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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Soyinka still going strong at 70
Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka has been a political activist since university
Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka is being celebrated across Nigeria on his 70th birthday.

The first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature told the BBC he has no plans to give up his writing or his political work.

Last year he founded the Citizens' Forum which aims to lobby against "anti-democratic tendencies" in Nigeria.

"There has been a lot of executive lawless in this country," he said explaining why he set up the forum.


He accused members of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party of wanting to manipulate elections to transform Nigeria's political landscape into a "one-party democracy".

A political activist since university, he said the government viewed the Citizens' Forum with alarm due in part to the deference with which he is treated in Nigeria.

I'm not setting out to die for any abstruse concept, especially an artificial concept like Nigeria
Wole Soyinka

"When such a representative section of the nation comes together I do not blame the government for believing there is a formidable challenge being mounted to its waywardness," he said.

Turning to the future, he said on a personal note he most feared senility, but would not be drawn on the future of Nigeria's democracy.

"I never allow myself to be hopeful or pessimistic; I take Nigeria as an on-going project."

'On the brink'

But he recently warned Nigeria's ethnic and religious rivalry means the country could face a violent future.

"I consider that Nigeria is on the verge, on the brink of a massive implosion that will make what's happening in the Sudan child's play," he told Reuters news agency.

Some one million people have fled what human rights say is a genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region.

Since the return of civilian rule to Nigeria in 1999, some 10,000 people have died in communal clashes.

"We know there are movements for secession in this country," the Nobel laureate said.

'Left alone'

Asked if he would die for Nigeria, which has been a topic of heated discussion since President Olusegun Obasanjo said earlier this month that Nigerians should be prepared to die for their country, Mr Soyinka said it would depend on the circumstances.

"But I'm not setting out to die for any abstruse concept, especially an artificial concept like Nigeria."

Despite the celebratory poetry readings, stage productions, lectures and parties that have been organised across Nigeria, the Nobel laureate said he did not enjoy the public attention.

"I like to be left alone on my birthday," he said.

Soyinka slams Nigeria 'inaction'
21 May 04  |  Africa
Wole Soyinka detained by police
15 May 04  |  Africa
Is Nigeria worth dying for?
02 Jul 04  |  Africa


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