Wole Soyinka: Has The Man Died?

Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka,
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By Promise Adiele

Wole Soyinka is by every intellectual and academic classification an iconic figure. His reputation blossomed after he won the Nobel Laureate in 1986 having distinguished himself as a literary genius. For involving in the Nigeria/Biafra war, the Yakubu Gowon atrocious military junta incarcerated him. While in detention, he wrote his prison memoir The Man Died. His literary flourishes bestride all the genres of literature – poetry, drama, and prose but it is for drama and poetry that he is widely known and acclaimed. Within the literary fraternity, Soyinka’s oeuvre bulks large as symbolic canonical emblems, inspiring an avalanche of academic degrees. I am not a Soyinka scholar although I teach his works every semester and have written scholarly papers on them published in top journals. I am not completely convinced about his inscrutable linguistic attribution and sometimes tragic worldview which mostly weary and obtund the intellect. Rather, I am a Femi Osofisan and Ngugi Wa Thiongo scholar, writers whose Marxist, anti-capitalist proclivities continually animate my ideological leaning. Overall, Soyinka’s engagements as an activist have inspired radical sensibilities among youths in Nigeria, especially with the epochal submission “the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”.  

On the 13thof July 2024, Soyinka will be ninety years old. At this age, he is a sage, a colossus that should be a custodian of wisdom, conciliation, and peace in any society. But sadly, his egregious and aspersive immersion in Nigerian politics has threatened his legacies. Unfortunately, he has lowered the venerated grey hair for his children and great-grandchildren to feast on through voluntary and involuntary knocks. How are the mighty fallen? Soyinka’s binary identities between his past and present disposition on national issues deserve an immediate inquest as he gleefully vacillates between sinister enclosures and legitimate exposures. Shockingly, the literary deity has abandoned his revolutionary slogan in the face of constricting tyranny in Nigeria while initiating fisticuffs with millions of his children for their insistence on good governance and accountability.

The image of the current Soyinka we see now is inconsistent with the Soyinka we knew. We knew of a young Soyinka who invaded a radio station with a gun in the old Western region to stop the announcement of what he considered a rigged election. We knew of a Soyinka who marched to Dodan Barracks with Nigerian literary god Chinua Achebe and JP Clark to plead with IBB to spare the life of Maman Vatsa for a failed coup d’état. We knew of a Soyinka who fought the Abacha military regime and went into exile on account of his unyielding stance against dictatorship. We knew of a Soyinka who marched on the streets to protest the price of fuel at N160 when Goodluck Jonathan was the president. We knew of a Soyinka who criticised the government, identified with the people, and pointed the way to an egalitarian social order. That was the Soyinka of yesteryears. Soyinka’s transformation has been drastic. I once wrote an open letter to him titled Open Letter to Wole Soyinka (Google) when his disingenuous, regrettable evolution was in its infancy. Now, that knavish unfolding is complete as he cretinously wallows in self-debasement before the world.

To be sure, no elder has the monopoly of insults. The Bible, that Holy Book of infinite wisdom in Ephesians 6:4 admonishes fathers not to provoke their youths to anger. But Soyinka is deliberately provoking Nigerian youths. His obsession with young, vibrant, and angry Nigerians identifying as Obidients goes beyond the ordinary. It reveals a man whose image operates on cross-purposes contradicting his documented radical life. When he was younger, his approach to national issues had all the characteristics of the Obidient youths he denigrates. He complains that Nigeria’s Obidient youths are foul-mouthed, but he insulted Goodluck Jonathan, opposed him and was reported in the media to have used inappropriate language to describe the first lady. He participated in a street protest where a coffin was manufactured with the photograph of an elected president and RIP boldly written on it. That action caused Goodluck Jonathan’s old mother to relapse into depression and die afterwards. Since the Obidient movement emerged, they have never orchestrated any peaceful or violent public demonstration in the country. On that ground, Soyinka lacks ethical and moral justification to berate Obidients.

Obidients are a group of young Nigerians who are motivated by a compelling desire for a new country. That desire consistently lubricates the Obidient machinery. It is an unstructured movement without a leader but maintains a commanding ideological base sustained by aversion for all forms of dubiety in the corridors of power. The Obidient membership has collapsed the boundaries of religion, ethnicity, and other nebulous demarcations that the Soyinka generation relied on to destroy Nigeria. Soyinka summarised his generation in the title of his play The Wasted Breed. The Obidients, whose ideology is anchored on Nigeria’s political hurricane Mr. Peter Obi are out to challenge the status quo and reclaim their country from power profiteers culpable in Nigeria’s tragic circumstances. Ordinarily, Soyinka should be the leader of the Obidient Movement because he coined what qualifies as the motto of the movement “the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”. Soyinka is not one to keep quiet when the country is submerged by a coterie of criminals, enemy nationals whose stock in trade is to plunder the exchequer and liquidate its fountain in broad daylight. The contemporary Soyinka is not behaving like the original Soyinka and that dully informs the big question – has the man died?

For some impenetrable reasons, Soyinka has remained ominously calm in the current political dispensation when it is obvious the country suffocates in the throes of economic predators leading Nigerians to a precipice. The pervading tyranny in Nigeria enunciated by the APC government with Bola Tinubu as the cheerleader does not attract the attention of our revered Nobel Laureate. The question is, why is Soyinka quiet in the face of economic and socio-political tyranny in the country? Has the man died in him? Why did he protest against the fuel price at N160 but has chosen to ensconce in the comfort of his home as the price of fuel hovers between N600 and N900? No, this is not the Soyinka we knew, something is wrong. Why did he keep quiet with all the inconsistencies surrounding the personality of Bola Tinubu before the election? Why did Soyinka not give his views when the Nigerian judiciary danced naked in the marketplace by upturning Abuja’s electoral status where the incumbent president did not get the required 25% of votes cast? Why has Kongi metamorphosed so rapidly, leaving in his wake doubts, questions, and queries about his commitment and personality?

Soyinka’s routine attack on Peter Obi is not only invidious but treacherous. Recently, he unconscionably wished that Peter Obi would not indicate interest in the 2027 election as president. He declared that Peter Obi is unfit to be the president of Nigeria for the flimsy reason that he could not control the Obidient Movement. Nothing could be more ridiculously infantile and jejune. Peter Obi is eminently qualified to be the president of Nigeria because he did not forge his certificate and has an identifiable genealogy. Soyinka founded the Pirate Confraternity. Subsequently, the confraternity fragmented into several confraternities. Many youths have died as a result of the activities of these confraternities. It was Soyinka’s failure to control the parent body that led to its disintegration. Nobody cited his failure to control the Pirate Confraternity as a condition to award him the Nobel Laureate. If the activities of the Pirate Confraternity and all other occult groups that broke away from it are revisited and compiled, Soyinka, the founder of the parent body, may be stripped of his Nobel Laureate.  I am sure the Nobel awarding body is unaware that Soyinka is an Occult Grandmaster. Yet, he has the grotesque temerity to suggest that Peter Obi should not be president because he cannot control the Obidient Movement.

Soyinka should leave Peter Obi and the Obidient Movement alone. Peter Obi is not in control of the Obidient Movement and cannot control it because he is not the founder. Nobody controls the movement. It is an ideology with a consciousness averse to criminality, bad governance, mindless profligacy in the corridors of power and all forms of retrogressive machinations holding the country down over the years. Obidients do not converge in any physical location. They do not have a common purse or register. They are identified by a rejection of deliberate misgovernance or policies that undermine the common people of Nigeria. Youths from other African countries have identified with the Obidient Movement. Peter Obi, whose personality gave rise to the movement has the moral burden to remain clean and not compromise the ideals of the movement. If he does, the Obidient Movement will tackle him and he knows it. Daddy Soyinka should accept that Nigeria is about to negotiate a difficult bend through the Obidient Movement with Peter Obi in the driver’s seat. At Soyinka’s age, he should advise and constantly sue for peace rather than becoming a divisive figure. I close this essay with a quote from Soyinka’s prison memoir The Man Died: 

“In any people that submit willingly to the daily humiliation of fear, the man dies”. (p.15)

Promise Adiele PhD, teaches at the Department of English, MountainTop University and can be reached viap romee01@yahoo.com , X: @drpee4

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