Home Arts & Books A lion in winter: Kongi at 81

A lion in winter: Kongi at 81


Nigeria has very few icons who are celebrated globally and one of such
is Professor Wole Soyinka, first black man to win the Nobel prize for
literature. Amongst other awards and accolades he has received over
the years, he still remains one of the world’s foremost writers
because of his outspokenness and corpus of works.

Born on 13 July 1934 in Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria,
Soyinka clocked 81 yesterday, a man who has been praised around the
world for his writings and Political activism’.
After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in
Ibadan, Soyinka continued at the University of Leeds. During the six
years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court

Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller
bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same
time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in
Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, from 1975, he  was professor of
comparative literature upto 1983. In 1960, he founded the theatre
group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the “Orisun Theatre Company”,
through which he  produced his own plays and took part as actor.

He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of
Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale among others.
During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for
cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring
with the Biafran rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22
months until 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, novels
and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked
by great scope and richness of words.

As dramatist, Soyinka has been influenced by, among others, the Irish
writer, J.M. Synge, but links up with the traditional popular African
theatre with its combination of dance, music, and action. He bases his
writing on the mythology of his own tribe-the Yoruba-with Ogun, the
god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during
his time in London, The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel ,
which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in
1963. Later, satirical comedies are The Trial of Brother Jero  with
its sequel, Jero’s Metamorphosis, A Dance of the Forests, Kongi’s
Harvest  and Madmen and Specialists. Among Soyinka’s serious
philosophic plays are  The Strong Breed,



The Road and Death and the
King’s Horseman . In The Bacchae of Euripides, he had rewritten the
Bacchae by the Greek dramatist Euripides for the African stage and in
Opera Wonyosi  based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and Brecht’s The
Threepenny Opera.
Now 81, the literary  icon still considered as one of Nigeria’s
national institutions.

His support for buhari
During the campaign of Buhari , Soyinka wrote an article about him,
where he eulogised the virtues of the General.
Soyinka said he was optimistic about Buhari, adding that Buhari might
deal ruthlessly with corrupt politicians, though he predicted that
Buhari would be influenced by those around him, he believes Buhari
might take advantage of ambiguous areas in the law and the
constitution to empower himself to deal very ruthlessly and quickly
with those who have robbed the nation blind.

Playwright Wole Oguntokun who has staged some of Soyinka Political
writings, said ‘Soyinka is a man interested in the mandate of his
people and he has been involved in politics  from the 1960’s when he
held up a radio station challenging the result after Samuel Akintola
was declared winner of the election. He also travelled to the East
trying to talk to the late Ojukwu when the Easterners felt betrayed.’
His critic on sexual offensive bill
Soyinka’s take on the controversial sexual offenses bill said to have
been passed by lawmakers in Nigeria aggravated a lot of responses and
one of it was by Senator Chris Anyawu who claimed such bill was not
passed by the National Assembly.

Soyinka said ‘In this supposedly progressive bill, sponsored by the
respected Senator Chris Anyanwu. I could not help but notice a
reiteration – as if to ensure that there is no ambiguity – of the word
“child”,  near superfluously. Well, we understand “child” as defined
in most dictionaries.  There is however also child as defined by the
Nigerian legislature. This  definition is contained in a prior Bill,
sponsored, no less, by a notorious serial paedophile  and cross-border
sex trafficker, yet lawmaker – one Ahmed Yerima.

Does Yerima’s Bill, gleefully assented to by his peers, not simply
vitiate this latter, supposedly humane concern for the protection of
the child? Again, I confess to being only a ‘bloody layman’ in such
matters. However, reading both bills, it strikes me that all the new
bill does is empower the clique of paedophiles. All you need do is
“marry” even a six-year old under any local laws, and do whatever you
want with her.


Through marriage, she is already an “adult”. Her
“defiler” is now fully protected by this law. She is not. The current
Bill is the ancient story of locking the stable door after the horse
has bolted.  End of story? Yerimah and his fellow perverts are having
the last laugh.

This issue of child protection looms large all over the world –
including bills passed or under debate. It is one that defines us in
our own estimation and in global view as worthy to be counted among
humanity, or as the basest kind of living species that exist solely
for their sensual gratification, even at the cost of the emotional and
physiological well-being of the weak and vulnerable of society. Our
lawmakers have betrayed our children’

Senator Anyanwu in her reply wrote ‘my heart sank because this time,
my dear Baba, my dear icon, you are wrong.
You have been misled by the misinformation circulated by someone who
could not read or comprehend a legal draft; someone who did not have
the patience to read through a proposal, see what was recommended and
what was finally accepted.

You were misled by someone who deliberately
distorted the content of one of the most profound bills ever passed by
the Nigerian legislature, scandalized the proponent and the
institution for reasons that you and I may not know.

No where in the SEXUAL OFFENCES BILL that I proposed; no where in the
bill passed by Senate was it stated that you can defile an 11-year
old. No where in the bill passed by the Senate was the age “11 years”
mentioned. Here is what was passed in relation to your area of
pre-occupation which is defilement clause 6 (2): “A person who commits
an offence of defilement shall upon conviction be sentenced to
imprisonment for life”.

You claimed that the bill re-defined “female adulthood as marital
status”. Where in the bill proposed by me and where in the bill passed
by Senate did you see adulthood linked to marital status? The extreme
distortion of the spirit, intent and even content of this bill leads
me to think that you may be talking about an all-together different
piece of legislation. For emphasis, let me state that the bill makes
no such linkages as you erroneously stated. I think it may be fear of
Sen Yerima that is at play here. ‘

The Controversial Igbo statement
The controversial anti-Igbo statement credited to the Nobel laureate
during a lecture titled Predicting Nigeria, Electoral Ironies at the
Harvard University Hutchins Centre for African & African American
Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The statement first
released by Simon Kolawole’s Cable news claimed Soyinka said ‘The
Igbos are probably the only group of Nigerians that you can predict
with great accuracy whom they will vote for in an election, because
they tend to put their votes where their stomachs take them; suffering
as it were, from incurable money-mindedness, as they would stop at
nothing in their quest for personal financial gain.”

This remark drew a volley of criticism, but Soyinka denied it.
In a chat with deputy chair Association of Nigerian Authors ANA, Denja
Abdullahi said ‘ When I read that comment I knew it was unlike
Soyinka, he couldn’t have made such hate statement, it was people that
ascribed it to him’
The Oxford Professorship Race
It came to the surprise of many when Soyinka lost the race to be
Oxford’s Professor of poetry to English poet, playwright and novelist,
Simon Armitage.  Armitage, a popular poet and broadcaster, secured
1,221 votes  301 more than his closest rival, Wole Soyinka.
According to International media Soyinka lost the professorship
because he has not written much poetry recently.