Interview : Why I Wrote My Life Story —Wole Soyinka
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Bookcraft, the Nigerian publishers of Wole Soyinka’s autobiography, You Must Set Forth At Dawn, are set to take the book round some major Nigerian cities on a reading tour. This book, published last month by Random House in America, has a more reader-friendly Nigerian edition. In this conversation, Soyinka discusses the making of the book with KUNLE AJIBADE, SYLVESTER ASOYA, ERNEST OMORARELOJIE and IDOWU OGUNLEYE. Excerpts:

Q: For a long while, the working title of this book was Beyond The Word. Why did you change it to You Must Set Forth At Dawn?
A: Three editors went through the manuscript in America.

One of them was very struck by that line from one of my poems about my relationship with the road. She went through other titles but she said, “reading this whole thing, I have a feeling that the theme of the road and other voyages in both literal and metaphoric sense are so strong.’’ She said I should consider it. Well, it is a more lyrical title than Beyond The Word, which is a very succinct and very direct title, considering that I am a writer. There were two minds about it. So I put it to the vote. I contacted some of my colleagues here and outside. The majority vote was about six to four. And since, unlike some other people, my sense of democracy is quite genuine, I decided to go with the democratic flow.

Q: Can you recall the circumstances in which you wrote the book?

Let me say first of all that this is one of the most difficult literary efforts of my career. In fact, I aborted it about twice, three times. I just said, look, I don’t want to write this: I am not in the mood for it, I have more cognitive things to do, why should one indulge in an act of recollection? As you might well remember, I have always said that one should not write about one’s life after the age of innocence, which I put at eleven. In fact, one of my editors said, “you really hate this, don’t you?” I said, yes, I really feel I shouldn’t write about my life and that I should be living it. But there are certain moments when you are not sure you are going to make it. And you want to set straight one or two things, not for any other reason. That, perhaps, is because you read so many false accounts. You’re amused and contemptuous of such individuals and then said: “Are these people going to have the last word?” And at that particular moment in my career, I think it was the second year of my struggle against the Abacha regime, I reached a certain point which was not dissimilar to the one I reached when I wrote Ibadan: The Penkelemess Years. After a very brief exile, I came back to confront Babangida’s efforts to succeed himself. It was when I was involved in that nightmare ride from Seme border, which I describe in the book. So, before I set out on that one, I decided that I should just set this down for the younger generation. So this was another moment in my life when there was the feeling that I was being hunted all over the world and I had reached a point where I felt I should tell the story of my life and the struggle. But as I said, there were gaps: at least, nearly a year and half when I didn’t touch anything. I just did not write a word. In fact, there was something I thought my publishers would say: ‘return our advance, we are tired of you.’ But they didn’t.

Q: But you wrote other things in-between. Didn’t you?
A: There was Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known. I produced plays also and so on and so forth. That, for me, is what I consider my occupation – writing. By that I mean writing creative works, essays, disputations and so on. Not writing about my life. But I think it is one of the things that happen to one the moment you are in this field. You know, something like, let us straighten one or two things, in case something happens to one.
Some have accused you of being an egotist. Now you are saying you don’t like writing about yourself. People say I am opinionated, that I have very strong opinions and maybe they use those wordings. But many people are actually aware that I don’t talk about myself. I am not really fond of talking about myself. Yes, I grant interviews and people ask me about me naturally, but in terms of actually wanting to talk about myself, I think those who are very close to me know that I am not fond of that. I’d rather talk about other people.

Q: I asked about the circumstances under which you wrote because at a point, you said you wrote The Man Died in a village where you were only left with terrible rats that ate up your soap and all that. Were there such circumstances this time around?
A: No. Not at all. It is only political enemies here who wanted to eat up my liver (laughter). I wrote this on the move-in planes, during meetings and days of NALICON. I wrote it literally on the move. I don’t think I ever had any stretch of leisurely period when I was able to sit down and say, O.K. for the next period, I would do it. I also had to deliver lectures in-between. That was how I sustained myself. Writing, you know, doesn’t bring in much to me. No matter how famous you are. Go and talk to people like Chinua Achebe and the rest. People who have this idea of millions for authors in royalties. If only they knew the truth. But I had to do a lot of things in-between. It was a book very much on the move. That was what attracted me in the title which the editor proposed as an alternative: that it is like I am always setting forth.

Q: You’ve refused to write explicitly about your women friends in this book. Why are you trying to protect them?
A: Protect is a wrong word. I just feel that I have a right to decide how much of my life I want to share with the public, because I am already a notoriously public figure. Much of my life is spent in the public. I have a right to retain certain things and these are my personal, private space. If I didn’t exist in those private spaces, I couldn’t be the kind of public person that I am. And so I owe something to those private places. Also, I think when you have a relationship with a woman, that relationship doesn’t belong to only you alone, it belongs to the two of you and these are the private moments which you share. You are going to debase those moments when you share it with the public. I have always had the greatest contempt for what I call the largely American style of memoirs in which you bare it all. Literally, you take off everything. I suppose there are people who enjoy doing it. In our culture, we value privacy and I prefer that. I mean, one can always choose the culture one prefers. In terms of the respect for privacy, I think we are far more civilised in our society than in many other cultures, considering the yellow journalism which you know about. My husband can no longer get it up and, therefore, I must divorce him in court. What kind of rubbish is that? I don’t consider that as part of our culture. As a whole human being, you need that private space in which nobody has a right to intrude. People should go and look for their own equivalence. They also have their own private space because I know that the best part of my life are private moments that include going into the bush to hunt on my own, sitting in some isolated hotel where nobody knows me whatsoever. I can walk like a totally unknown, you know, a nonentity, and have a private meal where I can take a whole seizure of the entirety of my being. And that includes, of course, my close relationship with women.
To be fair to some of those who ask for such stories, it could just be that they want to learn from your own relationships. No, anything I have to bequeath, I will bequeath to my children, say, this is how to manage a private relationship. I won’t even say that this is what I went through. I could just say: hmm, let me talk to you as a father.

Q: This, of course, leads me to the theme of loyalty which pervades the entire book – where you talk of friends and others. The way you portray Femi Johnson and Ojetunji Aboyade shows that one of the few things you cherish is loyalty to friends especially. Am I reading correctly?
A: It sounds as if I could point to an incident and say, this incident made me actually value what loyalty is. It is very difficult but it is something I grew up with, which we extract from life experience. It is obvious that one prefers loyalty to disloyalty. I mean genuine loyalty, not as abused and misused by some of our political leadership when they fail to distinguish between loyalty to the nation and being so to an evil cause. So it is important to distinguish what loyalty is. But the whole notion of giving your word and keeping it sits very well with me. But if you cannot keep your word, then be honest with it and just say, sorry, I have difficulties, I would like to terminate this undertaking. But loyalty as an instinct, not a construct, seems to me one of the most beautiful experiences that any human being can have. In other words, you instinctively feel that this person will not stab you at the back. And you know very well that you will never stab him. It is not even a question. And even there are differences. You could just walk away than try to cut down the other people. Well, Femi and I had a fight from which we did not speak with each other for six months. I think I mentioned it briefly then. He did something, something which was not fair. I made enquiries.
And I approached some members of his family to ask: why did he have to behave this

Do you know I was expecting them to say, ‘you don’t really understand this man. He didn’t really mean it.’ I tell you I was shocked by the vilification which he received. I mean, I was really, really shocked because I also knew the other side of the story which they told. I think more than anything else, it mended the fight between us. So that’s what I mean by loyalty. It has nothing to do with gratitude, nothing to do with quid pro quo, it is just a question of understanding that the part of the cement of society is the ability to trust other people and also to remain faithful to mutual undertakings until one side or the other says no . As I said, it is more of an instinct, not a construct

Q: Now, you brought his remains back to Nigeria from Germany and the impression was that no one was going to do that except you.
A: It was worse than that: no other person was going to do it but that there were obstacles placed in the way by his family. I mean, when I say obstacles, I mean real obstacles. And when he was finally brought home, the befitting preparations for this generous individual were sabotaged deliberately by members of his family. I have never experienced that before and I had to be very restrained in what I wrote about it. There are pages and pages I left out because it was better we don’t reopen old wounds. Till date, there is no explanation for the hostility that was engendered after his death. The determination to ensure that he was not buried in Nigeria. The funds were there and if the funds were not there, we were, in fact, at the beginning, spending our money. They did come at the end and assisted with some of the things. But the bulk of the whole thing, at the beginning, we bore. We were like saying, if you don’t want him, we are going to bring him home. There were many things which happened, the less said about it, the better. I’ve just never understood. I finally laid it to rest by just writing about it, but it was something which each time I remembered, just lacerated me all over again, exacerbated the feelings of loss that we had to undergo, all that trauma, unnecessary trauma, both in exhuming him, bringing him home and also in the negation of the efforts of his workers, friends, colleagues, and by that, I mean both Nigerians and foreigners who came for his funeral would pull me apart and say, “Prof., why are we burying him here? Why are we burying Femi here? We know Femi and we know where he belongs, why is he being buried here?” His children came to me, flung themselves on my bed in the hotel and said: “Uncle, why is Femi being buried here?” And I said to them, I was told that even you wanted him buried here. But they said, ‘never.’ His first and second wives said neither of them wanted him buried in Germany. So who was it that was pulling the strings? Of course, we had answers to that. I didn’t go into all those details but it was a very nasty period. I think I lost one quarter of my black hair during that period because I couldn’t rest until it was all over. And even after Femi was buried, oh God, the crippling rumours that followed were really scandalous stuff about the motivation for bringing him home. As you can see, this is one question in which I get carried away, but I want to forget it.

Q: When you heard about the death of Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, your friend, in Benin Republic, you went sorrowfully into a room, apparently to cry. Why don’t you want to say that you cried?
A: Did I cry? I just wanted to be alone. That’s all. I think it was one of those private moments. I just wanted to be alone. It had nothing to do with crying because I am not a very ready crier. I think crying helps a lot. Once or twice I have cried.
When we buried Femi Johnson, I think I shed a couple of tear drops at a certain moment. There is nothing wrong with crying. But on that day, I just was angry. Why? Who was I angry at? I have no idea but I was just in a rage.

Q: In You Must Set Forth At Dawn, Obasanjo is always on the side of the irresponsible and arrogant minority in power while you are on the side of the popular majority. Would you explain the differences between you and General Olusegun Obasanjo along ideological lines?
A: In this book, you just have to be honest. Try your best to be honest. This attempt at honesty can, unfortunately, be positive or negative. To say that there is difference along ideological lines, Obasanjo himself will be the first to say that it doesn’t actually follow any ideology. I think he has only one ideology, and that ideology is called Obasanjo. He has a lot of complexes and one of them is inferiority complex. He just considers himself superior to everyone else, perhaps to feel secure. So he won’t take advice because he won’t even consider an advice that is contrary to what he thinks. Oh, later on, because he is not a stupid man, after reflecting on it, he might come back and say, ‘eh, what were you saying? Alright!’ And he might come out with a variation of your idea so that he feels a sense of ownership. As a study, you cannot hate somebody whom you enjoy studying. Can you? It is not possible. I enjoy his rustic kind of character in his approach to people, which is very charming sometimes. And he is a subject of very deep, compelling study.

Q: Based on your knowledge of him, could you have imagined that he would want to elongate his stay in office?
A: The answer to that is no. Definitely I failed my exams in that study. Definitely. On hindsight, of course, I can point out instances I should have picked up the signals. We spoke of loyalty just now. I also believe in confidentiality. Somebody speaking to you one on one, unless that person has committed an outright crime, or he is trying to blow up your entire environment, I believe that you have to respect confidentiality. I realised that I missed a number of signals, because in moments of very intimate exchange in which I felt somebody was baring his soul to me; but the motivations for the statements he made at the time, I took them at face value. I should have read them with a bit of more cynicism. It was only after I myself had to accept the fact that he was gunning for a third term that my mind went back to the discussion we had immediately after his re-election . We had one and a half hours of one-to-one exchange. And I realised at a time, that I misread one or two things which he said. So I can state confidently that he has been planning his third term immediately after he manipulated his second election victory. I can say that categorically today and I realised that, I think, about a year ago. My only excuse is that even those who claim closer relationship with him were equally fooled. But definitely, I misread the motivation. As for what he said, I won’t go into the details.

Q: There is an interesting story that you narrated here of a couple whose fight you separated on the streets of New York and at the end of the day, the two of them, particularly the woman, asked, keep off! He can kill me if he wants, as it were. At that point if the man had had a gun, you probably would have been killed...
A: Well, it just goes to prove that one does a number of stupid things to one’s life. And that certainly was one of the stupidest I ever did. But it is nothing I could have done in any other way at that time. There was something which hit at the pit of my stomach. Joe Okpaku was there. If you ran into him, you could ask about that incident. It was stupid, but I have come to know that it is something that I would do again, again and again. I just cannot stand that level of... bestiality. We didn’t quite envisage one of the belligerent turning around on me. That’s what made this particular one very interesting. But I have learnt it’s not exceptional in the United States. You are supposed not to interfere. But then a number of people have written and cursed their own nationals after incidents like that in which people just looked through the curtains and shut the curtains and went back to what they were doing before. Let me tell you what happened when I visited Rwanda after the genocide. I spoke to some of the people and one of them told me that about that particular part of the country; that what saddened him was that it happened in that village where it was considered as crime if you see somebody being assaulted and you just ignored it. That you would be brought before the community, be prosecuted and fined. That if you heard a scream, you were obliged to come out. To stay within doors was to be guilty of an offence. He narrated that to me and said also that for this thing to have happened, for that unbelievable massacre to have been planned successfully was for him, the most devastating experience he could think of, quite apart from the enormity of the massacre. It so went against what he had always understood as the communal norm, that it so destroyed all sense of humanity for him for all time.

Q: Your portrayal of Mandela and Mbeki prior to the inauguration of Mandela as the President shows that you were on the side of Mandela on how to tackle Buthelezi and the black on black violence in South Africa at the time.
A: Why do you say I was on the side of Mandela? I think Mandela was on my side on this particular one. Because you tend to think that Mandela’s approach towards solving the problems of South Africa was not a narrow-minded one. That indeed Mbeki, the belligerent, was rather narrow-minded. Do you still consider Mbeki in that mode?
No, I never described him as narrow-minded. No. And I don’t consider him as narrow-minded. I just think that his vision was smaller than Mandela’s. That is all. His vision was narrower than Mandela’s. It is different from being narrow-minded. I remember I was meeting them for the first time. Let me emphasise that. And I was just making my judgment based on their own pronouncements and body language. That is all.

Q: After the death of Abacha, you went to a stadium with Dr. Olaokun, your first son, and quite unexpectedly, there was this young lady calling out Prof! Prof! Prof! She turned out to be Zainab Abacha. You were moved by her gesture. And you wanted to buy her a drink. You did not want to visit the sins of her father on her, am I right?
A: It was at Wimbledon. She was not the problem. I don’t believe that Biblical injunction of visiting the sins of the father on the son. I think that is the most pernicious doctrine I ever read anywhere. I believe very much in restitution and there must be restitution. The young girl, beyond the fact of profiting from an illegal loot, how was she to refuse enjoying the privileges of being the daughter of a maximum ruler? I think she studied, had a profession. As I said, you have to think of that incident. You really have to throw your mind outwards and embrace the plenitude of that event. It was almost like a signal. You didn’t feel it was an incident in isolation. You could not detach it from everything we’ve been through. And that includes all the agonies, all losses and so on. At the very end of the long, five years, the daughter of my main pursuer, in Wimbledon Tennis Court, which I have not visited for how many years? Not since I was a student. At the very time my wife gave birth to Olaokun, my son, who happened to be with me that day, I used to go to that Wimbledon with his mother. And then, visiting after nearly 40 years with my son and the daughter of my main enemy comes up saying, Prof! Prof! Prof! I admire her cheek and the way she sort of stood on her tip toe to whisper in my ears after I said, “Zainab what?" "Abacha!” she answered. I love that. I really love that. It was like the icing on the cake of my freedom. We talked and she spoke to me about her studies and we had to use our tickets. But I just felt I hadn’t done enough. So we went looking for her to probably buy her a drink. Unfortunately, we didn’t find her. I was very sad about that. Oh, let me tell you a story. Let me add something here. I met the son of Loremikan, yes! I don’t know if he is mentioned here but he is mentioned in Ibadan, the police officer, commissioner, who came and baton-charged me when I was in cell on behalf of Akintola. Just a few days ago, I met his son. He is working for one of the NGOs

Q: What was the encounter like?
A: He introduced himself and I said I am going to sue you for battery and assault on behalf of your father. I said I have never sued him but now you are here, I am going to sue you. But for me, that is what life is about. That really is one of the bonuses of life. Yes, you fight somebody to a standstill, but you don’t even feel the slightest rancour against either his relations or his children. For me, the most detestable individual of our existence, whom I mention in You Must Set Forth At Dawn, is Abiola Ogundokun. This nauseous character who published most vile documents about me, on behalf of Abacha. This case is dragging on in court for years. The former judge has been elevated, so we are starting all over again. And I am pursuing that case till the end of my life, until judgment is delivered. But if I see his children tomorrow, I won’t feel the slightest thing against them whereas I will trample on their father’s mouth if I were in a position to do so for attempting so persistently to destroy my character. If I met his children tomorrow, no problem. That is how life should be.

Q: You were offered the presidency, part of the aftermath of Abacha’s death. General Abubakar sent someone to you. I was just wondering why you did not take the offer?
A: It was the wrong time. The programme of UDF, NALICON, plus all the other opposition parties needed a period of government of national unity, during which a national conference, side by side, will take place. If they had said presidency over a government of national unity for a year or two years, it’s 75 per cent certain I would have accepted. But they had rejected our position that we shouldn’t go immediately into political formation or political parties and so on. Civil society had been bastardized, and it is obvious these people were going to handpick the next president of the nation and he was going for four years straight away. They didn’t want an interim government during which civil society would throw up an appropriate person with the good agenda, based on a solid constitution. No, they didn’t want that; they wanted immediately a stooge. That was all they wanted, a stooge. Political culture had been completely destroyed after so many years of military rule. How can it just be back like that, in how many months? We didn’t have a constitution. It was clear they were going to present us with a constitution. When people voted, had they even seen a constitution? Even until Obasanjo was inaugurated, was there a constitution? Who said we agreed with that except an ex-soldier, of course, who is used to just taking orders? There were other reasons but this is the main reason that they were looking for a stooge, somebody who would then be presented as the next president. But as I said, if it was a government of national unity for a limited period, just managing the affairs and undoing a lot of the damage done to the society by decades of military rule, it’s quite possible I could have considered it.

Q: During the exile years, obviously because you were always travelling from one location to another, you were impatient with the way Chief Anthony Enahoro used to conduct meetings. I get the impression that you wanted the rules to work for you, not the other way round. So you co-founded NALICON on account of that?
A: For me, this was a revolutionary situation. This is a situation whereby people sat down and took a decision and you would then move to implement that decision. We in NALICON, UDF, we used to spend, and I know this for a fact by talking to members of NADECO, including my son. I actually gave them my son and I said, go and assist NADECO so that they will understand that it is not that I have anything against them. Olaokun worked with them for quite a while, acting as scribe. It is very strange the way they worked. But I saw immediately that the tempo which we wanted to adopt was just at variance with theirs. They were content but I thought we were losing time. But I made efforts, I collaborated. I can tell you, once it looked certain that I would not be able to return to the states because of a meeting which was called by Chief Enahoro. And I made sure that I prevailed on Sola Adeyeye, who was then on sabbatical in Sweden or Amsterdam, I cannot remember, to interrupt his work, come over. I prevailed on some of our members who also got or didn’t want to have anything to do with NADECO. And then at that time, my university was working on a resident permit. You know about the convulsions of a resident permit. Once an application is made for you, you cannot leave the states without obtaining an exeat. Or you will not be allowed back into the states. This happened to me twice. Once I was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Canada for a conference there, and it was just an opening for the struggle. I got ready to go, but the exeat did not come. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in Canada phoned his counterpart in the United States and explained everything and asked, can you send this exeat after Professor Soyinka had arrived? The answer came back that Professor Soyinka is advised in his own interest, not to leave the states without an exeat. That was the situation in which one had to go to meetings outside. You had to take the trouble to get these things done and of this particular incident that I am talking about, I think Kayode Fayemi recounts it in his book, I was actually ready to leave without an exeat. I wrote my president in the university and said, ‘I am sorry, this is one meeting which I must attend, because everybody is coming and it was called at the instance of Chief Enahoro.’ I said, ‘I am sorry, if I don’t attend this meeting, I will destroy all the entire efforts to bring all the various movements together. Whatever you can do, please do, but me, I am catching my flight on Sunday night.’ I told my family, ‘in case I can’t come back, you will come and meet me wherever I am.’ I got ready to leave and it was because of Jimmy Carter, who was a fellow at Emory University. Jimmy Carter waded in and virtually on the afternoon of my departure, I got a message to come to the office to pick up the exeat. Those were the circumstances. You think those were circumstances in which I had time to attend long conferences when for me, the issues were clear cut? No. But we met at the top, collaborated, so there was no loss. But many people asked: why didn’t you all just form yourselves into one single entity? No, it is not possible, because the temperaments were very different, which means NADECO were heavyweights and we didn’t consider ourselves heavyweights.

Q: One of the high moments of your exile years was the establishment of Radio Kudirat. Do you see that also as a possibility now, given the trouble you went through to raise funds for that radio?
A: Yes, of course, and we are already setting in motion a mechanism for resurrection if necessary. When I heard the case of AIT, I wrote my colleagues and said, get ready, it’s time. And if there is any move to muscle any of the stations, we would resurrect the same mechanism again. We’ve been through enough of this dictatorship and I believe passionately in the freedom of the means of expression as the greatest obstacle against dictatorship and fascism.

Q: A reviewer of this book asked rhetorically a few days ago: what sort of a man is this who was at every hot spot, who knew many important people when they were making history? Do you consider yourself lucky being at every significant turn of Nigerian contemporary history?
A: No, I consider myself unlucky. Nobody believes this but I know it that I wish I didn’t have such a responsive nature, temperament, psyche which compulsively responds. But it’s not just because I cannot rest. Once I have responded in a particular way to an event, to a phenomenon, I don’t have inner peace until I have exerted whatever is within my capability to remedy an anomalous situation. In other words, consider it if you like, that quest for an inner peace. In a paradoxical way, it makes me far more active than I really love to be, because it is only when I’ve been assailed, assaulted viscerally, mentally and humanistically by an unacceptable situation that I am compelled to move. It is only when I have responded in a way which corresponds to what I recognise as my utmost ability that I can find inner peace. It doesn’t mean that is being successful. Not at all. Once I feel I have responded, then I am completely tranquilled. It’s one of the reasons why I narrated a story which is laughing at myself, the incident which happened when somebody collapsed during a conference of Nobel laureates. And it was one of the most delicious moments. I recall it again and again in my mind. I had got up instinctively to go and help this man. Then I said, ‘Look at you. This place is full of the finest medical doctors in the whole world. At least I consider it so by the Nobelty. So what do you think you are going to do there? What’s your business?’ And I sank back so gratefully into my seat and I enjoyed the rest of that conference. Look, anybody can fall down as often as they want, there are other people who are qualified and who should be there first. And I love moments like that when other people are handling what should be human responsibilities because then I blend out into myself. But when my teeth have sunk into an issue that requires remedial action, I cannot find peace inside me until we find a remedy.

Q: Why is your criticism of General Ibrahim Babangida in this book not, in my mind, as harsh as your criticism of Chief Gani Fawehinmi?
A: Gani with Babangida? You can’t compare the two. Gani Fawehinmi is... in fact, I won’t even call what I have to say about Gani criticism. It’s an affectionate observation. This man, Gani. People call me a loner but Gani Fawehinmi is a greater loner, twelve times over a loner of what I am. Unfortunately, from time to time, his lone mentality gets in the way of collective action. I try not to let my temperament towards, at least, spearhead action, I try not to let it get in the way of collective action as, for instance, I have narrated the collaboration between NADECO and NALICON because one must always be aware of the total environment of struggle. Otherwise one will be counter-productive. And Gani, from time to time, does certain things that can be counter-productive. I hope it does emerge as a teasing, but at the same time exasperated observation.

Q: The list of those who have transited in the book is rather long and one of them is Abiola. Do you think that enough memorial has been established in the name of this man?
A: No. And one of the things I have against Obasanjo, the real issue I hold up against him, is his inability even to mention Abiola’s name, to honour this man who won an election over and above all odds and was killed. We are convinced of that, and to name a stadium after him in spite of the resolution of the House of Representatives. This man was called the Pillar of Sports. For a man who has done so much for sports alone. Just forget politics now, just sports. Somebody who is in power for seven years and he cannot recognise the role Abiola played, supreme sacrifice he made in the course of democracy. It’s one of the petty aspects of Obasanjo which is very sad.

Q: This is your biggest book ever — about 500 pages. Very definitive. I hope it is not going to be the last book about your adult life?
A: I sincerely hope so. I don’t want to go through this again.

Q: Why?
A: It is too strenuous and time wasting. I’d rather write a play. But if anybody tries to dispute those things in any serious way, I don’t even have to write anything new. I just go to the pages I removed and review those things I decided to censor myself on, because I’ve done a lot of self-censoring here, some of it as suggestions by my editors. I remember one episode which I wrote in great details truthfully. And my editor said, ‘Ah, Professor Soyinka, I don’t think you want to publish all these things. People will think you are being petty’. I said I am not being petty, it’s the truth, these are the details you want in the book. But she said that people reading this will just consider you being petty. It took a while for me to accept that one.

Q: Finally, I notice after reading the book that our history repeats itself in a very tragic way. Could it be that we hardly learn from it?
A: That is also one of the reasons I took a very strong stand about re-inclusion of some items because I think if people don’t confront these recollections of these events in a narrative form, they won’t be compelled to examine the enormity of this repetitive circle of the same anomalies in our society, the same bestiality in human conduct, the same arrogance and alienation of power as we are experiencing right now. Look at what is happening today, how is it different from Abacha’s time? People need to read about what happened during the Abacha time, during the endless Babangida transition programme. They have to read it and ask themselves: ‘why are we going back, wait a minute, have we not been here before? Oh, wait a minute, are you saying that this happened 20 years ago?’ This reaction will help to shape people’s response to events.