NOBEL laureate Prof Wole Soyinka has said “there is a moment when we must put the past aside, most especially when what presumes to the present becomes intolerable and continues and threatens to prolong itself, then we have to be more pragmatic.”
He said Nigerians must show a Nelson Mandela-like ability to forgive president-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s past as an iron-fisted military ruler.
“I criticised him for certain acts during his stint as a military dictator,” the 80-year-old playwright and poet, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV Africa on Wednesday.
He spoke in his hillside country home, Abokuta, Ogun State.
His words: “But I also insist that it’s about time we try our best to be mini-Mandelas, to learn there’s a moment when we must put the past aside.”
The legacy of Buhari’s 20-month tenure as the military head of state included the introduction of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) campaign.
By voting in Buhari, a 72-year-old Muslim, who has described himself as a “converted democrat,” Nigerians have shown an ability to look past his earlier misdeeds, Soyinka said.
Gen. Buhari, who defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in last Saturday’s election, has denied having ever perpetuated human rights abuses.
“Mandela had a faith in the capacity of the Boer, the masters of apartheid, to reform,” Soyinka said in his booming voice in a living room filled with wooden carvings.
He went on: “There’s a moment when we must put the past aside, most especially when what presumes to the present becomes intolerable and continues and threatens to prolong itself, then we have to be more pragmatic.”
The victory of Buhari, a three-time loser in presidential races, broke PDP’s 16-year monopoly on power.
“I think more in terms of the APC winning the election,” said Soyinka, who has some of his allies and admirers in the APC.
Soyinka said reports from APC members and his own observations suggest Buhari was “struggling to be a party man.”
Responding to claims that there was nothing substantially different between the PDP and its rival because members of the ruling party defected to the APC, Soyinka said: “Neither party is filled with angels, there are corrupt figures on both sides.”
Insisting that the March 28 elections were the most money-fueled in the country’s history, the literary giant said: “Some of them I don’t even want to see anywhere near this building. Others, on the other hand, have sat here, these very chairs, eaten and drunk with me.”
On why the PDP did not move early enough to dislodge Boko Haram insurgents from Northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the Nobel laureate said: “Nigerians have a right to be resentful of the fact that that kind of measure was not taken early enough
“That this disease was allowed to fester leading to the traumatisation of swathes of Nigerian landscape and society and humanity.”
On the rare sportsmanship displayed by President Jonathan, who conceded defeat, Soyinka said: “He could have easily tried to do a Gbagbo.”
He was referring to Laurent Gbagbo, who sparked post-election violence in Ivory Coast when he refused to step down after an election defeat in 2010.
With Buhari’s victory, Soyinka, who has not felt this optimistic since the end of military rule in 1999, hopes he will not be disappointed again.
“Against my rational instincts, I believe that we have here a genuine case of a born-again democrat. The real heroes of this exercise have been the Nigerian people and that gingers me up.”