By Nehru Odeh
Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka has urged the international community to deny visa to those who perpetuate or support violence and crimes against humanity in the name of religion.
He also suggested that a list of all those who commit or support violence in like manner should be compiled.
He made this assertion on Tuesday 21 March 2023 at the World Poetry Day, which was organised by ProvidusBank in Lagos. The theme of this year’s event, tagged World Poetry Day With Wole Soyinka was “Restating Humanity With The Woman.”
“If the government of this nation cannot protect her own and cannot take action when our humanity is violated in this manner, we have to ask for help from outside. And I am throwing a challenge to our foreign friends and visitors, representatives of ambassadors, to take action on those who have committed certain crimes.
“Such people should be refused visas and put them on your watchlist for them to stay in their hole, (tell them) we don’t want you in our country. It’s about time. The crime against humanity is just beyond the way it is because it demonises the rest of us who tolerate it and allow it to happen or fail to happen.
“Start preparing or compiling a list of all those who commit or advocate violence in the name of religion, especially our youths, let them stay in their holes’” Soyinka said.
Soyinka, who was palpably angry not just at the violence religious fanatics commit in the name of religion and the falsehood people peddle on social media stated this against the backdrop of the support and thumbs up the Mullah of Abuja gave to the lynching and burning to death of Deborah Samuel by her peers at Shehu Shagari College of Education Sokoto last year
“It is not only those that are brutalized that are being victims, there are those whose minds have been warped to such an extent that they can descend on their own peer, of their own age, their own school mates, chase her, hung her to death, set her on fire. Her name is Deborah.
“When this happened, I had an engagement, in fact I accepted very happily an engagement in Abuja specifically to make a statement. And I demanded that the Mullah of Abuja who rejoiced and who praised the act didn’t deserve that position of a spiritual head of a religion, that he should be removed.
“I am sure he is still enjoying himself as the spiritual leader in the capital of this nation. He calls himself also a scholar by the way, calls himself a professor, supposed to be learned, supposed to be able to use his brain over emotions.
“And yet, he announced that it was right that we should turn our children into murderers and others as victims. And of course there were other acts of limitation all over the country at the time.
“This was a man who ought to be tried for incitement to murder instead of remaining the spiritual head of a universally revered religion called Islam.
That is not a spiritual leader. That is just a homicidal maniac , masquerading as a man of God and a scholar.
“I have a request to make. If the government of this nation cannot protect its own and cannot take action when our humanity is violated in this manner we have to ask for help from outside.”
2. Prof Wole Soyinka while speaking at the World Poetry Day event, held in Lagos, Nigeria Invited guests at the World Poetry Day event held at the Eko Hotels in Lagos
The Nobel Laureate also used the opportunity to lambaste those who impersonate him or peddle false rumours about him on social media, adding that he does not know any other nation that abuses social media as Nigeria.
“And we are living in a society which is degenerating to a level where falsehood has become the stable commodity, especially on that antithesis of imagination and creativity called internet and social media.
“I want to assure you. I want to tell you something, that ever since this electoral thing began, I have not made one public statement, not on behalf of any candidate, not on the proceedings, not on the venue, not on the candidates, not on INEC, not on former presidents, not on whatever in connection. And yet the amount of garbage which has been attributed to me, with my photograph pasted on it is just amazing. It is incredible that such identity theft can continue unchecked for so long.
“It is incredible that people sit somewhere, fabricate absolutely out of nothing,put your name to a statement, attached your photograph to it and claim it to be your product.”
Soyinka also said even though he admired technology, communication has catapulted the world into realms of humanity that we really should safeguard, while urging everyone not to believe everything they read on social media. Soyinka also said those who lie debase language, adding that they debase not just their humanity but our humanity.
“The technicians, the technologists have really done us a favour to the advance of humanity with its technology. But I do not know any nation in the world that abuses that technology as Nigeria.
“So please don’t spend so much time on it. Use it. I don’t want to discourage you but learn to discriminate. Don’t believe everything that you read on that medium,” Soyinka maintained. Prof Soyinka on stage with dignataries and invited poets at the World Poetry Day event in Lagos, Nigeria
Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Nigerian actress, journalist and cosmetologist, whom Jahman Anikulapo described as the mother of multitudes, for her part, also said with a sense of humour that Soyinka is a father of multitudes, extolling the Nobel Laureate’s virtues and commending him for what he has done for the country, for humanity and the younger generation.
Lycett who acknowledged the fact that the month of March is dedicated to women also admonished women and young girls to raise their heads high in society, adding that in spite of the fact that we are in a patriarchal society in which the rights of women are continually breached and violated, women still call the shots.
She also advised young girls to hold their own, maintain their dignity and not be carried away by superficial things.
“Ladies you’re going to be married. You’re going to be having children. You’re going to raise the children. You have to treat this society with the kind of people you raise. And please take your eyes away from all the shining objects that people are throwing at you. Let’s go for substance,” she said.
Walter Akpani, Managing Director and CEO of ProvidusBank, the organizers of the event, said he was thrilled to see the young writers whom he described as the future of Nigeria present at the event. And for them to be here today gives me so much hope, especially when we look at what they have been able to contribute,” he explained.
Akpani, who expressed appreciation to Soyinka for making out time to be at the event and for the continual support he has given the programme, also said ProvidusBank will continue to impact positively on “how we ensure that the future of Nigeria is better, especially for the young lads that are amongst us this evening.”
“It is not an easy thing. But in our own little way, we would continue to contribute to this. And today I know that there would be more we would learn from them. As young as they are, we would definitely learn and take a bit from them today. Even some of the things that you and I would be shocked that we probably never had an inkling about – the fact that they have this much talent. And it goes beyond Just them. It goes even as far as others that are not sitteth here,.
“We all have collective responsibilities to make sure that the future of Nigeria is assured with the type of individuals and children that we impact positively, ” Akpani said.
American-based Nigerian writer, journalist and academic, Okey Ndibe who introduced Soyinka before he (the Nobel Laureate) read his poem used the opportunity not just to apologize to him about the season of anomy in the country but also to celebrate him.
“Soyinka said to me as he had said to many other interviewers ‘I believe in people, not in nations’. Also I want to apologize to you Professor Soyinka about the season of anomy that we have in our country presently, about the reduction of our humanity to ethnicity and to religion.
“And I want to celebrate your ecumenism of spiririt, your largeness, your amazing humanity,” Ndibe averred.
It was indeed an evening of poetry, music and dance. Nigerian jazz musician Yinka Davies, backed by a live band, thrilled the audience with what what seemed like an unending rendition of scintillating music.
Poets drawn from across the globe who performed either virtually or physically in order to celebrate World Poetry Day included Nahalie Handal, Vuyokazi Ngemntu, Jumoke Verissimo, Emma Ofosua, Achalugo Chioma, Ilozumba, Amrah Aliyu and Wana Udobang.
A very significant aspect of the event was the poetry performances, which teenagers drawn from different schools in Lagos gave individually. The poems were performed in honour of Leah Sharibu, one of the Chibok girls who has not only been held hostage by Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists since 2014 but has shown uncommon courage in the face of adversity.
Another special session that evening was when Soyinka read a poem from his latest poetry collection entitled “Selected poems (From 1965 – 2023) A Retrospective” which was presented to the public.
Still, the event also provided another opportunity to present another book entitled: “Journeys (40 poems from a Poetry Hub in Lagos)” an anthology of poems written by participants in the 2022 ProvidusBank World Poetry Day Cafe Workshop and edited by Eriata Oribhabor, Segun Adefila, Chisom Ohuaka and AJ Dagga Tolar.