Professor Wole Soyinka

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, is 85 today. This is indeed a ripe age in a country where the average life expectancy hovers between 45 and 50 and may, given the worsening social progress index of the people, plummet. Soyinka means different things to many people. Just like the experiences of the blind men of Indostan who differently described what they touched in the body of an elephant as a wall, tree trunk, hand fan and others, Soyinka is a freedom fighter and advocate of good governance to a majority of Nigerians. To those who perpetrate bad governance, Soyinka is a bogeyman, an irritant who should be put out of circulation as done by General Yakubu Gowon, a former head of state during the Nigerian civil war. Gowon, however, explained why he took the step.

Now for this birthday milestone, the 11th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series, organised by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), will hold today at Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos from 10am. Theme: “Rethinking credible elections, accountable democracy and good governance in Nigeria.”

Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, Senior Economic Advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative (AEDPI) and Co-Founder of BringBackOurGirls Movement will be the keynote speaker, while Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi; Senior Programme Officer, MacArthur Foundation, Amina Salihu; Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan and Chair, Editorial Board Nigeria Info Radio Group, Rotimi Sankore will be the discussants.

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Also, as part of the birthday, Anote Ajeluorou, Culture journalist, will unveil his maiden children’s storybook, Igho Goes to Farm, in Lagos and Abeokuta as part of the OpenDoorSeries/Wole Soyinka International Culture Exchange event. About 1,000 students across the country will be given a special reprint edition of the book. According to the author, “The OpenDoorSeries/WSICE is a huge platform to present an important small book like Igho Goes to Farm. The young ones are very impressionable and they need to be guided so they don’t stumble. The book speaks to their concerns and how to navigate some of the modern distractions that can derail them from getting the best from their educational quest, particularly smart phones and social media.

“The book also addresses Nigerian adults on the need to be patriotic. Why have Nigerians failed to develop the country’s tourism potential? Why do Nigerians always go abroad for holidays? Why don’t we patronise local goods and products? Why spend scarce resources on foreign products and goods? These are some of the concerns Igho Goes to Farm tries to address in a subtle way as the youngster lead character is shipped off to the village to spend his long holiday because he fails to perform well in school work while his siblings go to Disneyland in America.”

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While the current programmes were packaged to teach the young ones the Soyinka essence, the older generation will not forget in hurry how the Nobel Laureate, in trying to ensure that justice prevails in the land, suffered indignities, almost to the death. During the war, Gowon put him in solitary confinement for two years. There are different reasons given for that. To many critics, Soyinka secretly and unofficially met with the military governor of Eastern Region, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in Enugu in August 1967, “to try to avert civil war.”

However, in 2004, Gowon seized the occasion of the banquet organised by the Ogun State government at the auditorium of the Government House, Valley View, Abeokuta, to mark the end of activities for Soyinka’s 70th birthday celebrations to explain and defend his regime. Gowon told the guests “When I was Head of State, he (Soyinka) did not want anything in uniform and reports reaching me were that he was doing everything to effect a change of the system.”

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“I was told by some people that I should make sure that he (Soyinka) did not circulate much. Gowon waxed humorous: “At that time, he was very, very young; he had no grey hairs, perhaps what happened to him (his imprisonment) might have caused this his numerous grey hair. Both of us were very young and idealistic at that time and I happened to be the man in charge of Nigeria at that time.”

“The tiny young man was trying everything he could to disrupt the normal process. We sat down and decided he must not circulate anymore because we thought he was then becoming very dangerous to the system, so we proffered what could be done to him. So he was my guest for two years and four months.” Continue reading by clicking TheNEWS