|The New Gong Magazine
Publishers of New Writing and Images
When The New Gong writer Dulue Mbachu caught up with Nobel
literature prize winner Wole Soyinka in Lagos recently it was an
opportunity ask the writer some of the questions he had always
kept in store for him.
One question I've always wanted to ask you is what role you expect the
writer to play in the society. I can see your lifestyle has answered it in a
lot of ways, but I'd like you to say it in your own words.
I say that each writer, artiste, musician, painter sculptor, architect or
whatever decides in what direction politically, socially, their individual
temperaments lead them. I don't like to dictate. I've always rejected
dictation. The writer is first and foremost a citizen and the writer's
responsibility is not different from that of a citizen. Except that the writer is
uniquely equipped with the utilisation of language, which is the most
immediate means of communication. That's about all. So the issue of the
writers' duty, responsibility is a subject I always stay clear of because
writers always find their way.
So what in your unique circumstances dictated the line you have taken,
that of the activist writer?
It could be a number of events, circumstances in my upbringing which
pitted me against recognisable situations of exploitation. I'm referring to
my experience when I was a child during the women's uprising against
the feudal and colonial authorities (in Abeokuta). The combination of
that, including listening to discussions surrounding my father's debating
circle. I had been a very curious eavesdropper if you like, listening to the
debates and trying to find my way around the various positions,
arguments, trying to understand the significance of social positions,
social attitudes. It's a combination of those events and maybe my
I see your latest work kind of chronicles your long-running battle with the
Nigerian establishment, even your engagement with the establishment at
all levels. You engage at the highest political level, you engage at the
lowest political level. Why do you think you need to maintain this
engagement or dialogue?
On all levels humanity is involved. And wherever humanity is involved,
that's my constituency. People sometimes take a snobbish attitude,
saying we cannot engage on this level because it's not pure enough for
us. We should be detached. Even in the party of the PDP which I loathe
so passionately because of what it represents, I still have individual
friends, those whom I consider comrades-in-arms. For reasons which I
cannot go into, which you and I may not be able to analyse, they decided
that it's only from within that party that they can make a change. I
disagree with them, but I'll not thereby refuse to see the possibility of
their position. It's when they betray what I consider a common ground
that the cut-off point comes. When I see there's no redemption. But
ultimately my constituency is the grassroots people with whom I interact
all the time, on a level which people don't even suspect.
Soyinka in conversation with Mbachu.
In 1965 you had to make an intervention with a gun? Was it an individual
decision as well?
It's a combination...what I narrated, if you look at the tempo, it was a
critical tempo. It was a matter of hours. It was a moment of decision. That
had to be a moment of individual decision. I had been involved in
mobilising people for the sanctity of their votes, to ensure that people
were given their voice. And we saw that being thwarted every inch of the
way. The most arrogant, cynical and opportunistic use being made of
state facilities. So there came that crunch, the moment when the robbery
of the people's voice was about to be legitimised. And I happened to be
one of may be three, four five people who knew. It was a moment when
an individual had to take a position. In the life of every individual comes
to a crunch, that particular moment when you look at your self, take stock
of yourself and you act.
Then something similar happened in Brazil when you tried to retrieve the
stolen Ori Olokun...
That mad cap episode embarrasses me until this moment.
Did you do it for the African race, or Nigeria?
No, no, no...It was personal, historical. Fortunately this time it was not an
individual decision. We had time to plan, we had time to engage
institutions to make sure they felt the way we did. It was a symbolic event.
You're talking of Ori Olokun, only one of hundreds of thousands.
Was it your reaction to that plunder of African treasures?
Yes of course. I've always felt very bitter about the plunder. I've always
known backwards the sack Benin, Captain Phillips and all that. There was
even correspondence between the (British) Home Office and the
commanding officers here that they should loot so that they will defray
the cost of coming to subjugate an independent people. You had to
consider all that background, things which had been simmering inside
you, and this was a moment you could make a symbolic reparation. Very
difficult to resist.
Your have also crossed paths with our (former) president a couple of
times in Nigeria's history. Where do you see him going now?
It's always very sad for me to have to talk about Obasanjo because we
expected from him a minimum. But now he's been undoing even his
positives. And he's going to be told. It's the public which is being
betrayed on so many levels. Reluctantly I've been forced to conclude that
he's a dictator at heart. He's erratic, he's unpredictable but at the same
time he has a lust for power. All my life I have opposed the power lust. If
you allow Obasanjo or any other individual to get away with it, the next
person who comes...he will want to re-militarize Nigeria. Obasanjo I'm
sorry has become an enemy of the people and that's where friendship
I've always wanted to ask you this question about my experience of
Pyrates Confraternity. At the time I was a member the keyword was
orders is orders. And this engendered a militaristic tendency. I'm
wondering if you consider that this may have undermined some of the
objectives of the confraternity?
To some extent because some of those who came later did not
understand it. Orders is orders is actually a quote from the Ancient Days
of Piracy. It never meant blind obedience to order. Let me give you proof
of that: the very first, so called Magnificent Seven, when they convened
and elected a captain, it was a democratic election. Check from anybody,
Blackdog, Long John Silver is still alive. It is a collegiate organisation. But
your question is absolutely just. Could it be that later on orders is orders
Yes, because my experience was that the capon had to choose his
But you know that has been stopped. You know there is now an
elaborate system...This is part of the transformation made by people like
Olu Agunloye. Olu Agunloye, Calico Bucano, came back, took stock and
began to take Pyrates Confraternity back to what it was. And that's when
the break began, those who could not accept. The first group to break
away was the Buccaneers. They started the schism. Because they loved
power, capon must be obeyed. So if you had a rogue, a pederast, a
corrupt individual who happened to get the political savvy as the capon,
he picked somebody who was his own image. And that was how the rot
began. If you left at that time I don't blame you at all. I turned my back at
one time like many of the others. Olu Agunloye, Calico Bucano, he was
the one, he and his colleagues, who saved the Pyrates Confraternity
after their own experience. That's why I can never turn my back on the