PROF. CHIEF AKINWANDE OLUWOLE BABATUNDE SOYINKA
PROF. CHIEF AKINWANDE OLUWOLE BABATUNDE SOYINKA
Akínwándé Olúwo̩lé Babátúndé S̩óyíinka was born on 13 July 1934. A descendant of a Remo family of Isara-Remo, Wole Soyinka was born the second of six children, in the city of Abẹokuta, Ogun State, in Nigeria, at that time a British dominion.
His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka.His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka (whom he called S.A. or “Essay”), was a prominent Anglican minister and headmaster. His mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, who was called “Wild Christian,” was a shopkeeper and local activist.
As a child, he lived in an Anglican mission compound, learning the Christian teachings of his parents, as well as the Yoruba spiritualism and tribal customs of his grandfather.
A precocious and inquisitive child, Wole prompted the adults in his life to warn one another: “He will kill you with his questions.”
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 professor of comparative literature.
Also 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 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 accused of collaborating with the Biafrans and went into hiding. Captured by Nigerian federal troops, he was imprisoned for the rest of the war.
From his prison cell, he wrote a letter asserting his innocence and protesting his unlawful detention. When the letter appeared in the foreign press, he was placed in solitary confinement for 22 months.
Despite being denied access to pen and paper, Soyinka managed to improvise writing materials and continued to smuggle his writings to the outside world.
A volume of verse, Idanre and Other Poems, composed before the war, was published to international acclaim during his imprisonment. By the end of 1969, the war was virtually over.
Gowon and the Nigerian federal army had defeated the Biafran insurgency, an amnesty was declared, and Soyinka was released. Unable to return immediately to his old life, he repaired to a friend’s farm in the South of France.
While recuperating, he wrote an adaptation of the classical Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripides. Across the millennia, the story of a state destroyed by a sudden eruption of senseless violence had acquired a special resonance for Soyinka. Another volume of verse, Poems from Prison, also known as A Shuttle in the Crypt, was published in London.
Soyinka also played a prominent role in Nigerian civil society. As a faculty member at the University of Ife, he led a campaign for road safety, organizing a civilian traffic authority to reduce the shocking rate of traffic fatalities on the public highways.
His program became a model of traffic safety for other states in Nigeria, but events soon brought him into conflict with the national authorities.
The elected government of President Shehu Shagari, which Soyinka and others regarded as corrupt and incompetent, was overthrown by the military, and General Muhammadu Buhari became Head of State. In an ominous sign, Soyinka’s prison memoir, A Man Died, was banned from publication.
Despite troubles at home, Soyinka’s reputation in the outside world had never been greater. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African author to be so honored.
The Swedish Academy cited the “sparkling vitality” and “moral stature” of his work and praised him as one “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.”
When Soyinka received his award from the King of Sweden in the ceremony in Stockholm, he took the opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the continuing injustice of white rule in South Africa.
Rather than dwelling on his own work, or the difficulties of his own country, he dedicated his prize to the imprisoned South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.
His next book of verse was called Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems. He followed this with two more plays, From Zia with Love and The Beatification of Area Boy, along with a second collection of essays, Art, Dialogue and Outrage.
He continued his autobiography with Isara: A Voyage Around Essay, centering on his memories of his father S.A. “Essay” Soyinka, and Ibadan, The Penkelemes Years.
Meanwhile, Soyinka continued his criticism of the military dictatorship in Nigeria. In 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Wole Soyinka a Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights and freedom of expression.
When a new military dictator, General Sani Abacha, suspended nearly all civil liberties. Soyinka Soyinka escaped from Nigeria on a motorcycle via the “NADECO Route” to Benin and fled to the United States.
Soyinka judged Abacha to be the worst of the dictators who had imposed themselves on Nigeria since independence. He was particularly outraged at Abacha’s execution of the author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged in 1995 after a trial condemned by the outside world.
In 1996, Soyinka published The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Memoir of the Nigerian Crisis. Predictably, the work was banned in Nigeria, and in 1997, the Abacha government formally charged Wole Soyinka with treason.
Abacha later proclaimed a death sentence against him “in absentia.” With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his nation. General Abacha died the following year, and the treason charges were dropped by his successors.
Soyinka has been a strong critic of successive Nigerian governments, especially the country’s many military dictators, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1986 was awarded to Wole Soyinka “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.”
Soyinka sometimes writes of modern West Africa in a satirical style, but his serious intent and his belief in the evils inherent in the exercise of power are usually present in his work.
To date, Soyinka has published hundreds of works: drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.
Although presidential elections were held in Nigeria in 2007, Soyinka denounced them as illegitimate due to ballot fraud and widespread violence on election day.
Wole Soyinka continues to write and remains an uncompromising critic of corruption and oppression wherever he finds them.
Soyinka opposes allowing Fulani herdsmen the ability to graze their cattle on open land in southern, Christian-dominated Nigeria and believes these herdsmen should be declared terrorists to enable the restriction of their movements.
Soyinka has been married three times and divorced twice. He has children from his three marriages. His first marriage was in 1958 to the late British writer, Barbara Dixon, whom he met at the University of Leeds in the 1950s. Barbara was the mother of his first son, Olaokun.
His second marriage was in 1963 to Nigerian librarian Olaide Idowu, with whom he had three daughters, Moremi, Iyetade (deceased), Peyibomi, and a second son, Ilemakin. Soyinka married Folake Doherty in 1989. In 2014, he revealed his battle with prostate cancer.
In 2005, Prof Wole Soyinka was Conferred with the chieftaincy title of the Akinlatun of Egbaland by the Oba Alake of the Egba clan of Yorubaland. Soyinka became a tribal aristocrat by way of this, one vested with the right to use the Yoruba title Oloye as a pre-nominal honorific.
Professor Wole Soyinka was raised in a religious family, attending church services and singing in the choir from an early age; however Soyinka himself became an Ogun (an African Traditional deity of Yoruba origin) worshipper later in life. Some people will also argue with you that he’s an atheist.
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