Why my relationship with the Nigerian media will remain ‘very frosty’ – Soyinka

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Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has again lashed out at the Nigerian media saying their relationship will remain “very frosty” as a result of their “obscene” reportage of his decision to shred his United States Green Card last year.

Wole Soyinka during the press briefing
Wole Soyinka during the press briefing

Mr. Soyinka, a professor of Comparative Literature, said he wondered why his private decision with another country would elicit hysteria from the local press, adding that the media provided a platform for social media trolls to launch attacks on him.

“Certain events which took place recently and which made me very reluctant to do my usual stuff of encounters with the press, I think it’s necessary for me to take that first before embarking on the actual theme of the day,” said Mr. Soyinka, 82, at an open forum he tagged ‘Terms of Enslavement I: Holy Cows, Green Gods, and Law of Karma’ in Lagos on Friday.

“Two days ago, I attended a reception at the American Consulate. It was a kind of send-off for one of the Nigerian staff who had worked 30 continuous years with the American embassy, I was there for about an hour or so, I was not arrested, no dogs were set on me, the national guard or marine guard who guard the embassy didn’t lock me up somewhere, lock me up in the diplomatic bag and deliver me to Donald Trump.

“On the contrary, there was a very warm welcome when I went there, but before that, there was an even more significant visitation to American soil in Nigeria and that visitation took place two days before the present president of the United States took office – I can’t remember the exact date now – and again I was received at the official consulate, the business which took me there was taken care of in an atmosphere of complete cordiality and friendship and it was really to exchange documents if you like, that’s why I said this is far more significant than merely going to the home of the Consul General and enjoying his hospitality.”

Mr. Soyinka, the 1986 winner of the Nobel prize for Literature, said he had gone to the US Consulate to conclude a step he had earlier commenced.

“At that meeting I asked for forms, the regulation forms, and filled that form renouncing my status of residence, of permanent residence of America, and in turn obtained an ordinary visa which enables me to go in and out of the United States of America as, to use my own favorite expression, an alien visitor, in other words, a visitor from outer planet, and that’s the way things should be.

“I took a certain decision, my own way of expressing my disgust at some political decision which is an affair between me and the country whose hospitality I was renouncing, at least at a certain level. Since then I have been in the United States, I think since last year October I’ve have been in and out at least six times using that normal alien visitor visa, and that’s it.

“And I’ve asked myself again and again, what happened to the Nigeria media? What was that hysteria about? Why did Nigeria journalists and op-ed writers become so – there’s no other word for it – hysterical and obscene in language over a decision which I took and which concerned just me and another nation. It’s a puzzle which is not yet resolved, until it is resolved, my relationship with the Nigeria media is going to remain the way it has always been over the past few months; very frosty.”

It was not the first time Mr. Soyinka had launched attacks on the local media over their coverage of his activities.

Last August, he said he said he would no longer be speaking to the Nigerian media over issues concerning efforts to end militancy in the Niger Delta, accusing the journalists of “extreme invention” and “distortion of facts.”

Three months earlier, during events marking Mr. Buhari’s one year in office, Mr. Soyinka described a media report quoting him as declaring support for the president as a “disgusting forgery.”

On Friday, Mr. Soyinka noted that there are situations which could compel him to overlook certain things, but “not forgive it or forget them until they are properly resolved in one’s own mind.”

“Because I think the Nigerian media underwent a bout of a kind of sociopathic derangement, I can’t think of no other expression for it which captures the respectable media allowed itself to be controlled by a promiscuous, totally ungovernable, and ‘irresponsible’ social media.

“In other words, we had a situation where a mangy tail was wagging what was supposed to be a serious watchdog. The print media played a very despicable role in that orgy of obscenity for which I cannot reconcile myself with till today.

“In fact, it went to the extent, I will reveal to you, that I called the director of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and I said I want my name off that and if you don’t take it off, I will sue you. I don’t want anything which connects me in any friendly way with the profession of journalism in Nigeria.”

Last year, Mr. Soyinka had promised to shred his Green Card if Donald Trump emerged president of the United States, and, in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s victory, Nigerians trooped to social media, pushing and jeering him to keep to his word.

An angry Mr. Soyinka responded with a 4,000-word essay saying even though he had no intention of backing down on his promise, he found the relentless push and ridicule from Nigerians inappropriate and unwarranted.

“There’s one language which I particularly resent, which I’ve heard a couple of times in recent says, that ‘Ah! It looks like Wole Soyinka is being vindicated,’ the professor continued on Friday.

“I don’t even want to hear that word. Vindicated over what? The issue is not whether Donald Trump proves to be the greatest president of the United States, that’s not the issue. The issue is not whether Donald Trump becomes a mixture of the Gautama, of Buddha, of Prophet Mohammed, Jesus Christ, of Obatala and Orisanla of the beneficient deities known to the world and avatars, that’s not the issue.

“The issue is one of freedom of expression, absolute, untrammeled freedom of expression, as long as freedom of expression its use does not harm others or encroach on the rights of others to freedom of expression.”

Mr. Soyinka also addressed those urging him to show proof that he had, indeed, shredded his US Green Card.

“Those who say Wole Soyinka is a liar, he didn’t do it unless I see it, I have a message for them, you can see it anytime, on one condition: you will eat it,” he said.

“If you promise to eat the evidence, I will show it to you. Since it matters to you so much, since you made it your business, something which is not your business, insisting you want to see it, I don’t give a damn whether you believe me or not. Those who are not fools know that under freedom of information it’s the easiest thing in the world to go and check to see how I go into the States and out, whether I’m using a Green Card or a green god as I call it to facilitate my entry or I’m using other forms of entry. Very simple.

“Only somebody who is a real fool will think that I, Wole Soyinka, will pretend that I’ve done something, when to check is so easy. It just shows that such people live in a lying environment, very likely their colleagues, maybe their families… will lie in their teeth like some of the politicians are doing now, claiming money which isn’t theirs. Actually, that money is mine, it’s the interest on my Nobel prize. I’ll be staking my claim very very soon.

“It is really only an imbecile who will think that somebody who travels around the world, who goes in and out and whose movements can be checked will lie about a thing like that. It just shows that they’ve set up a fictitious figure for their own private agenda and you, the Nigerian media, you allowed yourselves to be misled by these mangy trolls of internet or social network.”

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