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TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE VISION OF NIGERIA

by

WOLE SOYINKA


Text of speech by Wole Soyinka given at the recently concluded Summit of Nigerian Pro-Democracy groups, held simultaneously in Johannesburg and in Oslo on Friday to Sunday, 29th to 31st March, 1996. The United Democratic Front of Nigeria, UDFN, a new umbrella organization, was formed at the Summit.


We are not a conquered people. We are not, and have never been a conquered people. True, there are portions within that geographical space known as Nigeria that have fallen under the yoke of conquest by alien, imperial forces, as well as areas that have known conquest from aggressive and expansionist sections from within that same geographical space now known as Nigeria. This is all within the normal run' of a people's history. A form of entity, a common identity has resulted from these various political vicissitudes however, one that we refer to, today, for better or worse as - Nigerian. This is the shared nation entity to which I refer when I insist that we are not a conquered people. No force has yet attempted to, or succeeded in conquering the people that we identify today as- Nigerians.

We are however, today, a subjugated people. And this is where the mystery lies. Who are these forces that hold ninety to a hundred million people under subjugation? Are they perhaps the inheritors of those imperial forces that succeeded in subduing bits and pieces of that space known as Nigeria? Those bits and pieces, we know, were filled out, amalgamated with others through all forms of agreements treaties and other chicaneries, force of habit, consent by default, often imperceptible motions of trading agreements and resource exploitation that coalesced into deceptive relationships such as protectorates none of these arrangements at any time handed over the control of that new entity, Nigeria, to any internal power acting in their own interest, or in the interest of the departing colonial powers.

If there was a formal amalgamation, and of course, we do know that there was one, in 1914, that amalgamation itself was based less on any reality of conquest than on the habit of administration. In short, the amalgamation was devoid of a formal agreement between the constituent parts - which were themselves only parcels of administered territories, not cohesive nation entities. If the peoples themselves agreed to stay within this new artificial structure, it was not done through the imperative of conquest, but constituted an act of negotiated consent, based on solid rules of interraction. None of these rules, however microscopically examined, reflect any terms of conquest, domination and subjugation. If there was coercion, it emanated from an alien entity from which control was eventually wrested by the nationalist struggle, one that ended the administrative fiction of a Space called Nigeria and implicitly endorsed, for the first time, the existence of a people known as Nigerians.

It was this nation entity, Nigeria, that became capable, for the first time, of entering freely into treaties with other nation groupings. It was this nation entity, Nigeria that, immediately after independence, repudiated the Defence Pact which had been imposed upon her by the British government as a condition of independence. It is those people, Nigerians that we insist today have never known conquest. Yet, today, as we speak, they are a people under subjugation

Now who are these creatures exactly that place them under subjugation? Are they perhaps surrogates, inheritors of the old colonial order? If they are, then we must recognise that the labour that we imagined was completed in 1960 is by no means over, and that the labour must resume. If they are invaders from outer space, then we must evolve a space-age strategy that will dislodge them and send them spiralling back into the black hole that spewed them. If however, we discover that they are none other than members of our own nation entity, endowed with neither the authority of historic conquest nor the voluntary empowerment by the people, then they must be recognised for what they are - common felons, and thieves - for what they have done is to steal from a common resource that was entrusted to them, and convert it into an instrument of subjugation against the collective owners.

The army is a creation, and a property of the people. It is established to serve and to defend the people and safeguard their nation space. Even where nations have come into being as a fruit of conquest, such histories have proved to be ephemeral, incomplete. A cycle of restitution has merely been initiated, one that will become complete only when the people, the authentic constituents of the nation entity recover their own being, melt down the power-spawned aliens in their midst into the common purpose of existence and redraw the lines of relationship along egalitarian precepts. This process of reckoning is not peculiar to any one part of the globe - we read the authentic history of the world today in many of the infernoes that have engulfed once placid states, exploded even centuries old mythifications that have sustained alienated power. The only question that remains is: are we prepared to take our instruction from these incontestable patterns of socio-political being of nations? Or do we wait until a Rwanda, a Yugoslavia or a Cherchyna blows up in our complacent faces?

Nigeria appears, alas, to be poised on the brink of the latter option. If we have a purpose here today, it is to address our collective minds to methods for the avoidance of that option. But let us clarify firstly, in plain terms, and in relation to what has been tried till now, what these collective minds represent, and what they do not. There would be no point in assembling here, at such great pains, a free-for-all, irreconciliable divergence of political attitudes to the present crisis. Obviously, there will be differences in our concepts of approaches to solutions but, it is our expectation that those who are assembled here are agreed on a number of minimal principles, the very core of which is the rapid termination, not merely of the existence of the present bunch of military ptedators, but of military interventionism in Nigeria for all time.

I believe that we have agreed to assemble here because we can neither understand nor accept the contradictory motions of the political class, its collaborationist approach with those who have placed our people under the most brutal subjugation in our history as Nigerians, as earlier defined. We are appalled by the failure of understanding of the enemy that leads to a gathering of the political class actually appointing a 2l-man delegation to request audience with a military junta in order to discuss how such a junta - which has shown such stark, contemptuous resolve to remain in power- can be persuaded to leave. Needless to say, this approach was publicly derided by the junta's yes-men, and the emissaries thoroughly humiliated.

I believe that we have agreed to meet here because, between the five-year transition plan of Sani Abacha, dishonestly described as a three-year plan, and the one-year transition plan outlined by Chief Tony Enahoro, the Vice-President of the National Democratic Coalition of Nigeria, we believe that the latter respresents the absolute, outside temporal concession that we are prepared to make towards the military, and that we would indeed prefer that the military depart today, hand over power to the President-elect who would run a transition goveratment of National Unity, leading to the next elections.

I believe that we have agreed to assemble here because we recognise that there cannot be peace in that nation, Nigeria, while a former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, his former deputy Shehu Yar'Adua, Beko Ransome-Kuti, chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, Chris Anyawu, Colonel Gwadabe and scores of others are held under sentences of long years in prison, after universally denounced secret trials for a coup attempt that was manufactured by the present junta in order to rid itself of perceived opponents and champions of the democratic movement.

We have consented to be present here because Frank Kokori secretary-general of the Petroleum workers union, and hundreds of trade unionists from all the nation's productive sectors are incarcerated in different corners of the nation, without trial, without contact with their families, accused of no crime but agitating for social, political and economic justice. We are here because we will not accept a dispensation that permits the torture of our kind, the hostage taking of relations of wanted opponents of govemment, state inspired murders and attempted murders of Chief Alfred Rewane, Alex Ibru, Gani Fawehinmi etc. We have set ourselves our present task because we cannot accept that the President-elect of the Nigerian nation, Moshood M.K.O. Abiola, should be kept from executing the freely given mandate of the Nigerian people. We are assembled because we are resolved to unearth the bones of seventy-three non-commissioned officers who were secretly executed near Abuja, at the Lower Usman dam on March 18, 1994, soldiers whose names were added to the list of fatalities and "Missing in Action" in Liberia and other areas where our peace-keeping forces are in action. We propose to demonstrate that our soldiers do not deserve such cynical treachery nor their profession be reduced to such a costly and cynical travesty of command.

We are here because we seek to build a nation where such dark deeds are no longer permitted, are no longer conceivable.

In the process, we believe that we have a responsibility to inform the outside world that those who wish to impose a double standard in their consideration of our plight, those who take sadistic pleasure in reducing us to second class citizens of the world, are enemies of all humanity, yellow, black and white. Along the way, we must remind the apologists of the Abacha regime, especially our own black brothers from the United States of America, that they are traitors to their own history, and captives of a chronic slave mentality. That any self-declared leader of the black peoples of the United States of America should declare, in the dying years of the twentieth century that the most populous black nation in the world requires the plague of dictatorship for its progress, even for its very existence, simply warns us that emancipation is a mere word, a mere rhetorical condition to a handful of demagogic representatives of our race on that continent. It warns us that emancipation as the profound state of being, as the true, mental and spiritual condition of free being, is alien to their conceptual powers. Given the chance, such spokesmen and women would collaborate in the second enslavement of our continent, in order to experience the vicarious thrill of power. Let all those who wine and dine with our oppressors, who trumpet virtues of dictatorship that exist only in their own sated bellies remember that some day, this struggle will be over, and that history will assign them their richly deserved spaces in the records of our liberated peoples.

Our task here is not to produce an agreement in all details of strategy, but we shall not leave without a definite plan of action, one that is time-specific. We do not intend, in a mere two days, to weld together differing philosophies and visions of the participating groups, yet we are duty bound to create a unified body for the democratic forces of the nation. We are obliged to search out what each group does best, so that we can launch the new organisation on its task of assigning responsibilities that correspond to their past records and future potential. The task of this technical team is to structure a unified front that will serve as a clearing house for the distribution of those responsibilities and for generating resources for their execution. It must work out modalities of collaboration and productive activity, including the techical facilitation of our goals. We live, after all, in a modern age, and we must harness all the resources of technology towards our goals. The time has come to ground all differences of detail, and merge all capabilitites for a maximal effectiveness.

Towards this end, let me state clearly that NALICON, the National Liberation Council of Nigeria is cornmitted to submerging its identity under any such organisation, committed to placing at its disposal all assets and liabilities - alas, mostly liabilities! - and assist it to emerge and function in full integrity. We support this development because, among other reasons, it has been imputed in some circles that we stand in the way of constructive dialogue, that our activities impede the success of some serious initiatives. Indeed, matters have gone so far that we are even accused of being responsible, through our tactics, for the continued incarceration of the President-Elect and other democratic victims of the Abacha regime. We deny this of course, and vehemently. We consider it a cynical dimension of the duplicity and procrastinating ploys of the Abacha regime. Still, it would appear that some international friends of the Nigerian people are persuaded that their quieter initiatives with the junta will bear quicker fruit if movements like NALICON would participate in the creation of a new body, one with a more inclusive orientation. We are more than willing to put to the test the faith and commitment of intercessors in such an undertaking. We do have a time-sense however, and such supportive bodies should understand that it is not we, but the long-suffering people of Nigeria, that now place them on strict notice. My final task as the Political Spokesman of NALICON is therefore to facilitate the emergence of the United Democratic Front for Nigeria - or whatever title is eventually adopted by the twin conferences taking place simultaneously over this weekend, separated by more than the expanse of this continent

Let me thank our hosts for this meeting, made possible by the non-governmental South Africa-Nigeria Democracy Support Group. History often commences not with a flourish, not with bravura, but with the small gesture, often indeed, a mere statement of intent. If this meeting does no more than galvanise and unity ihe progressive forces of our nation, reduce their sense of aloneness, of abandonment, it would still be a psychological shot in the arm, whose concrete results will become apparent only after the event. To be a visionary is unfashionable we know, in the sphere of realpolitick, and the task is made even more utopian when any grouping seeks to identity and structure, among others, a practical, sustainable vision. For a nation that has sunk so low however, one that has squandered its potential in a way that criminalises almost every citizen by the mere act of belonging, we have nothing left to lose but the loftiness of our vision. That vision, a sustainable one, must inform the laying of the foundations of a new Nigeria. It is a project that will commence at this and at its twin meeting, and the people of South Africa will have cause to be proud, at the end, to have midwifed such a beginning.

Wole Soyinka


End of excerpt from "THE NIGERIAN DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT (NDM)"



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