Wole Soyinka And His ‘Green Card’

9th December 2016

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During the US elections, Professor Wole Soyinka had vowed to destroy his American Green Card if Republican candidate, Donald Trump was elected as president protest against the billionaire’s campaign promises to get tough on immigration.

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Wole Soyinka’s election “vow” to shred his Green Card in the event that Donald Trump won the presidential election should not have been an issue. I know ours is a country where people share testimonies in church when awarded a US visa but Soyinka is a Nobel laureate of 30 years standing. As a rarefied and global citizen, he can travel to any country of his choice without the hassles of visa procurement.

Considering also that thousands of people, famous and non-famous, renounce their US citizenship every year, Soyinka’s decision needed not to have been treated like self-immolation. People like Eduardo Saverin, Yul Brynner, and Jet Li renounced their US citizenship for tax exemption purposes; others like Josephine Baker, Terry Gilliam and John Huston did it because they did not like America’s political ideology.

Since the US election night, when it was almost certain Trump would win, folks have been in a paroxysmal fit over Soyinka’s Green Card as if that document confers him humanity. People have insulted the man to the point I was tempted to undertake a cleansing after going through their vituperative outbursts. By merely reading online comments, I felt like a participant in a ruinous ritual. One of the saddening things about social media – and this is a global epidemic anyway–is that basic civility has been butchered by the anonymous collective.

People, now entirely unshackled from their manners and at the same time protected by the facelessness of the Internet, wank off the poisons in their souls into a spit bowl one can barely escape reading. I have always found the Internet a fascinating space, an electronic village square where humans of this world can exchange differing perspectives; where people embed themselves in the personal narratives of friends, families, and acquaintances regardless of spatial considerations. The dark side of cyber interactions, however, is the rapid descent to primitiveness. It can be emotionally enervating and having experienced a bit of it, I can understand the frustrations in Soyinka’s verbal lashes.

There are two reasons, as I gleaned, for the hysteria that attended the Green Card issue. One was Soyinka’s role in the last elections his unexplained endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s candidature after he had vigorously denounced Buhari in a 2007 classic article entitled, “The Crimes of Buhari.” While we should not forget that last year’s presidential election was a choice between two barely distinguishable candidates, Soyinka’s sudden turnaround to uplift Buhari – a man who had not undergone any public ritual of repentance – was baffling.

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With the current economic state of Nigeria, and Buhari’s seeming cluelessness, a number of the caterwaulers are not hiding the source of their annoyance with Soyinka. They hold him partly responsible for not only supporting Buhari’s candidature but also because he has not engaged the present administration as he did the previous ones. On this subject, a previous article by Shaka Momodu published in ThisDay and entitled, “Has the man died in Kongi?” aptly captures my thought. I will also argue that Soyinka can get a pass on civil society activities – the man has done his fair share as a writer and an activist all his life – but his rather acerbic responses to his online traducers show that his wit is still as ferocious as ever. If he takes up the present government, he would be doing a far more worthwhile service than investing it in needless confrontation with those who just want to ridicule him for the fun of it.

There is also a second reason driving the opprobrium and it is almost impossible to miss its unmistakable whiff: inferiority complex. You can sense some of the commenters questioning, who is Soyinka, an African, to reject the Green Card? In the midst of the noisome cyber exchanges, the political symbolism of Soyinka’s action was totally overridden. People could not get past the spectacle of a black man tearing the almighty Green Card. I think amidst the delirium it is significant to retain the point: that Africans can tell off the US, the self-appointed custodian of the world’s morals, when it contradicts itself.

If the US that constantly tries to straighten what is wrong with the world could elect an abuser like Trump, we too should point it out that there is something rotten in the United States of America. How does an Empire built on philosophical introspection elect a Trump who is so shallow he has no advantage over even the basic of things? Millions of Americans woke up on November 9 unable to absorb the absurdity of a non-challant and unprepared huckster who heckled his way to political relevance, leading their country for four years.

Coming right after an intellectual leader like Barack Obama, Trump is America’s demystification.

Since his election, Trump has reportedly had little time to sit through important security briefings. Yet, on Twitter he moans about comedians parodying him on TV. Trump, in some weeks, will be responsible for not only the US but other countries joined to her through one umbilical cord or the other. The prospect is rightly frightening and many Americans themselves are vowing to stand their ground so that Trump is not allowed to cause a major damage the rest of the world would pay for. Precisely why can Soyinka not join in such a protest and as he chooses too? The question of whether it is his business or not should not even arise. His Green Card is America’s contract with him that states that he has a right to partake in all aspects of American patrimony.

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One more lesson I took away from the drama of the Green Card is a dearth of symbolic protests in our clime. Perhaps, I should start by acknowledging that the nature of symbolic protests has changed, due partly to the invention of the social media. There was a time in our society when Fela Anikulapo-Kuti used his brand new Mercedes Benz to transport firewood so as to demystify middle class babbitry. To those who saw the Benz as an aspirational symbol, Fela must have been what the Yoruba would call “ota aje” but today, we can look back and see how that act fits into his gamut of radical beliefs and actions. I am not sure our present society has artists and activists who add colour to their convictions. That must partly explain why people are tying themselves into knots over Soyinka’s Green Card.

Nowadays, perhaps, the only issue guaranteed to trigger public outrage is government interference in our social media activities. This year alone, Nigerians have won two battles against their government over social media. First time, they frustrated the Senate’s attempts to make a law that could curtail freedom of speech. The second time was to resist a data hike. Considering how impervious to outrage the Nigerian government can be, it is remarkable they shifted ground on those occasions. They must have learnt that the social media is the new opium of the masses and they risk a revolution if they overreach themselves on how Nigerians should use it.

If Nigerians can win social media battles, they can win others too.

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