Wole Soyinka’s work as a teacher of his nation and people in the last seven decades can be summed up in one word: transcendence. His entire envisioning of Nigeria – for which he has suffered persecution, deprivation, abuse, insults and other unspeakable forms of punishment – is reducible to transcendence.
The tragedy of Nigeria is that there has never been a critical mass huge enough to embrace the intellectual and civic responsibilities of transcendence.
Justice, Soyinka says, is the first condition of humanity. Sadly, this is not his most famous ‘quotable quote’ among his compatriots. What many Nigerians learn by rote is that other quote from his book, The Man Died. The two quotes, as indeed the entirety of Soyinka’s work and vision, are rooted in a transcendent view of society and her future.
When Soyinka says justice is the first condition of humanity, he does not pause to enter qualifications, caveats, conditions, equivocation, and hesitation. It is a transcendent vision of justice, fairness, and society which foregrounds humanity beyond base instincts fed by ethnicity, religion, and politics.
In other words, when Wole Soyinka says justice is the first condition of humanity, there is no pause to determine your race, religion, ethnicity, and politics before the statement is deemed applicable to you. There is no equivocation because there is a very long history of hate, animus, and irreconcilable opposition between his own ethnic group and yours. There is no hesitation because you belong in Christianity or Islam, two faiths he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about. There is no qualification because of your political leanings or affiliation.
Justice is the first condition of your humanity. That is a transcendent envisioning of society that generations of his compatriots have not been able to rise up and embrace, bogged down as they are by invidious base instincts.
If you look at Wole Soyinka’s essayistic exertions since the beginning of the 2000s, you will notice an upshot in his preoccupation with terrorism, political sharianism, and other ideologies of hate and murder sallying forth from the warrens of radical Islamism. We have no greater intellectual and ideological opponent of these murderous ideologies and the philosophies they propagate than Soyinka.
Yet, the moment Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, was extra-judicially murdered, followed by a heavy-handed military mop up in the civilian warrens of Maiduguri, Soyinka, the transcendent envisioner of society, did not mince words. You cannot kill extra judicially. You cannot use the military for civilian mop ups in civilian spaces.What Soyinka thought of Mohammed Yusuf, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism did not matter. His voice was not going to be associated with countenancing a society in which the outrage of the moment – Boko Haram, Islamic terror – would become a valid excuse for the delegitimation of his transcendent vision of society – justice is the first condition of humanity.
The bane of transcendence in Nigeria is that too many people who imagine themselves grand envisioners of project nationhood are better off as companions of FFK, Fayose, Nnamdi Kanu, Asari Dokubo, Tompolo, Arewa Youths in championing transient and limited ethnic and political agendas.every outrage is tolerable and defensible because you support the president in power (everything you would not have countenanced under Jonathan suddenly has legitimacy for you now), if every violation is rationalisable for you because you have empathy for the political party in power, if the military in civil spaces is sweet music in your ears because of a long history of animosity between the three big ethnicities in Nigeria and just because your own ethnicity is not at the receiving end of such violations today, if every outrage is tolerable because you and the victim of the outrage are not of the same faith, you have no business in the business of trying to envision the future of the Nigerian society.
Try any of the lesser occupations I will outline below. There are vacancies and positions to be filled yonder. You may have better use for your temperament and talents there.
FFK is again freelancing as a Yoruba irredentist because he has lost out of eating at the centre. Go and join him and Adeyinka Grandson and leave the business of envisioning Nigeria to those who believe in certain transcendent givens, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or politics. Go and join Arewa youths or Asari and Tompolo. Go and join Nnamdi Kanu and his lieutenants. If what blocks your path to transcendence is religion and not ethnicity, go and volunteer in your Mosque as a muezzin and leave the business of envisioning Nigeria to those who have transcendent work to do. Go and join your Pastor and Daddy in the Lord’s protocol team. Go and join the social media vanguard of APC or PDP. Join the Buhari Support Organisation or revive Jonathan’s TAN.
I find it truly amazing that folks would live in societies built on centuries of transcendent envisioning and sanction what is going on in Nigeria from the safety of transcendence. From Paris to Brussels to Manchester to Barcelona to Nice to London to American cities, I have lost count of how many lives civilisation has lost to radical Islamist terrorism. Yet, after every ISIS-inspired attack, civilisation kicks in. Political and civil leaders fill the airwaves with the need to maintain certain values, a certain vision of society.
All these cities have known neighbourhoods dominated by radical Mosques, deranged Sheikhs, and heavy civilian Muslim populations. I have never heard of calls for military operations in the radicalised neighbourhoods of Paris or London. It is still up to enhanced intelligence gathering and good old law enforcement.
Enhanced police sections are created and trained for the purpose. Never tanks rolling around in a show of force because some people are willing to turn the hate mongering coming from a particular mosque or the crazed preachings of one particular Mollah into an excuse to justify the overturning of the fundamental pillars of their society.
The worst you will get are Twitter rants from Donald Trump. If he could, he would have sent seals and marines and tanks to Dearborn, Michigan on January 20, 2017.
People will live in these kinds of places and spaces and mount highwire opinions justifying the military in the streets of Umuahia. I don’t get it.
Justice is the first condition of humanity.
That is transcendent. Don’t add qualifications to it because of the religion, ethnicity, and party politics of your neighbour.
Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.