Wole Soyinka and the Critic’s Creed




Place a scorpion in the paths of those chasing rats. They will forget the rat and chase the scorpion. Now, you throw a snake in their path. As one chases the snake, we can smuggle an elephant under his nose


Let me start this short epistle by telling us the fable of the Lion and the Gnat.


"Away with you, vile insect!" said a Lion angrily to a Gnat that was buzzing around his head. But the Gnat was not in the least disturbed.


"Do you think," he said spitefully to the Lion, "that I am afraid of you because they call you king?"


The next instant he flew at the Lion and stung him sharply on the nose. Mad with rage, the Lion struck fiercely at the Gnat, but only succeeded in tearing himself with his claws. Again, and again the Gnat stung the Lion, who now was roaring terribly. At last, worn out with rage and covered with wounds that his own teeth and claws had made, the Lion gave up the fight.


The Gnat buzzed away to tell the whole world about his victory, but instead he flew straight into a spider's web. And there, he who had defeated the King of beasts came to a miserable end, the prey of a little spider.


What we make of this story remains our understanding, I recall that popular phrase, I have said my own, how you understand it, remains your problem! However, kindly follow me…


Nigeria has a history of ethno-religious problems that have resulted in violence, bloodshed, and destruction. The country is home to more than 250 ethnic groups, with three main ethnic groups: the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest, and the Igbo in the southeast. These ethnic groups, along with others, have different cultures, languages, and beliefs that have led to ethnic and religious tensions.


The ethno-religious problems in Nigeria are complex and multifaceted. Some of the major issues include but not limited to:


Religious differences: Nigeria is roughly split between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.  And in the North, Christians who feel dominated, and in the South, Muslims who feel outdone but relatively peaceful than those in the North, and trust me, this is debatable! These two groups have different cultural and religious practices that sometimes clash, leading to violence and conflict. Not in the last because at various time both faiths are customers and clients to the numerous traditional worship adherents that go by various nomenclatures…babalawos, dibias, bokas, and etc.


Marginalization: Some ethnic groups feel marginalized and left out of the political process, which has led to resentment and frustration. In this class are the Igbos, but when viewed with a better sense it is more of a case of the marginalisation of the marginalised, everyone in Nigeria is marginalised in one way or the other. You might be a marginalised tribe but belong to the majority faith in your area, or the majority tribe but part of the minority denomination of your faith…


Resource control: The control of resources such as oil has led to conflicts between different ethnic groups, particularly in the Niger Delta region. And these days the findings of oil albeit both real and imagined in the North is a topic of discussion for another day, and resource control does and has not lied to power control…


Political power struggles: Ethnic and religious differences continue to be used as a tool for political manipulation, leading to tension and conflict. Need I dabble again into the Muslim- Muslim ticket or the no man’s land realities.


Sadly, we remain a country that has a tendency to avoid confronting fundamental national issues, pretending that all is well under the guise of peaceful coexistence. However, genuine peace cannot exist without justice, and Nigeria has many issues that must be addressed. Despite this, the country chooses to ignore them, leading to bottled-up frustrations that often result in explosive outbursts.


Calls for a national dialogue have been ignored, and even when talks are agreed upon, important issues are often restricted. Without first acknowledging the fundamental truth, progress cannot be made towards nation-building. Nigeria and its people are not yet ready for such a task.


To move forward, Nigeria must have honest and empathetic discussions, acknowledging the country's foundation of pretences and hypocritical culture of denial. There are deep-rooted issues between various ethnic and religious groups, with suspicions and grievances held on all sides.


The federal government and the caliphate phalange are especially mistrusted by the Igbo, who suspect unfinished business and a desire for their vanquishment. The Yoruba feel their ancestral lands are being overrun by the Igbo, while the Southsouth desires control over their resources to combat exploitation. Christian and traditional communities in the North fear the encroachment of foreign Fulanis and their existential threats. As I wrote this, Hausas and Fulanis clashed in Sokoto state, and terror herders have struck in Benue, and the gunmen kidnappers disappeared with over 80 kids in Zamfara…


These are just a few of the complex issues facing Nigeria, and they must be confronted if progress is to be made. Denial and avoidance only lead to self-inflicted delusions that prevent the country from soaring. The absence of truth and justice only adds to the tension, leading to a ticking time bomb that may one day explode. While fault lines between various groups must be acknowledged, Nigeria must move beyond surface-level discussions and address the deeper issues at hand.


Before I make some recommendations, let me state categorically that I do not just criticize the role of Soyinka versus others and those that get their kicks on taking the venerable professor of literature who has and continues to pay his dues.


I believe that criticism should be thoughtful, insightful, and fair, and that critics should strive to understand and appreciate the entire crucible of what they critic or at most have the right to the item being critiqued, and on no account should we deny ourselves the learning and sharing spirit that underlies any criticism.


Criticism should be informed and knowledgeable: Critics should have a deep understanding of the medium, genre, and historical context of the work they are evaluating. They should be well-read, well-versed in the history of the art form, and knowledgeable about the artist's influences and intentions. Nigeria is a country and not titling towards nationhood and we will continue to critique it…and as I write I dare ask, is Nigeria, female, male or inanimate?


I criticise Nigeria from a fair and impartial, with an open mind and without preconceptions or biases.  I look at this country and our progress or retrogression on its own merits, rather than always comparing or imposing my own tastes and preferences.


My discourse, admonition, and soliloquy are to bring insight and provoke us thoughtfully. The reason I write as a storyteller, one who offers thoughtful and nuanced analysis of our country, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and providing context and perspective. So that no matter the circumstances we can understand and appreciate Nigeria on a deeper level.


It is unfortunate that we have lost our sense of disagreeing without being disagreeable thus, we are not respectful and constructive, we thrive on personal attacks and snarky comments and lose focus on nationhood.


It is in this light that I often take responsibility for the criticism in my writings seriously and recognize the important role that critics play in shaping our understanding and appreciation of ourselves as Nigerians.


Whether Wole Soyinka was right or Dati was wrong, or the reverse, the fundamentals go beyond these great Nigerians, all because until we are ready for—Dialogue: Honest and open dialogue between different ethnic and religious groups can help to build understanding and reduce tensions.


Until we are ready for education that promotes respect, tolerance and understanding among different ethnic and religious groups. Until Good governance and inclusive politics that help to reduce resentment and frustration among marginalized groups…Until Resource sharing is equitably done among different ethnic groups. Until the strengthening of our institutions such as the judiciary, the police, and the military can help to prevent ethnic and religious violence and hold those responsible for violence accountable.


We will forget all the current noise, without addressing the concerns that are real. There will remain a vacuum that only concerted effort from all stakeholders can fill!


The least of our enemies is often the most to be feared…for the incoming administration, pride over a success should not throw you off your guard. You are inheriting Nigeria at its lowest, how you fare is beyond all the Obi theatrics and the personae of Mr. Tinubu, in four years—time will tell!