Prof. Oluwole Akinwande Babatunde Soyinka is known globally, particularly in the literary world simply as Wole Soyinka, and as a Nigerian playwright, poet, and essayist. Soyinka is a human rights and political activist, an attribute he cultivated early in life as a teenager. Soyinka cultivated the habit of reading voraciously early. The story being amplified here indicates that it is tragic that the values of the society over the past few decades have not helped our society’s development. Chief Solomon Adegboyega Awomolo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria called me sometime last year to commend TERRIFIC HEADLINES for its production of literature. And he asked painfully: ‘’Who reads now? Nobody reads, including educated parents’’ The real story in this piece is how Wole Soyinka, in his days at the Government College, Ibadan, read voraciously. He was able to read four (4) books while his colleagues read only one.
That is why a student of the tertiary institution might not know the value of Wole Soyinka’s works. But they would certainly hear the occasional news of his activities in the media speaking truth to power. Literary engagements? Unlikely! Demonstration of affluence has led to feverish struggles for the acquisition of wealth at all costs by the old and the young, male and female. Here lies the very salient factor that produced armed robbers in a nation that placed great premium on family values, morality and good name. This is one of the reasons why our fundamental commitment on our channels is to the sustenance of our moral and social values. Studies have shown that ‘’ Most children learn to read at six years old and become competent readers by around age eight. However, many children are actually capable of learning to read much earlier’. ‘’A few children are ready to start combining letters and identifying words as early as three years old.’’
Nowadays, there is no parent to tell the moonlight stories, encourage children to read in order to grow their interest and mental capabilities. Most of us now go to the clubs from offices, and from there hit our beds on getting home without even asking the children what they studied in school. Weekends are reserved for socials. The current trend is for men to abandon the home and leave their wives alone to take care of their children. There may be nobody to discuss with the children issues for the purpose of creating the feelings of empathy. There may be no child today, who has the ambition of gaining recognition as a laureate in his or her field. Ignorance!
A study conducted in the United States by the PEW Research Center in 2016 showed that young adults are more likely to read books than older adults. Many people from ‘Generation Y’ believe that as easy as it is to access articles or play games online, there are still many things that only books can provide. The United Nations defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 with all UN statistics based on this range, the UN states education as a source for these statistics. The UN also recognizes that this varies without prejudice to other age groups listed by member states such as 18–30. (Google)
NOBEL LAUREATE: For the avoidance of doubt, Laureates are awarded annually for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. For the purpose of this compilation, we adopt the citation read when this great Nigerian was awarded ‘The Nobel Prize in Literature’ in 1986, the first African to be so recognized in that category. The press release that announced this coveted recognition from the Swedish Academy stated that: ‘’This year’s Nobel Prize in literature goes to an African writer, Wole Soyinka from Nigeria. ‘’Now in his early fifties, he has a large and richly varied literary production behind him and is in his prime as an author.
‘’His background, upbringing and education have given him unusual conditions for a literary career. He has his roots in the Yoruba people’s myths, rites and cultural patterns, which in their turn have historical links to the Mediterranean region. Through his education in his native land and in Europe he has also acquired deep familiarity with western culture. His collection of essays Myth, Literature and the African World make for clarifying and enriching reading. ‘’The learning that the professor of literary science bears with him is in no way an encumbrance to his literary works. They are vivid, often harrowing, but are also marked by en evocative, poetically intensified diction. Soyinka has been characterized as one of the finest poetical playwrights that have written in English.
‘’ Linguistically too Soyinka stands out as excellent. He possesses a prolific store of words and expressions which he exploits to the full in witty dialogue, in satire and grotesquery, in quiet poetry and essays of sparkling vitality. Wole Soyinka’s writing is full of life and urgency. For all its complexity it is at the same time energetically coherent’’ We reproduce below, unedited, the citation delivered at the 1986 award ceremony. (https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1986/press-release/)
EARLY YEARS: Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in Western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he took his doctorate. 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, since 1975, he has been a professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the “Orisun Theatre Company”, in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
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 Biafra 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 a 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 (a light comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in 1963. Later, satirical comedies are The Trial of Brother Jero (performed in 1960, publ. 1963) with its sequel, Jero’s Metamorphosis (performed 1974, publ. 1973), A Dance of the Forests (performed 1960, publ.1963), Kongi’s Harvest (performed 1965, publ. 1967) and Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970, publ. 1971). Among Soyinka’s serious philosophic plays are (apart from “The Swamp Dwellers“) The Strong Breed (performed 1966, publ. 1963), The Road ( 1965) and Death and the King’s Horseman (performed 1976, publ. 1975). In The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), he has rewritten the Bacchae for the African stage and in Opera Wonyosi (performed 1977, publ. 1981), bases himself on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Soyinka’s latest dramatic works are A Play of Giants (1984) and Requiem for a Futurologist (1985).
Soyinka has written two novels, The Interpreters (1965), narratively, a complicated work which has been compared to Joyce’s and Faulkner’s, in which six Nigerian intellectuals discuss and interpret their African experiences, and Season of Anomy (1973) which is based on the writer’s thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba. Purely autobiographical are The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972) and the account of his childhood, Aké ( 1981), in which the parents’ warmth and interest in their son are prominent. Literary essays are collected in, among others, Myth, Literature and the African World (1975). Soyinka’s poems, which show a close connection to his plays, are collected in Idanre, and Other Poems (1967), Poems from Prison (1969), A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972) the long poem Ogun Abibiman (1976) and Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988).
REVELATION BY OMOLOLU OLUNLOYO: Dr. Omololu Olunloyo was two years behind Prof. Wole Soyinka at the Government College, Ibadan. He told Femi Adeoti, in a 2009 interview published in Sun Newspaper that ‘’His (Soyinka’s) father made him, before he came to the school, to write one essay a day. His name was S. A. Soyinka, he was the Headmaster of Ake Primary School. So, he was called Baba S A, which sounded like Baba oni Essay. We would all submit our criticism of our teachers and he (Soyinka) would write it. Some teachers were not as bright as some pupils in some subjects. So, one-day people said they were fed up with the History teacher. The Geography teacher was the principal at one time. The other principal was mathematics, we had J. B. Ojo, Bakare and there were Europeans.
HOW COLLEAGUES ARRANGED TESTS FOR SOYINKA: We found out two things about Soyinka. The first thing we found was about the libraries. We had the house library and the school library. When you borrow a book, you enter it. We found that Soyinka entered four times more books than other students. So, we concluded that he was not reading them. David Copperfield, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and so on. Owosina, who later became the greatest orthopedic surgeon in Nigeria, at Igbobi, suggested that we did one thing: We should take the books he said he had read and divide the books among ourselves and we were going to ask him deep questions. We asked Soyinka if he was available for such a thing and he said he was ready anytime we were ready. So, we took him on and extracted quotes from the book and he would give you the exact book and where the extract was taken from. We went on and on and he got all of them. Then we gave up. It was shocking that he was reading four times as much as the rest of us students were doing.
EVALUATION OF TEACHERS BY STUDENTS: So, on this occasion, he wrote a very scathing criticism of the teachers. The incompetent ones; the ones who were posted there because their husbands happened to be there, and so on. The Principal said “we have read the suggestion box. Boys are taking liberty for license. We shall no longer have a suggestion box. When you pass out and become teachers, take any suggestion you like from your pupils. But we stop it from today. One last thing I like to say. This last one that is stopping the whole thing, from the lexis, the vocabulary, the grammar, all quotations, this can only be the work of Wole Soyinka. He’s the author, we know that. But we know you chose him.”
He graduated from Government College, Ibadan in December 1950 at the age of 16 years. His school principal, Mr. H.H. Jeffers, is on record as stating prophetically that: “Mark that boy, (Soyinka) he will go places.” There were some boys who were very bright. The son of the Alaafin Gbadegesin and the son of Fagunwa, they were classmates. They were very bright. They were below us. They were particularly bright, the son of the Alaafin Ladigbolu and Fagunwa. They were the ones that brought the suggestion that this man’s name had to be changed. Wole Soyinka, that is WS. William Shakespeare. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African to be honoured in that category. Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta.(Olunloyo)
Soyinka has long been a proponent of Nigerian democracy. His decades of political activism included periods of imprisonment and exile, and he has founded, headed, or participated in several political groups, including the National Democratic Organization, the National Liberation Council of Nigeria, and Pro-National Conference Organizations (PRONACO). In 2010 Soyinka founded the Democratic Front for a People’s Federation and served as chairman of the party. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
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