By Igboeli Arinze
I have never met Professor Wole Soyinka, I was this close to meeting him in my student days in the University of Benin, I grinned much with envy that fateful day when the likes of Alfred Ajagbe showed me their pictures with Kongi, I think he had come for a function and made a brief stop over close to the university, I cursed my luck that day.
Oh yes, Soyinka is one of the few Nigerians I would love to meet, perhaps over lunch or dinner while I sit and try to bait his sharp mind with some questions. Ibrahim Badamosi Babaginda is in that category too, the much I have read about him is yet to birth germane answers as to why he took certain actions in government. Then there’s the Otta farmer, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who I once met at a forum and threw a question at him, to which he never readily answered, perhaps would Baba spare this unflinching critic of his who yet admires some things about him an hour or two to rummage through his mind? There are a number of notable Nigerians, younger than the trio mentioned above that I would also love to meet but then I am still a young man, perhaps before I turn 70, the Supreme Architect sparing me, I am sure I would have met a number of them.
My first knowledge of Soyinka as a child was I think in the news, his visage was quite striking then. Sporting an afro and beard, he struck me as some sort of fellow who took pleasure in looking out of place when compared with those around him but then there was something eerie about him, as a child I could only peer at the Nobel laureate from our television set but then I had much begun a life long fixation on one who has cut the mustard of becoming one of the few voices of conscience in our nation.
Such fixation is yet to end and still I do not see it ending even when he bids us farewell in his trans-earthly voyage.
How can I? Soyinka remains one of the many reasons the Nigerian nation is largely celebrated in other climes, this is despite the series of negativities our country unfortunately continues to emit despite the huge abundance of human resources and wealth, bequeathed to us as a people.
Florence Stratton in a journal article titled “ Wole Soyinka: A Writer’s Social Vision” published by the African American Review described Soyinka as one who has foremostly rejected literary ideology and yet has caused disquietude with what she dubs as his social vision or his political orientation. In my little interpretation, I am able to deduce that even though one cannot equate Soyinka with the Gramsci’s, Marti’s and Marxists not because his writings are not as deft as the aforementioned but because the latter attached ideology to their writings, still Soyinka evokes the same if not a greater paranoia on the authorities as seen in the Nigerian elite cum leadership that has ruled this country since its post colonial era.
In espousing his social vision, Soyinka came into having several brushes with the authorities which resulted in his been arrested and at a point in time forced into exile where he continued to taunt the Abacha government and all who supported it. Obasanjo didn’t himself find it easy with the griot that at a point in his leadership as a democratically elected president and even after, Soyinka has continued to throw barbs at one of the luckiest of Nigerians, describing Obasanjo at one point in time as a “degenerate in need of help”.
In retrospect, Soyinka has somewhat perambulated between the roles of a literary icon, academician, social critic, activist and Pan Africanist. From his formation of the Pyrates Confraternity to his seizing of the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service Studio in an attempt to force the electoral authorities to cancel the heavily rigged 1965 elections, an election where loquacious leader of the then Nigerian National Democratic Party NNDP, Samuel Ladoke Akintola was said to have boasted to the electorate that he would win the election even if it was one vote that he got. Also, his eventual incarceration following his secret meeting with Emeka Ojukwu who at that point in time was been pushed to secede from Nigeria and later years of exile speak volumes of one not at home with the supposedly false kindred spirits that have dogged the African intellectual from helping to correct societal’s ills as well as help uplift the African continent.
Through it all, Soyinka’s greatest legacy will not be his intellectual or academic achievements, nay, it is in his larger than life’s ability to speak truth to power! It is in his ability to appeal to us that beyond the clutches of ethnicity, tribalism and moribund convention, humanity’s finest hour is yet to come.
Happy birthday Kongi.
Source: The Nation