Wole Soyinka@90: From ‘Ijegba’ to world stage, by Tunde Abatan

He is not a politician, neither is he a Public office holder. Yet, in spite of his acclaimed for almost seven decades, He has remained what he is- a teacher, dramatist, poet, writer, essayist and global cultural icon.

Olatunde Abatan
Olatunde Abatan

He is not a politician, neither is he a Public office holder. Yet, in spite of his acclaimed for almost seven decades, He has remained what he is- a teacher, dramatist, poet, writer, essayist and global cultural icon.

 Inspite of his humble begining as the son of a Teacher, Headmaster of St Peters School,Ake in the early 30s and brought up by a  devouted Christain mother, who are both from Isara and Egba origin respectively.

He also sets out early in life to cut an independent image for himself.  Yet, he had a  humble disposition despite the fact that his parents then were relatively well off.

Though he grew up largely in Abeokuta within the walls of the Ake mission Compound,he later described himself as an Ijegba…meaning a product of  combination of Ijebu and Egba parentage .

 This  obviously was to show  his originality of belonging to both sides. Yet, this allusion  made no difference in his personal world view.

As a young ‘rascaly’ boy who   had the benefit and privillege of having grown up under the tutelage of enlightened parents,he grew up to explore and question his being.

His father was Samuel Ayodele Soyinka, SAA,he fondly referred to  him as ‘ESSAY,’ a school headmaster  and his mother,Grace Eniola Soyinka, a devout Christain and mother,whom he christened ‘Wild Christain ‘ . 

This apellation from him was  obviously because of her devotion to Christainity. Yet ,Wole,carved out a distinct personality for himself anong his sibblings and enture family.

Even later in life when people often refer to him as another William Shakespeare-which fits into his initials, he flatly rejected saying in a 1980 Interview, “I prefer to remain in the shoes of Wole Soyinka.”

Since he came to  national limelight by his various struggle, he has remain his own self and indeed in his own world.

Though,early in life he  imbibed the discpiline of a teachers son,he remained steadfast about his being himself right from his growing up  years at Ake missionary.

This  experience  he later  scripted into a world- acclaimed memoirs, titled, Ake- The Years of Childhood.

In Ake,Soyinka  depicted his growing up experience which in a way formed the basis of his later Years Struggle to affect his immediate environment  and humanity.

As a letter courier between his mother,Eniola and auntie,the late Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti,then enfant terrible of Egba local women emancipation, could be said, to have shaped and informed his  radical political views and disposition later in life.

 It is not out of context to say,Soyinka imbibed the   notable womens crusading for equal Rights,Justice .

This attitude  was earlier  impactful in the Womens  context for Power and Rights within the  Egba traditional Institution and later the nations crave for Independence .

He saw and imbided activism from the hey days when Resilience and commitnent was stock in trade of the  Women she ran errands for.

It is also not out of place to say, this experience made Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka,a stormy petrel of the country’s politics.  He horned his radicality as he grew up and develop with it .

Though ,it could be argued that had he chosen another trade different from writting,acting ,he may not have ventured into activism but the exploits of his cousin in the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and  Dr Beko Ransome Kuti, Who abandoned his stestoscope for activism is enough to confirm that an in-born generational trait which has been  conclusively  proved, runs in the Soyinka cum Ransome Kutis family. 

The Late Josiah Ransome Kuti was Soyinkas maternal great- grandfather.

A Wole Soyinka would remain who he is in whatever area he found himself.

Soyinkas world of activism which began from his University of Ibadan days almost seven decades ago made him easily the most consistent advocates of Peace,Human right,justice and the determination to change the world he met.

With the founding of the Pirates Confraternity, which was meant to be a means to defend the weak and underprivillege students of his period; to the establishment of Mbari Theatre, Soyinka carried his activism to challenge the political inadequacies  of the First republic.

He came to national limelight through the controversial Ibadan Radio station seizure by an Unknown ‘gunman’ which altered and hurt the political ego of powers that be then in the troubled Western region led by the late Chief Ladoke Akintola.

Then Soyinka bravery by confronting the Lion in his Den became noticed.

 Soyinka also displayed the  bravery in him by driving to the Theatre of war in then Biafra republic to appease the then Warlord,the late Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, to consider other options aside war.

For this,he earned himself a thirty months inprisonment by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon who  was misled into believing Soyinka was on the rebel side. 

His Third Force was thus imprisoned and aborted With him .

No doubt his experienced while in detention  resonated later in his classic Memoir- The Man Died. 

But the man in Soyinka refused to die as he came back from self- imposed exile in the early 70s to resume on his sturf of activism.

Soyinka has risked all for a better society.

Soyinkas return to Nigeria produced in him many novels,plays,dramas and books anong which are,Season of Anomy; A Shuttle in the Crypt;Ogun Abibiman;Opera Wonyosi;The Lion and the Jewel;Trials of Brother Jero and later his musical-I Love my country I no go lie..released during the hey days of Shehu Shagaris civilian regime.

World acclaimed recognition came the way of Soyinka also known as Kongi as his depth of using culture to reflect in his Works when he emerged the first African Nobel Prize Winner in Literaturebin 1986. 

It was an Award celebrated globally as due for a consistent Social crusader,fighter,and academic who towers above others by deploying his Yoruba cultural beliefs to advanced learning. 

As an Ogun devotee, Soyinka employed his local culture to draw attention to and recreate the World of African Literature.

Though he had good intention in his crusading for a better society,the Kongi again got caught up in the political crisis of the Civil war period and became a victim of betrayal  by shadowy men he narrated in his classic Book..You must set Forth at Dawn.

Rather than the  Nobel Prize which came in 1986 being a moment of respite for him,to take holiday from activism to enjoy his newly found global accomplishments,he again got caught up in the intrigues and web of the annuled June 12,1993 Presidential election won by the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.

Soyinka made a ‘Hejira’ in 1994 shortly after clocking 60 to mount international pressure for the de-annulment of the election by former military dictator,Ibrahim Babangida and his collaborators.

While men of his age and accomplishments could easily take a back seat to enjoy their New found Fame,Influence and Power, for over five Years,Soyinka  choosed to move from one country to another  under serious threats to his life in order to bring sanity to Nigerias troubled  political system which had defied logic and reason. 

This while Abiola was in detention,Soyinka was in the street globally campaigning for de-annulment. With military junta of the late General Sanni Abacha placing a prize on his head, Soyinka survived the dictatorship and witnessed Dawn of a new civilian government. 

As for the Kongi, Justice remains the first condition of humanity and this crave for  Justice and humane social order has continued to resonate in his various lectures,engagements and activities.

At 90 , it would appear the fighter and Light in him is not set to dim after  decades living a Life of struggles.

He thread where Others fail to raise their voice and call to question Leaders Who fiddle when their country burns. To say that the Kongi is in a Class of its own   is an understatement.

That at 90,he is yet to witness a semblance of progressive governance he has struggled to bring about  for almost seven decades after his various  interventions  is to say the least unfortunate.

It is an under statement to say that such men are rare in todays Nigeria nay Africa. But that is not to demean or discourage the fighter in the Kongi Who had engaged and survived  dictators both in military and civilian regimes before many of  todays activists were born. Men like that Who had the rare gift of grace and consistency are not common.

As he turns 90,July 13,2024,this is a salute to Courage,Resilience, Tenacity,Doggedness of one of the most enduring Public fugures of the 21st century.

Happy Birthday to our own WS!

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