WHEN WOLE SOYINKA, the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, ascends a podium to deliver a keynote speech at a gathering where the great, the good and the political creatures in Nigeria assemble, one expects the 77-year-old, who has lost none of his dry, acerbic wit, to tell stinging truth to power. And that is exactly what "Kongi", as Soyinka is known to his friends, did in the riverside town of Asaba, Delta State, at an economic summit organised by the BRACED Commission, a grouping of Nigeria's six Niger Delta States (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta) in April, which took place at the exact time terrorists blew up the Abuja and Kaduna offices of This Day newspaper.
"There is ... the affliction of [political] illegitimacy--the dubious legitimacy of a large percentage of representatives of the people's supposed political will at the centre, at the federal and national assemblies and even in the lodges of executive governors," Soyinka bluntly said, with the six host governors sitting in the front row.
"Even in a 75% 'perfect' election, properly conducted, a vast number of the present tonourables', senators and governors, could never have caught the sheerest whiff of the wood varnish on the seats they now occupy."
You could see the "honourables" shifting in their seats. But it was Kongi's comments on the growing menace of terrorism, particularly in Northern Nigeria, which were the most poignant.
"The rejects, even of hell, have indeed been let loose, but many prefer to shy away from the question: who let them loose? How long was the present scenario in preparation? For how long was the mindset of its direct perpetrators nurtured, for how long were impressionable minds doctored, warped and then homicidally refocused?
"This is a basic enquiry that should precede all else. However, the nation has elected, in the main, to climb aboard the conveyance of evasion, bound for the bunker of denial.
"Those who unleashed the denizens of hell are among us, they did not come from outer space, they are known, and they know where their myrmidons retreat, while they prepare their next outrage on the populace."
Soyinka's words were sharp enough to move retired General Andrew Azazi, the national security adviser (NSA) to President Goodluck Jonathan, who in a blunt manner uncharacteristic of men in his sensitive position, blamed undemocratic internal practices within the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) for stoking the searing furnace of terrorism.
"The PDP got it wrong from the beginning, by saying Mr A can rule and Mr B cannot rule, according to the PDP convention rules and regulations, and not according to the [Nigerian] constitution. That created the climate of what is happening and manifesting in the country today," Azazi boldly said, knowing he was going to ruffle several influential feathers.
"What we are experiencing today started several years ago but we did not realise it, but we have started to make sure that we take some fire-brigade approach to find the solution."
Whilst several bigwigs in the PDP, unsurprisingly stung by Azazi's statement, demanded that he resign or be summarily fired by President Jonathan, the latter was coy in his response to the furore triggered by the NSA's words.
"I don't believe undemocratic practices in the PDP could give rise to Boko Haram or any other groups. So, probably people need to ask the NSA to explain what he really meant," Jonathan said.
But an informed source, with access to the president, told New African it was unlikely Azazi would have made such a provocative statement without clearing it first with his boss. "Azazi is a man that did not get to his position by speaking out of turn. I would be very surprised if the president did not tacitly approve of the message and just pretended not to have had foreknowledge of what he was going to say at the summit," the source said. …