I was 21 when I read Wole Soyinka’s “The Man Died”, my most impactful book of all time. Michel de Montaigne may have shaped my art and philosophy, but Soyinka forged my purpose and drive for justice. At 21, he was already assertive and brave, a budding irritation to power. I was going to reject silence and rebuke injustice wherever I found it.
It has been a mandate hard to accomplish, distracted both by enterprise and family. For the man in love or in business, there is little freedom of speech. Family and commercial ambition are institutions of silence, powerful arguments against intervention. That mandate was largely compromised in my search for financial meaning.
The Man Died. Wole Soyinka celebrates resolves “that will sooner expend the last breath on words of affirmation than conserve it on behalf of life.” Resolves in which “the remnant spittle of a parched tongue is launched against the enemy in one defiant gesture of contempt.” Resolves that make “even dying a triumph, an ultimate affirmation.” And he lived it all, Soyinka.
Such a resolve is difficult to explain to the outsider, especially in an era whose ultimate definition of purpose is self, money. I have read a lot about human resolve: a coward, I can at least read and admire what I lack. In Wole, Fela, Mandela, Malala, I recognize and salute the power of affirmation.
And in Leah Sharibu.
Barely lettered for the office of ideological confrontation, and too young to deploy the social capital of pain and blood, Leah Sharibu satisfies my inner longing for affirmation. She is a self-taught activist, a departure from a nation of soulless abdications. Today she is lost in the vastness of the nation’s fleeting memory, enslaved by Al Barnawi, a bush-dwelling and sleepless evil. Barnawi is a transactional terrorist who released kidnapped girls and kept one for himself, willing Buhari’s federal government to be grateful for what they got.
Beyond indifferent mumblings, it has been official silence. A certain Mama Boko Haram, hooded and useless, is granting interviews, openly boasting terror connections. “Leah will soon return”, she says, and the government nods, while mindlessly setting up podiums for electoral campaigns. Hardworking and educated Buhari accepted Al Barnawi’s condition of release, namely, that girls should stay out of school. It is 60 days today, since a little girl took a resolve to reject the terms of terror, her life larger even at current gunpoint. We should not forget.