The Riddles In Soyinka’s Epistle

Wole Soyinka

The epistle of Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate, syndicated in most national dailies of Wednesday the 16th September 2020, wholly or summarised, is a must-read to whet the mind, if you will. Where did I read this smart aphorism, “Be Wise, Read Proust?” Was it in an issue of Time magazine (I am a Time, Newsweek, and Economist fan; I’d be pleased any day to read up years-old backlog copies of any of these international news magazines). Well, Marcel Proust was a French novelist of high regard.

Over here in Nigeria, older ones like me would advise younger ones to seek to improve their grammar, their prose, and their verse constructions by reading the discourses of Wole Soyinka and the self-exiled Farooq Kperogi on national-discourse themes. Until I patiently read the full text of Soyinka’s epistle on this Wednesday, I have always in private considered his writing style, “Very Formal, English-Style Construction” whilst that of Kperogi I have always labelled, “Semi-Formal American-Style Construction” because of his penchant to throw American English informal speak-phrases into the progression of the body of his very formal and standard language constructions of dynamic, modern phrases.

Soyinka’s write-up was consciously devoid of any attempt to unnecessarily lionise the object being referred to and the reader is presented with a maze of hints and inferences to discern what or who the Nobel Laureate was referring to; his style of capitalising a word for emphasis (this reminds me of the German language where the core object-noun reference item is usually capitalised) in the construction of a tense has led me to upgrade his writing style (according to the impromptu designation protocol I developed on the whim), “Ultra Formal, English-Style Construction.” I hope Great Britain’s Academy of Arts will forgive the attempt to abrogate to myself the privilege to authoritise on such an intellectually-centric matter.

Deciphering the inferences and allusions in Prof. Soyinka’s epistle would lead the reader to identify Garba Shehu as the entity being referred to by the use of the “garrulous” adjective and the capitalised “Garbled” term; that was smart word-play by Prof. Soyinka. For Femi Ades ina, it was, “the other half of the presidential megaphone.”
There were oblique references to the “Amotekun” security outfit, the Inspector-General of Police’s desire to stifle “Amotekun” on the strength of a piece of argument by Garba Shehu, the death-row convict (Yahaya Sharif-Aminu) in Kano State awaiting execution on account of “blasphemy,” Fulani terror hordes, without explicitly identifying these elements by name the way other letter-writers on the state of the nation would have done. What the professor had in mind was that you have to be sharp and be informed on current situations to get the gist of his lines of argument.

However, other than Olusegun Obasanjo (who the professor was very careful not to “Africanise” as “High Chief” or “Chief Dr. Engr. Gen.”), the columnist Femi Abbas was identified by name as well as Obadiah Mailafia, another contributing columnist to a couple of national dailies and now a social activist who is presently undergoing mental torture by the federal secret police as part of its “investigations” of Mailafia’s exposé that made known that a serving governor of one of the Northern states is a commander of Boko Haram. Well, just as he is no fan of Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof. Wole Soyinka is also no fan of President Donald Trump of the US but it is good that the professor knows that even those you do not agree with have plus sides too.

Actually, it is the smartest one who learns from his enemies; this has been one of America’s guiding principles. And? Who is that shadowy pro-Trump “quota columnist” in Prof. Soyinka’s mind? There aren’t that many Trump-hailers out here. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has ensured that America is secured in these last four years by his brash talk and blunt threats; these are working well for him because he has succeeded in bringing Serbia and Kosovo to the same table and he has also succeeded in bringing the duo of Bahrain and the UAE with Israel on the other side to the same table.

Interestingly, Serbia and Kosovo are moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem. Prof. Soyinka should just brace for Trump’s second term in office. I hope the professor didn’t really shred his US green card? Life is hard in-country on the Nigerian scene. Scores will be glad for the opportunities that Donald Trump’s America open to academics.
––Sunday Adole Jonah, Department of Physics, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State