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Soyinka as Okonkwo in ‘Things Fall Apart’

Mr. Peter Obi (left) Prof Wole Soyinka | File Image

Why is Soyinka so determined to undermine Obi?’

By Valentine Obienyem

Prof. Wole Soyinka is a distinguished Nigerian, whose contributions to literature and politics are globally recognized.

However, despite his achievements, he sometimes fails to heed that each profession, especially in his writings, has the moral obligation to be understood or keep quiet.

I read Soyinka’s comments about Mr. Peter Obi with a heavy heart, troubled by the magnitude of his errors. How can somebody say Obi was not qualified to contest the Presidency?

Anyone in Nigeria who does not understand or pretends not to understand that the Obidient Movement is a spontaneous response to the country’s problems is out of touch with reality. 

With the prevailing situation in the country, more of similar movements will surely emerge. Who is happy with Nigeria as it presently is? It is a sort of we-they group, made up of the oppressed and oppressors.

Obidients are the oppressed Nigerians, which we thought Soyinka would have  sealed his activism by identifying with.

Also read: Why Peter Obi visited Soyinka

During the lead-up to the 2023 Presidential election, Soyinka criticized Obi’s running mate, Sen. Yusuf Datti, and proposed a debate with him or any designated representative. In response, some of us arranged for Prof. Okey Ikechukwu to serve as the delegate for that purpose.

Our rationale was straightforward: Ikechukwu, renowned for his civil discourse, would convey the essential points without resorting to provocative language.

Even when his statements deliver a decisive impact (Knock-out-blow), they do not leave behind a trail of hostility.

This scenario reminded me of a symposium during my seminary days. We invited the elderly Mr. Sylvester Udunni to deliver the keynote address. Our teachers, led by Mr. Collins Okeke (now a priest), were eager to challenge him with their fresh philosophical insights, being newly minted from philosophical studies and eager to showcase their erudition.

 However, after Mr. Udunni finished his paper, he excused himself and left before any discussion began.

The philosophical pundits were left with Mr. Borbert Oguegbu (Wasky of Nollywood) to spar with. We thoroughly enjoyed the lively debate and applauded the arguments like sturdy blows at the Olympics.

However, Ikechukwu is a seasoned speaker and would take on anyone, however acclaimed, in an intellectual joust.

When we presented our debate plans to Mr. Obi, he laughed and asked if Prof. Okey Ikechukwu was aware of the arrangement.

Misunderstanding his concern, I assured him that contacting Ikechukwu would not be a problem. Obi then expressed doubt that Ikechukwu would accept the debate under such circumstances.

Obi calmly explained, “Val, if your father called you stupid and challenged you to a debate, would you accept? It is highly disrespectful to debate Soyinka—not only because of his societal achievements but also because of his age.”

Obi’s remarks about Soyinka were insightful, reflecting his reverence for both the man and old age.

Having met with Soyinka several times, Soyinka should have a good understanding of his character by now. If Soyinka opposes people like Obi becoming president, it implies he believes the position should remain in the hands of brigands.

Part of the reason Okonkwo killed Ikemefuna, who called him father, was his fear of appearing cowardly.

Why is Soyinka so determined to undermine Obi?

.Obienyem, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Awka.

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