By Wole Soyinka
I feel compelled to intervene without further delay in this affair, having come across the following in Onyeka Nwelue’s efforts to “set the record straight” over his entanglement with the British university establishment. He revealed in his response that:
The first message I received, when the article was published, was from my Canadian publisher….telling me, they will remove my book, The Strangers of Braamfontein from their list. It shocked me, honestly….
The South African publisher, who was supposed to publish The Strangers of Braamfontein since 2021, will no longer publish it. They have not communicated to me, but they have informed those who pre-ordered the book.
If Nwelue was shocked, I felt both shocked and appalled. This is over-reaction in the sententious mode, a dangerous, extra-curricular response. The charges against this author do not involve plagiarism or other literary offence, nor any crime against humanity. Would his film documentaries – including his prize-winning latest be up next for the Censorship Index? Do we proceed to burn copies of that sociological exposé and raunchy read – The Strangers of Braamfontein – already in our possession?
At the risk of this being interpreted as an attempt to lure attention away from, or diffuse culpability into a loose perspective, it is essential – and this is addressed largely to his society (and mine) – to emphasise that, beyond Nwelue, that very society is indicted and summoned to some intense soul-searching, involving remedial action. Public figures are often the creations of that promiscuous facility known as Internet or social media and, unfortunately, some such figures of marketable interest fail to exercise caution, refuse to apply the brakes on the media runaway vehicle on which they are launched. It is rather ironic, but while Nwelue permitted himself to “go for the ride,” so to speak, he appeared to have been more concerned for others –certainly for this “Prof!”
Here, in evidence, is a recent exchange, barely two days before the storm broke. Perturbed by a recent notorious spate of electioneering fulminations attributed to me, clearly the work of some demented partisans of one contestant or the other, Nwelue forwarded this message, from within his internet circle:
“Prof needs to take control of his social media presence”
“You must excuse me, you young energetic lot, but I could not help roaring my head off with laughter at that. This thing is out of control. The submentals have taken over and, like those science-fiction films of the body snatcher genre, they inhabit other bodies with impunity….. That is the reality of the social media, Nigeria brand….”
“Good luck with your uphill, mostly thankless but essential fumigation effort. If you ever succeed in identifying one of these zombies, just pass on the information, and leave the rest to me….!”
It has become a rampaging pastime. It extends across professions and classes. Not so long ago, I drew the attention of a young colleague to the fact that he was being falsely addressed as “Sir,” and needed to put a stop to it. For a while, he shrugged it off as inconsequential, but eventually took action. Yet, the media persisted in investing him with this spurious knighthood. Discreetly, I pressured Mediaville to spare us the impending day of national embarrassment. It took some doing, but it stopped. That potential capture of the titular craze owes me. Going by the recent expulsion of Prince Harry and his princess from their accustomed lodgings after their rupture with the monarchy, that artiste friend would have received even shorter shrift from the elite Order of Knights Distempered.
More airing is required on the media trade in personality conscription – be it for negative or positive packaging. That goes also for exposed individuals who get sucked in – through unawareness, nonchalance, or gradations of collaborative conduct. Among Nwelue’s intimate associates unfortunately, are some dubious hangers on who exploit his own susceptibility and frail health to nurse their hunger for notoriety. The ultimate responsibility is however his, and he has emerged upfront to accept this in a letter of apology. Now, it is the turn of the enabling environment to also take stock and clean up its act. ‘Casting the first stone’ is easy enough; ensuring that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater is the harder, and far more productive responsibility. The literary world can do with more babies from the bassinet of The Strangers of Braamfontein!
Wole SOYINKA wrote on furlough at NYUAD, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.