Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, in this interview with Success Nwogu, published in The Punch Newspaper, addresses topical national issues
A lot of Nigerians still wonder why you chose to endorse the candidature of Muhammadu Buhari. Why did you do that?
I was exercising my democratic right.
So, how do you see Buhari as someone who is competent to rule this country?
Let us put it this way, if this country had gone on the way it was going, the way things were shaping up; if this nation had continued for another two years, in fact, I will say, it would not have lasted two years. So the word, ‘change’ for me, was not a slogan. It is not a mere slogan. The nation needed new hands at the wheels of governance. That is quite clear.
In essence, you are saying that the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan did not do well and could have plunged the nation into ruins?
Mr. Journalist, do not try to put words in my mouth. Listen to and report exactly what I tell you. This country could not have survived another two years, in my view, in my assessment in so many directions if the status quo had been maintained for another two years.
Since Buhari has been inaugurated, are you part of those who think he should have hit the ground running by making all the necessary appointments?
I believe that any incoming political leader, anybody at the head of government should be given at least a little time to develop his own rhythm. I do not think it is right to impose one’s own sense of governance rhythm on anyone. This county was not coming from ground zero. This new administration is not just getting in at ground zero, but somewhere below zero. So I think, we should just give some little time for any incoming government to find its pace, decide its own priorities. I have mine, you have yours. Everybody here has his or her priorities. In fact, mine changes all the time, depending on whether electricity is flowing or it is not flowing. So let us just give the government a little time.
In your opinion, who do you expect to see in Buhari’s cabinet?
I do not answer questions like that.
Do you think the diplomatic shuttle by Buhari to Niger and Chad is capable of defeating Boko Haram?
That is an answer to an earlier question which you posed. Obviously, Boko Haram is very much on his mind and constitutes a priority.
But some people have said that he should stop seeking for outside help?
This is exactly how we got into this mess because we did not seek help at the right time. If we had sought outside help when those girls were kidnapped, things would not have been the same. But it was too late. They would have been rescued if help was sought at the proper time or necessary actions had been taken. So we dragged our feet and I heard statements like ‘oh this is a national problem, we will solve our own problem.’ So there is cynical false pride. And when lives are at stake and the future of our children is at stake, people should swallow their pride and look for help because that becomes not just a national priority, it becomes a humanistic priority. So, if he wants to travel round the entire globe in order to solve the issue of Boko Haram, please just let him do so.
Some people are of the opinion that Buhari would have done well if he is able to tackle just power and security, do you share such view?
In how many days do you want him to tackle those problems? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, how many years did he stay there, looking for a third term and electricity still did not flow? Now you want Buhari to start giving you electricity right now. When was he inaugurated? Just May 29.
Conversely some may be of the opinion that if Jonathan had concentrated on tackling just power and security, he would have done better. May we know your view?
Ahh!! That is a very simple question to answer. The answer is yes!
Do you have any suggestion for Buhari on how to deal with pressing issues of security, power and oil and gas?
But you are one of the fathers of the nation. You may have an idea.
I am not omniscient. Just leave this government. And I would say the same; there is so much mess already. Let him take his time, take his stand and fix his own priorities but make sure that he concentrates on them. I say that about any incoming regime. I want to make that clear, I say that about any incoming regime, whether I approve of that regime or not is irrelevant.
Do you agree with the opinion that Buhari should trim down the size of his cabinet to reduce cost of governance?
The system we are running is too expensive. I will say it again and again. I would like to see it revamped completely. We cannot afford this system. So the issue of a large cabinet or a small cabinet is contingent on the fact on the system you are running.
For instance, constitutionally, apparently, he is obliged to observe geographical spread. Can you imagine that? You do not run a country like that! So the constitution we are running is, in fact part of the problem; a major problem. We need a system of change, a total systemic revamp. That is my view.
The government has started pleading with Nigerians to be patient, that the problems confronting the nation cannot be solved overnight. Do you blame them?
You have just more or less answered that question. Nigerians sometime want to sprint without even getting running shoes. So opinion could differ. But I am saying that it is too early in my view. It is just too early for people to form that drastic opinion like that.
Some people feel that you may be constrained to criticise the government of the All Progressives Congress because your son is an appointee of the party in Ogun State. Is that correct?
My son is up to 21 years. He can go in any direction. I had a daughter who was in Obasanjo’s cabinet.She was an adviser on refugee problems. What my children do is of no relevance in how I think or what I do. Everybody is grown up. We all have our different ways. So it has nothing to do with me.
What is the relationship between you and former governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi as you never criticised him?
I never criticised him? Are you sure about that? Did you ever read everything I have written about him? I can remember immediately a couple of criticisms I made about him when he was in government.
But you were very close to his government?
I like him. I like him. The man is great. He was very courageous and I am proud to say that. I like what he did and what he said.
Generally what is your assessment of the last elections?
I am going to wait. You know elections are not over yet. As long as the tribunals are still sitting, elections are not over. I just hope those who rigged, especially those who rigged violently, are very drastically punished. I think, it is about time, we learnt to be very straightforward with elections. There were killings, you know, killings during that election. Can you imagine in 2015, we ran an election and some people were slaughtering one another?
What is your impression about Kwara State University, Malette as the guest lecturer of its third convocation?
Well, the university so far is what I call work-in-progress. What I can discern is planning. Obviously, it is not an ad-hoc approach. I can see definitely some comprehensive planning. That is all I can say about the institution as at the moment.
Many Nigerians are concerned that the standard of education is falling. What is your view? And what are the solutions if you agree that the standard of education is falling?
I agree. It is apparent. This is a terrible truth. I just hope that there will be a transformation.
Transformation in which area?
Transformation in terms of education. I mean about the various disciplines. Because I speak with my colleagues in various disciplines and what applies to the Humanities in any instance, simply applies to the Sciences. It is lack of material for experiment in the sciences; the libraries are sub-standard in many instances. There is shortage of academic publications such that lecturers in some cases cannot keep up with the latest developments in their disciplines. So most of the money which should go towards building of the institutions, is being cornered by private individuals who are now, I believe, setting up institutions which are better equipped and better staffed than what you might call the public institution.