Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka has opened up on his discussion with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday, August 11, 2016.
Soyinka’s meeting with the president on that day was scheduled as private and took place in the Buhari’s office.
He arrived at the villa and went straight in for the meeting with the president.
Thereafter, Soyinka told newsmen he discussed “national and international matters, general matters, that’s all.”
He declined to give further details but said he would hold a press conference on the discussions.
Speaking in an interview with an online medium, the professor of Comparative Literature said although he initiated the meeting with the president, the discussion centered around the Niger Delta crisis, kidnapping of the Chibok girls (Boko Haram kidnapped 219 girls from a secondary school in Chibok town, Borno State on April 14, 2014), corruption and what he described as other peripheral issues.
“I was the one who initiated the meeting…I had an appeal from the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) they were willing or close to embarking on a ceasefire but that they needed the government to respond, in a very positive way, to meeting their grievances.
“I knew that the president had already met some of those spokespersons of the NDA, according to my information. I don’t know their names, by the way… I sent a message and President Buhari made time for us to meet.
“My position was that this was an issue that should be treated holistically. We shouldn’t wait until people take to arms in one form or the other before addressing certain social anomalies, social grievances, dissatisfaction, sense of alienation, etc. No matter what!
“My position is that the Delta insurgency and restlessness is an integral part of a certain dissatisfaction with the internal arrangements, socio-political arrangements of the nation.
“In other words, for me, I just see this as an aspect of a call for restructuring because of the peculiar history of the Delta region in relation to others, has giving rise to militarism which surges again and again and again.
“So, I believe we had a very, I believe, positive discussion on that. In fact, I remember telling him that each time you say Nigeria’s sovereignty is not negotiable, you or Obasanjo or Gowon or you military people, the world will start talking to insurgents.
“You are already negotiating Nigerian sovereignty; so, let’s move away from the rhetoric and get practical. So, it (the discussion) was along those lines that we had our conversation.
“Not only on the Niger Delta issue, also talked about Chibok girls, on corruption, on a number of other peripheral issues… I had an interesting respondent to, shall we say, a number of issues. Naturally, the discussion was cordial, frank and I think, positive discussion that we had.
“That I didn’t want to talk to the press before was for the fact that I called (for) that meeting for a different purpose. When I invite people, the press for a briefing, I tell them what I want to talk about. They cannot dictate to me what I want to talk about and when I want to talk about some issues.”
On his impression of Buhari up close, Soyinka described the president as one with a good sense of humour, despite being described as taciturn.
“They say he has a taciturn… but he must have a taciturn sense of humor which expresses itself in non-taciturn ways, let me tell you that.
“He has a sense of humour. It was not a dry meeting.”
Earlier, on June 29, on a visit to corporate headquarters of Punch Nigeria Limited, Soyinka supported Nigeria’s restructuring when he said sovereignty of the nation is negotiable.
“I am on the side of those who say we must do everything to avoid disintegration. That language I understand. I don’t understand (ex-President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s language. I don’t understand (President Muhammadu) Buhari’s language and all their predecessors, saying the sovereignty of this nation is non-negotiable. It’s bloody well negotiable and we had better negotiate it.
“We better negotiate it, not even at meetings, not at conferences, but everyday in our conduct towards one another.”
A fortnight after, on July 9, Prof. David Tam-West dismissed Soyinka’s statement and insisted that the sovereignty of Nigeria was non-negotiable.