Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has urged the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to desist from preventing Nigerians their right to protest against the government.
Soyinka, a professor of Literature, expressed his position at the unveiling of an art gallery in commemoration of his 85th birthday in Badagry on Saturday.
He spoke in reaction to the recent lockout at the venue of a public symposium by the police in Lagos, where he and Femi Falana, a prominent human rights activist and lawyer, were to speak against the continued detention of Omoyele Sowore, the convener of the “Revolution Now” movement.
According to the playwright, the quashing of citizens’ gathering to air their grievances indicates that the government is unwilling to listen to criticisms of their actions and decisions.
Soyinka said: “It is important to send a strong message to this government and to the security services to stop trying to muzzle people when they come together to exchange ideas.
“You’re reducing them as human beings and you’re also reducing yourselves as human beings because it means you’re afraid to listen.”
The “Abiku” poet also told his audience not to believe all the information put out on social media, saying such materials have a multiplier effect.
Lamenting that some statements have been falsely attributed to him on social media, the Nobel Laureate advised Nigerians to regard information from the medium with “a pinch of salt”.
“Be very, very careful what you believe even when you read such materials in social media or sometimes in newspapers because in this country, we have a most fertile multiplier effect,” Soyinka said.
“When somebody hears something, he puts it on the Internet, it spreads and an industry begins as people start commenting on things which never existed.
“Positive, negative or neutral, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that somebody’s identity has been stolen and some contemptible cowards are responsible for stealing that individual’s identity.
“Putting words in his or her mouth and thereby generating totally non-existent irrelevant contestations.
“So, when you read things on social media, take it with a pinch of salt, decide whether it makes sense because the person who posted it might have a private agenda.
“Sometimes on social media, you’ll even see trending quotes supposedly from me, with my name, my photograph, with statements which represents what those people want to say but lacked the courage to say it.”
He urged people to read books when in doubt in order to question the authenticity of what they see on social media.
Soyinka said: “Never turn your back on an opportunity or chance to reading a work or product of somebody’s mind; that way you enter the minds of others, you dispute with them, examine ideas, expand your horizons and make the entire universe a better place.”