Nigerian Nobel-winning author Wole Soyinka says youth can fix country
Nigerian Nobel-winning author Wole Soyinka says the youth may have the energy and the know-how to get the troubled country back on track.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the 87-year-old said he sees the many problems facing the West African country, including corruption, violent extremists, and kidnappings, yet he does not despair.
It is up to the new generation “to decide whether they want to keep going along the same chugging one-track train,” or chart a new course, Soyinka told the AP.
Soyinka credits young Nigerians — about 64 million between 15 and 35 years of the country’s more than 200 million people — for trying to fundamentally reform Africa’s most populous country.
He cites the Oct. 2020 #EndSARS protests against police brutality, comparing it to the “positive watersheds of resistance” during the years of military rule Nigeria endured for nearly 30 years.
Although the protests one year ago ended in shootings and the deaths of more than 30 protesters, Soyinka says the widespread demonstrations organized on social media show the promise of the young to achieve change.
“The kind of energy and intelligence which created the #EndSARS movement is one, for instance, that can be used on a much broader scale to involve masses of people,” he said.
From the Freedom Park in Lagos, Soyinka spoke to AP about his views of his country. He said he feels the current system in Nigeria is not a “working, productive” one.
In 2015, Soyinka endorsed presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari and asked Nigerians to forgive the leader of his past as a former dictator who ruled Nigeria from 1983 to 1985. Now Buhari is president and Soyinka is critical of him.
“Right from the middle of the first round of his government, it has failed on many levels and it is up to Nigerians to wake up and reverse the direction in which they are being taken,” the author said of 78-year-old Buhari's administration.
Soyinka says Nigeria started going in the wrong direction back in 1955 when the West African giant started to get “unearned and undeserved wealth” from oil.
“We didn’t manufacture anything from the oil, we just used it raw for what it is, sold it, took the money and wasted the money,” Soyinka, who in 1986 was the first Black author and the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“Productivity went down and the little economies which sustain a people … began to disappear,” he said.
Although the enormous wealth from exporting crude oil made Nigeria one of Africa's largest economies, its people continue to grapple with poverty and underdevelopment.
Ten years after Nigeria discovered oil in vast quantity, it suffered its first military coup in 1966, opening the floodgates for a succession of dictatorships that occupied Nigeria for nearly all years until 1999 when democracy was restored.
Soyinka says to reverse the trend Nigeria must undergo a “brutal” and “marathon” soul-searching in which “we call ourselves names and tell ourselves the truth without any compromise.” The country needs a leader who will “take the bull by the horns” and acknowledge that “so far, so bad,” he said.