– Wole Adejumo
Professor Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka, born on July 13, 1934 is one of the men who have no doubt made Nigeria proud over the years. As a playwright and poet, being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 was exemplary being the first African to be so honoured. Not a few Nigerians still remember seeing Prof on the NTA News receiving the award in his dark coloured “danshiki”.
Nicknamed Kongi after his work, Kongi’s Harvest, Soyinka has continually demonstrated the attributes of the real kongi. In Yorubaland, “Kongi” is another term used for ruggedness. Those who remember the whitish coloured, hard and corrosive locally made soap that bears the same name will attest to the fact that kongis don’t melt or die easily.
That Professor Soyinka possesses some of the qualities of kongi is more than obvious. In spite of age, the ruggedness and efficiency can still be seen. And like a true kongi, attackers and oppressive elements continue to feel Soyinka’s corrosive powers. He is a man that will simply not allow ills to pass by. Just two days before his birthday, the Nobel Laureate lashed out at the President, who he urged to call his wife to order.
Of course President Goodluck Jonathan is not the first Nigerian leader to be at the receiving end of Kongi’s bluntness. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and General Sani Abacha did too. Incidentally, that has been Kongi’s way from time. The Lamidi Adedibus and the types of Wada Nas of this world were not spared in their lifetimes too. Even Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has had his fair share of criticism and advice from the well respected Prof.
His book, A Dance of The Forests which was presented at Nigeria’s independence celebrations in 1960, warned Nigerians and Africans about repeating the mistake of the past. More than 50 years after, the mistakes are still being made.
Soyinka’s life as a Pyrate is a part of him many have not been able to understand for more than 6 decades now, it is also the aspect for which many have blamed him for the scourge of campus cultism in the country.
To members of the National Association of Seadogs (The Pyrates Confraternity), Soyinka is revered as the Capoon of Capoons and the spiritual leader of the brotherhood. He formed the association with six other students of the University College, Ibadan in 1952 and the scroll that brought the PC into existence was signed by Wole Soyinka, Ralph Okpara, Olumuyiwa Awe, Nathaniel Oyelola, Pius Oleghe, Ikpeghare Aig-Imoukhuede and Syilvanus U. Egbuche. They later became known as the “Original Seven”. The purpose of the association then was to fight the ills in the society that had brought about segregation and oppression into the university community.
Before long, the number increased to fifteen. The first set of pyrates; the “fifteen men on a dead man’s chest” were the first to sail on the Jolly Roger, the piratical name given the University of Ibadan which was then called the confraternity’s mother ship.
To members of the PC, Soyinka cuts the image of Captain Peter Blood, the character in Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 book, Captain Blood. As a medical Doctor, Peter Blood faced so many oppressive battles, including being sold into slavery. At the end, he escaped, became a sailor and later a famous and successful pirate.
Like Captain Blood, Soyinka has been through some turbulent times, including having to escape from his fatherland on a motorcycle through National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) routes, but in spite of all, the kongi in him remained resolute.
Little wonder the Pyrates of Tortuga say
“no matter how deep the sea
No matter how high the waves cascade
No matter how deep the shark’s teeth,
Cap’n anchors. Ahoy!”
The Unrepentant Activist
Back in the 1960s, Wole Soyinka seized the studio of the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) and compelled the station to make a broadcast that antagonised the government led by Chief S.L Akintola.
His activism has not been without some prices though, it has placed him at the receiving end of blows from the government on a number of occasions. He was arrested by the General Gowon led military government and was in solitary confinement for two years.
… and Convincing Teacher
One thing that cannot be taken away from WS is the teacher in him. There is always something to learn from his statements. As a Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), he tutored quite a number of students who have themselves become professors. His students have always been proud to have him as their lecturer. Some years back, Dr. Wunmi Akintide said of him, “Wole Soyinka was my English lecturer in my first year at the Obafemi Awolowo University way back in 1963. If he was wise then, he is even wiser and more learned today as his track record has clearly shown”.
He has continued to leave indelible marks. from the University of Ife to the University of Nevada and even the Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California in the US where he was appointed a Professor in Residence in 2007. His students are ever proud to have studied under W.S.