhaul, no sooner does he settle into that power base than he proceeds to shore up and consolidate a cracked and collapsing edifice. This he does—the pattern has become predictable and boring—by a modest redistribution among a restricted, conniving elite, but most often by an unscrupulous conversion of state power, brutal repression, political assassinations and divisive strategies. This was what the nation suffered—yet again—during the eight years of misrule of the last incumbent, a supposedly born again Democrat and assiduous Bible-thumper. This, in sum, is the extraction, implicit or overt in pronouncements, by the Delta insurgents.