Trouble In The Republic Of Liars
THE full title of the book is as follows: InterInventions: Between Defective Memory And The Public Lie: A Personal Odyssey In THE REPUBLIC OF LIARS. We have been here before. The then young poet Odia Ofeimun accused an older practitioner of the art in his bold title The Poet Lied. It was a bold and reckless thing to do but he got away with it with minor skirmishes. But the Wole Soyinka’s Republic Of Liars, for short, is a different kettle of fish. Here are none of Odia Ofeimun’s water-falling poetic lines – “fishermen in their canoes hounded by tides/swimmers drowning hounded by tides”. Rather, the book documents, with agony, the public lying propensity of General Olusegun Obasanjo, two times head of state of Nigeria, (which does not have the forgetting sonorousness of ‘one time such and such and such’.
In his company are Chinweizu, the original Chichidodo, the bird in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born who loves human excrement – “but with a difference! As it dines on this human emission, it apparently makes a sound akin to chichidodo – to express how much the stuff disgusts it, thereafter resuming his feast with gusto” (page35); Adewale Maja-Pearce, Peter Enahoro, Major R.O.A. Salawu and Chief Abiola Ogundokun and Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola just in time in a stop press.
In entering The Republic of Liars and telling the public what he has seen there, could he not be said to be repeating the same offending material therein contained? There is consolation though, unlike the visitation to The Poet Lied, the author has provided with indemnity by the author, hopefully! So, repeaters of these stories as well as reviewers of the book who might have to mention these stories can go ahead, they are covered “fully against court processes, as well as the consequences of any libel suits that may arise from this maiden number of the InterInventions series.”
There is a lot of laughter here and it makes reading the book a joy but it is a difficult kind of laughter, like laughing at an elder in his back, which is never without the fear of being found out! As the central character in the book General Obasanjo gets the greatest attention. Yet, it seems as if Wole Soyinka still hesitates in wielding the mallet on the unmoved general. There are teaseas and one dare not pronounce the name, like some words at night at home in the dark. Take the following statement:
‘E-enh. So you want to lift oil enh? Just like that? First, you must to lift skirt o!’
Who was it that uttered those words? To whom were they spoken? Where and when were they spoken? And most pertinently: Did she lift? And did she also – lift?
Let it be stated here though that Wole Soyinka is not the only one to have taken on the lies of General Obasanjo. Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama has taken on the military lies in his voluminous The Tragedy Of Victory – On the Spot Account of the Nigerian-Biafra War in the Atlantic Theatre. In Part three of the book General Alabi-Isama does what he calls an expose of General Obasanjo’s My Command. It covers pages 488 to page 652.
Yinka Odumakin took on the political lie of Obasanjo in Watch the Watcher – A Book of Remembrance of Obasanjo Years after Obasanjo’s three-volume autobiography was published earlier this year. It would seem that here, Wole Soyinka takes on the personalised lies of Obasanjo.
Like all art forms, writing about lies can be written about without mentioning content, simply sticking to the form that lies take and the implication of lying. But like a good practitioner of his art, Wole Soyinka provides the philosophical implications of lying. “A fraud, a rogue, a murderer’ thus spake the Oracle, pontificating on the destiny of the Liar. The last of that triple crown takes us into the dangerous zone of hyperboles – the Liar as, inevitably, a murderer?” (page 55). It was a lesson that was flogged into our minds that he who lies will steal and he who steals can kill. But Wole Soyinka rejects this third of the future of the liar. The Oracle and our parents could not be wrong on all counts but that is the theoretical framework of the trajectory of lying – stealing and murder.
As if aware of the pain behind our laughter, Wole Soyinka says early in the general introduction: “If a would-be ‘Father of Modern Nigeria’ presiding over a nation of over 150 million, chooses to lie like an ‘area fada’, or a street hawker of fake watches, he has asked to be treated as material for dissection by sociologists, psychiatrists and all genuine students of warps in the human condition, no different from a sartorially resplendent business mogul who has been caught with his pants down, defecating in the public.” (page 8) This is all well and good Prof, what about our shame, we his fellow Nigerians, who would always wish to give him respect? True he says insults and all these abuses make him happy, never bothered, but should we not bother when our former president is described in the following terms?: “Beyond argument, Obasanjo is a vast, multi-faceted quiltwork of fabrications, contradictions and sententiousness, fathomless as an object of study.” (page 53) They say the poor cannot afford shame and we are poor but we feel shame for our former head of state to be described thus “… not among those who set out to improve the world but rather to cause distress to its inhabitants. It was through manipulations that he attained a high position. Having achieved this however, he constantly blocked the progress of those behind him, this being a most deplorable act in the eyes of God, and rank behaviour in the judgement of the dwellers of heaven – that anyone who has enjoyed upliftment in life should seek to be an obstacle for those who follow him. This man forgot the beings of earth, forgot the beings of heaven, in turn, he forgot the presence of God. The worst kind of behaviour agitated his hands – greed occupied the centre of his heart, etc, etc.” I feel shame for myself and for my country.