(GIN) – Literary icon Wole Soyinka, in an off-the-cuff interview, described himself as “completely revolted” by the anti-immigrant rhetoric being spouted by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Speaking to the French news agency AFP, the 82 year old playwright and poet who once fled to the U.S. after a death threat by Nigerian president Sani Abacha, said Trump “ascended the podium of power on the prejudices of others.”
“He played to a latent xenophobic streak which exists in all societies including mine,” he said bluntly. “When I see that kind of conduct… to gain power, I’m completely revolted.”
Soyinka was attending the Paris Book Fair when he sat down with the reporter, sharing uncensored remarks about the new regime.
“To me a horrible moment was to watch hundreds of thousands of people actually applauding when (Trump) uttered these sentiments” during the election campaign.
On one of the president’s more outrageous pledges, Soyinka differed strongly. “I’m against the erection of walls, especially in people’s minds,” he said, adding “I’ve never made any bones about it, whether it’s happening in Nigeria or elsewhere.”
In similar fashion, he recalled, when Nigeria faced a steep drop in oil prices in 1983, the administration at the time decided to expel “aliens” in a bid to cover up its problems. Some two million undocumented immigrants – mainly from Ghana – were given a few weeks to leave Nigeria, whose economy is driven by vast oil resources.
“There were hordes of refugees in ramshackle trucks going back to their home countries,” he recalled. Since then, the checkered jute bag used by travelers throughout west Africa is known as the “Ghana Must Go” bag, he joked.
Over the years, Mr. Soyinka has returned to the U.S. to teach at Loyola Marymount University and at Emory University. A green card holder, he claims to have made the card “inoperable”, saying he doesn’t have strong enough fingers to tear it up.
Now, Soyinka confesses, he is returning to Abeokuta, the Nigerian city where he grew up. “For me, my little hole in Abeokuta is not just home,” he confided in a reporter from The Atlantic magazine. “It’s a one-man nation. It’s the obvious place to return to.”