17th February, 2015
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has described the two major candidates in the 2015 Nigeria’s presidential election as both problematic adding that while one is troubled by the past, the other is troubled by the present.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, he noted that the electorate were in a dilemma as a result of the choices they have been provided by the political parties ahead of the elections that were postponed for six weeks from February to March and April.
“There is a huge albatross hanging [around] the necks of the two main candidates. I can understand the dilemma which many voters have,” Soyinka told the BBC.
The BBC said the incumbent’s campaign for re-election has been hampered by his handling of the six-year insurgency by militant Islamist group, Boko Haram and Soyinka faulted Jonathan for the failure to rescue the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok, Borno State in April 2014.
“What happened was a clear failure of leadership – a slow reaction, an inadequate reaction and response,” Soyinka said while stressing that while responsibility for the Boko Haram crisis rests with President Jonathan, the government cannot be held solely responsible for the entire jihadist problem as it began under previous governments.
“Buhari and his partner General Tunde Idiagbon, after [former military head of state] Sani Abacha, I think they represented the most brutal face of military dictatorship. There is no question about that.
“But the environment changes, circumstances change and… I look at the possibility of a genuine internal transformation in some individuals. I’ve been disappointed before and we must always be ready to be disappointed again,” he added of Buhari.
For decades, Mr Soyinka has been at the forefront of the pro-democracy struggle in Nigeria and today he warns that people should be ready to “go back to the trenches” and stand up against misrule, whoever wins the election.
“Nigerians should be prepared to deal with any new betrayal by any ruler with the same passion and commitment…. as they did with Sani Abacha because we cannot continue this cycle of repetitious evil and irresponsibility.”
The vote was controversially postponed due to security concerns, even though many suspect political reasons for the delay.
Election officials said the military would be too busy fighting Boko Haram in the north-east to be able to help with security across the nation.
As part of the effort to counter the jihadist threat, Mr Soyinka called for “an aerial bombardment with weapons of the mind” in addition to the military offensive.
“All kinds of propaganda leaflets should have been raining in those areas because not all members of Boko Haram are convinced. They need to know there is an exit and the state will take care of them. Then the waverers’ minds have to be reinforced on the positive side – on the side of humanity,” Mr Soyinka said.
“The kind of propaganda being used now between the political parties, just a fraction of that should have gone into attacking Boko Haram,” he added.
The conflict has once again exposed the divisions between Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and Christian south, which at times make this feel like two different nations.
“I doubt it very much. The threats of dismemberment have been going on so long that one of these days there is going to be a wish fulfilled.
“The idea of either dismembering at the cost of human lives, as the Boko Haram people are trying to do with their caliphate delusions or to force people to stay together as happened in the case of the [1967-1970] Biafra war, it doesn’t make sense, it’s an abuse of intelligence.
“Arrangements can be made in which people stick together under protocols of association which allow some kind of autonomy for certain issues and other cases centralised policies,” he said about his concerns for Nigeria’s unity.
BBC said the election winner will face immense economic challenges with the drop in the oil price and the depreciating currency, the naira adding that the problem is likely to be exacerbated by the fact that Nigeria’s elections are notoriously expensive.
The BBC said it was told of a senator needing a campaign war chest of at least 200m naira ($980,000; £640,000) which Soyinka would inevitably lead to broken electoral promises.
“What does this make of the incoming government? This money came in from somewhere. It means such candidates are going to owe, they are obliged to interests which are not necessarily in the best interests of the nation,” Soyinka said.
“So a lot of the electorate will be disappointed at the failure – the reneging on electoral promises – because there may not be funds for the fulfilment of those promises,” he said.