BY SENIOR CHIEF LEKAN ALABI
IBADAN – Sequel to the publication of my above-named tribute by the Guardian on Sunday weekly on its page 17 and my pledge on the same, I hereby wish to make good my pledge.
After several past oral and written statements by me on how my path has been crossing the highway of Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, since 1961, 61 years ago, I hereby make the following declaration.
But, first, please pardon and ignore any unintended ‘self-glorification’ noticed in this post as they are brought about by the need to bow to empirical facts and history.
The bridge of contact, as it were, between Professor ‘Wole Soyinka and my humble self, 61 years ago, was my late paternal grandmother, Mama Asma’u Odunola Alabi, the fiery Woman Leader of the now-defunct NCNC, under Alhaji (Hon) Adegoke Adelabu, alias “Penkelemesi”
Mama, had brought home, one day in 1961, the voluminous publication by Shell Oil Company Nigeria on Nigeria, the play and the winner of its sponsored Independence drama competition, the 26-year old budding playwright, Wole Soyinka.
At Mama’s command, I would read the contents of the publication to her and party supporters. Thus little by little, Wole Soyinka’s name, photographs and stage achievements started to get etched in my young mind.
Moreso, Mama’s insistence that I headed for Olaiya Barbing Saloon at Born Photo, Isale Osi, whenever my hair was growing “bushy like that of your friend, Wole Soyinka in the Shell book”. WS thus became my role model.
Fast forward time and events such as my intervention in 1967,at 17, while a form three student of African Church Grammar School, Apata Ganga, Ibadan, when the General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Military Government clamped WS into indefinite detention, without trial, in Kaduna Prisons.
That arbitrary act of the FMG infuriated me, making me to write letters of protest to the military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, on behalf of my hero, WS, letter of solidarity to the detainee (Soyinka), in care of the Chief Warder, Kaduna Prisons and the third letter of notification of my actions to the Editor of Daily Times newspaper that carried Gen. Gowon’s open threat to Soyinka.
WS, on his release from detention in 1969, wrote me a letter of appreciation and invitation to visit him in his office at the then School of Drama, University of Ibadan, now called the Department of Theatre Arts and whose hall is named after Wole Soyinka.
A fulfilment of the 1969 invitation came about 52 years later, on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 – thanks to the kind intervention of Chief Joju Fadairo, a close friend of WS and Biodun Lasile, an activist with a resemblance and acts close to WS.
In my formal speech at WS “IJEGBA REPUBLIC” forest home in Abeokuta, Ogun State on my visit, I lamented that the age long struggles of WS and his fellow patriots, dead and living, for justice and equity should not be allowed to go to waste.1967, was far much better than Nigeria’s present dwindling, insecure and pitiable circumstances. And still, WS is in the trenches with other patriots! This is why I say the lion of 1967, WS, is today a Lion King, and my humble self the cub, also a grown lion with manes.
With gratitude to God for His mercy that has kept the 88-year old WS through the many struggles since he was a child, the memories of his fallen colleagues now come alive.
We remember Isaac Adaka Boro, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Balarabe Musa, Margaret Ekpo, Alhaja Sawaba, Aminu Kano, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehimi, Ola Oni, Arthur Nwankwo, Fela, Bala Usman, Air Iyare, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Aper Aku etc
Yoruba say: “Isu njo ‘na,pa isu da.” (The yam tuber being roasted is burning on one side, rotate it.) We need a new crop of young, genuine, upright and intelligent patriots.
For a single individual to have been trudging on selflessly on the path of public good, demanding open and progressive government, equity, freedom etc for over eight decades, we need to show greater support and empathy by allowing him a well-deserved rest, through the emergence of true democracy.
I, once again, salute the courage, consistency and tenacity of our WS. Little wonder he is Kongi. Long may you live in wellness, honour, joy and peace. Amen.
*Senior Chief Lekan Alabi, the Maye of Olubadan of Ibadanland writes from Ibadan.