Wole Soyinka: Conscience of the Nation still waxing strong at 80

Posted by News Express | 14 July 2014 | 4,318 times

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Renowned Nigerian playwright, dramatist, poet, author and essayist, Prof. Wole Soyinka, is eighty years old. The trajectory of the life of this distinguished writer, who became the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, is an inspiration to Nigerians. His outstanding body of works, which enjoys global acclaim, traverses all genres of literature such as prose, drama and poetry. He has also written several short stories and essays, but he is better known for his plays, which earned him numerous prizes and accolades from home and abroad.

Till date, Soyinka has authored over thirty books in all genres. Some of his literary works are A Dance of the Forests (1963); The Lion and the Jewel (1963); The Strong Breed (1965); The Swamp Dwellers (1965); The Road (1965); The Interpreters (1965); The Trial of Brother Jero (1965); Kongi’s Harvest (1966); The Man Died (1972); Death and the King’s Horseman (1975); and Idanre and Other Poems (1967).

Apart from his literary exploits through numerous publications and seminal lectures, Soyinka is known worldwide for his political activism and polemics. He has been a constant critic of administrations in Nigeria, both civilian and military, and a foremost human rights crusader and defender. From the 1970s till date, Soyinka has been a consistent voice on critical national issues. There is no issue or topic that is beyond his criticism. Even in old age, he is still waxing strong and has remained a barometer to gauge the national conscience.

Born on July 13, 1934 at Abeokuta, Ogun State, as Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, he attended St. Peter’s Primary School, Abeokuta in the early 1940s, and was admitted into Government College, Ibadan, in 1946. He was at the University College, Ibadan, where he studied Greek, English and History from 1952-1954. He also studied English Literature at University of Leeds, England. After graduation from Leeds, Soyinka worked at London’s Royal Court Theatre where he also directed some of his early plays.

He returned to Nigeria in 1960 and was involved in research into indigenous dramaturgy of the Yorubas and African Theatre. During this period, he was reputed to have written and directed dramatic sketches said to be critical of the government. In 1965, Soyinka was reported to have seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. For this action, he was arrested but released after a court trial. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, he was imprisoned without trial and put in solitary confinement for 27 months for his alleged support to the secessionist Biafran Republic, by the Federal Government of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).

He was appointed Head, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan from 1969-1971; Professor of Dramatic Literature, University of Ife in 1972; Visiting Professor in Drama, University of Sheffield, England, 1974; Visiting Professor in Drama, University of Ghana,1975; and Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Ife, 1975.

The Swedish Academy, during the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Soyinka in 1986, described him as one “who, in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.” Most of his plays portray individual and collective predicaments of mankind in this plain of existence with high dosage of humour and outrage.

The Federal Government of Nigeria, in recognition of his contribution, conferred on Soyinka the National Honour, Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), in 1986 in recognition of his contributions to nation building. The University of Leeds followed suit and awarded him D. Litt., honoraris causa in 1986. He was also appointed Pioneer Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in March 1989. He is, unarguably, one of Nigeria’s most celebrated citizens, having won numerous prizes and awards at home and abroad.

No doubt, Soyinka is a rare gift to Nigeria, Africa and the world, especially for his remarkable literary output and socio-political activism. He is a bundle of talents and intellect. As a playwright, his powerful command of the English Language and his deep knowledge of Yoruba language and culture are legendary.

Soyinka is a connoisseur of wine and music. He is a poet, author par excellence and a role model. He has done Nigeria and Africa proud with his literary achievements, and we urge upcoming writers to emulate his shining example.

Adapted from a Sunday Sun Editorial published yesterday as Prof. Soyinka (shown in photo) turned 80.


Source: News Express

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