Nigeria is blessed with talented people. In this article – WOLE SOYINKA: 7 things you didn’t know about him, we present a brief biography of man in the verge of making history in Nigeria. Happy reading.
Wole Sonyinka was born Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka on 13 July 1934 in Abeokuta Ogun State in South West Nigeria into a Yoruba Christian home.
His father was Samuel Ayodele Soyinka who doubled as an Anglican minister and a head teacher while his mother named Grace Eniola Soyinka was a storekeeper and happens to come from the influential family of Ransome-Kuti.
So, Soyinka has many popular cousins like the legendary afrobeat musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti and human rights activist, Yemisi Ramsome-Kuti. He grew up under the tutelage of his parents where they inculcated Christian teaching as well as Yoruba native traditions in him.
Soyinka is the second child in the family of six. Little Soyinka was very inquisitive as elders in the sparsely Christian community knew him as a little child who asked a lot of questions. Also, Soyinka wrote about his childhood in one of his works, Ake: The Years of Childhood. It was one of his numerous bestsellers.
In 1940, Soyinka attended St. Peters Grammar School in Abeokuta where he won many prizes in literary competition. In a bid to further his education, he was accepted by the prestigious Government College, Ibadan in 1954.
Soyinka proceeded to University of Ibadan where he studied English Literature, Greek and Western History. Even when he was in the university, he was still writing.
Later he started working on Keffi’s Birthday Treat which aired in 1954 on Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS). It was while Soyinka was in school that he formed Pirates Confraternity which was a small group formed amongst students seeking justice in the university.
He went to the United Kingdom where he continued his university education. And he attended University of Leeds where he later graduated with Bachelor’s degree in English Literature in 1958.
Soyinka has always had interest in literature and by extension writing. That informed his studying literature at University of Ibadan in Western Nigeria.
After graduating from University of Ibadan, he went straight to University of Leeds like I said earlier. He had travelled to the United Kingdom with the intension of doing his Master’s Degree.
In 1957, Soyinka’s play The Invention was immediately produced at Royal Court of London where he worked as a play reader. Other works by Sokinka at that time were The Immigrant and the Next Door Neighbour.
Later in 1958, he wrote the first major play entitled, The Swamp Dweller and later he wrote the huge bestseller, The Lion and The Jewel. Suddenly this masterpiece became a popular novel read across UK, as well as homes and schools in Nigeria.
Soyinka was given Rockefeller Research Fellowship, which is an international award-giving foundation in the US, at his Nigeria’s alma mater University of Ibadan.
Other works produced by this greater writer at the time were a satire, The Trials of Brother Jero, and A Dance Of the Forest. On 6 August 1960, Soyinka wrote a play that aired on Western Nigeria Television (which is now Nigerian television Authority) and directed by Segun Olusola.
It is noteworthy that Western Nigeria Television was the first television station to air in Nigeria. The play was viewed by its large audience in Nigerians who had access to television at the time.
After Soyinka was recognized and given an award by Rockefeller, he used the grant from Rockefeller to buy land rover which he used to aid his research by travelling round Nigeria.
In 1963, his first movie, Culture in Tradition was released. Other works at the time were Negrophiles, Death and The King Horsemen, The Interpreter (1964), and others.
He later resigned his job at the university in 1964. Later that same year, he was arrested by Nigerian government. After public outcry by international community of writers, he was released.
Soyinka later wrote Before the Blackout, Konji’s Harvest and The Detainee. The popular novel, The Lion and The Jewel was produced for Hampstead Theatre Club in UK.
This novel later became a bestseller in Nigeria with many schools reading it even up till the new millennium because of its rich content. Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 becoming the first African laureate to ever achieve this feat.
Wole Soyinka has always been a critic of African leaders. He often condemns corruption and insincere style of leadership exhibited by these leaders which is a sharp contrast of what is obtainable in the West.
He closely followed the civil war that broke out in Nigeria and lasted between 1967 to 1970. It was widely reported in Nigerian media at the time that the writer had secretly met with Military Governor Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu in Enugu (which was the capital of then Eastern region) to avert the civil war that was about to befall Nigeria.
The Nigerian Government accused him of sabotage, arrested him and he was imprisoned for 22 months while the war lasted. Even while he was in prison, he still wrote some poems criticizing Nigerian government. But he was later freed when the war ended.
In furthering his political activism, He criticised the corruption tendencies exhibited by the first democratically elected head of states of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Alhaji Shegu Shagari was later toppled by General Muhammadu Buhari in 1983.
He also criticized former president Olusegun Obasanjo. And till today, many political enthusiasts see them as sworn enemies as the bad blood still run between them.
Only recently, Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted was calling Wole Sonyinka “a liar and economic illiterate.” They often exchange words through the media.
Soyinka has always been known for speaking out against governments, not just in Nigeria, but across the African continent. He was an outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa as well as protested the military junta of Idi Amin of Uganda.
Wole Soyinka also criticized the leadership style of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. In Feb. 2015, he said that no one should vote for Goodluck Jonathan when he (Goodluck Jonathan) sought Nigerian votes for his second term bid, and Soyinka later said he had 60 reasons why he would not vote for him.
He also asked Nigerians to forgive Buhari, accept and work with him as the new president of the country after Buhari’s election in 2015.
Wole Soyinka said in 2013 that he no longer regards Patience Jonathan as the First Lady of Nigeria because she was trying to incite electoral violence, and newspaper report says he called the woman “an illiterate,” a claim he later denied.
Dame Patience Jonathan replied him saying that the Soyinka’s comment was a huge embarrassment to his admirers.
First was Barbara Dixon in 1958 – a British writer who happened to be mother of his child Olaokun.
His second marriage was to Olaide Idowu in 1963 – a Nigerian librarian and they had 3 children together. Finally, Folake Dorty is his current wife in 1989. In 2014, he revealed he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was later treated of it.
Also, many experts consider and call the later the “Father of African literature” understandably because of his untold contribution to African literature. A concept Wole Soyinka sharply disapproved of.
Chinua Achebe in his controversial book, There Was A country, extolled the gallant contributions of Wole Soyinka in trying to avert the avoidable civil war that cost the lives of millions of Biafran children, but lambasted some Yoruba political leaders whom he wrote had as hands in the senseless deaths of these children.
Achebe went further to say he would do the same if he was in Soyinka’s shoes. Enthusiasts claim that after the release of the novel, the relationship between the two men was badly damaged. In an interview, Soyinka said he never had time to discuss the last book of Achebe before his death and wished he never wrote the controversial book.
After the death of Achebe, Soyinka was hugely criticized for being absent at Achebe’s burial in 2013.
Wole Soyinka has released many poems, novels, plays, memoirs, stories and essays and some of which include Telephone Conversation, Death and the King’s Horseman, Dance of the Forest, Abiku, etc.
Wole Soyinka has received many awards and recognitions in his lifetime. One of them are Commander of the federal Republic in 1986, Overseas Fellow of Churchill College in Cambridge in 1973-74, Professor of Literature, etc.
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