Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has debunked the claim made in a newspaper interview by former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida that he had tea with him in the home of Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, 28 April, the day the latter staged the ‘One man, One Vote’ rally in Benin.
The rally was boycotted by Soyinka and leading opposition figures, with Soyinka declaring that he could not sit together with Babangida who annulled the June 12, 1993 election adjudged to be the freest and fairest in Nigeria.
With Babangida’s claim appearing to contradict Soyinka’s position and critics suggesting a possibility that Soyinka actually had tea with Babangida, Soyinka has roared back, denying Babangida’s claim. The Nobel Laureate declared: “I am no tea drinker”.
“I affirm that, if the State House stewards had offered me tea with IBB, I would have declined, but it would only have been to request something a little stronger, since I am no tea drinker,” he stated in a reaction posted in the online news portal, Saharareporters.com.
One of his critics on the same portal, Remi Oyeyemi, a former THENEWS staff based in America, had queried the Nobel Laureate: “Is there any particular reason Soyinka did not disclose this ‘tea party’ incident to the public at large? Is there something involved in this than we can all fathom from the surface? Why did Soyinka acquiesce with the press reports that he turned back from Benin Airport when he actually sat with IBB in Oshiomhole’s house before ‘escaping to freedom?’
“This is very pertinent because as things are today, the Nigerian people are looking for above board leaders and opinion moulders. For such opinion moulders to be as effective as warranted, they need to have integrity and must be believable. We are not asking them to be angels. Neither are we asking them to be saints. They are entitled to their own errors and mistakes. But they must always level with us. Every time they make any public statement, it must be the truth that could not be contradicted. It enhances public confidence in them and upholds their integrity.
“There should not be any sign that those who seek to mould our views and what we think about public issues and personalities are trivialising our trust. They should not give the impression that they are doing something else and telling the rest of us another. For those who are politicians, we can expect them to play games with the truth some of the times or most of the times because of their vocation.”
Soyinka in his rejoinder berated Oyeyemi for the insinuations he made in his article and debunked IBB’s claim. He said:
“There is a deplorable tone of pomposity, of dictatorial conceit in Oyeyemi’s article that sets one’s teeth on edge. Here is an article premised on a profusion of ‘ifs’, ‘maybes’, ‘might bes’, ‘it is possible that’, ‘alleged’, ‘reportedly’, yet filled with conclusive judgmental expressions and smug censoriousness. Setting up oneself as a judge of political moralities requires a more rigorous approach to the marshalling, and presentation of suppositions and facts. You do not impute a ‘cover-up’ on such feeble, convenient, purely speculative terms – and over such trivia!
“A surprise encounter, totally unexpected that took place in the presence of, and involving at least thirty others in the reception room of a state governor is not, by any stretch of imagination, an encounter to be tendentiously described as taking place ‘behind closed doors’. This was in the ‘public domain’, and it is presumptuous for anyone to require that I give an account, as a public duty, to what was clear to everyone in that formal and open space as a fortuitous encounter, and one with all conversation audible to all, including a swarm of reporters and photographers that accompanied Babangida into that lounge.
“However, Ibrahim Babangida, in the account offered by Oyeyemi, was absolutely correct in one aspect. I have no personal problem with him or with any other individual to whom I openly identify as a political adversary. Babangida does however have a huge problem of political deficit with me, and with the nation, and that is the albatross that constitutes his problem. I affirm that, if the State House stewards had offered me tea with IBB, I would have declined, but it would only have been to request something a little stronger, since I am no tea drinker. I am happy to note that Oyeyemi’s strictures do not extend to having a drink with anyone on the other side of a profound political divide.
“The purists of political contact are welcome to their position, but they should learn to mind their language. Behind closed doors’! Is there no longer any respect for truth?
“As already stated, I indeed met and exchanged ‘pleasantries’ with Babangida. When I discovered what had brought him into Oshiomhole’s visitors’ lounge – in company of at least some twenty-odd other guests, including Governor Sylva of Bayelsa – when I found that he had been invited to the rally, and that David Mark was also invited as Guest of Honour, I organised my leave-taking as fusslessly and efficiently as I know how, with a fortuitous timing that enabled me to hitch a ride in the chartered plane that brought AC leaders to Edo. I especially did not want to embarrass my host, Adam Oshiomhole, who – I still feel – had invited me with less than expected candour and error of judgment. I find Oyeyemi’s article pretentious, pompous and irresponsibly misleading.”
— Paul Dada