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A few weeks ago, we posted a story about the mob of Nigerian online trolls who came after Soyinka because of statements he made regarding the US election. [read here if you missed it]

The air has now cleared a bit. Perhaps it’s time to reflect a bit on the significance of Soyinka coming to (figurative) blows with that faceless community of detractors called internet trolls.

James Ogunjimi who followed the controversy closely posted a few remarks on Facebook. He claims that a form of cultural hierarchy has traditionally defined the interaction between the African writer and the reader (who is considered to be part of the masses). He then argues that social media is leveling things out. The troll attack on Soyinka, he suggests, marks the beginnings of some kind of cultural revolution pushing back against the towering figures that dominated the African intellectual space.

Read and let us know what you think.


Soyinka does not like the internet. “Social Media Nightmare, Nigerian Version of Ageism, Self-serving Interpretations of African Culture & The Many Versions of Truth”
The storm that accompanied Nobel Laurete, Prof. Wole Soyinka’s outbursts about his green card has thrown light on certain issues that in the interest of nation building and public peace, it may be suicidal to ignore.
One, it has shown that the youths are angry. Very angry. And even if sometimes their anger is misdirected, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that any nation that ignores the collective anger of its youths is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
Two, social media is turning out to be the ‘older generation”s nightmare. The older generation of politicians, intellectuals, columnists are used to having opinions and making them public without contradiction. They are used to writing in newspapers and declaring their opinions as final without contradiction because some of these youngs ones, it will take them a year to ever get their opinions published in those newspapers. What social media has offered the youths is the opportunity to challenge every word spoken, the opportunity to talk back, the opportunity to examine every word written and spoken and sieve out the bullshit from the real message. This is very uncomfortable for certain persons.
Three, Ageism. The normal definition of ageism is: an unfair treatment of old people. The Nigerian definition is quite different. It is used interchangeably with ‘disrespect’. When a young person ‘has the audacity’ to tell an old man or woman that her opinion is incorrect, that young person has transgressed. In an African setting, you dare correct an old person? You are an African and you dare say an old man is lying? You were born and bred on African soil and you dare say an old woman is wrong? How dare you? Have you no elders at home? Do you intend to grow old or you want to die like flies?
If it is disrespectful to criticize elders and you have a nation where the minimum age for contesting elections is 45, you begin wonder if there is no constitutionally-backed conspiracy to silence the younger generation. You begin to wonder if respect is only an age thing and if it is no longer a give and take thing. You begin to wonder what number stealing from the younger generation falls on a one to ten scale of disrespect. You begin to wonder how long it will take for the radar of disrespect to start chiming when you load it with every inhumanity from stealing money that should be allocated to education to stealing money that should be used to secure our lives that the older generation of Nigerians have subjected the younger generations to. How can there be a mutual agreement of do this, I do that and you fail to ‘do this’ and expect the younger generation to ‘do that’? How?
Four, Self-serving interpretations of African culture. When you are an African, you do not have the liberty to talk as you like. You are told to challenge injustice and untruths, but there is an unspoken caveat that your African upbringing should have instilled in you: challenge injustice and untruths among members of your generation, not among the elders. African culture is flung in our faces by elders whose words and actions drag African culture and what it represents through the mud every day. When you speak up, they remind you of African culture. A child that says the mouth of elders stinks will not grow old. You don’t know? It is not a curse; it is OUR CULTURE.
They are quick to forget that inasmuch as African culture lays emphasis on respect for elders, it also emphasizes, perhaps even more, the protection of young ones and seeing to their upbringing. It is like a social contract: protect the young ones and raise them well and they will respect you and cater for you in old age. The older generation breached that social contract first, the older generation of elders ditched African culture and stole from from the younger generation. They ditched African culture and shared the money meant to build our schools, money meant to give us a safe and comfortable learning environment, money that should be used to stock our libraries and laboratories. They shared everything and allocated allowances after allowances for their own upkeep and comfortabiltity while the children, the young ones are left in the wild to fend off wild animals and to suffer the biting cold of life. That is not African.
African culture pays premium to the wellbeing of the young ones first. African culture says it is wrong to steal from anyone talk less of children. African culture says the elders protect the young ones. You should visit our schools. See our libraries with outdated books. See our laboratories with outdated materials and kitchen stoves. That is not African.
And the elders that are not politicians, they kept quiet. They, with their deafening silence aligned with those who stole from us. They who tell us tales of being paid to go to school. They who tell us about the good old days of being fed fat in schools. They who tell us about finishing school and having to choose from three or four jobs with great pays. How did they get comfortable with stories of us learning in war zones? How did they feel at ease with our stories of empty labs and libraries? How did they feel at ease with our stories of fee hike, lecturers demanding sex to pass students, graduating without job and selling akara. How did they feel confortable with all these?
And when the young ones decide to fight a fight that the elders refused to fight for them, when students in higher institutions decide to face their school administrations and state governments that refused to fund their schools, the older generation that should wake up and support the students slap a tag on their agitations: “JUVENILE DELIQUENCY” and support their arrest and expulsion. How can you default in your responsibility and still have the moral decency to talk down at those who do your job for you? How?
Five, The Many Versions of Truth. Elders always teach the young ones to say the truth at all times. But as we grow up, we realize that the truth has many versions and contrary to what we were taught, you should not always say the truth. You learn something new about the truth. Say the truth when the truth does not affect someone close to you. Say the truth when it is convenient. Say the truth when elders are not involved. Say the truth when it does not affect someone who has achieved so much. You learn that the truth has countless varieties and has an ever-expanding caveat. You learn that as an African, there is an age people get when you can no longer say the truth to them and about them. You learn that there is an height people reach when you can no longer say the truth to them or about them. You learn that people contribute so much to society that they get to a point where saying the truth to them or about them is a travesty. You learn that someone can spend his/her life fighting for the right of people to speak the truth and in his/her old age, it becomes disrespectful and a crime to say that truth to them and about them.
In the final analysis, the young ones are angry. Very angry. And it is the failure of the older generation of Nigerians that the young ones don’t know the direction their anger should take. Someone asked on Pa Ikhide’s wall if the younger generation have read Fanon. How can they read Fanon when the system under which our schools run recommend books that teach children that heads are for carrying load? I have read Fanon. I have read Chancellor Williams. I have read Walter Rodney. I have read Ngugi Wa Thiong’O. I have read Nkrumah. But I didn’t read any of them from schools.
How can you enjoy a robust educational system, and see dilapidated structures passed off as schools today and still be able to ask if our young ones have read Fanon? It is a miracle that we graduated with our lives at all and you are asking if we brought anything out. “Alfa jona, e n bere irungbon e.” (The alfa burned to death, you are asking for his beard).
Mark my words, the Prof. Soyinka saga is not an ending, it is a beginning. Mob justice is no longer just going to be physical, it is going to be virtual too. Unfortunately, because the youths lack the proper ‘education’ to know who is villain and who gave ascent to villainy via their silence, there are going to be so many casualties who are not direct scoundrels but whose silence and dancing-around-the-bush antics will see them burned to death by a mob of young virtual mobsters that were birthed by the theft of the elder members of the ruling class and by the criminal silence of the older generation of Nigerians who are not directly responsible but whose silence and focus on irrelevancies led us here.
I guess the older generation of Nigerians should be grateful then that the younger generation has not read Fanon, Nkrumah, Cabral, because if they had, instead of virtual attacks on social media, they will be on the streets, marching and attempting to tear down this system.”
James Ogunjimi
December 2016




Post image by Post image by Jodie C via Flickr.

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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