On Monday, the social media space once described by the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, as the (Unregistered) Association of Nigerian Internet habituees had a filled day throwing jabs and punches, albeit weightless ones, at his shadow.
This time, it wasn’t about what he said. It was more about what he did – Kongi sat on a seat that wasn’t allocated to him on an airplane and he was asked to vacate the seat by the original owner, a yet to be identified, young man.
The incident would have gone unnoticed but for the overzealousness of businessman, Tonye Cole, who decided to play judge and jury. Cole felt the young man had disrespected the professor by insisting that he leaves the young man’s allotted seat which according to the judge and jury, the professor did.
Quoting Cole, who shared the story on his Instagram page, “@professorwolesoyinka #celebritygreatness #relationshipsmatter met one of the greatest Nigerians walking the earth today and as with other times, he was genteel, witty, forthright and humble. My smile gives me away as he permitted the picture whereas he would have preferred to get back to his newspapers. We boarded the flight and after assisting him with his bags, he took the window seat and promptly started reading again.
A few minutes later this young man, baseball cap, t-shirt to show his muscled chest and tattooed biceps boards the plane and tells Prof he is on his seat (which he was). Those of us including the cabin crew tried to reason with Bobo Fine to let the old man be but the chap refused. He insisted the Prof should vacate his window seat, which the old man quietly did for his original aisle seat next to him.
I couldn’t understand how we got to this point where we no longer have respect for elders, even if we are so ignorant of the great global personalities in our midst. Is it too much to ask that an elderly man be allowed to remain in a seat allotted to you in the same business class cabin and same row? Na wa o!”
As expected, this has generated a lot of controversies amongst the Unregistered) Association of Nigerian Internet habituees, with people sharing their various opinions on the incident. Surprisingly, most are not addressing the core issues raised by that ugly incident, if at all is an ugly one.
Firstly, the depiction of the rightful owner of the seat as “a young man, baseball cap, t-shirt to show his muscled chest and tattooed biceps” was clearly done by judge and jury Cole to elicit sympathy for Prof while portraying the young man as an outcast and everything wrong with the Nigerian society. I wonder if he would have been described as a tall young man, immaculately dressed and clean shaven if he were to be dressed as such. Cole needs to be reminded that everything wrong with the Nigerian society is not often dressed in baseball caps or t-shirts. In most cases, they don’t have muscled chests or tattooed biceps. Everything wrong with Nigeria is dressed in flowing Agbada, they resume at Hallowed Chambers with dozens of aides. They have military escorts and they openly show disdain for the rule of law. They camouflage as leaders whereas they are bloodsuckers who live at the expense of the Nigerian masses.
Secondly, Cole saw nothing wrong in the fact that our cultured and well-mannered Prof decided to bend the rules and allocate to himself, a seat that was clearly meant for another person. For those familiar with WS, a younger version of him would have done the same. Wole Soyinka should only be excused if he were boarding a plane for the first time. Growing up, most of us idolized Soyinka. We studied him the way you study a course. We had his images in our rooms. We were so proud (still proud) to be associated with what he represents in the larger context. In fact, we wore that association like a badge of honor. Trust me, in his mind, Soyinka is probably proud of that young man as he stood up against Moribund Convention, what Capoon Blood of Tortuga has preached all his life.
Lastly, did the young man show a lack of respect for an elder or a great global personality?
So many times, Nigerian youths have been labeled cowards who sit behind keypads while demanding better treatment from their rulers. Instead of chastising the young man, we should commend him for his courage to stand his ground like Wole Soyinka has done a lot of times.
Truth be told, you can’t help but be awed by the towering presence of Prof. His mane of white hair reminds you of a lion but unlike the king of the jungle, Prof doesn’t roar. He barks and his words are odas. So, for some, the young man might be rude and showed a lack of respect to Kongi.
However, the answer is found in a philosophy Wole Soyinka has lived for: a philosophy that seeks to destroy elitism. A philosophy against dogma. A philosophy that condemns the thinking that “My Mercedes is bigger than yours, so get out of my way!”. A philosophy that speaks loudly against “My Kawasaki is the ultimate in machismo, so watch me “buzz” the mini-scooter into the gutter and scatter men and fowl alike!” A philosophy that silently says, “I may be an elder and a great global personality but we are equal and you must stand for what’s yours.”