This Day (Lagos)

11 December 2012

Nigeria: Soyinka Urges Intellectuals to Protect Democracy

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has said intellectuals and artistes, as the custodians of the people's culture, have a duty to protect democracy in the country.

He noted that there is a relationship between politics and culture and said most politicians would rather advance their narrow interests at the expense of the people.

Soyinka made the remarks Monday in Port Harcourt in a keynote address he delivered at a colloquium to mark this year's Port Harcourt Carnival (CARNIRIV 2012).

Speaking on the theme: 'Reminiscing Our Past, Consolidating our Future', Soyinka said every culture, if not well guarded against abuse by politics, could breed dictatorship.

According to him, examples of dictatorship across the world had revealed that there is a relationship between culture and politics, but that dictatorship begins the moment the politician manages to subdue culture to achieve its narrow end.

"Politics easily acts as a retarding force, more prone to stagnation or even retrogression. Politics and culture can and do collaborate. Politics tries to swallow up culture in one insatiable moment. In varying degrees, what happens is that politics strives to co-opt culture into serving its narrow agenda," he said.

He said examples of dictatorships in Africa, Asia and Europe over time had shown that dictators had love for culture only as it would satisfy their personal egos.

He said there was need for the people to be vigilant and not think that what happens in other countries could not happen in Nigeria.

His words: "Are there any lessons from all these?. Before the advent of Sani Abacha many Nigerians were fond of saying 'no it can never happen in Nigeria, the glorification of a human being, Nigeria has gone far beyond that, too critical to allow it'. I am afraid we did witness an example of this.

"It just shows that one can never be too careful, one can never be too watchful because sooner or later what begins as a small power issue becomes a grand, immovable, supreme entity through the collaboration of artists and intellectuals because it is they who create the spectacles that glorify the individual rather than enhance the condition of the commune."

He, however, said there were few genuine politicians who would rather work with the intellectuals to advance the interest of society.

"There are some exceptional politicians who refuse to be subsumed under narrow politics but pursue policies that either keep culture as a partner in the future enterprise or even see culture as the ultimate destination of the people's aspirations," Soyinka said.

In his welcome address, Rivers State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Dr. Nabbs Imegwu, said the state was using the carnival to celebrate the centenary anniversary of the city of Port Harcourt.

He also said the state was working hard at diversifying its economy as it was aware that its oil and gas wealth was fast depleting.

He said tourism offered a ready alternative and that the state would soon build Carniriv to an international brand.

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