Professor Wole Soyinka’s admirers, students, children, grand children and other relatives gathered on a wet Sunday afternoon at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island for the 6th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series to celebrate the sage at 80. Soyinka’s clear understanding of societal menace remains evergreen. More than his understanding of society’s demeaning problems is his commitment to proffering solutions to forces that tend to bleak the future for man in society. Participants at the event agreed these outstanding qualities are deserving of honour.
The occasion was yet another opportunity for like minds to push back the frontiers of knowledge as Wole Soyinka would want to have it. The event, moderated by Molara Wood, writer and literary analyst, brought together eminent literary scholars to examine the theme of the occasion – “Wole Soyinka and the moral burden of literature”. Abiola Irele, a professor of French Linguistics and literature was the lead speaker, he was joined by other speakers; scholar-critic, Prof Dan Izevbaye; playwright and poet, Odia Ofeimun; professor of comparative literature and cultural studies, Prof Ropo Sekoni and US Consular General, Jeffrey Hawkins.
Dapo Olorunyomi, Founder of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) began to answer the question of how and when Soyinka became interested in social distortions and political affairs in his opening comment. He highlighted that WSCIJ was established to fill a lacuna created by a failing media, and that one of the ways to renew the media, which is actually a way of redeeming democracy, is by recognising men and women doing things right in the media; “Soyinka was one man who represented the values we advocate” He said.
The discourse properly anchored on the significance of Wole Soyinka and his work, as well as apprehensions on the man and which of his works is best. The keynote speaker, Abiola Irele, painted close encounter pictures of his understanding of Wole Soyinka from the period of a bustling young scholar who exhibited curiosity and attitude for excellence at the University College Ibadan. According to Irele, the quintessential Soyinka that is being celebrated globally is a product of ceaseless hard work and commitment to scholarship.
Contributing to the subject of the significance of Soyinka, Jeffrey Hawkins, said “Soyinka is a writer who had the moral burden to transform his society. This he executed excellently in many of his works especially the novels: The Interpreter and The man died. Prof Sekoni, WSCIJ’s board chair in his response emphasised that “the appearance of Soyinka on the political scene of Nigeria is not an accident.” He added that “the occurrence of anti-corruption theme in Soyinka’s work from the Jero plays in the early sixties show that he has diligently studied the phenomenon of corruption which still bedevils the Nigerian society.
Prof Dan Izevbaye on his part noted that he sees nothing laborious about Soyinka’s diction. In his words “Soyinka sees literature beyond pleasure, if his language is considered elitist (as is commonly said) it means more literature teachers need further education”. Izevbaye’s guidelines to making Soyinka’s works more accessible in schools include the promotion of the culture of stage plays in schools and the further training of the language of literature in English to teachers. Complimenting this view, Poet Odia Ofeimun remarked “if you’re taught by a bad teacher, you would have a cause to dislike Soyinka’s diction”.
A cake depicting a dancing forest in line with one of Soyinka’s books with the label, ‘Kongi @ 80’ was cut. The cutting was presided over by one of Soyinka’s students, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, Publisher of the Guardian Newspaper who shared her experience as a Student of Soyinka at the University College Ibadan in the sixties. All speakers, Soyinka’s children – Dr. Olaokun Soyinka, Barrister Moremi Soyinka-Onijala, Prof. Peyibomi Soyinka-Airewela, Mr. Makin Soyinka, with grand children, other relatives, Prof. Niyi Osundare, Dr. Olatunji Dare, as well as Prof ‘Biodun Jeyifo, both past keynote speakers at the 2nd and 5th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series respectively, joined in cutting the cake that heralded the literary icon into the world of the Octogenarians.
A presentation by the Soyinka family followed and featured Soyinka’s grandchild doing a dance as a thank you message to the society that encourages their father in his feat and supports the family members in their development. Dr. Olaokun Soyinka, speaking on behalf of the family, said he and his siblings are proud to be associated to Wole Soyinka, a man of many parts who has brought praise and honour to the family and the Nigerian society.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye appreciated the audience for their ardent followership of the Centre. The event was further spiced by the presentation of two works of Soyinka, Trials of Brother Jero and “No! He said” by the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Troupe.