• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Wole Soyinka: The lion still roars at 89

An evening with WS

Written literature has three genres, namely poetry, prose, and drama. And one of the founding fathers of the modern Nigerian cum African literature is Wole Akiwande Soyinka, who will celebrate his eighty-nine (89th) birthday on July 13, 2023.

His remarkable imprints on the sands of time in the field of literature is both tremendous and indelible. It is his writings, spanning all the genres of literature, that defined him and earned him a revered place in the pantheon of the world’s literary greats.

Born on July 13, 1934 in Ake, Abeokuta, which is in Ogun state, Wole Soyinka was a precocious child, who showed great promise that he would excel in the world of literature. A contemporary of Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo, who were literary giants, he attended the prestigious University of Ibadan in Nigeria, and Leeds University, Britain.

Not unexpectedly, he taught at various world-class universities, including the universities of Ibadan and Lagos, and rose to become a professor of literature. And, he taught and groomed students, who have made their marks in the field of literature.

In addition to being a professor of literature, Soyinka is revered for the quality of his literary outputs, which earned him global acclaim and recognition. But his works like those of Christopher Okigbo are dense and impenetrable. That is why Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike wrote the book titled “Towards the Decolonization of The African Literature”, which is condemnatory of their dense and incomprehensible works. For example, J. P Clark’s ‘Abiku’, which is accessible, can be understood easily, while Soyinka’s ‘Abiku’ is recondite, which made it difficult to be understood by lay men.

But the works of Chinua Achebe, especially his trilogy and Okot P’Bitek’s ‘Songs of Lawino’ are comprehensible as they are written based partly on oral African literary traditions. They are not wholly Eurocentric.

But in spite of the criticisms of impenetrability levelled against some of his works, Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986. It is the world’s highest literary prize. He won the Nobel Prize for literature at a time when Nigeria was in the firm grip of military dictatorship.

His churning out of creative works, which are characterized by profundity of thought and artistic excellence, culminated in his winning that literary prize. His winning the Nobel prize for literature in 1986 is a testament to his possession of intellectual wizardry in drama, his area of specialty. He is a great dramatist and playwright.

And it is an indisputable fact that Wole Soyinka, who is an internationally recognized literary icon, is Nigeria’s cultural and arts ambassador to the world. He embodies the Nigerian spirit of hard-work, resilience, and pursuit of artistic excellence. Professor Wole Soyinka is the pride of all black people in the world and a role model to millions of Nigerians of all ages, who belong to many different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

But it is not only in the areas of literary arts and writing that he has excelled. He is a social critic and activist in his own right. He is believed to be the mystery gunman who stormed a radio station in the western region and caused his own tape to be played on the radio instead of that of a revered politician, who was one of the major political actors in the first republic. At that time, which was in the 1960s, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa was our prime minister; and the western region was embroiled in political turbulence.

An indefatigable human rights activist, Wole Soyinka gained global recognition for his fight against perpetration of injustice against the Nigerian people, the existence of military dictatorship in our country, and our political leaders’ maladministration of Nigeria. So, in the 1990s, he joined in the struggle for the revalidation of Chief MKO Abiola’s stolen political mandate. Then, he wanted democratic governance to be restored in Nigeria.

More so, at that time when the vampiric and thieving Sani Abacha was riding roughshod over the people(s) of Nigeria, Soyinka criticized him for his atrocious misrule of Nigeria, the murder of Nigerian human rights activists, abridgement of our fundamental human rights, and the looting of our financial tills. So there is no doubt about the fact that Wole Soyinka is the voice of conscience in Nigeria.

Now, nobody can gainsay the fact that he is a human and democracy rights activist. He belongs to the same group as Beko Ransome Kuti, Chima Ubani, Bamidele Aturu, and Gani Fawehinmi- all these human rights activists are deceased now. So Soyinka can proudly wear the pips and epaulettes of an activist on his shoulders.

However, it is incredible that his old age has not mellowed his critical and fiery rhetoric, which is always directed against our corrupt and incompetent political leaders; neither has it slowed down his writing of books covering all the genres of literature. Since he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1986, he has continued to engage in literary scholarship and writing of creative works, which wow his readers from diverse countries to no end.

As he is deeply obsessed with the arts so is he neck deep in political activism, even in his old age. His trenchant criticisms of Nigeria’s bad political leaders, who lead us at different tiers of government and his agitation for the institutionalization of the culture of egalitarianism in Nigeria underline his possession of a liberal soul and unalloyed patriotism.

But Soyinka committed a political faux pas when he labelled Peter Obi’s supporters fascists. Before the Presidential Election Petition Court started hearing the presidential election case, he had accused Peter Obi’s supporters of trying to brow-beat the judiciary into favouring Mr. Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate in the Nigeria’s February 25, 2023 presidential election.

Read also: Emefiele committed a crime against humanity and the nation — Wole Soyinka

Consequently, he was taken to the obloquy by the Labour Party’s supporters. And, now, Peter Obi’s supporters and a great number of Nigerians perceive him as an elder statesman, who indulges his whims and caprices and panders to ethnic and primordial sentiments.

But the stark fact is that a great number of Nigerians revere Wole Soyinka and look up to him for guidance. His uncommon achievements as a writer and his involvement in political activism in Nigeria have endeared him to us and confer on him the responsibility of speaking truth to power at all times.

So it behoves him, Wole Soyinka, to live up to our expectations and avoid doing things that will detract from his hard earned fame as a great writer and human rights activist. Here is wishing our literary icon and human and democracy rights activist, Wole Soyinka, a happy 89th birthday celebration and many happy returns.