Prof. Wole Spyinka
Ike Abonyi with agency report
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has backed his literary colleague, Prof. Chinua Achebe, in the raging controversy over the roles of some prominent Nigerians during the Nigerian civil war.
Soyinka, in an interview published in The Telegraph of London, but obtained by THISDAY yesterday, said the Igbo were victims of genocide during the three-year civil war, which was fought to break up Nigeria.
Achebe had stirred the hornet’s nest in his civil war memoir, “There Was A Country”, when among others, he accused wartime Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and the then Finance Minister, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, of carrying out a genocide against the Igbo.
The claim has generated considerable controversy, with many commentators accusing Achebe of re-writing history.
Soyinka, however, justified the secession bid and described Biafrans as “people who’d been abused, who’d undergone genocide, and who felt completely rejected by the rest of the community, and therefore decided to break away and form a nation of its own.”
He also condemned religious militancy, saying now is the time to tackle Boko Haram, the insurgent group that has visited terror on the North, killing over 1,500 since 2009.
According to him, what Boko Haram is doing is not religion, but criminality.
He said: “All religions accept that there is something called criminality. And criminality cannot be excused by religious fervour. Let me repeat something I first said at the meeting organised by UNESCO a few weeks ago, which was prompted by the recent film insulting the religion of Islam and depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a very crass way.
“The first thing to say is that we do not welcome any attempt to ravage religious sensibilities. That can be taken for granted. But you cannot hold the world to ransom simply because some idiots chose to insult a religion in some far-off place which most of the world has never even heard of. This for me is a kind of fundamentalist tyranny that should be totally unacceptable.
“So a group calls itself the Boko Haram, literally: ‘Book is taboo’, the book is anathema, the book is a product of Western civilisation, therefore it must be rejected.
“You go from the rejection of books to the rejection of institutions which utilise the book, and that means virtually all institutions. You attack universities, you kill professors, then you butcher students, you close down primary schools, you try and create a religious Maginot Line through which nothing should penetrate.
“That’s not religion; that’s lunacy. My Christian family lived just next door to Muslims. We celebrated Ramadan with Muslims; they celebrated Christmas with Christians. This is how I grew up.
“And now this virus is spreading all around the world, leading to the massacre of 50 students. This is not taking arms against the state, this is taking up arms against humanity.”
He said the unrest in Nigeria following the Boko Haram insurgency had attained a critical mass and criticised the way the Federal Government was handling the terror war.
“The president of Nigeria is making a mistake in not telling the nation that it should place itself on a war footing. There’s too much pussyfooting, there’s too much false intellectualisation of what is going on, such as this is the result of corruption, this is the result of poverty, this is the result of marginalisation.
“Yes, of course, all these negativities have to do with what is happening right now. But when the people themselves come out and say we will not even talk to the president unless he converts to Islam, they are already stating their terms of conflict,” he added.
Soyinka said if religion were to be taken away from the world, he would be one of the happiest people in the world.