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Nigerians Attack Soyinka for Controversial Comments

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A former presidential aide, Reno Omokri, and other Nigerians have criticised Wole Soyinka, a day after the Nobel laureate disparaged some Nigerians on social media as meddlesome “slugs” and “millipedes.”

Mr. Omokri said Nigerians were not eager to let the professor off the hook because he’s prominent for his criticism of people and, therefore, lacked the moral authority to dismiss Nigerians as busybodies.

“Wole Soyinka, a public figure who is the chief poke noser (sic) into the affairs of other public figures to the extent of calling a First Lady a ‘hippo’ is angry at invasion of his privacy,” Mr. Omokri said in a post on Medium, an essay and storytelling platform.

The criticism is the residue of a brutal confrontation that first broke out more than a month ago between Mr. Soyinka and his compatriots after the professor vowed to shred his United States-issued residency card if Donald Trump emerged winner of that country’s presidential election.

At an interactive session with scholars at Oxford University on November 3, a few days before the election on November 8, Mr. Soyinka painted a gloomy picture of an America under Mr. Trump and expressed his intention to sever ties with it.

“The moment they announce his [Trump’s] victory, I will cut my green card myself and start packing up,” the 82-year-old 1986 Nobel Literature prize recipient said.

A footage of the session that surfaced on social media immediately threw Nigerians into an endless frenzy, with a plurality of commentators expressing doubt about the professor’s ability to carry out the threat.

The hysteria doubled after it became clear that Mr. Trump had, in fact, won the election and would be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in a few weeks’ time.

Soyinka just called Nigerians imbeciles but young people are the tyrants. – Precious N. Assiak (@ImaAbasi_Assiak) December 6, 2016

Nigerians demanded that the professor waste no time in fulfilling his promise, and many suggested that it should be done in the open to remove all doubts.

On November 10, he assured of his intention to go ahead with the plan, but added that it would be on the day Mr. Trump is sworn in.

“Come January 20, 2017; watch my WOLEXIT! (Donald Trump will be sworn-in as the 45th President of the United States of America on Friday, January 20, 2017),” Mr. Soyinka told The Interview news magazine.

Some Nigerians mocked him for that comment and said he was shifting the goal post rather than come clean on the matter.

“Soyinka has shifted the goal post. He promised to tear his green card if Trump wins! Now he said on swearing day! We’re waiting,” a Twitter user by the name Shaali Jay said.

The relentless jeers prompted a blunt reaction from the professor two days later.

In the 4,000-word essay, Mr. Soyinka said even though he had no intention of backing down on his promise to cut his green card, he found the relentless push and ridicule Nigerians directed at him rather unwarranted and inappropriate.

“I simply fail to understand why this has gone beyond a flurry of public commentary and hilarious cartoons, and turned into a masturbatory for some, a vomitory for others, and an epileptic sanatorium for a self-reproducing number,” Mr. Soyinka said.

He said he will destroy the card, but only on his own terms and asked those interfering in the matter to mind their business.

A speculation that he might be prosecuted if he destroyed his green card was slapped down by American immigration experts a few days later.

On December 2, the professor disclosed that he had made good his threat.

“I have already done it, I have disengaged [from the United States]. I have done what I said I would do,” he told the French wire service, AFP, in South Africa.

The don later faulted what he considered improper statements by some Nigerians on the matter.

Speaking to reporters at Freedom Park in Lagos on Monday morning, Mr. Soyinka descended heavily on some Nigerians, expressing his regret that he shared the same country with them.

“I’m embarrassed that I’m occupying the same nation space with these imbeciles,” Mr. Soyinka said.

Consequently, he vowed to move himself and his foundation away from “Barbarians” who “are taking the opportunity of the anonymity of the Internet” to commit insidious offences.

“I’m going to move the residency of my foundation out of the country. I have already started it. It is my property. I am moving my foundation out of Nigeria,” he said.

He also chided Nigeria as a nation bereft of common sense and promised to mourn the tragedy rather than his exit from the United States.

“I’m going to hold a private wake on inauguration day not to mourn the decision of Americans in the choice of a president but to mourn the death of Nigeria common sense,” he said.

Rather than hush up the controversy, Mr. Soyinka’s reprimand proved to have had the opposite effect after Mr. Omokri led other citizens to hit back at the professor.

They berated him for his utterances and dared him to move out of Nigeria.

“You publicly boasted that you would destroy (not throw away but destroy) your green card and now you are angry at Nigerians for invading your private matters that you yourself brought into the public domain!

“And he insults us by calling us ‘illiterate Nigerians’! That we don’t have a Nobel Prize does not mean that we don’t know how to reason.

“You can’t boast publicly about a thing and expect it to be privately discussed. Who cares if you change residency from Nigeria? When you were gone we survived. Even with you and Buhari, we will still survive!” Mr. Omokri, a former aide to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, said.

Mr. Omokri, a U.S.-based Nigerian preacher, was followed in his criticism by others on Twitter.

“Professor Wole Soyinka has lost it sadly. No amount of grammatical somersault can buy him back into relevance. Another one bites the dust,” said a tweeter, Sega.

Professor Wole Soyinka has lost it sadly. No amount of grammatical somersault can buy him back into relevance. Another one bites the Dust! – SEGA L’éveilleur® (@segalink) December 6, 2016

On her part, Precious Assiak observed a hypocrisy in Mr. Soyinka’s description of Nigerians as imbeciles.

Wole Soyinka threatening to take his foundation out of Nigeria. Until today, I didn’t know he had a foundation at all. – Oluwaseun (@VillageParrot) December 5, 2016

“Soyinka just called Nigerians imbeciles but young people are the tyrants,” she said.

But many others identified with the professor in the middle of the attacks.

Twitter user, Seun Onigbinde, said Mr. Soyinka should be spared because he’d “paid his dues.” He asked his traducers to “go and pay yours.”

Wole Soyinka has paid his dues. Go and pay yours. – Oluseun l #OpenNASS (@seunonigbinde) December 6, 2016

In a reply, another twitter user by name Oluwaseun said, “Wole Soyinka threatening to take his foundation out of Nigeria. Until today, I didn’t know he had a foundation at all.”

Wole Soyinka threatening to take his foundation out of Nigeria. Until today, I didn’t know he had a foundation at all. – Oluwaseun (@VillageParrot) December 5, 2016

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