Wole Soyinka Is Not Going Anywhere

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The Nobel laureate, whose new novel, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth”, is his first in nearly 50 years, refuses to back down when he learns that his homeland’s freedoms are in danger. Gave.

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ABEOKUTA, Nigeria – Wole Soyinka Firebrand activist Wole Soyinka is always getting into trouble.


Like the time he hired a radio station to block it from broadcasting what he said were fake election results, and went to jail for it. Or when he broke into Biafra at the height of his war for independence from Nigeria, and spent two years in solitary confinement after calling for an end to the fighting.

When the first black winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature – and its first African winner – senses that things like freedom and democracy are at risk in a beloved nation whose history is intertwined with its own, he can’t help it. He has to join.

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“It’s a temperament,” Soyinka, 87, said during an interview in his hometown of Abokuta in southern Nigeria.

He calls this brick house surrounded by forests and birds his sanctuary. His voice, a deep, distinctive tinge, evokes the compelling plays for which he is best known, one moment serious, the next light-hearted. His shirt, almost buttonless to the waist, indicates his reputation as a rebel, who tore your US green card After becoming president, Donald Trump, who has called the president of his own country the “Rip van Winkle of Nigerian history” and Uganda as a “shameless geriatrician”.

He makes fun of himself for this nature, the urge to speak his mind.

“Unfortunately, some of us are not very intelligent. We know what to do, when we should retire, go somewhere to hide, live a comfortable life,” he said with a smile, as we reached a high , sat on cane chairs in the open gallery.” But we don’t take our own advice, do we? It’s a mystery to me.”

Last year, thinking he needed a change from a long spell of being “locked down, and locked on my desk”, he almost directed his 1975 play “Death and the King’s Horseman” in Lagos, reading only a few After realizing that he did. don’t want to

Instead directed by his friend, Nigerian film and theater director Bolanley Austen-Peters, the play, with the story of a king’s chief who must die when his master dies, felt like a gift amid the lack of theater and performance during the pandemic. Decades after writing this, audiences in Lagos, as I parted through the work playing to Soyinka’s voice on May evenings, rejoiced and cried, somehow both forbidden and fragile. He “fashions the drama of existence,” the Nobel committee wrote in 1986.

Sometimes the flamboyant nature distracts from the writing. To his longtime editor, Errol McDonald, however, they coexist. “They feed on each other,” he said. “It is impossible to think of one without the other.” And it seems that the Soyinka activist keeps providing the Soyinka material to the author.

At least for his latest work, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People in History,” his first novel in nearly 50 years, which Pantheon will publish in the United States on Tuesday. Its career plot twists, spirited cast of characters and sinister themes – a corporation that sells human body parts, a false prophet who uses elements of various religions to suit their purposes – may seem impossible, but They are few for anyone in an intimate relationship with Nigeria.

Intimate, and stormy.

Born in Ibadan, Soyinka was raised to Christian parents and a grandfather who, Soyinka said, confirmed he was the child of Ogun, the Yoruba god of poetry, blacksmithing, and palm wine. Ogun Soyinka’s collection.

He studied in Britain, the country he had colonized Nigeria, and was in the process of becoming independent when he returned on New Year’s Day 1960. He threw himself into the search and development of his new free home.

But her new politicians did not let her down, and she found an air of electoral fraud in western Nigeria. Forcing the radio announcer to read a message condemning the fraud at gunpoint was his first dramatic attempt to hold the nation’s politicians accountable, but it was only the beginning of a lifelong struggle.

“He’s almost untouchable, because he’s paid his price, and he’s also recognized internationally,” Austen-Peters said. “He has a lot of things going for him.”

At times, Soyinka had to flee Nigeria and go into exile, threatening his life because he spoke out against the politicians of the time. (Once, she secretly In Nigeria from neighboring Benin.)

In 1994, pursued by military dictator Sani Abcha, he fled Abokuta, strapped to the back of a motorbike for 10 hours. He took an oath that night, when he went into exile on dirt tracks through the woods, a cloud of his hair—so coveted that there was even a band named after it – Filling with bugs.

Soyinka later recalled the oath in his 2006 memoir, “You Must Set Fourth at Dawn”: “If I must die outside my borders, I should be buried in the foreign land I ended up in—unless Sani Abacha still bests the nation in my time. Of death!”

It was a crushing decision. The town, tucked away in a part of his forest in Abeokota, nestled among the vast granite outcrops he had just ran into, was a small cactus patch. Soyinka comes back to this repeatedly in his writings. This is where he wants to be buried.

“I took Nigeria with me during that period,” he said. But in exile, he had no idea whether he would ever be able to return alive or dead.

In his absence, he was charged with treason. But as he was settling in exile for a longer period, Abacha died. Soyinka returns from exile in the West, numb.

In a way, Soyinka is more concerned about the future of Nigeria today than Abacha. For him, the nature of the threat has changed.

“Something has happened to the quality of sensitivity in this country,” he said. “I haven’t completely put my finger on it. But this country has given something. Something has been missed.”

Theater director Austen-Peters echoed this sentiment. “The problem is endemic, it’s been there, it’s just getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” she said. “And we no longer have institutions. All the institutions that take care of Nigeria, everything is broken.”

In fact, Africa’s most populous country, a country of incredible diversity in many ways – language, religion, ethnicity, landscape – has been torn apart by one crisis after another in the past decade or so. Boko Haram and its powerful wing, the Islamic State West Africa province, have plagued the northeast, killing tens of thousands of civilians. Mass kidnappings have become a common occurrence in the North West. Conflict between shepherds whose cattle destroy farms and farmers who spread their fields into traditional pastoral corridors has become a fraught political issue. Security forces targeted civilians, including so many young people, that last year, shortly after Black Lives Matter protests across the United States, they arose in a movement called ANDSARS. (SARS refers to Nigeria’s Special Anti-robbery Squad, the police unit that was accused of abuse by protesters.)

He said the EndSARS protesters begged Soyinka to join his march. His conditions were:

  • an electric wheelchair

  • he was tear-gas-proof

  • With fully stock bar.

In “You Must Set Fourth at Dawn”, he cites a proverb from Yoruba, the ethnic group to which he belongs, to the effect that as one gets older, he or she stops engaging in fighting.

“Some hope!” He writes. “When that piece of knowledge was first voiced, a certain entity called Nigeria was not yet thought of.”

However, Nobel’s reputation elevates his voice in those battles, and he feels a responsibility to use it. He sometimes mourns the oblivion that was erased after receiving the award and sometimes dreams of recovering that oblivion. But not always to lasting success.

“I know, I know, I know. I’ve announced my withdrawal from public life several times. And I meant it! For almost 24 hours,” Soinka said. “I’m never going to say it again Am. I’ll sneak away quietly – and no one will see me again. You wait.”

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