Long road to freedom

November 25, 1994

A stark picture of university life in Nigeria was painted by Nigerian academic and Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka on his arrival in Paris this week.

"The education system is dead," said Mr Soyinka, "and yet a bunch of military interlopers insists on running the affairs of the country. They have no solution to anything. All they are interested in is power and robbery."

Mr Soyinka, who slipped out of the country overland and reportedly got to Paris with the help of a French safe-conduct, explained that Nigeria's Association of University Teachers is again on strike.

"Right now most universities are on strike and that means, if you add the total number of months when higher education institutions have been on strike in the past four years, you will hardly find one complete academic year when the universities have been functioning," he said.

He cited a recent inquiry report which showed that the $12 billion oil sales windfall of the Gulf War was unaccounted for. "This is why the university teachers are on strike. Because money vanishes, the educational system collapses, the health system collapses and yet there were earnings."

Mr Soyinka, whose Nigerian passport and UN passport had both been confiscated, left Nigeria when he was certain he was about to be detained. In recent weeks, he explained, he had been treated like a person banned under apartheid. Police prevented the launch of an academic book about him, The Politics of Wole Soyinka, in Ibadan. The following week, the launch of a second book, Critical Perspectives on Wole Soyinka's Writings, had to be cancelled after the police banned it.

"Knowing my former students, I'm sure most of it was very abusive of me anyway," joked Soyinka. He responded to the harrassment by publishing an article entitled "Gestapo on the Rampage". The second part of his autobiography is due out in December. He asked if the troops would prevent it and whether there were police plans to stop production of his new play.

"The police were aborting any academic exercise referring to Wole Soyinka in any way," he commented. The writer acknowledged that the pressure had affected his literary work.

Unesco, which played an active role in getting him to Paris, has made him a Goodwill Ambassador and given him a new diplomatic passport. Unesco is attempting to retrieve his passport and may freeze co-operation with Nigeria if it is not handed over.

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