Vanguard (Lagos)

3 January 2013

Nigeria: Dissecting Soyinka's Abaiku Afflicted Continent

Penultimate week in Lagos,and precisely at popular event centre, Terra Kulture, Harmattan Haze on African Spring, a book of critical essays written by renowned intellectual and Nobel laureate , Professor Wole Soyinka was presented to the public.

The presentation tied to the theme, Conversation with Wole Soyinka attracted the presence of foremost scholars and public affairs analysts including, Prof. Pat Utomi, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Odia Ofeimun,Dr Kaniolu Ajayi, Tony Elemelu and Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi.

Essentially, the book offers a new reading and rendering of the continent, the choices made or not made, the road taken or not taken and new visions for the future. And at the presentation on Tuesday at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, Soyinka in company of some leading intellectuals from divergent fields of business, political economy, education, the arts, public service and journalism, sat down to examine a contentious continent lying prostrate and stagnant in the sun, seemingly refusing to yield to every entreaty to stand up and stride along like the others.

Billed as a conversation, the occasion provided a very engaging platform for a robust debate on the content of the book and the State of Africa.

The role of the interrogators of the book comprising of the quality attendees was to examine the book in the light of Africa's poor development index and respond to some of the issues Soyinka raised concerning the continent's retarded growth in spite of its huge material and human resources.

Soyinka's latest work among other issues, also examines Africa's spirituality by holding it up as a fresh ground yet to be explored and exploited to solving Africa's many intractable problems, especially religious conflicts that afflict the peace of many countries in the continent.

For the iconic literary artist, "Africa's unexplored geographical resources are capable of propelling society forward, but a total, atavistic, retrogression has overtaken us, with the path not taken has continued to plague us to this day". He said the Japanese and Chinese, "By hanging onto their traditional beliefs, clinging to their traditional core, and refusing to be alienated from their philosophies and ways of life, have managed to bring about development. Cling to what was indigenous to their societies is what has transformed their societies".

Prof. Soyinka wondered how people from the miserable, frozen wasteland called Britain managed to hold vast kingdoms all over the world and render them ungovernable several years after they left and planted surrogate nation-states, like Nigeria, India, with her vast architectural grandeur as seen in the Tajmahal!

He expressed his abiding faith in the ability of Nigerians to accomplish great things that are capable of causing phenomenal transformation, as evidences of the people's immense abilities, which abound all over the world, but that such need to be harnessed -- and that's the only missing ingredient.

"Nigerians can create a Silicon Valley in Nigeria," he enthused ruefully, "but it's about the leadership. Nigeria has got the brainpower. The possibilities have always been there. Perhaps, we should take the example of China and draw the bamboo curtain and shut ourselves up from the rest of the world and also go by Mbonu Ojike's 'boycott all the bycottables' and then see what we can do by ourselves!"

Contributing to the conversation, former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili said while the book looks at why Africa still remained undeveloped, the question that had to be asked is, "What is the essence of the human being? Is there a process of development for Africa that we missed as originally conceived?

Ezekwesili also stated that in some countries in the Western world, that there is the pervasive view that Africa is lacking all the essential ingredients for development, with the likelihood that the future would continue to be bleak, as development would never happen.

The former Education Minister stated that Soyinka's book is such that will force readers to re-examine the continent's developmental issues again, and to see whether lack of development is as a result of alienation of the individual from his African roots.

On Soyinka invocation of the abiku metaphor in his book, Ezekwesili debunked the myth as worth looking at, and said Africa accounted for 500 infant deaths out of 1000 births. She noted that such grim statistics made mockery of any inspiration derivable from the abiku metaphor because Africa's growth lies in its virile population, which such monumental deaths imperil. According to her, "a single description of Africa is intellectual slothfulness" the West has perpetuated against the continent, a proposition Soyinka disproves in his book.

On Africa's spirituality as encapsulated in Soyinka's famous poem 'Abiku' (the spirit child that is born and dies to be reborn again and again to torment the parents) as fitting metaphor for examining the recurring retrogression plaguing most part of Africa, Prof. Utomi, founder of the Lagos Business School and the Pan African University, said although Africa's spirituality is dynamic, it is easy to link the colonial experience and how things were done in Nigeria.

He argued that while Africa's young population has deep technology penetration, the problem is how to harness that penetration to give momentum for real development, adding that his "fears had been how to pluck failure from the jaws of progress".

For astute banker Elumelu, Nigeria is full of critics, who ceaselessly bash the country senseless without lifting a hand to help. "We criticise ourselves too much," he said. Continuing, he asked, "how do we say good things about ourselves to the rest of the world? If all we see and say about ourselves is bad, what do we want others to say about us? We must begin to use our human capital to propel development."

Other speakers , who contributed to the debate are poet Odia Ofeimun, Eng Yemisi Shyllon and Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi.

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