Best wishes have started pouring in for Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, on his 87th birthday with governors, social activists, musicians and Nigerians celebrating the academic who speak up always and who doesn’t allow the “man” to die in him in the face of tyranny.
Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, in a Facebook post on Tuesday, described Soyinka as “a defender of the defenceless”.
He wrote, “We celebrate an iconic personality. A patriot of high repute. Our mentor and hero. A defender of the defenceless. Advocate of truth, fairness and equity. A man of whom justice is the first condition of humanity. One of the very best our country has produced. Wishing you many more blessed and impactful years.”
Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, also in a Facebook post, said the state is blessed to have produced the “rarest breed of humankind”.
He wrote, “On July 13, 1934, the heavens bestowed on Ogun State, Nigeria and Africa as a whole, the rarest breed of humankind.
“From being the conscience of the Nation, you conquered the world as a playwright, poet, essayist and public intellectual.
“At 87, we proudly celebrate an enigma whose kind only Ogun State has the privilege of laying claim to. Congratulations, Prof.”
Activist and President, Women Arise, Joe Okei Odumakin, in a statement, reminisced on Soyinka’s life as an activist from the dark days of military despotism.
She wrote, “When there were no civil society groups to serve as the conscience of the masses, you filled the void acting as a one-man Riot Squad!
“The rogue regime of Ladoke Akintola in the defunct Western Region bears you witness.
“When the Nigerian Constitution was yet to assign the media the role of holding government accountable to the people, you had picked up the gauntlet and filled the gap. Your role in the Nigerian civil war and your epic novel, The Man Died, bear you witness!”
“Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in the academic category (specifically in Literature); tireless crusader for human rights; a voice that could not be silenced come what may; forever speaking truth to power: We salute Prof. Wole Soyinka as he turns 87!”
Fuji musician popularly known as Saheed Osupa also hailed Soyinka on his 87th birthday. “To a primus inter pares, an African pride, a National crusader, a father-figure, a meritorious mentor, a legendary icon, a core traditionalist, a glocal scholar, a witty literatus, a rare gem and an outstanding intelligentsia whose erudition I so much adore and respect.
“Thank you for being a blessing to the entire Black race, Prof. May the God of longevity grant you his favour sir, because we really need you to stay longer for a better tomorrow. Happy 87th Birthday, King Kongi, Prof Wole Soyinka! My love for you can never be overstated!” he wrote on Facebook.
Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he took his doctorate.
During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been a professor of comparative literature.
In 1960, he founded the theatre group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the “Orisun Theatre Company”, in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as an actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this, he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.
Soyinka wrote so many plays including The Trial of Brother Jero (performed in 1960, publ. 1963) with its sequel, Jero’s Metamorphosis (performed 1974, publ. 1973), A Dance of the Forests (performed 1960, publ.1963), Kongi’s Harvest (performed 1965, publ. 1967) and Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970, publ. 1971).
Among Soyinka’s serious philosophic plays are (apart from “The Swamp Dwellers“) The Strong Breed (performed 1966, publ. 1963), The Road ( 1965) and Death and the King’s Horseman (performed 1976, publ. 1975). In The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), he has rewritten the Bacchae for the African stage and in Opera Wonyosi (performed 1977, publ. 1981), bases himself on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Soyinka’s latest dramatic works are A Play of Giants (1984) and Requiem for a Futurologist (1985).
Soyinka has written two novels, The Interpreters (1965), narratively, a complicated work which has been compared to Joyce’s and Faulkner’s, in which six Nigerian intellectuals discuss and interpret their African experiences, and Season of Anomy (1973) which is based on the writer’s thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba. Purely autobiographical are The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972) and the account of his childhood, Aké ( 1981), in which the parents’ warmth and interest in their son are prominent. Literary essays are collected in, among others, Myth, Literature and the African World (1975).
At 87, Soyinka’s voice continues to wax strong against social and political vices. He is one of the strong critics of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)