Friday, July 24, 2009

Wole Soyinka at 75

Over the years, Professor Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka (better known as Wole Soyinka) has amply demonstrated how best to use one’s talents for the advancement of society. His award of the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature a boost to the international rating of Nigeria, especially at a time the country’s image was at its lowest ebb. Still, the literary icon is so dissatisfied with the socio-economic and political situation in his native country that his entire life has been devoted to the quest for a better society.
Soyinka, who clocked 75 on July 13, is one of the greatest gifts of Mother Nature to Nigeria. Born in Ake, Abeokuta in the present Ogun State on July 13, 1934, the first African Nobel laureate in Literature has, through the years, made his marks as an erudite scholar, a literary giant, a formidable critic of bad governments and especially an ardent foe of military regimes. He could even be described as a one-man opposition to bad governance, where government appears to have suppressed or bought over political opposition.
His interest in the arts manifested early when, as a pupil of St. Peters School, Ake, Abeokuta, he perfectly acted the role of a magician in a drama presented during one of the school’s prize-giving day ceremonies. Even at Government College, Ibadan, Soyinka distinguished himself as a prominent member of the school’s drama society.
In 1952, he was admitted into the then University College, Ibadan where he studied English, History and Greek. His first poem was published in The University Voice, the official newsletter of the students union in 1953.
Soyinka left Ibadan for Leeds University, UK in 1954. His first short story, Madam Etinne’s Establishment, was published in the university’s magazine, The Gryphon in 1957. He returned to the country in 1960 and formed a drama group, ‘The 1960 Masks’, which acted as a catalyst to his theatre activities. His play, A Dance of the Forests, won the first prize for the Independence play-writing contest.
Probably Africa’s most influential playwright, Soyinka is one of the wittiest and most sophisticated writers Nigeria has ever produced. His polymathic literary accomplishment is legendary, being unusually versatile in all the three genres of literature --- Poetry, Prose and Drama. His versatility was handsomely rewarded in 1986 with the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature, making him the first African to win that award.
Soyinka has survived many attempts to silence his voice, including imprisonment, harassment by security agents and even exile in the course of his relentless agitation for peace, freedom and good governance.
In the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12 1993 election, believed to have been won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Soyinka was in the forefront of pro-democracy activists agitating for the restoration of the Abiola mandate. He went on exile in November 1994 to escape persecution by the Sani Abacha regime but he continued the struggle for democratic rule from there.
Soyinka is not an armchair critic. He was once involved in policy formulation during the Ibrahim Babangida regime. One of his concerns led to the establishment of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), which he briefly headed as the pioneer corps marshal.
Some people however criticise him for being instrumental to the founding of Pyrates Confraternity in his University of Ibadan days. The concept of the group, which was a noble intention of fighting elitism and tribalism on campus, was invariably contaminated to be the foundation for campus terrorism across the country today.
We salute this irrepressible critic and illustrious son of Nigeria who has remained the conscience of the nation, forever keeping corrupt regimes on their toes.