Soyinka: Jamaat needed flogging
By Andre Bagoo Thursday, August 1 2013
NIGERIAN NOBEL Laureate for Literature Wole Soyinka, 79, yesterday revealed he was in Trinidad and Tobago during the 1990 coup attempt and said in his opinion the Jamaat al Muslimeen attackers “should have been flogged” for what they did.
The world-famous playwright said he mistook the events unfolding on then national television TTT for a television play.
“It was ridiculous, an outrage, an absurdity, a parody. Those people should have been flogged,” Soyinka told Newsday in an interview after he delivered welcome remarks at a conference hosted by the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) ahead of today’s observance of Emancipation Day. Soyinka is visiting as part of the Emancipation Day observances.
The Nobel Laureate explained that he was in Trinidad in 1990 at the behest of the Emancipation Support Committee and had been due to deliver a lecture.
Instead, because of the siege by the Muslimeen — which saw the group hold the then Prime Minister ANR Robinson hostage in the Red House, bomb the police headquarters and takeover TTT — he ended up being trapped in the country. He said after about five days, he flew out on a flight via Santiago in the Dominican Republic. But not before witnessing the appalling scenes unfolding on live television.
In his welcome remarks at yesterday’s conference, held at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s, Soyinka further said when he first saw the TTT television broadcasts featuring members of the Jamaat holding old war rifles, he thought he was watching a satirical production: a local parody of life in Nigeria. He said he became outraged. Eventually, he was told what was really happening.
“It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life,” the great Nigerian writer said. He described the Muslimeen as “air-heads” and said Trinidad and Tobago has a true democracy because in this country these men could hold the Government hostage and then turn around and sue the State for false imprisonment — as indeed the Jamaat later did after their arrest.
“This is definitely a sign that there is democracy in Trinidad and Tobago,” Soyinka, who was a political prisoner during the 1960s Biafra Civil War, said. “You may want to export this to us in Nigeria. You may want to give some of this democratic spirit to us.”
Soyinka, a world-renowned playwright, novelist and poet was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature. Among his most famous works are: The Lion and the Jewel — a play; Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known — poems; Death and the King’s Horseman — a novel and The Man Died: Prison Notes — his classic memoir of his imprisonment.
Soyinka first came to Trinidad in the 1970s and then made a second visit in 1990. At yesterday’s conference he expressed relief that his current visit, which is due to end this weekend, has not been as eventful as it was in 1990.
“Thank you for making it not as dramatic as it has been in the past,” Soyinka said, addressing a large audience in the Hilton ballroom bearing his distinctive grey Afro hairstyle. He gave details of what happened during his stay in 1990.
He said he was at the compound of the Nigerian High Commission (located at St Clair, Port-of-Spain) and he happened to notice something on a television there.
“Well actually my eye just happened to catch a glimpse of what was showing on the box,” Soyinka said. He said he noted armed assailants who had taken over the television station appeared to be carrying old war rifles and were asserting that they were in charge and that God wanted them in power.
“I saw this and believed I was watching a play,” Soyinka said. “I thought to myself, ‘Look at this ridiculous thing. They are making fun of us!’ I thought it was a parody. I told Nigerians I was with, ‘Look, it is us!’”
Soyinka said eventually he was told what was going on was an actual attempted coup.
“I said to myself, ‘No, this cannot be happening to this country’. It was indeed a coup. But it was the most absurd thing.” He lambasted the Muslimeen for later turning around and suing the State, after they had held the elected Government hostage.
“These hare-brained individuals have now turned around and sued the State,” Soyinka said. “They unlawfully imprisoned the Government of the day in an attempt to topple them and then turned around and sued the State!”
He then remarked this was a sign there was democracy here. The writer said over the next two or three days he will be making cultural exchanges while in TT.