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Literary icon and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has said that Nigeria is very much negotiable, maintaining that those who are won’t of saying the country’s unity is non-negotiable are wrong, especially following the state the country is at present.
This is even as the Bayelsa state Governor, Seriake Dickson, agreed with the Nobel Laureate by stating that, although Nigeria is better off being united as a one big, diverse country with its beauty of a multifaceted culture, it however must be restructured into a nation of compassion, truth and love void of deceit and injustice especially to the people of Ijaw nation. Soyinka gave the statement at a colloquium entitled: ‘A day with the Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka and Ijaw literary icons’ held at the Ijaw National Academy, Kaiama, Bayelsa state. Other literary icons at the occasion include Dr. Gabriel Okara, Prof Ebiegberi Alagoa and Prof John Pepper Clark among others.
The literary icon also cautioned that the calls for restructuring should not be trivialised because, according to him, restructuring means a call for the reorganisation of the country in a way that each component units is allowed to develop at its own pace with a fare control of what it produces. According to him, “Nigeria is negotiable. The rights of people to determine their future is what is non-negotiable. “We must stop confusing and mixing up the argument, we are mixing up the argument. It is very unfortunate for our leaders to say that the question of breaking up or not breaking up should not have arisen in the first place. It all sounds hypocritical, dogmatic and dictatorial. The statement, is the unity of Nigeria non-negotiable? Now that, to me, is a falsitude.” “Should Nigeria break up, my answer is no. But please don’t tell me that Nigeria, as it stands, is non-negotiable. For me, this is a fallacy.”
The Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in literature also corrected what he said is a misconception of the word restructuring, saying, “Sometimes, when people say restructuring, what they really mean is negotiation.” He said “The nation has got to be negotiated. Negotiation includes ensuring that there is no marginalisation. Negotiation means control of resources, negotiation has to do with restructuring a nation in a way that the components and constituents are not feeding an over-bloated centre to the detriment of their own development.” “The language we should use is, what are you willing to sacrifice? What effort are you willing to make to ensure Nigeria remains intact? That is the question.” While commenting on the issue of herdsmen menace in the country, Soyinka said it seemed “those inhabiting oil today are four-legged individual.” He said he does not see the relationship between herdsmen and the oil lands of community dwellers to warrant the clashes between the herdsmen and Ijaw people whose lands are covered with oil. He queried, “Do cows drink oil?” He said that, at the forefront in the calls for the country’s restructuring should be the restructuring of the peoples’ minds with education, saying, that is exactly what Governor Seriake Dickson is doing. “Today, those inhabiting oil are four-legged individuals, herdsmen having clashes with community people and I ask, do cows drink oil? If we do not restructure the mind, we will discover that cows may start siphoning the oil.” Also speaking, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state who embarked on a series of massive project execution especially in education, healthcare, security and power hub, maintained that what he wants is a Nigeria that is fair to his people; a new Nigeria where, especially oil will not be taken away from his people to develop other areas while leaving them and their region marginalised and without development. He said, sometimes the region’s states are caught up with non-payment of salaries because “we don’t control what we produce. Nobody should tell us that there is nothing to negotiate about. He said, “the reason we have spent over 55 billion naira in the past five years building education in Bayelsa is because we want to groom a new generation of servants and leaders, people who would have the courage to stand up firm and say no when no is the right answer and yes when yes is the right one.”
“Yesterday, we came here to start a process of commissioning our minds to free you from ignorance…the only way we can get out of militancy, criminality and crimes is by building schools like the Ijaw National Academy.” He said, “we have fewer militants today” because his administration has invested hugely in education and other infrastructure. Governor Dickson said his government spends almost 150 million naira every month to cater for the educational needs of Bayelsa children having given them complete free education in the schools including feeding, free text-books, uniforms, and grants. He lamented that Bayelsa is cut off from the world with lack of air and sea ports. He said the absence of the ports have discouraged investors both local and international from coming to invest in the state, hence, his administration’s drive to salvage the situation through the construction of the Bayelsa International Cargo air port with an already completed 3.5km runway.
He said he has also set out to resuscitate the Brass LNG and Brass fertilizers through handing the companies the C of Os to boost the state’s economic activities and generate more internal revenue. In the area of job creation, Governor Dickson has equally built a 500 capacity solar-powered fish farm with over 4 million metric tones of fish harvestable at a go to empower the youths of the state and grow Nigeria’s economy at large. Also, his government has built an International Institute of Tourism and Hospitality in Yenegoa with skills acquisition centres for training young Bayelsans to be self-employed and as well as making Bayelsa state the financial hub of the country. The institution which offers Vocational and National Diploma in certificate programmes such as, among others, leisure, tourism and hospitality, according to its Rector Mr. Samuel Timi Johnson and the Registrar, Mr. Leo Adeh, also runs entrepreneurship programmes for students such as in catering, textile and make-up, with an annual target of 1000 trainees. Governor Dickson also said that, to ensure continuity even when he has finished his service as governor of the state, he has set up education commission board to oversee the regulation and continuity of the giant educational imprints that he has inscribed in the state.
On continuous financing, he said 5 per cent of the state’s IGR and a de little deduction from the civil servants’ salaries is used to finance the school, saying education is a partnership of a sort. Earlier in the interactive session with Soyinka and the Ijaw literary icons like Dr. Gabriel Okara, Prof. Ebiegberi Alagoa and Prof. John Pepper Clark, the students were exposed into the journey of becoming great literary icons. Professor Clarke said he believes Nigeria would have erudite literary icons in the students to replace them in generations to come, saying becoming a literary icon is very much possible.
Professor Alagoa said of Nigeria’s historical unity that “I know that the people, from the evidence we have from archeology, have used things in their environment to create their culture and they are united. Our cultures are inexplicably related and joined. Life and fortunes, destinies are all united. That Is the history that I try to tell.” Professor Soyinka said, as a writer, that anything could come first, either the title of the story, the body or even the idea. Literary works of the icons performed by the students at the occasion include Professor J. P clarke’s poem, Casualties; Abiku by Professor Soyinka and a poem titled Oloibiri which tells the story of the Niger Delta region and its struggle for survival, recited by Sophia Obi.
On criteria for becoming a Nobel Laureate, Soyinka said the quality of the work, the relevance and literary taste of the time of the work determines if one is awarded Nobel Laureate. He however lamented that the title of a Nobel Laureate has rather robbed him of his freedom of anonymity, a development he strongly laments. Other activities at the event were the inspection of laboratory and unveiling of the Professor Wole Soyinka Library as well as the cutting of a birth day cake for the Nobel Laureate who turned 83 on the 14th of July, 2017.