In a couple of days, July 13th to be precise, one of Nigeria’s leading light and patriot per excellent will turn 80years of age. It is appropriate to examine his several contributions, devotion and service to humanity with a view of appreciating him for his self-sacrifices. Throughout his life, he has pursed with vigour and commitment the need for Nigeria to live to the fullest of its potentials and in the process had collusion with authorities. A legend and activist who uses his talents to provoke compelling conversations with his native land like few others, making case that the Nigeria state cannot forever take its citizens for granted.
Born Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka in Abeokuta, he comes from a background of highly educated and influential parentage. His mother was a sister to the legendary Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, mother of musical icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Both sisters infused him with political consciousness very early in life. Mostly misunderstood and misrepresented as a “troublemaker”, but upon close scrutiny, it would be discovered that his love for his country spur his actions. During the several military misadventures in power, spanning the greater part of our recent history, he stood firm in his determination to see democracy restored and civil liberties respected. He helped galvanized an already cowed civil populace into action and with a razor sharp mind for proper analysis, internationalize the struggle for ridding Nigeria of despots when it appeared all hope had been eclipsed, especially the Abacha variant.
As a young lecturer at the University of Ibadan in the early 1960s, he was fingered by the Akintola government as the “mystery gunman”, who voided Akintola’s broadcast, replacing it a recorded tape. That brush was to mark the beginning of several others which has not ended fifty years after.
During the Civil War, he was arrested and detained for several months because of his solidarity visit to the Biafran enclave and his opposition to the use of massive force against civilians. While many Nigerians were too scared to speak against continued military hostility, he maintained asserted that for “Nigeria to remain one, justice must be done”. He was severally punished by the Gowon administration. Not one, to be easily intimidated his voice was not muted; rather, he published a masterpiece of a book, titled, “The Man Died”.
For speaking truth to power, especially during the era of the late maximum ruler, General Sanni Abacha, he was marked for assassination, leading to his fleeing Nigeria into exile. Even abroad, verbal attacks were launched to discredit soyinka’s agenda for a return to civil governance, but he was a beacon of hope rallying support for the reversing of military rule which had become an embarrassing institution.
He became the most dominant international voice against the regime. Campaigning vigorously and granting interviews, he ensured that the international community ostracized Abacha and his co-travellers until dead turned the table against the junta.
If Literature has brought him worldwide fame, his continued insistence for a just, egalitarian and functional society continues to frustrate political actors who cannot tolerate his insistence for decency and respect for democratic ethos. He has remained steadfast as a dependable public intellectual and defender of decency in a society that has throw away ethics with aplomb. Always at the frontlines, marching and campaigning, I once saw him in Abuja, marching alongside other patriots that President Goodluck Jonathan is made a substantive President. I felt so ashamed of a country that create environment where such people who ought to be enjoying their retirements will be seen at the barricades but then in Nigeria such is increasingly becoming fashionable.
But then, in spite, of all his contributions towards sustainable democracy and good governance, he remains a mythic figure. Driven by passion and excellence, he is as bold as a lion. During the presidency of his kinsman, President Obasanjo, Soyinka was a moral conscience of the nation. He didn’t shrink the responsibility.
He comes as a man of great intellect, a lecturer, humanist, social crusader, writer, and poet, dramatist of international repute, a patriot and fighter for a just society, who has led a rewarding and inspirational life. In 1986, he was, the first black man, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in recognition of his genius. The Committee described him as one “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence”.
He protested against the killing of the well known journalist Dele Giwa of the News watch fame in 1986. Disgusted by such a brutal killing of such a promising journalist, he yielded his national award which was bestowed on him by the Babaginda regime in anger.
With an action packaged life, in a moment of introspection, Wole Soyinka was said to have decried his generation as wasted. Truth be told, that harsh indictment is a disappointing reality of what obtains even in today’s Nigeria. Given the enormous human and material resources, the country has no business crawling low on all known indices of development but the reality is a brutal indictment against an inconsolable elite.
Soyinka has written and spoken a lot about Nigeria, each line dripping with both his love and frustrations with a country that has refused to live and grow responsibly. He shines the light but the country refuses to crawl out of its dungeon of failure. Even in the twilight of his life, he recognises that leadership is essential for change and preaches so. Whether, the much desired change will eventually meet him and members of his generation is left to conjunction but what is certain is that he has not slowed down on his self appointed responsibility of holding up a mirror for Nigeria to see its ugly face.
He is a golden example of how an educated mind is not easy to conquer by injustice, brute force or arbitrariness. His life is an interesting episode in a long chapter of events.
His voice might not be sweet to the ears of the plunderers nor his writings easy to read by the political elites who are bent on losing sight on the greater need to advance the country to loftier heights but what is never in doubt his Soyinka’s illustrious contributions to the well being of the country and for that, history will be kind to him. Rather than ever look down in a cagy situation which he found himself, WS, always strove for excellence and a higher standard with ease.
At 80, this is wishing him many years of good health and better days ahead. May his tribe not be few and the next phase of his life more illuminating.
Legislative Aide to Senator Babafemi Ojudu and South West Coordinator of the Young Patriots.