Mon, 03 Oct 1994

Big Nigerian fiction

Why would Nigeria's military dictators seize the passport of Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate in literature and Nigeria's best- known citizen?

It makes little sense. By stopping him at the airport to prevent his attending a conference in Sweden, the junta called fresh attention to Soyinka's eloquent condemnation of its repressive policies and its jailing of Moshood K.O. Abiola, the winner of last year's canceled election.

Plausibly, Nigeria's generals feared Soyinka's message more than they fear a brief burst of bad publicity.

Writing in The Time on Aug. 22, the novelist and essayist countered the argument put forward by the junta to justify voiding the elections: that Nigeria would break up if a candidate from the southwest, like Abiola, ended the North's unbroken grip on power.

In truth, Soyinka wrote in his Op-Ed article, the voting returns "made it abundantly clear that the so-called gulf between the North and the South was an invention, and that there was a line of division in the North -- between the workers, peasants, civil servants, petty traders, students and the unemployed on the one hand, and the parasitic elite and feudal scions on the other."

The big Nigerian fiction, in short, is that the officer corps, mainly from the North, is the guardian of national unity and honor. In trying to silence Soyinka, these jittery soldiers only manage to confirm the validity of his indictment.

-- The New York Times