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Between a wine connoisseur and an ex-president…..

Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate in Literature, is the wine connoisseur. Olusegun Obasanjo, a military ruler during the dark ages of Nigeria’s contemporary history, is the ex-president. Obasanjo prefers not to see Soyinka as a hugely garlanded man with a host of literary prizes from all over the world. He snatches Soyinka from the company of the printed world and places him in the midst of forest hunters on an expedition to trap guinea fowls for dinner washed down with fine wine.

Let us go to the carping old general to capture the picture. “For Wole,” Obasanjo says, “no one can be good nor can anything be spot-on politically except that which emanates from him or is ordained by him. His friend and loved ones will always be right and correct no matter what they do or fail to do. He is surely a better wine connoisseur and a more successful aparo (guinea fowl) hunter than a political critic…If I want somebody to give me the best wine, one of the people I will go to is Wole Soyinka and I know he has a taste for good wine…”

Now, why would a man, himself aiming to be an eminent author, accost an acclaimed writer and rather than seek to sip mastery of language from the master, all he begs for is inebriating wine? Why?

But the so-called wine man is in no mood to brew the stuff for his host. He isn’t inclined either to part with his favourite guinea fowl delicacy. Soyinka has offered a concoction to prove he is a true son of the literary soil. Instead of a feast of wine and bird meat, there is a language war.  Hear Soyinka: “I had fully attuned myself to the fact that our Owu retiree soldier… is an infliction that those of us who share the same era and nation space must learn to endure. However, it does appear that there is no end to this individual’s capacity for infantile mischief, and for needless, mind-boggling provocations, such as his recent ‘literary’ intrusion on my peace… I despise that species of humanity whose stock-in-trade is to concoct lies simply to score a point, win an argument, puff up his or her own ego, denigrate or attempt to destroy a fellow being… A special pit of universal opprobrium is surely reserved for(them).” Now, this amounts to “spoonfuls of boiling oil, ladled out” by a lion over a prey he does not wish to devour. But it remains to be seen whether the victim would not have preferred the predator’s traditional assault of instant sentence of death to this slow living death.

Are Nigerians learning anything new from this battle of two of their gods? We are getting as much as we got from a previous war between another military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, and this same Obasanjo in August 2011. On the eve of his 70th birthday, the general from Minna, Niger state said Obasanjo had wasted the petrol dollars that came his way when he was elected president for eight years. Babangida claimed the “history of Chief Obasanjo is an open sore that is irredeemably contrived in several incongruities and contradictions.” He said Obasanjo is a plunderer.

But Obasanjo is above board. He does not brook rebuke and so he fired back and described Babangida as a “fool” at 70. He said: “Babangida should be pitied and shown sympathy rather than anger or condemnation because of the old saying that a fool at 40 is a fool forever and I would say a regret at 70 is a regret too late…If Babangida had decided on becoming a septuagenarian, that he would be a fool, I think one should probably do what the Bible says in Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 4. It says don’t answer a fool because you may also become like a fool. When you go to the same Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 5, it says answer a fool so that he will not think he is a wise man.”

This is a caustic banter unbecoming of “gods”, those we have dignified with mentorship and leadership positions, those we place in the hallowed grounds of near-worship. They can’t help behaving like those personalities on Mount Olympus in the Greek mythology. These characters hoisted on exalted hills in the skies were supposed to be pontifical, infallible, and perfect. But they exhibited the foibles of lesser creatures, mortals over whom they lorded. These gods were vindictive, deceptive, lustful, overly ambitious, rebellious, jealous, rapacious, alcoholic, tyrannical and unforgiving. They were classed as powerful and all-conquering. But it was power bereft of control and morality. A Zeus who was the chief would slug it out with mortals for the love of a woman. Atlas would be condemned to the punishment of carrying the world on his shoulders for being on the side of other gods. Hercules was assigned back-breaking labours as the penalty for challenging Zeus.

When therefore President Muhammadu Buhari insists he will pick untainted Nigerian men and women to form his long-awaited cabinet, I am tempted to ask if he will do so from among those who have called each other “wine connoisseur” , “guinea fowl hunter”, “misfit”, “career liar”, “open sore”, and “a fool” among other aliases. Or, is he going to look for “angels” mentored and recommended by “a fool” who has a person with an “open sore” as his friend who in turn has behind him a career of lies sustained by a culture of hunting guinea fowl capped with long nights in warm company with wine.

Our age has one way or the other fallen at the feet of these illustrious men, “a wine connoisseur”, “a fool”, “a career liar”, “a misfit”, etc. They may have unwittingly renounced their majestic gait and abdicated their throne as a result of the indiscretion of these unguarded remarks in the ardour of fitful seizures.

Still, between the so-indexed “misfit” of a “wine connoisseur” and an ex-president now downgraded as a “career liar”, there lie tomes of the chronicles of their stately deeds to guide Buhari choose men and women of steely stuff who would not be struck and dwarfed by paroxysmic outbursts.

Written by: BANJI OJEWALE (a writer and journalist)

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