Who will watch the observers, indeed? There are direct echoes of Swift’s cannibalism in Soyinka’s Chronicles, where one of the central characters, a surgeon called Dr Menka, who spends his days caring for the mutilated victims of violence endemic to the Jos region, finds out. a thriving underground market for parts of the human body for fine rituals. Soyinka deplores the state of contemporary Nigerian society; he talked about “cannibalism, of a strange kind, … a society that eats itself, a kind of self-directed cannibalism and the deterioration of our humanity”.
In Chronicles, Soyinka quotes a Yoruba proverb: “When we meet an elephant, admit that we have seen the lord of the forest, do not casually notice that we have seen something pass in front of our sight. He has dedicated his career to addressing the elephant in the room – as well as the circus around it. (Juvenal said that people only want two things, “panem et circenses,” or bread and circuses.) The trick is to avoid the elephant sitting on you.
Satire has a way of putting its practitioners at the forefront of politics, and it is often a risky, if not deadly proposition. As Mullan points out, even the most formidable and seemingly invulnerable leader usually can’t stand being laughed at. (Mullan quotes Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, both of whom have been accused of humorlessness.) It is one thing, for example, to send the British Prime Minister and cabinet without remorse out with the help of puppets, as did the hit television series Spitting Image (it portrayed Margaret Thatcher as a demonic tyrant and even a friend of Adolf Hitler); such satirical targets have traditionally had very little return in healthy democracies, except to complain. President Reagan, mutilated several times by Spitting Image, allegedly phoned NBC and asked them to cancel the show, to no avail.
It is quite another thing to devote his life to pricking Nigerian regimes and other elite cliques, as Soyinka did: during the Nigerian civil war he spent 22 months in prison, and in 1994 he fled the country after enraging Sani Abacha, a military dictator. who sentenced him to death in absentia. But Soyinka has always lived on the brink of politics. His 1986 Nobel Prize and his great stature may or may not have given him some protection. Others were unlucky: Chronicles is dedicated to two Nigerian political activists, journalist Dele Giwa and lawyer and politician Bola Ige, “both shot dead by assassins.”