Cornelius Segun Ojo writes about Wole Soyinka’s penchant for the use of abusive words on people he dislikes without moral restraint
‘The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know’ (Napoleon Bonaparte)
In 2006, I authored a piece titled: Gani Fawehinmi: A Reappraisal (see http://dawodu.com/ojo1.htm). I warned the chief that he risked his hard earned integrity over his emotional support for Nuhu Ribadu’s nonsensical anti-corruption war. Though I feared some cosmetic supporters of the chief might resort to the now prevalent ‘eebu tins’ (verbal abuse), but I went ahead believing that as a Gani’s disciple, I was qualified to say something. As we all can see, I was vindicated, as the ‘smart alec’ Ribadu joined the train he hitherto condemned.
Currently, I find myself in the same situation, joining issues with Professor Wole Soyinka, WS for short. He was one of those credible people I dangerously followed during the military era and whose leadership at the time strengthened the resolve of hundreds of Nigerian youths who believed him to confront state agents, even in the face of death. Unlike in Fawehinmi’s case, I surely expect ‘eebu tins’ this time, because a section of our society would see WS as the proverbial king who does no wrong, even when the king tramples on the society.
Before now, I had wanted to comment on WS’s disparaging remarks on fellow humans, the recent being the interview granted the abrasive online medium – Sahara Reporters on Achebe’s death. I was appalled to read WS dismiss those he considered lesser in knowledge with unkind words. Lashing out at those who felt Achebe was a ‘father of African Literature’, he described them as ‘silly’ and being of ‘parlous knowledge’. Dismissing Adewale Maja-Pearce’s work in particular, WS branded him an ‘inept hustler’ and a ‘sterile literary aspirant.’
WS can only find time to read Nigerian literature on ‘Lagos Traffic’ and most times tempted to ‘toss some out of his car window’. I concluded that WS being a giant could go away with his angry diatribe – that is what it means to be a giant – look down on others. But again, I felt that while younger writers may never measure up to WS’s standards, great teachers I believe, don’t throw away the works of others but encourage them through constructive criticism. I wonder how many students will not drop out of WS’s hell of a class, where students have to shift through the bin to collect their works instead of a constructive feedback.
Barely forgetting that episode, another issue, more embarrassing to WS compelled me to pick up my pen. It was at a press briefing in Lagos recently where WS took the First Lady to the cleaners on the altar of Nigeria’s ‘roforofo’ (muddy) politics. Among other unscrupulous tirades, WS described Mrs. Patience Jonathan as a ‘mere domestic appendage of power’. I was horrified that such a retrogressive remark came from WS at a time efforts are being made globally to perish the thought that a woman is worth not more than a domestic assistant. Though I started writing to express my dismay, I had to abandon the journey, fearing the ‘eebu tins’. However, the courage to return to the issue arose when again, WS called the First Lady ‘Madam Shepopotamus’.
Thus, with the latest dirty lexicon, I concluded that WS breached public etiquette (The Yoruba culture frowns seriously at abusing somebody with his/her attribute/s – eebu ara). I reckoned that even if the ‘golden boy’ Amaechi is WS’s son, the fact that he is born of a woman and that that woman must surely resemble Mrs. Jonathan, was enough for WS to show passion. Again, the fact that Mrs. Jonathan is a mother to some children meant she shouldn’t have been so debased and humiliated for political reasons. More importantly, that she is the wife of the president was compelling enough for WS to respect the society she and the president represent.
Culturally, it is indisputable that our society does not condone assault of any kind on womanhood. When a family brawls and the elders wade in, the man always take the bashings for being so ‘poor and disgraceful’ to engage the wife in a public ‘show of shame’. As a school boy, I also can vividly recall that the greatest offence you can commit in school was to beat up a girl, to which punishment of a hard labour sufficed. Beyond Nigeria, almost everywhere, no society condones the type of attack WS gleefully visited on the First Lady. It’s all so strange. It’s not because womanhood is faultless, but it is because the woman carries such enormous responsibilities – immeasurable at that, for the society that her failings are treated with caution and decorum whenever correction is inevitable.