Wole Soyinka

Yinka Olatunbosun

The film screening last Monday at Freedom Park, Lagos was part of the curtain call moments for the four-day long celebrations in honour of the first African Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. It has been a roller-coaster of tributes, wining and dining in Lagos, Ogun and Ondo states where these celebrations took place in Nigeria. For the Freedom Park Film Club and the IREP International Documentary Film Forum, the monthly film screening aptly targeted Soyinka as the theme of its July screening with a short one titled, Dancing Post-Colonialism directed by Samantha Iwowo, who couldn’t make it to the screening due to difficulty in securing Nigerian visa.

Next, one of Soyinka’s lectures delivered at the Yale University titled, “Between Metaphor and Reality’’ was screened under the theme, “Conversations with Soyinka” at both the Kongi’s Harvest and the food court at Freedom Park, Lagos. In the lecture, Soyinka examined the multiple layers of slavery in our social reality, with specific references to slave-themed movies such as “Roots” and “12 Years a Slave”. Drawing up parallels between the slave plantation era and the current trends of servitude in the family system, labour space, religious and political systems, Soyinka gave a well-rounded view to the understanding of slavery with a rapturous applause ending the thought-provoking talk.

Of course, Soyinka couldn’t escape from the political questions that followed, which indeed situates this literary colossus as a social commentator who cannot afford to be a passive bystander in the theatre of national issues, even if he so desires. He didn’t dance around crucial political issues when he wrote his prophetic play, A Dance of the Forests. Even his recent publications have maintained that tempo of social engagement, with no deficit in the use of humour.

For ten years, the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) has been promoting the ideals of the famed writer through its curated projects such as workshops, performances and writing competitions to create a cycle of creative energy which cannot be destroyed but made into different forms. For its advocacy session which was a curtain raiser for the celebrations, Soyinka’s virtues of rights, honour, respect, tolerance, truth, justice, patriotism and humanism were extolled. With culture activist Jahman Anikulapo as its compere, the session was a parade of some of the brightest creatives and scholars from Nigeria, one of which was Prof. Ojewuyi later joined by Prof. Pat Utomi. Ojewuyi is the co-founder of the WSICE who recounted the brainstorming years that brought the project to fruition. In a long speech, he encouraged all to imitate the Soyinka ideals.

Utomi, who got a seat away from the roundtable area, addressed his audience calmly, in self-modulated voice.
“We suffer from a collapse of culture,’’ Utomi observed while making his introductory remarks that highlighted the essence of Soyinka. “It is not politics but culture that is responsible for the progress of the society.’’ He insisted that culture and institutions matter as they interact and can be used to drive development. Beyond that, respect for humanity is a precondition for good governance.

“To lead, you must love. Many who aspire into positions of authority in Nigeria do have love in their heart,” he stated.
For the actress and creative entrepreneur, Lillian Amah-Aluko, the role of women in our society should be towards social change. Drawing upon her experience on the social media use, she observed that there is so much “intolerance, hate, disrespect and horrible language’’ on the rise.
“Our country is doomed if nothing is done,’’ she declared. In the same vein, Dr. Razinat Mohammed spoke succinctly on honour which she said is something “that you cannot compromise.’’ She made copious references to Soyinka’s literary texts where honour was a subject matter such as Death and the King’s Horseman, Idanre and Dance of the Forests.

In Abeokuta, precisely in Ijegba forest that houses the home of Soyinka, 85 students were reportedly received as guests. A special reprint edition of Igho Goes to Farm written by Culture journalist and Head of Politics at The Guardian, Anote Ajeluorou, facilitated by WSICE was distributed to the students. Ajeluorou who described the book as a love letter to his childhood, wrote against the backdrop of his formative years at Ibedeni, a community in Delta State. The writer said that storytelling was a part of his childhood shared with his grandmother and cousin, Onome. The fictional piece is modelled after the classic, Eze Goes to School written by Onuorah Nzekwu.
“OpenDoorSeries/WSICE is a huge platform to present an important book like Igho Goes to Farm,’’ Ajeluorou stated in a press statement. “The young ones are very impressionable and they need to be guided so they don’t stumble. Igho Goes to School speaks to their concerns and how to help them navigate some of the modern distractions that can derail them from getting the best from their educational quest, particularly smart phones and social media,’’ he said.

Igho Goes to Farm is based on a story of a child who was taken to the village to spend his long holiday because of his poor performance in school while his siblings go to Disneyland in the US for their vacation. The others book presented at the celebrations are The Soyinka Impulse edited by Prof. Duro Oni and Prof. Bisi Adigun and Memo on Our Future: Essays by Nigerian Children as Inspired by Wole Soyinka’s Visions. Kolajo Ajayi emerged as the overall winner at the essay competition involving all 85 students across Nigeria.
A special exhibition in honour of Soyinka was curated by Damola Adebowale, the Founder, Asiri Magazine at the Kongi’s Harvest building at Freedom Park.
Pix: Prof. Wole Soyinka.jpg