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Nobel Laureate Blames President Obasanjo for Violence in Nigeria

Nigeria's Wole Soyinka, Africa's most acclaimed writer, says President Olusegun Obasanjo is illegally and unconstitutionally trying to lengthen his stay in power. He says President Obasanjo is using violence, bribery, coercion, and blackmail to twist the Nigerian constitution. Soyinka, the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, spoke in Washington during a book signing ceremony for his newly released memoir: "You Must Set Forth at Dawn."

You Must Set Forth at Dawn covers Soyinka's life from his years as a young man to the present. Soyinka, who was imprisoned and exiled for his opposition to previous corrupt and dictatorial Nigerian governments, began his presentation by drawing a parallel between the past and the current militant agitation in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. He told a diverse audience that the issue in the Niger Delta goes beyond oil. Soyinka read a passage from the book about the 1995 trial and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People.

"For most of us in the opposition, certainly for me, the state murder of Ken Saro Wiwa and his eight companions signaled the futility, indeed the death of dialogue," said Soyinka. "The trial of the Ogoni 9 right from the beginning was a proceeding that would be farcical but for its lethal implications."

Soyinka says he does not support the violence in the Niger Delta, but at the same time he's not surprised about what is going on in the oil-rich region.

"What is happening in the Delta is not strange. It was anticipated," he said. "Only those who take a very indifferent, alienated approach to real crisis, only they appear to be surprised. If you asked me I'm surprised at the new level of militancy in the Delta, the answer is clear: I am not surprised."

Soyinka says President Obasanjo has failed to understand that the militancy in the Niger Delta has escalated because of his desire to stay in power.

"One thing which became clear in my contact with those rebels is that they just do not trust this government. And I've said openly, publicly in Nigeria. And now that same region wants illegally, unconstitutionally to prolong its stay using and bribery, coercion, and blackmail to try and twist the constitution around," he continued. "What do you think those who've been waiting decades and decades for a government that will finally tackle their problems with a sense of justice, what do you think they feel towards that?"

On how to best quell the atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, Soyinka says United Nations peacekeeping forces would be more suitable than those from the African Union.

"Africa Union is simply not equipped, as shown clearly it's simply not equipped to deal with that situation. Otherwise, it should have stopped it a long time ago. And I say they got there too late because the African Union dragged its feet, kept saying this is a family affair," he noted. "We will solve it the African way. A crime against humanity is not an African affair. It's an international affair."

Soyinka says the United States should not take unilateral action in Darfur because he believes the U.S. has lost credibility in many parts of the world. He says the U.S., as a responsible and powerful member of the United Nations, should put its resources at the disposal of the United Nations.