Boko Haram leader an ‘obscenity’: Nobel laureate Soyinka

Wole Soyinka said Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau was “high on religion and drugs”

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Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has described Boko Haram’s leader as an “obscenity” who is likely to be incapable of dialogue, as the government considers opening talks with the Islamists over the more than 200 abducted schoolgirls.

The winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature told AFP by phone from Los Angeles that Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau was “high on religion and drugs”.

“For me, we are dealing with a sub-human species,” Soyinka said. “How do you dialogue with that kind of obscenity?”

Debate over the prospects of negotiating with Boko Haram and even Shekau himself has been a controversial issue in Nigeria throughout the extremist group’s uprising which has killed thousands.

The issue resurfaced on Monday after Shekau released a video suggesting the girls kidnapped from a secondary school in the northeastern town of Chibok could be released in exchange for Islamist prisoners held by the government.

“It is a bind for the nation because the girls must be secured,” Soyinka said, voicing sympathy for the officials who must assess the pros and cons of talking to Shekau.

The shocking mass abduction has drawn worldwide condemnation, partly thanks to a social media campaign supported by major world leaders and celebrities.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has accepted military assistance from the United States, Britain, France, Israel and China to help with the rescue effort.

Some commentators have suggested that welcoming help from foreign militaries was an embarrassment for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and top economy.

But Soyinka said such critics were showing a lack of compassion for the teenaged hostages.

“I don’t know what they are talking about,” he said. “This is a global crisis.

“In this situation, where we have these kind of killers, homicidal maniacs who can go into schools and kidnap hundreds of girls... all help is welcome,” Soyinka said.

For the international community, given such horrifying violence, intervening is “not a favour”, he added. “It is a duty.”

Activists have organised daily protests in the capital Abuja demanding the girls’ release and demonstrations have also been held in other cities across the country.

Civil activism is rare in Nigeria, with the prominent exception of massive demonstrations over the scrapping of a popular petrol subsidy that shut down the country in January 2012.

Nigeria has a track record of cracking down on protests and Soyinka warned Jonathan against suppressing public anger over the plight of the girls and the escalating Boko Haram violence.

Jonathan’s administration “had better be very, very careful, because people are in pain and they have been in pain for a very, very long time”, he cautioned.

A few protests have been disbanded by the police and there were disputed reports that Jonathan’s wife, Patience, had ordered the arrest of one protest leader for falsely identifying herself as the mother of one of the hostages.

If the protests continue, Soyinka said, the government “had better get out of the way”.

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