Exiled Nobel Laureate Assesses His Troubled Land African Playwright Wole Soyinka Speaks Up about Nigeria's Conflicts

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Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Now in exile from his native Nigeria, where a military coup has eclipsed democracy, Soyinka considers Nigeria's history and future in his most recent book, "The Open Sore of a Continent." In it, he calls for the global community to address the issue of nationhood. Monitor Radio's Sara Terry interviewed Soyinka while he was visiting Atlanta. Below are excerpts from their discussion.

Mr. Soyinka, you ask, when is a nation or how or why is a nation in your book. Why is that question so important?

First of all, let me say that it's a question that has been provoked in me subjectively as a result of the experience of my own country, Nigeria.

The persecution you faced, your political activism ...

No, no, no - not the personal. By 'subjectively' I mean what is happening to the entirety of the nation.... But in addition, what has happened to the nation is happening at the same time to other so-called nations. I mentioned Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Yugoslavia, it is just {worldwide}... What I have done really is articulate the realities which we're facing toward the end of this millennium.

You referred to the month of June 1993 as "witnessing both the birth and the death of the Nigerian nation." The birth occurred when Nigerians crossed regional and ethnic lines to democratically elect a president, and then some 10 days later, the death of the Nigerian nation as you described, that occurred when military dictators overturned those elections results. How would you characterize Nigeria today?

...I don't recognize the Nigeria of the '60s in today's Nigeria. Just after it had become independent and immediately before it became independent in the '50s and '60s, this was a land of hope, of optimism, of pride even. Both during the anticolonial struggle and immediately afterwards, there was a will toward nation-building. All that has been shattered by a succession of blows delivered by different groups of people with hegemonic interests.

What is at the root of that problem or of that transformation in Nigeria? Does it date back to European colonialism or does it have more to do with the regimes that have been in power?

It's a combination of the two things. First of all, it was an artificial construct from the beginning, but that is nothing unusual. And it's a question of the will of the various entities, nation entities incidently within that particular geographical space. It depends on their will to make it work. And that will did exist up to a certain time, in shall we say the '60s, but there was also a kind of self-destruct insertion by the departing colonial powers. The British were determined to rule Nigeria in their own way and therefore they made some very dishonest alliances with the feudalist element. …