July 18 Letter of Soyinka to Obasanjo
Mobolaji E. Aluko,
July 18, 2003
General Olusegun Obasanjo,
President Federal Republic of Nigeria,
That is how our late mutual friend, Ojetunji Aboyade and I generally evoked your
presence in our discussions. O.O stood for many things that reflected our
reactions toward your latest act or conduct at the time - fondness, optimism,
indulgence, exasperation, bafflement, despair, anger etc. etc. It also stood for
OO as in 007, but minus the scripted finesse, more the Rambo type who shoots
first and thinks later.
My mind retains that last image of you at this moment: Rambo on the loose, so
over-abundantly manifested in your intemperate, irrational and totally
unwarranted letter of July 11, 2003. This must rank as the low-water mark of
your correspondence career.
Regarding the burden of your
letter, let me begin by making the following proposition: we shall assume that
you were right, that my alleged statements in the interview in question are not
borne out by the contents of Bola Ige's letter to you. The question that follows
is this: in what way have the passages you complain of harmed you personally,
politically, or reflected adversely on you or your government? (Your Party or -
more accurately - rogue cells within the Party, now that's a different issue!)
We shall now lay aside my proposition, which was made solely for the sake of
argument. Let us proceed with what we can extract from the letter to you in
Bola's own handwriting, and compare it to the statements in my interview. In
Your Excellency is also
aware that I have a pivotal role to play in my party, the Alliance for Democracy
(AD) while you are engineering your party (PDP). I need to strengthen my own, so
that in 2003, there will be a credible, strong, clean national government in
which the major parties will be well represented.
Note the key phrases: "I have a pivotal role to play in my party", "while you
are engineering your Party (PDP), plus "I need to strengthen my own."
Does the sense, the spirit or intent of those extracts differ from the claims in
my interview? Add the foregoing to the following declaration in the same letter:
That is why I believe that God has a purpose for making you President of this
country at this time, and you need the support of everyone of us who care for
this country, whatever our 'ideological' positions. That is why I have never had
any hesitation in giving you my full support, and urging people who think like
me and hold generally the same position as I have to give you support...
Finally, 'That is why you can count on me to join hands with you... (again my
The difference between this group of extracts and what your letter denounces as
'fabricated" in my interview is that the above extracts do not refer
specifically to the approaching elections. Otherwise, the difference between
them is simply that of six and a half dozen. Do not take my word for it. Ask a
few people close to you, those whose judgement you trust. Show them the passages
you complain of and let them offer an opinion.
Now of course, there is also a basic difference between a carefully composed
letter, even where handwritten, and a prolonged conversation that lasted nearly
Conversation is more elaborate, more detailed, more reiterative and sometimes
more emotive than the written letter. Present and participating in my reported
conservation with Bola Ige in my California home was Dr. Sola Adeyeye, now a
member of the House of Representatives. Send for him. Check details of the
There is only one point I may concede to you. It is quite possible that, in
speaking of his letter, Bola may have moved from summarizing the contents of
that letter and then, straight to his plans for the elections. In other words,
he was now being explicit with us about what was merely implicit in his letter
to you. That is the norm of a discussion. It does not in the slightest bit alter
the correlation of my statement with the above cited portions of Bola's letter.
I repeat: ALL the above quoted and the passages you insist are 'fabricated'
attest to, and complement one another. There is no contradiction. There is
nothing reprehensible, dishonourable or underhand about Bola Ige's declarations.
Everything is out in the open. His strategy was identical with the AD position,
only he was restating it as a personal mission.
Dr. Adeyeye, whom I have just mentioned is, incidentally, a worthy and capable
candidate for a ministerial post, in case you find yourself still short of
meritorious individuals in shoring up your cabinet. I insert this deliberately
because, you see, I never hesitate to point in your direction those whom I think
might help you in your mission. I 'nominate' no one. I lack the temperament for
lobbying. You appointed my daughter a Special Assistant in your office without
my knowledge, without my interest, indeed with my total indifference. I have
never mounted the slightest pressure on you over any suggested names. My
attitude over any 'valuable mentions' from me to you has been: "check on this
possibility. Don't overlook, or lose this asset if you can help it. " To
insinuate, as you did in your second letter - that of July 14th - that my
attacks on your governance and style have become more 'virulent' because you
failed to place my 'nominees' in your list is unworthy of you. This is the real
abyss of perfidy, a cheap blackmail intended to inhibit my criticisms of you.
Why should I ask you for reasons why you did not act on my 'recommendations'?
The ultimate responsibility is yours. Listen OO, you simply do not know me! You
lack the depth to ever fathom who I am.
If you would only pause and reflect, you would understand why my public
criticisms have taken a sharper turn, and taken to the public platform. It is
because you are starting a new term of office, your final lap, where it is
crucial to institute a sharp critique of your policies before they become
ossified in disastrous realities.
For a loose canon, you are abnormally liberal with advice, so here are some for
you - all distilled from attestable blunders in your career: Learn first of all
to be less intemperate. Learn to read carefully what is before you. Learn to
relate every world to its context. Learn also to read between the lines. Do not
believe the first tale bearer! When you write or speak, avoid categorical claims
that may blow up in your face. Do not attribute falsehood to
others-'mischievous', 'perfidious' or whatever-until you are absolutely sure of
your facts. As No. 1 citizen, curb the excesses of your 'First Lady'! Anyone can
urge 'self-restraint', 'sobriety', "decency' and 'honesty' on others, but you
should begin by looking inwards, examining your own actions and pronouncements
with diligence. You will discover that you aggressively try to foist on others
traits that characterize your outbursts, conduct and relationships, including a
streak of pettiness that does not become your age and status.
You dare accuse me of fabricating statements? Of putting words in the mouth of
the dead? How my mind reverts again to that earlier mentioned departed friend,
Oje, who arbitrated many of our disagreements when he was alive. I invite you to
recall those instances of your misjudgements, the result of a chronic
impetuousness, and a lack of respect for truth, and stop repeating the errors of
the past. Be thankful for those who tell you the truth, privately, or publicly.
Fabricate! It is you who have fabricated, from sheer vapour, a cause for
conflict. I must now exercise my mind to unravel why! What is behind this
smokescreen? What forces scramble your mind and cynically exploit your notorious
weaknesses against those who wish you well? I think I know where the answers
might be found.
I repeat, indeed I insist that there is a nest of killers within the PDP. From
Ngige's recent experience, the well laid plans for his ultimate fate, it is
evident that the vipers in that nest do not strike only outwards but inwards.
I repeat my warning that even you also once extended to me, in one of your rare
moments of selflessness and genuine concern for others: Watch your back!
Two "big men" fighting - and we must duck! A Nobel Laureate, and the President
of Nigeria? Who wan die?