Soyinka: Nigerians, not Tinubu, are Olórí Kunkun

By Busuyi Mekusi


Wole Soyinka is, no doubt, reputable for his; literary prowess, for which he earned the Nobel Prize, activism, for which he was compensated with incarceration, and intellectual notoriety, which defines his global acclamation. His age has been converted to some agelessness in spatio-temporal order of literary timelessness, which nonetheless ends with human civilisation and existence. Soyinka is an ebullient poet, dramatist, novelist, essayist, public interventionist and restless activist who remarkably embodies the stubbornness of people of Ogun State extraction, as if Olumo Rock is an imposing and intrusive archetype.

Like the palace poet of the 4th Century BC or griot in oral traditional period, Soyinka possesses the licence for retribution and the certificate for lampooning the highly-placed in the society; from the abdication of responsibility by a traditionally commissioned officer of Elesin in Death and the King’s Horseman, to the buffoonery of dictatorial African leaders in A Play of Giants, as well as the personality accession of a psychopath to power in King Baabu. This is not to forget the continuous debauchery and endemic corruption satirised in Alápatà Ăpáta. 

Soyinka has adequately lived the deviant lifestyle of writers, as he also made a name for the establishment of human association such as the Pirate Confraternity, which was later made outlandish by organisational excesses and societal colouration. His activism got accentuated by the seizing of the radio station in Ibadan in 1965, Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service, where he broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. If his actions were treasonable, those of warped political leaders, then and now, are, similarly. Soyinka’s boldness and courage found expressions in his works, as he sentences complacent people to death in his novel, The Man Died.

Notwithstanding the renunciation of timidity in Nigerians, who have been cowed by the oppressive leaders, the people are still held down by a climate of fear. Members of the political class have so much been indulged by the oppressed poor that the former’s dispossessing actions are now justified by the latter. To forestall the poor’s agitation and possible revolt, the bourgeoisies constantly generate issues that the disadvantaged gossip about at beer parlours, open markets, government offices and religious centres. Worse still, public spheres created through talk shows on radio stations help the dispossessed burn part of their little resources on open engagements that often end up as a conversation with the deaf.

Yoruba socialisation that Soyinka belongs to, and for which he is a cultural ambassador, is rich in the culture of abusive communication. Conversations between parents and their children, confrontations between acquaintances, may be in markets, road paths, schools, offices, bus stops, and even worship places, are laced with abuses and curses, with some deflected usages when religion comes to play. It is, therefore, common for words like Olòsì (poor one), Olórí burúkú (one with a bad head), Omo ìyà (child of perdition), etc., to be used to reprimand, scold, or get at an offender.

More interestingly, these unacceptable negative words have become so commonly used that they are also used complementarily. For this, intention is reified above the performing meaning and intended potency of such an abuse or curse. Therefore, Omo ìyà, which could have meant a child of perdition, could be used to typify, casually, naughty boy. People of Lagos and Ogun states extractions have a reputation for using abuses plenteously as compliments.

Soyinka does not behave as somebody lacking in respect for elders, but has, at different times, manifested age-group rivalry with people like former president Olusegun Obasanjo. It is, however, a popular notion that the Egbas have a strong bond that would always help them blur sharp edges, when collective interests are involved. Little wonder that national political opportunities have always tilted towards them in the south-western hemisphere. Some have variously attributed this advantageous placement of people from Lagos and Ogun States to their vulnerability to colonialism, slave trade and the attendant blows. Soyinka is a global icon that is courted by the high and mighty in Nigeria. He is patronised by governors and captains of industries. His participation in NADECO activities must have cemented his collaboration with Tinubu.

Soyinka is an emblem of advancement from grass to grace; from being a lowly boy of Aké, to being a citizen of the world. Soyinka recently also defended one of his own, Olu Agunloye, the former Minister of Power under Obasanjo, who the latter accused of awarding the Mambilla Power project contract without FEC approval. Soyinka described the detention of Agunloye by EFCC, and latter after a ruling at Kuje Correctional Centre, as responding to the whims of either religious blackmail or secular arrogation that is exercised in defiance of the law, which he described as being in total contempt of sense and justice.    

As 2023 was eclipsing, Soyinka visited President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Lagos to, according to him, wish them merry Christmas, discuss a seven-point agenda, and find out how he and his wife were faring, after Tinubu had ignored his advice, when he visited him five years earlier, not to run for the position of the president of Nigeria, but rather allow younger people. Soyinka then configured recalcitrant Tinubu as Olórí Kunkun (the obstinate or extremely stubborn one). Analogous to the denial of Jesus Christ by Peter that the Bible chronicles, the use of Olórí Kunkun by Soyinka to describe Tinubu was reformative, harmless, complementary and a performance of positivity in negativity.

It goes without saying that Tinubu told the whole world that his life-time ambition was to be the president, and no unsolicited counsel of Soyinka would have swayed him off the mark, after he consciously heavily and strategically invested in it. Tinubu remains an example of diligence, perseverance, resilience, astuteness, forbearance and forgiving, as he toiled in the night, strove in the day, spent like a fool, stooped to conquer, and confessed to possess the elevated Aso throne. Tinubu and his wife have not been ambiguous about why they are in power, as they have, for the umpteenth time, reinforced their commitment to sacrificial service to the nation. Unfortunately, while Tinubu would moderate the activities of his son, Seyi, in the prescient of the Executive Chamber of the Villa, videos on social media are suggestive of how charlatans gallivant the allowed space, after their assurances of cheap access to our commonwealth.

Whereas Soyinka would desire that Olórí Kunkun be used to positively reference the decision of Tinubu to sidestep his advice not to run, it is very important to apply the metaphor and meaning of Olórí Kunkun as adversely as possible to represent most Nigerians. Manifestations of Olórí Kunkun are seen in the predilection of Nigerians for corruption. The Betta Edu scandal is a smoke of the fire or conflagration of malfeasance ongoing in the system, as the Nigerian institutions are configured to loot and abuse public office. The poor that should rise against the looters of the commonwealth are being used to defend the award of several millions of naira to a company linked to their angel, who must not be scrutinised because of their perceived infallibility. Hired agents are now pointing accusing fingers at passport cartels that are imagined to be fighting back. Tinubu should know by now that while he and his wife would sweat and not touch people’s money, others on the table with them are vultures with golden forks.

Soyinka’s Olórí Kunkun must be greedy Nigerians in high places, religious hypocrites, betrayers, people with criminal proclivity like bandits, terrorists, scammers, killers for money rituals, people bastardising government institutions, as well as individuals sustaining the ethnicisation and commercialisation of opportunities. Olórí Kunkun are undisciplined arrogant soldiers breaking the law, and abusing constituted authorities; they are compromised judicial officials that are abusing the blindness of the symbol of justice, and offering succour to the highest bidder or loyal friends. Olórí Kunkun are the people that submit themselves to selective amnesia when their opinions are needed to save a situation, embark on wilful dumbness when their voices ought to be loud, and proceed on deliberate forgetting when they need to recall the past, to fix the present and future.

It is noteworthy that Soyinka has advised that we should not criticise Tinubu’s government until after one year, but we must rise up immediately to support the government against the antics of Olórí Kunkun that surround it, even as we cure ourselves of instances of Olórí Kunkun that fall into the negative bracket of opprobrium and reprimand. We need institutional recalibration, application of the principles of lifestyle auditing and accountability, to ensure that the public funds conveniently diverted into private pockets are redeemed from the coffers of Olórí Kunkun. Did Tayo Olafioye write A Carnival of Looters prematurely?

No doubt, Tinubu requires the obstinate attitude that gave him the presidency, against the nudging of Soyinka, to deal with the Olórí Kunkun orientation of his cabinet members, and deviant Nigerians, who would drag us back to the yesterday that seeks to hurt our tomorrow.

Soyinka: Nigerians, not Tinubu, are Olórí Kunkun

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