17th July, 2021
By Olabode Opeseitan
Professor Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde #Soyinka is a 5-Star General in the battle of wits. He is made of steely exteriors. You would hardly see him capitulating to emotions or exposing his vulnerabilities.
However, there comes a time for every accomplished czar when the wall of impregnability crashes. That moment came for Professor Wole Soyinka not too long ago.
He took an unsettling gaze at award-winning Dr. Promise Ugochukwu, his literary Lieutenant of over a decade and the Founder of Lumina Foundation, the organisation the literary sage had given the mandate to stage the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. He asked rather ominously with poignancy, “Promise, so this is how all of you will allow this Prize to die”.
Dr. Promise froze within seconds, faster than an exposed Eskimo in the glaciers would have. Her dispirited soul struggled with the unanticipated bombshell before she finally got a feeble hold of herself. “Prof”, she said even when she knew it was an empty promise but a vow from the innermost recess of her being, “the Prize will not die”.
The world acclaimed novelist, poet and essayist was worried that if the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature could not be held while he is still alive, what would happen when he is long gone?
Prof. Soyinka is the only #Nigerian Nobel Prize winner, the first sub-Saharan #African and one of only 3 black people in the world to win the Nobel Prize in #Literature since it was instituted in 1901.
Were it to be a society that places a premium on excellence, individuals, organisations and state governments would be falling all over themselves to sponsor the Prize. However, in a society of ephemerals like ours where nothing is deep and everything is cosmetic, rich and powerful people only exist for the klieg lights, not the substance. Yes, we are in a world where showmanship is preferred to things of true value.
Dr. Mike Adenuga’s Globacom sponsored the Prize for 3 years but later opted out. Lagos State Government, through the influence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu also supported it for a while and fizzled out.
In all these, you would ask, where is the OGUN STATE Government, Prof. Soyinka’s home state? Where is First Bank of Nigeria Limited , UBA Group, Access Bank, Zenith Bank Plc, GTBank, First City Monument Bank, Fidelity Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, MTN Nigeria, Aliko Dangote Foundation, Aliko Dangote, Abdul Samad Rabiu of BUA Group, Tony Elumelu and Femi Otedola? Where are all the rich individuals and corporate bodies?
GOD forbid, if anything happens to this literary icon tomorrow, all the political gladiators will scramble to issue statements about the inestimable value Prof Soyinka contributed to the body of knowledge in general, Literature in particular and good governance in Nigeria.
Recently, a celebration of Prof. Wole Soyinka came from the most unlikely source. The government of Muhammadu Buhari preserved Soyinka’s legacy by naming the Abeokuta train station after him. Even a government we have heavily criticised for its shortcomings knows the value of honouring our icons.
From my recollection, Prof. Soyinka only openly solicited for the Prize once at its 2018 edition in Lagos sponsored by ProvidusBank when he got up the stage to urge well meaning organisations and individuals to support a prize that truly encourages excellence and ennobles humanity.
As the Nobel Laureate marked his 87th birthday on Tuesday, we can only hope that everyone will realise that the cruel joke of our shortsightedness is on the Nigerian society, not on Prof. Soyinka. He has done his part. He has brought honour to his fatherland.