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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 23, 2019 12:30am-1:00am BST

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i'm ben bland with bbc news. our top story: the funerals of many of those killed in sunday's bomb attack in sri lanka are due to be held on tuesday. questions are being asked about what the security services knew after the prime minister said they'd been "aware of information" about possible attacks, but he hadn't been told. the us says it will end exemptions from sanctions for countries that buy oil from iran. secretary of state, mike pompeo, said the aim was to put maximum pressure on iran's government. and these pictures are trending on bbc.com. as selfies go, this is impressive. the virunga national park, in the democratic republic of congo, and two very relaxed gorillas posing with the park rangers who have raised them since they were babies. that's all. stay with bbc news. now on bbc news it's hardtalk.
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zeinab badawi speaks to one of the giants of african and world literature. welcome to hardtalk with me, zeinab badawi. he is one of the giants of african and world literature, and he's also a passionate advocate and campaignerfor human rights. my guest is the nobel literature laureate, nigerian professor wole soyinka. his country held a general election in february, which saw the incumbent muhammadu buhari re—elected as president. does wole soyinka believe that nigeria is on the right path, and as africa's most populous nation, can it lead to the continent and make this a century of the africans?
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professor wole soyinka, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. has your generation of older nigerians failed the people? i believe so, yes. no question at all in my mind. really, no question? why? well, i compare today with the dreams, the aspirations we had when we all rushed home after our studies abroad. we considered ourselves the renaissance people, going to lift the continent to world standards, competitive anywhere. it hasn't happened. we've just seen in the february elections, two opponents, the incumbent muhammadu buhari, and his opponent, atiku abubakar. both in their mid—70s. are they also failing
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the people, in your view? it was one of the most depressing elections i think we've been through. it wasn't possible, i am talking of myself, it wasn't possible for me to make a choice, for the simple reason the two candidates were not — they both had histories, one immediate, one past, which made one look for alternatives, yes. but you had backed general buhari in the past, saying he was a born—again democrat even though he's a military man. general buhari didn't really win the first election, he won it by default. it was impossible to continue with jonathan. back in 2015. and as it did happen, yes i did use that expression "born—again democrat". when someone competes in elections three or four times and persists,
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he must believe in democracy. but he is a general, and adewale maja, a nigerian writer, has said "three decades of military dictatorship have given way to a listless democracy where corruption rules and apathy spreads. no amount of noise from chattering classes seems to reach the politicians." i mean, how could you, even if you thought he was the best of about a bad lot, have backed somebody who was a military person? first of all, nigeria is not peculiar in that respect. we have had examples of many military people, i think for instance of traore. so the transition is not impossible. and the circumstances in nigeria, the fact that nigerians have shown the military what a big, huge failure they were, makes it possible for one to identify the possibility of exceptions especially when they seem to behave like democrats. in any case, i keep emphasising that it wasn't — nigerians had a very difficult choice, and as i said it was between the devil
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and the deep blue sea. you have actually been imprisoned by the military in the 1960s, you spent 22 months in prison, most of it in solitary confinement, which gave you a great deal of time for reflection on the state of the nation and so on. you even wrote your memoirs on lavatory paper. what was that time like for you? well, it was solitary confinement, i was deprived of books, writing material, company, companionship, and so i had to create my world myself, and so toilet paper became the template on which i could create that micro world in which i lived in solitary.
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how did you manage to get enough lavatory paper? well, they supplied toilet paper, they were very generous. and a pen? no, i made my own pen, i made my own ink, which i called show ink, from all kinds of material. what kinds of things were you writing? mostly short, short pieces of poetry. how did you manage to get it out and publish it subsequently? oh the publishing, yes, two phases. some i did get out. you know, after a while, a prisoner generally is one of the most cunning creatures one could possibly encounter. you become very inventive, very innovative, and after a while you will find a way of breaking through certain barriers. for instance, at one stage i actually was able to have a book
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smuggled to me, so it wasn't totally bleak. but everything had to be hidden. and you say now that nigeria desperately needs an idealist who can build a team. "just tell those old fogies to take a rest," you say to the youth, "don't sit there grumbling, mobilise." yes. so do you believe that salvation for nigeria lies in the hands of the young? i want us to define young very carefully. i'm talking about young minds. there are some young people who are very old, who in fact are compromised worse than even the rulers. i'm talking about those with a fresh vision, those who feel ashamed of what nigeria is today, who are not complacent, and who have travelled the world a bit and seen how things are done, achieved in other places, and analyse the problems of nigeria, not content to continue with the old methods of governance, principle, that, you know, who get
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their priorities right. but how do they get power? well, let's look at the last elections, when we started encouraging the quote—unquote "young" people to come out. and there was one person spearheading that movement and they could have come up with a consensus candidate, but the movement unfortunately — your question is a very good one — one of the old fogies hijacked the movement simply because he wanted to be at the head of government. but it's notjust aboutjostling ambitions, is it, because i tell you what, idayat hassan from the centre for democracy and development says, "money is the defining character for the election. no money, no contest, no money, no office." you have to have a lot of funds to stand as a candidate in nigerian elections, a minimum
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of about $35,000, and that's not possible really. the average salary is what, $2000 per year? let me give you an exception... so, i mean, how can they get through? no, there was a candidate in the north, i think it was kano state, and he rode bicycles. he went campaigning door—to—door on bicycle. now, that's one way of doing it. now, outside nigeria, for instance, as i cited to these aspirants, the case of president lula, who has some problems at the moment. in brazil, the former president of brazil, lula. he said, my name is lula, this is what i propose, this is what i have, this is my vision, and he went on and on and eventually he actually won the election, became president. and if it could be done in brazil, i said to them, why can you not do it here?
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you mentioned a former president of brazil, lula, but he's now in prison, behind bars for corruption. and that's the point, isn't it, that one civil society activist in the democratic republic of congo sylvain saluseke says the challenge is how do you maintain that moral high ground, because you can't romanticise people with the right ideas, the youth, can you? because often they get into power and they just behave like everyone else. i know, but isn't that a risk one takes with every election? anywhere in the world? but if the present becomes impossible then you have to take risks, and if that fails, if that doesn't work, then again you move on. in the end, democracy is a continuing process, notjust one election alone, it is a continuing process. do you think that the picture overall in africa is not bad? i mean, william gumede,
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a south african analyst says this is something to be wildly optimistic about, the fact that there are young activists all over the continent challenging ageing leaders. i always avoid that word, optimistic, no. i'm very pragmatic, at least as far as politics are concerned. if the present political dispensation is working then i have no problem, i continue with my literature and my workshops, et cetera. but if it is unacceptable, look at individuals, look at their track record, and whether in politics or in professions or institutions, and come up, agree among yourselves on a consensus candidate. and we will back you. unfortunately, as i said, that movement, which was led by one lawyer, a former veteran
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activist, made the mistake of going to seek the blessing of one of the old fogies, whojumped on the bandwagon, took the reins and crashed. you say buhari has failed, but during the campaign you said that some of the corruption that he has made his signature policy, fighting corruption, and atiku abubakar who emphasised economic development more. that started a lot of discussion off in nigeria. which should one emphasise? where do you stand on that? there are those that say let's accept there will be some pilfering going on, but let's focus on lifting as many people as we can out of poverty, because after all nigeria has more people living in poverty than any other country in the world. now we get to the large problems, and the heart of it. indisputably we have this issue of corruption, it is a humongous issue. frankly, i despise those who try to trivialise it in nigeria
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simply because you don't like the face of the man who is behind it. or he has failed in certain other respects. but it's no longer business as usual in nigeria. you have bankers who are on trial, legislators who are on trial, former governors, who normally would step out of office but were grabbed by anticorruption agencies. so progress is being made. there is a change as far as corruption is concerned. a tick in the box for president buhari? yes, yes, no, on that issue, corruption as far as i'm concerned, it has got to pass. the younger, the new generation, has got to be made to understand that this country is theirs and they simply must wipe out the deficit of former leadership. take for instance boko haram.
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if action had been taken at the very beginning, and by the beginning i'm not talking about the reign ofjonathan — when the first governor decided to make his state a theocratic state, that is when action should have been taken. the president at the time compromised because he was ambitious and he needed the support of that governor, and so one state after the other, and when you start operating a theocracy, a movement will get up and say, you are not holy enough. they begin by killing first of all those who don't belong to the faith, and then he turned on even his own, his co—believers and said you are not holy enough, i will kill you. that is what happened with boko haram. you had a president who said at one time, he said any attack
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on boko haram is an attack on the north, and he barely escaped death. he changed his tune. leaders shouldn't wait for things to happen to them personally. do you approve, then, of president buhari's attack on boko haram? and he says he's made a lot of progress in tackling them. this he's certainly made progress in that respect, but then another menace get up, and buhari made the same mistake of a slow response. is that the problems we've had between the fulani herdsmen and the farmers and the herdsmen which have led to scores of deaths? buhari has failed in that respect because he did not act, he behaved exactly likejonathan. he was apathetic. got to ask you about literature, because of course you were awarded the nobel prize for literature in 1986, so, although, you are a great campaigner for human rights
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and civil rights and civic rights and so on, you are obviously a man of culture, a man of letters and so on, and so i want to know where you stand on this debate amongst african writers, which has being bubbling for some time, about the language in which you write. you write mostly in english. is that something you defend? mostly in english. english happens to be the lingua franca of nigeria. how many languages do we have? over 300. and i'm not talking about dialects, i'm talking about languages. and you want to make a country out of that, you've got to settle on a means of communication which is common to everyone. i have advocated, by the way, africa having a common language. at the union of writers of the african peoples, we work towards making kiswahili acceptable as the common language.
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which is the language spoken mostly in east africa. well, you bring up east africa and a renowned, acclaimed kenyan writer ngugi wa thiong'o says he's very troubled by the fact that he wrote in english and he says it is the intellectuals who are responsible for advancing their language. when an intellectual abandons it to write in another language, it leaves his language with one less mind. and so he's made a real effort to write in his native gikuyu. i'm a yoruba, for instance, but i want the igbo to read me, i want the hausa to read me, i want the shaqiri to read me. what is a language of coup d'etat, for instance? when we wake up in the morning, what language, when they say, fellow countrymen, we're here, we're back, they speak in english. it's english. either english...queen's english or broken english. so we inherited, unfortunately, the moment the imperialists, the colonialists, came to the african continent, they imposed certain structures — governance, social, economic — language is simply one of those
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structures they imposed. now, we then say we want our independence and we want a sense of single nationality. if you try to impose yoruba, for instance, as the nigerian national language, you will have another civil war, you know that. yeah, but do you accept then, as ngugi wa thiong'o says, that the language of the coloniser was based on the death of the languages of the colonised? do you accept that, though? all right, let me... do you accept that? let me respond to... that if you champion english in the way you do because you say it's the lingua franca, that then it means the death of other languages? no, i don't champion english, no, english for me is just a tool. it's a communication tool. when we were running the union of writers of the african peoples,
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for instance, we had a policy among ourselves that we must reserve all translation rights for the african continent so that all literature written in the colonial languages — portuguese, french and so on — will be translated into african languages. this is one of the ways we try to cope with this legacy which we have, which is a bit troubling but for me, i don't suffer the kind of anguish which ngugi appears to suffer. would you be sorry if yoruba disappeared as a language? no. you wouldn't be sorry? i'd be most unhappy. i can't even think of it, i can't even conceive it. i use yoruba, incidentally i write a lot of my songs for my plays in yoruba, i think a lot in yoruba, and i translate from the yoruba into english to make the work accessible, not nearly to nigerians, but to africans. and also, africans of the diaspora. africa for me is not limited to the continent. you know, we also have africans in the caribbean, in the united states.
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we have nigerians even in lapland. sure, the diaspora is very extensive all over the place. but when it comes to success as you have enjoyed, what do you think about the nigerian novelist adaobi tricia nwaubani who says success for an african writer still depends on the west. we are only telling the stories that foreigners allow us to tell. no, i disagree with that. i've written, for instance, on science fiction written by some africans, so you might as well say, why should an african start writing science fiction? well, that's where his imagination leads him. you wrote a book about seven years ago called of africa and in that you said you were fed up with the kind of comments people have made to you over the years about africa. what type of comments are you talking about? it's not an account of that kind of provocation that i wrote of africa. i merely mentioned this as a lamentable lapse
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in the historical mentality of people outside africa. so i narrated that incident of this young man who said it is unbelievable, i couldn't believe my ears, he said... who was he, a young man in germany? german. mmm, a german. he said, mrsoyinka, you must remember that you africans, you are inferior. if you were not, if there were not something inferior about you, you wouldn't be enslaved so easily. it was... i couldn't believe that people were still saying that in this century. so it was not that provocation, no, i've always written about african culture, i've lectured, i've held workshops and so on and so forth but it is important for people to know that that kind of mentality also still exists. why do you think that kind of attitude towards africans still persist? does itjust boil down to racism?
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well, wrong values, religious imperialism for instance. once you've adopted christianity, for instance, the baggage, the cultural baggage that goes with it, affects the indigenes. once you've accepted islam, for instance, you forget your own culture, your own history. you try to behave like arabs because arabs are the, shall we say the custodians, basically, of islam. and so the others mimic conduct. this is one of the reasons i gave those lectures which went into that volume called of africa. from time to time, at least, let us take ourselves back. what were we before islam? what were we before christianity? and why did we allow the custodians of those two languages to enslave us so easily? of course, there's arab
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enslavement of africa, as you know very well. there's christian enslavement and sometimes we forget that. africa has a very young population, the youngest in the world. ah, 0k. and therefore people say let's have confidence in the youth of africa. there's only one way for them to go and that's up. do you think nigeria has the wherewithal to lead africa in the 21st—century to make this the century of the african? absolutely, absolutely, and this is what hurts. i'm tired of it being a country of potential. it's about time we manifested that potential. in the act, in productivity. everywhere i travel i meet nigerians. they're in nasa, they're considered some of the finest surgeons in the world. you find them abu dhabi, in dubai. literature, for instance. look at the young women, especially,
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who are producing some of the finest modern literature we have. engineers. nigerians are very inventive. even the underworld salutes nigerian crooks because the intelligence they bring to bear on that particular line of human productivity is a challenge to even the italian mafia. so this potential can be harnessed. leadership is the problem. and the leaders squat on this magnificent, this treasure house, this heritage, they squat on it, they bastardise it, they exploit it for themselves and they do not allow new ideas to come up. professor wole soyinka, thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you for having me. thank you very much indeed.
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there is some good news on the weather front if you have been enjoying the fine weather in the last few days. we have one more day of decent weather on tuesday, a lot of sunshine around in temperatures still into the 20s. after that it really will be all change. in fact, it will cool off dramatically and we have showers and thunderstorms potentially on the way. 0n the satellite already, the picture is looking very unsettled. you can see clouds swirling around here.
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weather fronts as well, patterns actually, but these weather fronts are heading in our direction and in around 24—36 hours time they will arrive and we will see downpours. first in the country's south—west and then in other parts of the uk as well. for the time being, tuesday looks relatively quiet, notjust in the uk but in much of western, north—western europe into scandinavia as well. morning temperatures are between six and i2 celsius though not as chilly as it was yesterday morning. and then in the afternoon it is business as usual. a lot of sunshine around, warm south south—easterly wind, not quite as warm. we had temperatures around 25 degrees in the last few days and i think around 22 or 23 across southern and central areas. still making around 20 in the lowlands of scotland and just shy of 20 for belfast but another fine day on the way. here is tuesday night into wednesday and the high pressure that has been bringing us the fine weather slips away towards the east and this big area of messy weather with its weather fronts, this big area of low pressure
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is starting to push in. from the early hours of wednesday we will start to see rain moving into cornwall, devon, parts of wales as well, central and southern england and the midlands as well some could be downpours with thunderstorms and watch what happens through the day on wednesday. difficult to say which towns and cities will get the downpours at what time but suffice to say it will be a lot more unsettled on wednesday compared to the last few days. scotland is still looking fine but the north sea coast may be a little on the cool side there. some cloud as well. that is midweek — towards the end of the week it really will be a big change because we even say goodbye to the mild air. the warm air is long gone but colder currents of air from the north atlantic arrive, breezy conditions as well, showers possible. so the outlook says it all, really — a lot of shower symbols here with temperatures dropping to below average for some of us and towards the weekend even struggling to make double figures across northern areas.
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i'm sharanjit leyl in colombo. sri lanka grieves — with close to 300 people killed in sunday's bomb attacks, the first funerals are taking place. the shock and disbelief remain raw. 0utside, shattered glass everywhere, roof tiles that are broken. and all around, a strong smell of blood and death. as the government imposes emergency powers — it's facing more questions about its failure to act on intelligence ahead of the attacks. i'm ben bland in london. also in the programme: the us threatens sanctions on any country importing oilfrom iran after the first of may.

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