15th August, 2011
The theme of exile appears to hold great fascination for literary critics, mere artistic consumers, anthologists, cineastes and Festival directors of all artistic genres. I had a deep taste of this obsessive interest after my vanishing trick from home borders in 1984, to the obvious disappointment of that great patriot, Sanni Abacha, whose attachment to every citizen prompted him to do everything possible to keep me solidly grounded â€“ that is, with both feet not merely on terra firma but six feet inside it, with head and torso in that blissful posture of the eternal exile. Either that, or deeply grounded within some dungeon, supervised by the latest maestro of soap opera, the great Nollywood video producer, whose masterpieces extend to films of events that never happened.
Ah yes, let us appropriate some time in deviation from my original talk plan and dedicate it to this latest in the cinema industry that has so authorittively intruded on our national pursuits, a script of endless fascination that is being spun out from that normally soulless and sterile space of exile known as Kirikiri. The videos emanating from one resident genius of that studio â€“ not necessarily shot within the premises but – promoted from there, edited right there, reconstructed so to speak, in one individualâ€™s imagination – are quite startling. So exclusive is that studioâ€™s specialisation, that the emerging films feature, not accessible stars but stars already in the firmament, a doleful category alas, permanent exiles from the world of the living. They cannot be interviewed, they cannot be invited to share with us the challenges of their roles, they did not even know that they were being cast in performance mode. To cap it all, infusing an unprecedented degree of excitement, larger-than-life drama to these videos, the dramatis personae are the very individuals whose careers our video director/producer had done his best to terminate prematurely while among the living. We must credit this innovation with a new cinematic genre, an offshoot of Reality TV that we may dub â€“ Virtual Reality.
It reminds me of a rather specialized, one-off publication to which I once contributed. I forget the title of the book now but it was an anthology of film scripts that never got made. Somebody in Paris woke up to the idea that such scripts should be collected and published, maybe to open up new possibilities for directors looking for fresh material, or simply to compensate frustrated script writers who had dreamt of Hollywood lights but ended up in obscurity. My contribution was called AWUTU, and I had written it while I was in Ghana, serving out one of my exile sentences. Until then, my normal medium of expression had been stage drama, but exile has a way of stimulating oneâ€™s imagination in totally unexpected directions. Prison, we have already indicated, is also a place of exile, so it is not surprising that the current Nollywood scripting that has gripped the nationâ€™s attention so fervidly was written and produced by a prison inmate of thirteen yearsâ€™ standing. The actual theme of AWUTU is not relevant to the subject of my address, so I wonâ€™t bore you with it.
However, its relevance to our theme of exile is a â€˜similarity of differencesâ€™ between the video material emerging from our own increasingly famous prison exile and my own script, also produced in exile. In my case, AWUTU was inspired by a slice of history that I picked up concerning a small village, Awutu, not far from Accra, and of course, it never got made. In our Kirikiri Nollywood video â€“ letâ€™s name it Kiriwood for short – the video actually got made, only, retroactively. It starred real-life people, but the script was written after the shoot, a quite innovative proceeding, though not entirely unheard-of. My script, a would-be docudrama, also involved a concluded, now reconstructed history, participants of which were still very much alive â€“ the Kiri-kiri video involved an ongoing history whose principal characters were most conveniently â€“ dead.
As already indicated, our Nollywood director did try his best to send most of the actors, all veterans of a repertory company known as NADECO, prematurely into terminal exile. Abraham Adesanya, the lead actor, was ambushed in a hair-raising encounter at a petrol station, his car laced with bullets â€“ not that our video man is being tried for that. It would be a waste of time anyway, since it would only have resulted in another self-exonerating video â€“ not related to that particular episode but featuring some other thriller of mind-twisting disconnection â€“ perhaps the dispatch of Bagauda Kaltho, allegedly blown to pieces in a hotel toilet. To add mystery to that scenario, by his body is found a book titled THE MAN DIED by one Wole Soyinka. In any case, the old man survived. The god of luck was on his side.
The other actors, some only by nomination, were framed on charges of detonating bombs and for murders, including the high-profile one for which our video director is now standing trial. There you have a truly exciting dramatic reversal for you! Others, already in exile, were declared Wanted – Dead or Alive! Killers were dispatched to hunt them down even in foreign countries. Some were tried in absentia. In the meantime the luck of Adesanyaâ€™s co-star, Bola Ige has run out and thus, the stage is finally set! No one suggests that our Kiriwood director had a hand in that Bola Ige script. We only propose that a pattern had been established and, for all we know, those who finally cut down Bola Ige may have been mentored by our 13-year veteran of legal procrastinations. At the very least the assassins had all learnt from earlier mistakes, either of their own, or from the unlucky predecessors â€“ donâ€™t try your stuff at petrol stations, the bedroom is much easier â€“ check out what became of even that self-effacing stalwart, Alfred Rewane.
No matter. It is time for final editing, the principal actors are eternally exiled, and you are free to re-interpret the video, re-write the script to your satisfaction. Before, and â€“ After. See the telling contrast? In the frontal shot, the performers are subdued, frowning. In the reverse shot, they are smiling, ebullient. You append a sub-tile – Smiling all the way to the bank â€“ an expression that is familiar even to an infant. Ergo – they have been settled, signed a pact with the devil, sold their souls to Mammon!
It is becoming quite a part of Nigerian culture, this game of posthumous revisionism, the demonization of exiles who are beyond recall, those whom the impunity of power has permanently grounded. You will all recall when the younger of those two recent victims, Bola Ige, finally bowed to a hail of bullets, having earlier served as a Minister of Power under Sanni Abachaâ€™s later successor and fellow traveler, the indefatigable Double-O-Seven? That appreciative ruler could not wait to inflict on yet raw sensibilities his posthumous revisionism, having personally assumed the power portfolio with a promise of miracles. While in that ministry, Bola Igeâ€™s structured efforts to restore electric power had been sabotaged â€“ repeat, deliberately and cynically sabotaged â€“ I do know what I am talking about, and dare anyone to challenge me â€“ sabotaged. Identifiable forces had undermined Bola Igeâ€™s carefully worked out strategy, even at the cost of the lives of some engineers, and he was summarily thrown out of that office. Then the nation awaited the promised miracle from the omnipotent OBJ. No such miracle was forthcoming. So, what was the miracle workerâ€™s explanation? Double-O-Seven waited until Bola was exiled beyond mortal recall, then made his infamous pronouncement: the nationâ€™s power woes should be blamed on the incompetence of the dead Minister who did not know his left hand from his right. That was Obasanjoâ€™s way of paying tribute to a man who had controversially broken ranks with his own party to participate in a plausible rescue mission – a Government of National Unity.
So, before we all crucify al Mustapha, the Kiriwood producer, let us remember that he is merely following a tradition set by his superiors. In addition â€“ and this should gratefully noted – we should try and see it all in a positive light. Counter-cultures are not necessarily a bad thing, and this tradition merits being called a counter-culture. The existing culture of posthumous attribution, you all know, is to take pages and pages of newspaper adverts to pour encomiums on anyone who happens to have passed through those portals of exile from which there is no return. On our famous Obituary pages, no distinction is made between saint and devil, between hero and coward, between patriot and traitor, between child rapists and pediatricians, between treasury looters and economic rescuers. If James Ibori, now in double exile â€“ foreign country and prison walls – were to pass away tomorrow, the media will run out of advertising space lauding him to the skies â€“ matchless executive, pace-setter and innovator, political sage etc. etc. Well, the last could be considered quite true â€“ was he not nominated Elder of the Ruling Party? You have to be a sage to be deserving of such recognition by a party in charge of a million souls. As for his ex co-governor, now senator Ahmed Yerimah, confessed cross-border paedophile, whenever he eventually transfers to that terminal space of exile, just wait and read the obituaries. He will be transformed overnight into a man of deep piety and matchless philanthropy. Mind you, that latter part can also be held to be true – didnâ€™t he dash ten thousand dollars to an impoverished Egyptian driver in exchange for â€“ well, what does it matter? Human commodity perhaps? An underage sex slave? Itâ€™s all a question of interpretation. The point it â€“ he left that driver ten thousand dollars richer.
On top of it all advertisements will be prefaced or ended with that invocation of mind-boggling banality – â€˜The Wicked Have done their Worstâ€™. Well again, for once, even that would be truthful. Certain idle characters like one Wole Soyinka will be deemed among the wicked, since they just wonâ€™t let the matter rest, torturing the helpless senator with demands for his public trial and well earned â€˜martyrdomâ€™. Pity, I wonâ€™t be around when that event takes place, but I can imagine the cloying pages of eulogy. So, perhaps we are all overdue for a corrective, a counter-culture, beginning, naturally, with those who least deserve the collective antidote of posthumous calumny, since this is a nation that loves to do things upside down, insists that left is right and right, left, only to turn it all inside out â€“ between morning and nightfall.
All right, enough of topicalities, however riveting – an unavoidable digression though firmly within our theme – but I fear that I may have set the wrong note for this address. I meant our brief session together to be light-hearted, but also of a creative tenor, since it is dedicated to my late friend and brother, Banjo Solaru, who was governor of this very Rotary Club chapter, and an Ogun state indigene like me, and your incoming president. As you may have been told, it was that linkage which made it impossible for me to hesitate one moment before accepting your invitation to this investment. I could not join in saying Farewell to him years ago â€“ again, the impediments of exile – but was present at his own investiture. To have failed to attend that event of his Rotarian elevation would have cost me dearly, especially at the hands of his wife. I recall that lively occasion very vividly. Banjo, I donâ€™t have to remind you, was an irrepressible clown, brimful of stories, usually of the kind you donâ€™t tell in the presence of children. So now let me tell you a story about your former president.
The incident took place when he had himself been diagnosed with cancer and had accepted, quite stoically, that he had not long to live. However, a mutual friend of ours â€“ all the way from early days of the University College Ibadan â€“ happened to take his own leave before him and Banjo went to console the family. He found them in the state to be expected, downcast or crying inconsolably. As usual he cracked a few rib-tickling jokes to cheer them up but, not surprisingly, they remained glum, weighed down by grief. So how did our friend react? He said, â€˜Look here, all of you. Let me tell you, if you have any message for your father, go and write him a letter and give it to me right now, because Iâ€™ll be seeing him before you know it and will deliver it in personâ€™. The grieving heads were shocked into silence. They did not quite know what to make of it but it certainly diverted their mood from the total grip of loss, their attention shifted to the blitheness with which the revelation had been made. Banjo followed not long after.
These wistful recollections, if you knew Banjo Solaru, would hardly strike you as remotely morbid. For Banjo, existence was a rounded experience, at once provocative and hilarious. He responded to its facets with his limitless repertory of irrepressible humour and â€“ creativity. Our theme is Exile, and the foregoing merely serves to recall us to the fact that Exile takes multiple forms, dimensions and tonalities â€“ including the terminal. We all join that throng sooner or later, some of us sooner than most, but of course the ones that concern us in the here and now are those variants that that spell adventurousness and creativity. These have existed long before the video industry â€“ but we shall be back to that department in a moment. Such indeed was what constituted perhaps the earliest experience of exile that many of us undergo â€“ student exile â€“ where enduring bonds are often forged.
It was indeed creativity and scholarship that early linked Banjo and me together in an enduring degree â€“ creativity in numerous genres – performance, literary, musical, publishing and of course even promotional, which was where Banjo finally pitched his tent â€“ the advertisement industry after a spell in Law. Both our careers began, in any mature way, in exile. Student exile, and a robust existence that also included figures like Bola Ige. If the Student Hostel at Gower Street, London, had tongues, what a narrative of improbabilities it would divulge! Heaven alone knows what students overseas get up to these days but I doubt if they enjoyed as much creative and varied exploits as we did, cast adrift away from parental supervision for the first time ever, and wallowing in the amplitude of new encounters, experimentations, experiences but – always with a controlling consciousness that – to use that once popular Nigerian cliche which appears to have gone out of fashion â€“ we had to bring back The Golden Fleece! We shall reserve for another occasion, the enlivening but juicy escapades of shared exile that launched our generation of student â€˜argonautsâ€™, those primary rites of passage that provide the robust experience of exile.
We turn now to what we all know as internal – as distinct from external or eternal â€“ exile, or, to use the preferred coinage of the persistent figure of continuity in this address, Bola Ige â€“ â€˜Siddon lookâ€™. â€˜Siddon lookâ€™ manifests more than one tendency however. It can be a subtly dynamic posture, not quite as passive as it sounds â€“ it all depends on timing, context, and intent. Bola Igeâ€™s â€˜siddon lookâ€™ policy, enunciated during a repellent dictatorship, was intended as a warning, and how prescient it proved. â€˜Siddon lookâ€™ may be read as shorthand for a story of which the late MKO Abiola, another political animal and inveterate story-teller, was particularly fond. After his external spell of tactical exile that followed his electoral victory as President of this nation, then an internal session as Abachaâ€™s hostage in Abuja, under supervision of our Kiriwood producer, MKO was finally sent, subtly but with equal fiendishness into permanent exile, details of which that very gaoler, now Kiriwood film mogul has promised to make available in his next video. While we await that event, youâ€™ll just have to make do with MKOâ€™s morality tale, which now follows.
The scion of a royal house, intoxicated with power, ordered his groom to saddle a rather erratic horse, despite serious warning that the horse was unreliable. He wanted to parade through the town, and no other horse would satisfy, he felt, his stature. So, duly caparisoned, escorted by a retinue, buglers and drummers, horse and prince galloped into the streets. It was an impressive sight. The citizens cheered, saluted, prostrated themselves along the royal passage while the horse pranced like the thoroughbred it was.
In the entourage was that same stable groom and equerry, who also doubled as a drummer. He knew the horse, he had done his duty by the prince, so now he took solace in the â€˜siddon lookâ€™ philosophy. While all the other drummers belted out the princeâ€™s titles, lineage lines and praise names, he also dug into the skin of his iya ilu, but the sounds that emerged from his drum read:
Kangun, kangun, kangun, yi o kangun sâ€™ibi kan, kangun, kangun, kangun, yi o kangun sâ€™ibi kan.
Now thoroughly aroused by this new exotic rhythm, whose meaning he could not read of course, the prince grew ecstatic, threw his horse metaphorically â€˜into high gearâ€™. the horse pranced sideways, high-stepped backwards, reared, twisted and turned, executed pirouettes, gavottes etc. to the excitation of the crowd. Then, at an appropriate place, next to a garbage dump,it reared as high as it could and â€“ dumped his royal highness on in the slime. Without missing a beat the groom changed tune to:
O ti kangun sâ€™ibi kan, o ti kangun sâ€™ibi kan, o ti kangun sâ€™ibi kanâ€¦..
Now, that is â€˜siddon look in action, prescient and prophetic.
â€˜Siddon lookâ€™, or internal exile, hopefully a voluntary condition, is however mostly passive, even resigned, arms firmly folded, eyes staring into space. This is when one succeeds, contentedly, in watching the world go by without batting an eyelid, observe the world float serenely in ether or explode – it makes no difference to the quintessential Siddon-looker. Iâ€™ve been trying to join that school of contemplative detachment without success for a number of years, but I hope to make the grade before too long. I have gone into serious training â€“ if necessary, I shall advertise for a coach. There must be coaches for that kind of passivity among retirees, with or without a pension. Others have it made it in seconds, lucky people! They have no choice in the matter, having crossed into internal exile involuntarily, mostly from popular pressure. This space of exile is more commonly known as political wilderness.
Do not lower your guard however! This class hardly ever gives up completely, they always plan a comeback, having concluded, from precedents, that a nation like ours is a nation of short memories and all their transgressions shall be quickly forgotten. The expression on their lips is â€˜After all what have I done that others havenâ€™t?â€™ or â€˜ Damn it, others have done worse and now, look at them, back in the public eye, receiving chieftaincies right and left, guaranteed a seat at the high table, and/or topping the MCâ€™s boring list of â€˜I beg to recogniseâ€™ at social functions. Well, that is the confident scenario and, like prison exile, itâ€™s all a matter of serving out your time and then, re-admittance into â€˜decent societyâ€™.
Let me regale you with the career of one such candidate who, I am certain, is covertly engineering his parole, if not working towards a direct commutation of sentence, based on the culture of amnesia. Right now however, heâ€™s serving time. Once upon a time â€“ that is, before the last elections, you could not see the trees or sky in my state for his self-promotional billboards – The Lion of the West! The Man in the Lionâ€™s den! Santa Claus come to Life! Pace Setter without Equal! Supreme Architect of Olumo Rock! etc etc.
Well then, some of you probably know, hunting is perhaps the only outdoor hobby I pursue. For a number of years however, I couldnâ€™t indulge in it owing to some visual problems. Finally I had my operation so, I was back in service following close to a three-year break. I could hardly wait – I began to revisit my former haunts with a vengeance. And what did I encounter? Transformation without precedent! Development in my rural haunts on an impressive scale. The jungle had developed, taken over some of the roads through which I used to drive to the real hunting grounds. In fact, I no longer needed to drive so deep into the rural areas â€“ which was just as well, since most of the roads had caved in, become impassable. Culverts had crumbled.
One other item was in a state of high development however â€“ the billboards, all in praise of this rulerâ€“ Saviour, Giver, Planner, Genius, Colossus, Icon, and of course OGD here, OGD there, OGD everywhere and everything. Quite understandable. When you adopt initials with the same letters as God â€“ never mind that they are not even initials of your real names but augmented by acquired titles – it is easy to believe that you have indeed become the equal of God himself. Naturally, when I was next invited to give a public lecture in Abeokuta, I paid tribute to the King of the Jungle, gave dues to what I termed the Cult of Governance by Billboard. Apparently, Lion-God was not amused. That rather pained me.
I did keep a wary lookout for this advertised lion in my bush forays – which covered the West quite extensively â€“ but I never encountered him, or any of his brothers. His presence as king of predators was however felt by all when he proceeded to shut down the Ogun State House of Assembly, sneaking in a minority number of legislators under full police complicity early one dawn, when all normal beings were barely stirring. This minority impeached the absent Speaker, elected their own Speaker, then proceeded to sack the absent majority. They passed over twenty bills in less than two hours, the principal of which was a â€˜419erâ€™ multi-billion Naira debt facility â€“ one neednâ€™t be told that a lion would of course take the lionâ€™s share of that bounty. This was the pernicious bill that the majority had steadfastly refused to pass, leading to their â€˜impeachmentâ€™. Immediately after that prodigiously productive session, again with the aid of the police, he sealed up the legislative building tightly while he presided over the affairs of the jungle from some hidden lair, without further interference from the pesky creatures over which he reigned like a true Mafia Boss of the underworld.
As a fervent supporter of the Freedom of Information Bill, I must reveal that this was where I came in. With the support of the â€˜Save Nigeria Groupâ€™, I organized a Town Hall Meeting at Ake, Abeokuta, presided over by Prince Bola Ajibola, a predecessor of Bola Ige to the portfolio of Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and later, member of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. That meeting was disrupted by the lionâ€™s court of the genuine animal kingdom â€“ judging by their comfortment, male and female, never mind that the latter were camouflaged in florid aso ebi â€“ complete with head-tie, shawls and gaudy fake jewelry. Only alter would we learn that they were the â€˜hit squadâ€™ of the Lionâ€™s political harem. They accompanied him everywhere singing his lavish praises, danced to their own special compositions and were schooled to disrupt meetings whose results were not going the Masterâ€™s way.
Without question, it was easily the most raucous public gathering I ever initiated. Maximum restraint had to be exercised simply to bring the meeting to an inconclusive end, and without calling in the police who were stationed in large numbers outside. We had earlier received intelligence report of a plot to physically disrupt the meeting and even plant dangerous material in the premises the night before, so a night vigil had been maintained over the venue. I also personally demanded from the Police Commissioner that the police be on standby â€“ but outside the hall. Despite extreme provocation, we did succeed in keeping the police outside till the end. Some of them later reported to us the scramble â€“ teeth, claws and head butts – that ensued afterwards among his cubs over the sharing of the lionâ€™s donated carrion â€“ a nearly always predictable fallout, it would appear.
The following lesson needs to be imparted the hard way for the untutored in the ways of history: Power is transient, authority enduring. Without power, Authority still validates itself, since Authority is shorn of the crassness of power and exists in autonomous repletion, without coercion, without bribery or crude terms of inducement. Authority is innate, self-sufficient, since it is earned or bestowed, not exacted or contrived. Without Authority, Power is internally corrupted, a decayed husk whose grain has long fallen to worms, a masquerade without core, animation or essence. In or out of exile, living or dead, those who remain faithful to the Muse of Free Expression, a deity that never goes on exile, are armed with the consistency of that Museâ€™s authority. Be it as Town Crier, as Voice of Prescience and Caution, as Interpreter or as Chronicler when the deed is over. That is the god we serve.
Our man, on the other hand, oh yes, what deity does he serve exactly? Opinions vary, but the cultic affiliation of his calling has been firmly established, bestowing on him his true name â€“ Daanielebo!
The time of reckoning was near, Come election time, our business as servitors of the Muse was to abandon the pen for a while and join hands with others in ensuring that he went into that involuntary, internal exile, known as political wilderness. Compared with some other parts of the nation, in our portion of the Nigerian real estate, some forms of conduct, such as that of an Ojuorolari, omo aijâ€™oberi â€“ are not easily forgotten. Perverts and fetishists of power are chronicled thereafter as the creatures they were. Daanielebo was thrown out of power â€“ no, not in his own person, his term having come to an end, but through his anointed substitute who would have covered up his soiled posterior. From ongoing reports, he may yet add a second level of internal exile to his current location. Is that to be regretted? Not in the slightest. It only means that we may look forward to a creative collaboration between him and the earlier acknowledged Nollywood kingpin of Kirikiri Studios.
This is no idle speculation. You should recall that one of the pastimes of Daanielebo while in the seat of power was pornographic videos â€“ no other name for it â€“ pornographic videos, with the accompaniment of prurient photo albums. He specialised in secretly filming his close advisers and commissioners in various stages of nudity, in which condition they were made to swear oaths of loyalty over one kind of fetish or another, then kept the images for whipping any dissident followers in line. Do not take this speakerâ€™s word for it â€“ check the back issues of the media during the various crises in my state that completely overwhelmed the main task of purposeful governance. Additionally, I recommend the stunning book of disclosures by Wale Adedayo, a former loyalist and collaborator of the Lion King. This book is titled MICRO-SECONDS AWAY FROM DEATH â€“ and that title is to be taken literally.
I have subjected the author to interviews, and taken other measures to verify his narrative, and I can vouch for the veracity of at least sixty per cent of its revelations. Adedayo does not gloss his own culpability in some of the events, events that eventually led to his flight into exile after a mysterious attempt on his life. Nollywood had better look to its laurels with the likely augmentation of Kiriwood by high placed, incoming talent. I have always preached that there is life after power â€“ you can put the skills you acquired in the State House to good use in the House of Correction. So, pornographic movie moguls move over! Here comes Daanielebo with a cast of ex-commissioners and legislators. Nigerian video industry is all set for a killing, fortunately only as a figure of speech this time, not killing in the sense of terminal exile that Kudirat Abiola, Alfred Rewane, Bola Ige or most pertinently Chief Dina, that luckless Ogun State governorship challenger, had known it. We make progress.
Indeed everything points to good news all round, especially in the video world. It was possible â€“ but pointless – to send agents to buy up all available copies of CDs by one self-styled Ologundudu and intimidate shopkeepers who stocked his records. These compositions provided the earliest recitative exposures of doings under Daanieleboâ€™s watch but, needless to say, quite a few copies are still in circulation, passed hand to hand in Ogun state and abroad. They will probably provide background music or interludes to the video production now in progress â€“ yes indeed, the news is that a Nollywood producer has acquired the rights to Wale Adedayoâ€™s book, and casting will commence very soon. A hold-up â€“ temporary, it is hoped – has been caused only by the difficulty â€“ I am speculatively informed â€“ of getting Daanielebo to play his own character in the lead role. Now that would be quite a first class cinematic coup. It means that Ogun State would not really have to be deprived of the company of their pet lion after all, safely caged, since this would be a home video series, with a daily episode running for years. It is also a way of re-integrating Daanielebo into society without the full rigours of exile, enjoying the best of two worlds â€“ exiled, yet back from exile at one and the same time. There is more than sufficient material to occupy a captive team of script writers, headed by Director al-Mustapha of Kiriwood Studios. Sumptuous anticipation!
Enough of these creative titillations â€“ I really must wind up. Mr President-elect, my warmest Congratulations. And sincere wishes for as vibrant, joyous and productively memorable a tenure as your predecessor, Banjo Solaru must have had. But if you have any letters for him, donâ€™t bother to give them to me. I am doing all I can to delay departure for that terminal â€“ State of Exile.
By Wole Souyinka