TranscriptCNN International Interview with Nigeria's President Obasanjo andUSAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu on Democracyand Security Issues

In Nigeria and elsewhere, the mind of thezealot is an insatiable dark hole

By Prof. WOLE SOYINKA

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com,TheBlack Business Journal and NigeriaCentral.com


Destruction of property and human massacres are always traumaticevents in a community, saddening and enraging, but the organizers ofthe beautycontest, as well as the participants, must understand that theyaretotally free of guilt. The guilty are the storm troopers ofintolerance, the manipulators of feeble-minded but murderous hordesof fanaticism. The nation will mourn the dead and render aid to themaimed and bereaved, but that same nation must understand that itwill itself join the graveyard of nations if it fails to uphold theprinciples of plurality, choice and tolerance. The phenomenon ofintolerance is eating up a world that can only survive on peacefulcoexistence.

Lagos: In order to stop the Miss World 2002 pageant from takingplace on Nigerian soil, the fundamentalist agenda mounted a rampageof frustration. It was not sufficient that the organizers agreed toshift the date for the finale out of respect for the season ofRamadan, the Muslim season of fasting and purification and - lest itbe forgotten - peace. It was not sufficient that, as yet anotherconcession, the absurd decision was taken that the competitors wouldnot appear in swimsuits in the finale.

Additionally, the head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo, hadearlier agreed to receive the contestants in a courtesy call; hewithdrew in deference to Muslim sensibilities. All these merelywhetted the appetite of the beast of intolerance, to whom asuperficial loss of face can only be assuaged by a loss of lives.

The newspaper that allegedly committed the offense,ThisDay, published fulsome apologies and retraction of thepublication that gave offense. This apology was sententiouslyaccepted by Muslim leaders and the Supreme Islamic Council, layingemphasis that the newspaper in question showed contrition andremorse.

Nothing in the statement of the Muslim leaders, however,considered an expression of remorse necessary for the loss ofinnocent lives nor administered a stern rebuke to the fanatic hordesthat swept through the streets of Kaduna, burning and butchering.

The pattern has become wearisomely familiar -- an imagined slightor disrespect, even governmental failure to promptly acquiesce inunreasonable demands that infringe on the civic rights of others, andthe response is violence unleashed on an unsuspecting populace!

I shall withhold comment for now on the appropriateness of theapology of ThisDay, the indicted newspaper, since my intention is notto fan awake the embers of mayhem whose flare-up now appears to havebeen temporarily doused.

Sooner or later, the issue of the freedom of expression must beaddressed within societies such as mine, and the nature of dueresponse that is permissible when such freedoms are held to havewounded the sensibilities of others. A society that tolerates themurder of innocents, or incitement to murder, as the interpretationof due and legitimate response is a society that is breaking apartbeyond all remedy.

For now, let this be clearly understood: The alleged offense bythe newspaper -- which merely reported the comment made by a citizen-- was only an excuse. Anything at all, anything or nothing, wouldhave served as the trigger of a predictable rioting. If an "offendingstatement" had not conveniently appeared, the rioters would haveinvented one or rioted without one. The minds that we are dealingwith feel obliged to prove, time and time again, that they would goto any lengths to impose their concept of appropriate human conducton their immediate society and even on the world.

The parameters of "offense" are now totally without definition andhave turned infinitely expansible. While they deny others the rightof freedom of expression, they exercise theirs in the form ofbloodletting. The streets of the ancient city of Kaduna are awashwith blood because of a group of bigoted murderers who will notaccept that it is the right of others to express themselves in theglorification of the human body. Perhaps at this point it isnecessary for me to repeat my views on beauty pageants in general. Ihave always considered them a frivolity that does nothing to enhancethe condition of womanhood.

However, this 2002 edition, its originally scheduled location in anation whose mostly peaceful secular coexistence has been brutallyshattered, not once but repeatedly in recent times, has been acritical event. Nigeria, in case anyone has forgotten, is that nationof more than 30 states where a calculating political animal suddenlyunsheathed the sword of religious fundamentalism for purely politicalgains, setting a dangerous example that has been followed by eightother states.

The governor of that state, Zamfara, declared his intention torule the state on strictly Sharia principles. This, as I statedrepeatedly, was an act of secession, and the various violentmanifestations that we have witnessed since then, stemming from thatdeclaration, mostly engineered, have been a pursuit of a secessionistpolitical agenda that attempts to disguise itself in religious robes.The amputation of the hands of thieves followed shortly, in defianceof the provisions of the nation's criminal code which -- let this beemphasized -- does grant Sharia laws their legitimacy, but setsunambiguous limits on its application in the administration ofjustice.

The most notorious punitive measure of the Sharia states, however,has been the sentencing of two women to death for alleged adultery.The first was acquitted on appeal, on a technicality, while thelatter, Safiyat, remains under that threat of judicial murder of theutmost sadism -- to be buried up to her neck and stoned to death.This will not happen, however.

No, the sentence will not be carried out. The Nigerian governmenthas assured the world that it will not, and the Sharia statesunderstand this. To kill Safiyat is to step beyond the line of noreturn and, for a number of reasons, none of the seceding states isprepared to go that far.

So what we are witnessing are simply sanguinary incursions intothe cohesion of the Nigerian nation, acts of defiance intended towarn the government that the rebellious states are determined toassert a degree of autonomy that is not enjoyed by the rest of themember states and need not be compatible with the provisions of theconstitution that define the state known as Nigeria. When a stateacts outside a constitution, it has effectively seceded from theentity that is governed by that constitution.

Yes, a beauty pageant is a trivial indulgence, and some may arguethat it even diminishes the status of womanhood. However, given achoice between the bearded wannabe Taliban face of any protagonistgovernor of Sharia, uttering his imprecations against the beautycontest on television, and the sight of sylphid aspirations offemininity on parade, I have no hesitation in opting for the latter.Unfortunately, our world is infested by minds to whom lissome limbsonly evoke dreams of amputation. A lovely face makes them fantasize,even salivate on the messy pulp that will be left at the end of someStone Age stoning ritual.

In any case, Mr. Universe contests are equally ludicrous exercisesin exhibitionism, and I have yet to hear of any riots taking place onaccount of the exposure of those grotesque abdominal muscles and theflexing of improbable biceps. Mr. Universe competitors wear skimpypants with recognizable bulges, only slightly less assertive andliteral than the tightly packaged crotches of the male balletdancer.

From the moment that I learned of sectarian opposition to thefemale Universe version being held in Nigeria, it became somethingother than a beauty contest and assumed serious sociopoliticaldimensions. Whenever my travels took me to any place where a boycottwas threatened -- such as South Africa, Italy and the United States-- I deliberately took time off to argue against the boycott. Neverhas a frivolity acquired such profundity in the pluralist characterthat is the very essence of the Nigerian nation.

Destruction of property and human massacres are always traumaticevents in a community, saddening and enraging, but the organizers ofthe beauty contest, as well as the participants, must understand thatthey are totally free of guilt. The guilty are the storm troopers ofintolerance, the manipulators of feeble-minded but murderous hordesof fanaticism. The nation will mourn the dead and render aid to themaimed and bereaved, but that same nation must understand that itwill itself join the graveyard of nations if it fails to uphold theprinciples of plurality, choice and tolerance.

The phenomenon of intolerance is eating up a world that can onlysurvive on peaceful coexistence. The accommodating are in retreat onso many fronts, little understanding that every abandoned space ofcoexistence is immediately occupied by the aggressive agenda offanatics. They advance again and again to demand and seize moreconcessions, more demands on the way of life of others. The mind ofthe zealot is an insatiable dark hole, engorging all that makes lifelight and bearable.
Prof. Soyinka, a Nobel laureate for literature, is a Nigerian-bornplaywright and essayist. He recently wrote the essay,The Middle East and theIsle Of Polyphemus.


Nigeria,a terrible beauty. By ChidoNwangwu

Why Bush should focus on dangers facing Nigeria's return to democracy and Obasanjo's slipperyslide. By Chido Nwangwu


USAfricaonline LITERATURE
Why Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko, is Africa's writer of the century.
Achebe, scholar, social conscience, cultural historian and globally-acclaimed writer, has been a significant and binding source for an engaging understanding of African pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history and realities. I believe that such insight has made him a favorite of African-Americans, and other scholars and regular folks in search of a better, realistic understanding of Africa, at least, from Achebe's utilization of his rich and dynamic Igbo ancestry, in south eastern Nigeria. I share the same ancestry, and he's one of my mentors.
By Chido Nwangwu. Click here for commentary
Chinua Achebe returns "home" from U.S., to love and adulation of community.Achebe on oral tradition, juxtapositioning of language and linguistic colonialism. World-famous Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe has said that Africans should not be overly concerned if the long-established tradition of oral storytelling dies out. Achebe, once described by Nelson Mandela as "the writer in whose presence prison walls fell down," told the BBC that he agreed that the art was dying out - but insisted it could be revived "if we decide that the oral story is absolutely necessary." "Oral storytelling was important when I was writing - it may not be important when the next generation is writing," he said. Achebe, who is very critical of colonialism and its aftermath in Africa, explained that he himself writes in English because he is a victim of linguistic colonialism. But he added that he felt it was important not to "lose sight of the need for our mother tongue."

"I hope I have shown it is possible to show respect to English and Igbo together. Chinua Achebe added that "The situation may well develop in the future, in which the different languages of Africa will begin to reassert themselves," he added. "I have made provision for that myself, by writing certain kinds of material in Igbo. For instance, I will insist my poetry is translated back into Igbo while I'm still around."


See related resources/text/references:
Why Chinua Achebe, the Eagle on the Iroko, is Africa's writer of the century. By Chido Nwangwu
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POLICY
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COMMUNITY INTEREST
Johnnie Cochran will soon learn that defending Abacha's loot is not as simple as the O.J Simpson case. By Chido Nwangwu
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Lott of Racism?
Implications of
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DIPLOMACY
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INSIGHT: Destruction of property and human massacres are always traumatic events in a community, saddening and enraging, but the organizers of the beauty contest, as well as the participants, must understand that they are totally free of guilt. The guilty are the storm troopers of intolerance, the manipulators of feeble-minded but murderous hordes of fanaticism. By Prof. Wole Soyinka

INSIGHT
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HISTORICAL INSIGHT
Biafra-Nigeria war and history get fresh, critical look from a survivor. By Alverna Johnson and Vivian Okeke.
  'Biafra: History Without Mercy' - a preliminary note. By Chido Nwangwu
ODUMEGWU EMEKA
OJUKWU:"It was simply a choice between Biafra and enslavement! And, here's why we chose Biafra"
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African Union: Old wine in new skin?
Sharia, Sex and hypocrisy of Gendered Justice. By Chika Unigwe, columnist for USAfricaonline.com
And the Rocks Cried Out (For Safiyatu). By Effenus Henderson
NEWS INVESTIGATION: The Marc Rich Oil Deals in Nigeria


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Arafat's duplicity, terrorism at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian crises. By Barry Rubin
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Summit on Africa, Congresswoman Jackson-Lee hold policy forum in Houston
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TRANSITION
General Tunde Idiagbon:  A nationalist, an iron-surgeon departs
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Index of Founder's Notes (1)

Index of Founder's Notes (2)

Index of other Viewpoints USAfricaonline contributors and columnists on the issues

USAfricaonline.com INSIGHT:
How
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Is Obasanjo ordained by God to rule Nigeria? And, other fallacies. By Prof. Sola Adeyeye
Obasanjo was not sworn in merely to
"mean well" for Nigeria. By Obi Nwakanma

Obasanjo's 'prayers' and the Abacha path of staying in power. By Nkem Ekeopara
Why Nigeria and Africa's leaders are leading us to nowhere. By Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com, author of the highly-acclaimed African Literature in Defence of History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe and a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics.
Nigeria, a terrible beauty.
Abati's Revisionisms and Distortions of history. By Obi Nwakanma, USAfrica The Newspaper contributing editor and award-winning poet
Reuben Abati's fallacies on Nigeria's history and secession. By Bayo Arowolaju
How Abati, Adelaja and others fuel the campaign of hatred against Ndigbo. By Jonas Okwara
"Obasanjo, secession and the
secessionists": A response to Reuben Abati's Igbophobia. By Josh Arinze, USAfricaonline.com contributing editor.
Abati and other
anti-Igbo bigots in Nigeria. By Chuks Iloegbunam, USAfricaonline.com contributing editor and author of Ironsi

What has Africa to do with September 11 terror?
Africans reported dead in terrorist attack at WTC
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Creative writing, publishing and the future of
Nigerian Literature. By Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike
APPRECIATION
A young father writes his One year old son: "If only my heart had a voice...."
Seriously, is your web site a Turkey, too? Get Solutions

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Investigating Marc Rich and his deals with Nigeria's Oil
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MEDIAWATCH
Should Africa debates begin and end at The New York Times and The Washington Post?
Nelson Mandela, Tribute to the world's political superstar and Lion of Africa  
TRIBUTE
Nnamdi Azikiwe: Statesman, Intellectual and Titan of African politics

CONTINENTAL AGENDA

Bush's position on Africa is "ill-advised." The position stated by Republican presidential aspirant and Governor of Texas, George Bush where he said that "Africa will not be an area of priority" in his presidency has been questioned by USAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu. He added that Bush's "pre-election position was neither validated by the economic exchanges nor geo-strategic interests of our two continents." These views were stated during an interview CNN's anchor Bernard Shaw and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield had with Mr. Nwangwu on Saturday November 18, 2000 during a special edition of 'Inside Politics 2000.' Nwangwu, adviser to the Mayor of Houston (the 4th largest city in the U.S., and immigrant home to thousands of Africans) argued further that "the issues of the heritage interests of 35 million African-Americans in Africa, the volume and value of oil business between between the U.S and Nigeria and the horrendous AIDS crisis in Africa do not lend any basis for Governor Bush's ill-advised position which removes Africa from fair consideration" were he to be elected president. By Al Johnson
ARTS
The Life and Irreverent times of Afrobeat superstar, FELA

 

 

PANAFRICANIST
Tanzania's founding president Julius Nyerere    

 


ELECTIONS
Gigolos on the Campaign Trail. By Prof. Walt Brasch
Can Africa live a future without war? An Open Letter to Mandela. By Fubara David-West
Sex, Women and (Hu)Woman Rights. By Chika Unigwe

DEMOCRACY DEBATE
CNN International debate on Nigeria's democracy was livecast on February 19, 2002. It involved Nigeria's Information Minister Prof. Jerry Gana, Prof. Salih Booker and USAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu. Transcripts are available on the CNN International site.

WILL ARINZE BE THE FIRST POPE of RECENT AFRICAN ORIGIN? To our Brother Cardinal Arinze: May your pastoral lineage endure!

The Democratic Party stood for nothing in 2002 election cycle. By Jonathan Elendu

HEALTHWATCH
EVA champions efforts to combat AIDS among Nigerian youth. By Jessica Rubin
Pros and cons of the
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TRIBUTE
Prof. Chimere Ikoku: Remembering the legacy of a pan-Africanist, scientist and gentleman. By Prof. Chudi Uwazurike
 
Can Africa live a future without war? An Open Letter to Mandela. By Fubara David-West, USAfricaonline.com contributing editor
COUNTERPOINT
Tiger Woods is no Nelson Mandela! By Chido Nwangwu
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Impeachment process shows Nigerian democracy "is alive... being tested." Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the impeachment process shows that "democracy is alive, is being tested, and being tried.... What they (the legislators) have tried to do in the democratic way, which is not easy, would probably have been done by taking arms or by -- with bullets. So, but with democracy, of course, some people feel that this is the way this should be, and then I have an opportunity to defend myself. There is discussion. There is dialogue. There is a decision. There is fairness." He made these comments when he appeared on Tuesday September 17, 2002 on CNN International to discuss the issues of impeachment facing him, the allegations of corruption, abuse of the constitution and deployment of soldiers ina civilian environment which led to the "massacre of civilians" in Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue). On the charges by international human rights organizations and Nigerian media that his government has been involved in actions which have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the retired General gave a surprising answer. He was asked that "as many as 10,000 people, it's being reported, have been killed in Nigeria (in) communal rivalries, and the number is believed to be increasing. And people are saying that although President Obasanjo has done a lot of good for Nigeria, you're accused of not -- accused of failing to halt that spiraling violence."
Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997),
Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.
Obasanjo facing corruption and ineptitude impeachment charges, again since the parliament, a few weeks ago, passed a motion carrying a majority of the members of Obasanjo's party, the PDP.
RELIGION AND ETHNIC CONFLICT: Sharia-related killings and carnage in Kaduna reenact deadly prologue to Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. By Chido Nwangwu
It's wrong to stereotype Nigerians as Drug Dealers. By Chido Nwangwu
Nigeria as a Nation of Vulcanizers
Why Colin
Powell brings gravitas, credibility and star power to Bush presidency.
PUBLIC POLICY
Private initiative, free market forces, and more democratization are keys to prosperity in Africa.
The
Civilianizing of African soldiers into Presidents
Maduekwe, Nwachukwu clash over Obasanjo at World Igbo 2002 convention in Houston. USAfrica Special report

DEMOCRACY DEBATE
CNN International debate on Nigeria's democracy livecast on February 19, 2002. It involved Nigeria's Information Minister Prof. Jerry Gana, Prof. Salih Booker and USAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu. Transcripts are available on the CNN International site.

Steve Jobs and Apple represent the future of digital living. By Chido Nwangwu
The coup in Cote d'Ivoire and its implications for democracy in Africa. By Chido Nwangwu
(Related commentary) Coup in Cote d'Ivoire has been in the waiting. By Tom Kamara.


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