50 years after Biafra: Human becomes mere statistics when power intoxicates, says Soyinka   

NOBEL Laureate Wole Soyinka has advised the Nigerian government to deploy wisdom in addressing the clamour for secession.

He spoke on Monday at the ‘Never Again Conference’ organised by the Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo, as part of activities to commemorate the 50 years after the Nigerian Civil War.

Citing the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for instance, he identified several other nations that separated such as Myanmar, Pakistan, Chechnya and the most recent Britain which is on the verge of leaving the European Union (EU).

According to him, since the agitation for secession started with the civil war initiated by the late Odumegwu Ojuwkwu, it has followed a trajectory of unison, affirming the decisiveness of the people irrespective of the age, literacy level among other demographics.

His words: “Power intoxicates and, in that drunken state, human beings become mere statistics. Some people remain in a drunken stupor for years, alas, intoxicated by the sheer redolence of power and cheap access to the instruments of force. And so I evoke that analogy to bolster those sober and anxious voices that warn, from time to time, that no nation has ever survived two civil wars.

“The claim that no nation has ever survived two civil wars may not be historically sustainable but, it belongs to that category of quest that I have referred to as the pursuit of wisdom – in his case, we may equate it with the wisdom of not holding a bank note over a flame just because the Central Bank claims that it is fireproof. Or attempt to hold an exposed electric wire, just because NEPA is notorious for electrical incapacitation.

“Correspondingly, our analogy is sternly directed as a mirror to those contrary voices which boast: I have fought a war and put my life on the line to keep this nation one, and I am ready to do it all over again.” That bravado, by the way, conveniently overlooks the reality that a parallel, often more devastating toll in human lives and lingering trauma is also exacted from untrained, unprepared non-combatants, burdening the future with a more unpredictable, indeed even irreversible hangover.”

About 2.5 million people were killed in the civil war which commenced on 6th July, 1967 shortly after the nation’s independence and ended 15th January 1970.

Soyinka lamented  about the number of people who died during the war.

He charged African leaders to imbibe good leadership quality to foster equality and good governance for the benefit of the citizenry.



    He also attributed poor leadership as being responsible for illegal migration of Nigerian and other African nationals to foreign nations, traversing mainly through the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea.

    “Adopting that simple exhortation enables us to include the millions of victims of failed or indifferent leadership on this continent who are more concerned with power and its accruements, who see the nation, not as expressions of a people’s will, need, belonging, and industry, but as ponds in which they, the bullfrogs of our time, can exercise power for its own sake. It is they who militate against ‘nation’, not – I shall end on this selective note – not the products of migration from purely nominal nation enclaves who perish daily along the Sahara desert routes, who drown in droves in the Mediterranean.

    “They are the ones who confronted the question with, alas, a fatalist determinism. They asked themselves the question: When is a Nation?  And the answer of those desperate migrants is clearly read as not when we left where we called home!  As long as our humanity opts for unmarked graves in the Sahara desert, or in the guts of the fishes of the Mediterranean, their answer remains to haunt us all. ”

    Read the complete speech here.

    Olugbenga heads the Investigations Desk at The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at [email protected]. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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