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I’d Rather Drink Wine Than Take Water- Wole Soyinka.


Wole Soyinka and son, Olaokun-Photo: Victor Ehikhamenor
By Akintayo Abodunrin

Professor Wole Soyinka was his vintage self responding to questions about his life, activism, and muse amongst others during an interaction with four undergraduates at the just concluded Ake Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The audience broke into spontaneous applause as he walked briskly into the hall attired in his trademark collarless shirt and holding a jacket. They kept applauding till he climbed the stage. Then there was silence. Pin drop silence as he took his seat.

Though he had not yet uttered a word, it was as if the guests inside the Banquet Hall of June 12 Cultural Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta, Ogun State was aware of the scintillating performance that awaited and was thanking him in advance.

It was vintage Kongi. The Nobel Laureate was as candid as he was evasive. He elaborated on questions he wished to and parried others that he considered somewhat too personal. But the audience, comprising young and old from across the world, took no offence. A Nobel Laureate is entitled to some privileges.

Twenty-one year old Oreoluwa Ajewole, a Psychology student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife; Oladele Noah, studying English in the same institution; 19-year-old Tobiloba Oguntona, an English student of the University of Lagos and Chime Adioha from Owerri, Imo State, were the four lucky undergraduates chosen to pose questions to Professor Soyinka at the session.

They had emerged from an online competition for people aged 21 and below, and their reward was sharing a stage with Kongi at the Ake Arts and Book Festival (AABF).

Soyinka’s medical doctor son and Ogun State Commissioner for Health, Olaokun, moderated the segment with the theme ‘In the Shadow of Memory: An Audience with Wole Soyinka’ and like his father, was a true agent provocateur.

Before the questions started flowing, there was a special welcome performance from masquerades from Soyinka’s Remo Division of Ogun State. They paid homage to Soyinka who gladly accepted their greetings.

Noah then set the ball rolling. He wanted to know what kept the Nobel Laureate going during his 22-month incarceration during the Civil War and how he was able to write under such terrible condition.

Corrupt jailer

Soyinka’s answer was short and straightforward. “It took a while before I was able to smuggle in books. That was at a later stage; after I managed to corrupt my jailer. At the beginning I wrote on sheets of cigarette pack and at some stage on toilet paper.

I didn’t eat much so I didn’t need too much toilet paper; I wrote on them. Later on, I was able to smuggle in some books; I was able to write in between the lines with the ink I had manufactured. That way I kept my sanity.”

Did winning the Nobel Prize influence his writing in any way, Oguntona asked?

“I don’t think that winning the Nobel Prize affected my writing in any way. It was a nuisance at the beginning but I learnt to manage it. Subsequently, I got used to writing more in planes than I normally do in my sanctuary. All it did was that if affected me in terms of my working methods but I don’t think for a moment it affected the intensity of what I wrote.”

Military rule as aberration

Apart from his illustrious literary career, Professor Soyinka’s antecedent as a social activist is also well documented. He doesn’t condone dictatorship of any kind and has had several run-ins with the military, culminating in fleeing into exile in 1994 during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha.

How did he survive that experience, especially having to leave the country in a manner he described as an affront on his sexagenarian dignity?

“I had to take a most unusual route to exile which I felt was most un-dignifying. It wasn’t the first time I would ride on a motorcycle – as a rider and as a passenger – but in this particular instance, I had to go through the bush being lashed by branches at night, I felt that it wasn’t something that should be happening at my age during that period,” he said before explaining his relationship with the military.

He noted that not all members of the military are beasts; some are civil. He even enrolled in the university’s officer corps as a student because he thought it would be possible to go to South Africa and liberate the country from apartheid. His only issue with the military is when they demand to be treated as gods and goddesses.

He will also fight them when they refuse to return power to civilians as happened during General Muhammadu Buhari and Abacha’s regime.
“It’s a question of trying to ease them out one way or the other, make their lives difficult by being hypercritical, if you like, so that they know from the very beginning that that particular regime is unwanted.”

Earlier that day in a book chat involving General Godwin Alabi- Isama, author of ‘Tragedy of Victory’ and Patrick Okigbo, an undergraduate had called for the return of the military because of the excesses of politicians. What does Kongi say to such a youth and others who have no memories of military rule?

“If you want to have the military back, dictatorial rule of any kind, it’s really re-colonisation. Yes, there was a time when indeed the civilians were exceedingly corrupt. What we have learnt from our experimentation with military rule is that they are just as corrupt, incontinent, unreliable and treacherous towards civilian existence as the very worst civilian rule.”

Origin of Pyrates Confraternity

Asked the vision and mission of the Pyrates Confraternity he and others established as a student at the University College, Ibadan, Professor Soyinka gave a detailed explanation of what fraternities are and how they differ from cults.

“College fraternity is a time honoured tradition. It exists virtually all over the world where there are tertiary institutions. Many presidents of the United States belonged to fraternities in their universities; they are part and parcel of university culture.

“Fraternities, for at least two decades [in Nigeria], didn’t have one negative word against them. But of course, society being what it is, fraternities became corrupted. They turned fraternities to somewhere where you can exercise macho instincts and bully the rest of society. Of course, they [those with ulterior motives] were thrown out or they were never admitted in the first instance which was our idea of the original fraternity.

“So they went out and set up their own organisations which were also called fraternities but which soon showed exactly what they were. The Buccaneers, which was the first to break out; Eiye Society, Vikings and today you have Daughters of Jezebel in some colleges. They are the most vicious; more vicious than their male counterparts.”

The Nobel Laureate also explained how decadent politicians began to recruit students as thugs by enticing them with money, cars and other gifts. All these anti-social behaviour, he reiterated, was not in the manifesto of the original Pyrates.

“The only negative thing I can confidently tell you about Pyrates Confraternity: sometimes they get drunk but they don’t molest you when they are drunk,” he said.

On what informed the formation of the fraternity, Kongi said: “Then at the University of Ibadan where it all began, the population of male to female, was I think about 500 to 1 and these female students were abused, insulted and harassed so one of the cardinal points is for chivalry.

The Pyrates used to come to the defence of the women. It was formed for chivalry, comradeship, no partisan politics and it was anti-establishment. The Pyrates declared from inception we are mavericks, we are anti establishment. Whenever you do anything positive, you are not supposed to announce it. You won’t take credit for it.”

Militant gods

On the pervasiveness of Yoruba mythology in his works and if there has there been any negative reaction to it, Kongi, who is fond of Ogun, offered an unapologetic defence. “This is a result of Western or Eastern orientations. Christians or Muslims who think that they have the ultimate key to the kingdom of heaven and that if you don’t follow either scripture, you are forever damaged.

This is my world, my created environment; the myths of my society. Christians and Muslims must accept this, that they also exist in mythical worlds but the thing is that they would not accept.

“Who would tell me that the angels and the saints of either Islam or Christianity are not mythological figures? Prove to me that they are not before you ask me to prove to you that mine are not decent, respectable and even creatively enabling mythological figures.

So let all of us stick to our mythology. Don’t try and denigrate mine because if you do then I will denigrate yours. My myth does not require me to turn the other cheek. And stop claiming knowledge of absolute truth. Stop saying there is only one way, path to the god-head. All religions are equal.”

Women, liquor and collarless shirts

A question about cigarette, liquor and women supposedly aiding the muse drew murmurs of approval from the audience. What did for Kongi as a young writer and what still does for him?

“I’m against liquor; completely against liquor. Wine is not liquor,” Soyinka, renowned for his excellent taste in wine, said tongue in cheek as the audience erupted in laughter.

“Good brandy is not liquor; single malt whiskey is not liquor. Palm wine is not liquor. All the rest are liquor,” he continued, adding that he knew the medicinal values of palm wine right from childhood.

“Anything that is not liquor, I think hurts the productive system. Wine is excellent…what corrodes the body for me is water. I can’t imagine anybody being creative with orange juice, pineapple juice and all that. I can’t imagine it. It’s very difficult,” he added.

Soyinka didn’t controvert the point that women aid the creative process. “Women? We have to be careful here. Artists, painters and others, what is their favourite model? Very few of them use male models. The artists they know what they are doing.”

On why he started wearing collarless shirts, Soyinka said: “It was as a result of my abandonment of ties. I felt restricted by ties. Why on earth should somebody put a rope around my neck and at the same time they don’t like being hanged. Does it make sense to you? Once I abandoned ties, the next thing was what was that tie doing around my neck? There is nothing mysterious about it; straightforward practicality.”

The Chemist

Kongi demurred when asked about his first love. How he wooed her and got her to accept his offer of love.

“I have a reputation for total recall. People are astonished by how I remember images, events from childhood and this is one of those areas where they fall down,” he said.

But the audience realising that he wanted to parry the question protested.

“Look, all of you. You think you can have tricks of the trade just free like that,” he said to more laughter from the audience.
Olaokun intervened with, “I think the audience can see a political kind of manoeuvring happening? Can you move from the particular to the general then?”

He duly obliged. “I’m not a great scientist but I believe in chemistry. When chemistry happens, you know at once. So just follow the fumes from the person. If you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Asked his perception of today’s young people, Soyinka said they are neither better nor worse than the previous generations.

His only plea was that they maintain the highest ethical standards even in the face of modernity and technological advances. He also stressed the importance of learning from history in order not to repeat mistakes of the past.

That was the last question of the day and the appreciative quartet, who had realised their dream of taking on Kongi, thanked organizers for the unique opportunity.



Nobel Laureate Soyinka’s Daughter Dies.

By SaharaReporters, New York

Iyetade Soyinka, a daughter of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, has died. Ms. Soyinka, who was born June 6, 1965, died at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital where she was being treated for an undisclosed ailment.

The death was disclosed in a statement signed by Jahman Anikulapo, an aide to Mr. Soyinka, one of the world’s foremost dramatists and winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in literature. The statement noted that the late Iyetade Soyinka was a student at the Staff School and Queens School, Ibadan before she studied Medicine at the University of Ibadan.

Mr. Anikulapo’s statement described the deceased as “affable, intelligent and sometimes capricious,” adding that she “struggled with her health in recent years.” Despite her health woes, the late Iyetade Soyinka “greeted every day with a smile and doted on her two children.”

The statement, which was issued on behalf of the deceased’s family, revealed that Ms. Soyinka “took ill quite suddenly and passed away while being treated at UCH, Ibadan.

“Iyetade leaves behind two children, both parents, numerous siblings, nieces and nephews.”

No funeral arrangements were announced in the statement. SaharaReporters was unable to reach Professor Soyinka before press time.

The Political ‘Higi-hagas’ And The Negotiation Of Nigeria By Benedict Oladipo Koledoye.

By Benedict Oladipo Koledoye

I borrowed the word ‘higi-haga’ from Igodomigodo, Hon. Patrick Obaiyegbon, presently the Chief of Staff to the Governor of Edo State. Hon. Obaiyegbon  has registered his presence in the political landscape with his very atypical manner of speaking.  To some, he is annoying and nonsensical, to some he is amusing, while to others, despite his use of words in different languages that could  be compared to some form of earth tremors,  he is making a lot of sense.

I am not sure of the etymology of the word ‘higi-haga’, not even sure, if the spelling of it herein tallies with that of Hon. Obaiyegbon.  However, I have decided  to use that word,  for want of a single expression to capture the dimensions of absurdities in our political landscape. It is interesting to note that, I have also taken liberty to pluralise the word- ‘higi-hagas’.

A survey on the discourses on Nigerian Political activities,  shows that we might have exhausted all the adjectives to qualify the Nigerian Political landscape. No doubt, Nigerians are very  good in  the  use of English Language, at least we have our own Kongi, as Nobel Laurete in Literature, to show for it. The first African to enter into this elite of the Nobels!

Even though Professor Soyinka is a winner of Nobel Prize in Literature,  very many Nigerians  have  also excelled in the use of English Language.  To this extent, there is no deficit of adjectives or expressions to qualify our  ever intriguing political activities.   For now, I believe, ‘higi-higa’ sounds hilarious, but at the same time, it sounds ludicrous and apt enough to capture the unfolding political activities.

Indeed  there are many ‘higi-hagas’ in the Nigeria political landscape.  It is so interesting and intriguing.  It is a political landscape that is not based on any form of altruistic values, but predatory values. Ours is a political culture that  is not based on any noble or heroic history, but it is consistently operated on amnesia. That is why at every  point, when it is expected that we take  decisive steps to truly evolve a new Nigeria , there is always  sinister ways of avoiding such moments by the political class. One of the amusing but annoying escape route is always the  invention of cliché such as ‘ to protect our nascent democracy’ and ‘let us move on’.

It is in this clime, that a father is reported to be campaigning for a son, who was a Governor, and has performed woefully, and he was reported to have told his audience, (that) “if you child has failed, will you not allow him to repeat (the class)?”.  We laughed about it, and indeed the son repeated the Governorship.  It is mind boggling how we simply overlook disasters in form of irresponsibilities and lawlessness of political leaders and simply ‘move on’, as we would always say-‘let us move on!’ Is there any other way we can describe this absurdity than invent a name word or phrase for it?   ‘Higi-haga’ is so apt. ‘Higi-haga’  it is!

Unfortunately, whether we like it or not,  the “Nigerian ship” is towing in the turbulent waters of a destructive storm ready to capsize the ship!; and no matter the political prevarications that  are sold through Government paid commentators on the pages of Newspapers and other social media, this ‘higi-hagas’ will haunt us one day. It is already hurting the soul of Nigeria.

I am a staunch believer in Nigeria project, I love Nigeria, I am proud to be a Nigerian, I am passionate about being a Nigerian. Nigeria should not be a failed Nation.  I am convinced that Nigeria should be a blessing to humanity.

However, when things are moving in the wrong  direction, patriotic Nigerians must continue to raise  objections to the political and economic absurdities.  Those who love Nigeria will not share in the vain hope that Nigeria cannot collapse, when some people are hell bent in destroying  the country.  I am yet to understand the basis of their hope.  When you are programming yourself to fail and you say you cannot fail, that  is the highest form of delusion.   For Nigeria to be the Nigeria of our dream, we need to be honest in dealing with the political ‘higi-hagas’.

One of the enduring  ‘higi-hagas’  is the  absurdities of the election of the Governor’s Forum. The endurance  of the new arithmetic  16 more than 19  till date, is to say the least terrifying. More terrifying is the loss of sense of shame by the  Governors, and the country’s political leadership.  For  discerning hearts, this particular situation is a threat to the soul of the nation.  It portends a great danger for the 2015 election. At a point we thought that the era, whereby   election results are announced in Abuja, while the election proceedings are still going on  was over. Recent events in the country show that it remains “business as usual”.  It appears, these guys are test-running a clandestine scheme for 2015. Will there be an election, or mere negotiation?  The latest meeting of the  Governor Jang’s group was on the 11th August,  8:00pm News on AIT reported the infraction as the Nigerian Governors Forum.

I am actually waiting to see how the same station will report the Rotimi Amaechi’s group that has 19 votes, whenever its meeting is convened. I think, the little difference between what happened at the Nigeria Governors Forum election and the  elections of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) at Motor Parks lies in area of the weapon deployed in the battle. NURTW members would have freely deployed dangerous weapons, like machetes, axes, and guns, (remember Tokyo and Eleweomo in Oyo State), on the contrary, the weapon deployed by the Governors is so lethal to the soul of Nigeria. It is  an assault on values, assault on the sensibilities, and a great danger of morals for our children. Something must be done about this ‘higi-haga’.

The ‘higi-hagas’ in Rivers State is still subsisting. It appears that we have ‘moved on’ as usual!  No news again, at least for now. What I find so interesting in the whole saga is the sectional dimension it took, and the long term implications for Nigeria State. ( It is very interesting that the debate and politics of ‘relocation’ and ‘deportation’ of some indigenes of Anambra State, from Lagos State is ongoing.)   In Rivers State saga, the non-indignes were accused of meddlesomeness, and have been advised to stay clear of Rivers State internal affairs.  There are indeed so many issues in Rivers State Crisis,  however, the manner in which the Political elites have been carrying on is very disturbing. It is important that the Political elites live in the consciousness that Nigerians  voted for President Jonathan, as such, he is the President of Nigeria and not of South-South. The votes of South-South alone cannot gain for him the Presidential seat.   In as much as I acknowledge  their achievements in politics, whatever it might be,  I think their calculation may be wrong after all. If they strongly feel that the ‘higi-hagas’ are mere internal problems, they should go back to the history and read about the 1953 Kano riots, (it is interesting to note that some of the elders are also part of that era) they would realize how weak is their argument. It is pertinent to refresh the memory.

At the struggle for Independence,  the Southern Political Leaders, made up of the Action Group ( AG ) and National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) earnestly sought for self Government by 1956. A motion on the self-government was tabled in the parliament by Late  Chief Anthony Enahoro in 1953. The Northern Political Leaders, made up of Northern Peoples Congress  (NPC) opposed the  motion. They have their fears of being emasculated by the well advanced Southern Region in the event of Nigerian Independence.   The Southern Political Leaders viewed the stand of the Northern Leaders as retrogressive and reprehensible, they staged a walkout.  The Northern Political leaders where thereafter confronted by hostile crowds, apparently southerners,  who jeered at them and called them unprintable names.

These reactions enraged the Northerners, and heightened the tension between the South and the North.   Riot broke out in Kano when the southern leaders went to the North to campaign for self –government. So many lives were lost, not to mention property that was lost. It is on the record that even at this point Northern Legislative House sought for secession.  With this background, and with the benefit of hindsight, knowing fully well  the politicking within the so- called “Nigerian Democracy”, allowing their followers to pelt the five Northern Governors with stone is a terrible ‘higa-haga’. However, it appears we have moved on again, but I guess it is a temporary reprieve.

It is imperative  that the Political Leaders and elders should have a rethink about the future of the country they intend to ‘govern’ not the one that have so far been ‘conquered’. A ‘governed’ Nation is a civilized and progressive Nation. A ‘conquered’ Nation is a retarded and lawless nation akin to the state of nature before our forefathers learnt how to use stone or fire not to talk about the age of enlightenment. To this end,  I absolutely agree, Nigeria can be negotiated, we need to once and for all settle some lingering matters, so as not to disintegrate but to truly be a nation, a pride of Africa and blessing to humanity.

Benedict Oladipo Koledoye

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters 

Nigeria is “at war” with Boko Haram: Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria is “at war” with Islamist sect Boko Haram and should not negotiate with its leaders who are “mass murderers”, Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said on Friday.

President Goodluck Jonathan said earlier this year his government was open to dialogue with the sect, whose insurgency has killed an estimated 2,800 people since 2009.

The sect is styled on the Afghan Taliban and while it usually targets security and government officials, it has also struck churches, mosques and universities, becoming the biggest security threat in Africa‘s top oil producer.

“Don’t talk to mass murderers. You are not obliged to talk to those who made the killing of innocent people their philosophy,” Soyinka told reporters at a conference in Lagos.

“This is a security issue. It becomes a question of who goes down: is it the community? Is it society? is it the nation? Or is it a bunch of killers who are totally beyond control?”

Soyinka, 78, who sports a distinctive white Afro hairstyle, is a playwright and one of Africa’s leading intellectuals. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.

He said the violence in the north of Nigeria was the fault of religious “extremists” who had “brainwashed” youths who were now out of control. He also blamed the government for “abysmal” leadership, which he said had left vulnerable youths in poverty.

A purported spokesman for Boko Haram told reporters in the sect’s stronghold in Maiduguri, in the northeast, it would be willing to talk if its members were released from prison and other conditions were met.

But the sect’s leader Abubakar Shekau has said he won’t talk with the government, saying he wants to impose sharia, Islamic law, on the country of 160 million people, around half of whom are Christians and the other half Muslim.

Rights groups have said the military committed human rights violations during their campaign against Boko Haram, including executing unarmed people on the street and torturing suspects.

“The military has never had to cope with this kind of insurgency and so the military is making a lot of blunders,” Soyinka said. “There have been incidents of the violation of fundamental human rights, absolutely.”

“We are at war and a lot of horrible things happen.”

Soyinka has been an outspoken critic of governments in Nigeria and elsewhere. He was arrested during Nigeria’s civil war in 1967 and spent two years in solitary confinement.

(Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Andrew Osborn)


By Joe Brock | Reuters

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