How Bola Ige celebrated Soyinka’s Nobel Award
Thirty years ago, when Chief Ige’s bosom friend, Professor ’Wole Soyinka, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African to be so honoured, a reception was hosted on Sunday, December 16, 1986 by Chief Ige at his Esa-Oke, Osun State home, for Professor Soyinka. My wife and I were among the Ige’s guests at that ceremony.
A recall of my post Esa-Oke Nobel celebration article titled “Nobel And The Esa-Oke Connection” published on page 13 of the Sunday Sketch issue of December 23, 1986, follows shortly. It recaptures the beautiful ceremony.
This tribute is, first, to honour the memory of Chief Ige, and appreciate my mentorship by him, his deep love for culture, creativity and the arts. Secondly, it celebrates the thirtieth (30th) anniversary of Professor Soyinka winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first African in history. Fate made my path to cross that of the Nobel laureate in 1967, while I was a 17-year-old Form Three student of African Church Grammar School, Apata-Ganga, Ibadan, Oyo State. Professor (then Mr.) ’Wole Soyinka, had been detained by retired General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Military Government in Kaduna Prisons. His offence, according to the FMG, was that he had visited the then military governor of the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria, the late Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who was on the verge of declaring the Eastern Region of Nigeria, a Republic of Biafra.
So, when the former Head of State, Gen. Gowon, proclaimed that “Mr. Soyinka will remain in prison detention till the war is over”, I wrote a letter to Gen. Gowon, pleading for the release of Soyinka or his trial in a court of law. I also wrote a letter of solidarity to Professor Soyinka in Kaduna Prisons. On his release in 1969, Professor Soyinka acknowledged my letter with thanks, and invited me to visit him at the former School of Drama (now Theatre Arts Department) of the University of Ibadan, where he was a lecturer.
Following is my 1986 article on the Nobel award celebration at Esa-Oke.
“For those of us who, due to no fault of ours, missed the presentation ceremony of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature to God’s-gift-to-Nigeria – Professor Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka in Stockholm, Sweden, Esa-Oke (some 140 kilometres to Ibadan, capital city of Oyo State), relived the December 10, 1986 ceremony last Sunday.
“Esa-Oke, the hometown of Chief ’Bola Ige, the first executive governor of Oyo State and Professor Soyinka’s bosom friend of 36 odd years, was agog with a mixture of Stockholm presentees and the rest of us to honour the living WS; lion of words, ‘god’ of the theatre, connoisseur of wine; brave hunter of games, humanist and a ‘Rank-Xerox’ of divine wisdom and culture.
“I am no stranger to the venue of the ‘home-washing’ of the Nobel Laureate, but I must admit that the home of ‘Cicero’ had never witnessed the congregation of Nigeria’s cream of the society’’
In the meantime, Uncle ’Bola had announced the day’s programme to the hearing of all.‘It would go like this’, as he requested for audience. Tunde Adeniran’s poem for ’Wole Soyinka will be read by Bode Sowande. Odia Ofeimun will read two poems of Soyinka. Professor Irele will sing. Someone (and that’s me) will read a letter meant for ’Wole which I have seen. There will be a lucky dip for copies of ‘Before Our Very Eyes’ – a publication of tributes to ’Wole Soyinka by those who know him and then, sweet will be served. Uncle ’Bola added the note of finality.
“Lunch eventually came and Dr. Sowande read the poem dedicated to Professor Soyinka by a member of the Political Bureau, Dr. Tunde Adeniran. Odia Ofeimun recited ‘Abiku’ and one other poem by Soyinka. Dr. Biodun Jeyifo read a passage from ’Wole Soyinka’s prison notes (The Man Died) where the prison governor (a discharged British West African Force Sergeant) warned prisoners to behave or else he would put is knowledge of archaeology (studied in Khartoum) into practice since he had decided “not to impart his knowledge in ecology to University under-graduates for nothing!” Whatever that means.
“Then came my turn. I read out my letter to Professor Soyinka and recalled that day in 1967, while a secondary school student, I had written him a letter of solidarity while in prison; how he had not been able to offer me a place on the defunct ‘Transition’ magazine which he edited while on self exile in Ghana in 1974.
“And in my attempt to prove that Esa-Oke does not ‘lack’ the qualities of Stockholm, I requested, through Uncle ’Bola, that the Nobel Laureate come forward to receive three items from me – the letter, a dubbed copy of my 1982 NTA, Ibadan interview (Speak Out) with him and a manuscript.
“He rose like a lion and with a firm “I shall respond to your letter” commitment, Prof. Soyinka went behind the microphone to applaud Dr. Osundare (Commonwealth poetry award winner) and Odia Ofeimun as two of the best upcoming poets.
And if Sir Mobolaji Bank-Anthony wonders what Professor Soyinka intends to do with the cash gift he gave to the Nobel Laureate in London recently, Dr. Osundare has been given the carte-blanche to spend it the way he (Osundare) thinks fit! According to Soyinka, the sum is to supplement whatever is the value of Dr. Osundare’s Commonwealth prize for literature.
“The Esa-Oke show did not end without Mrs. Emmanuel doing a solo (command performance) for her longtime acquaintance in the form of ‘Meta, meta l’ore o’- Mr. Johnson’s turn to sing (another Command performance) was skipped because, according to him, he had lost his voice – thanks to a Christmas party the night before!
“By the way, some newspaper reports last week that Professor Soyinka returned home wearing a black pair of shoes was false. Hear him, ‘I wore these brown shoes bought specially for the Nobel award ceremony’.
“Prof. Soyinka thanked his hosts, Chief Ige and his high court judge wife, Auntie Atinuke, and those of us who honoured the invitation to the ceremony.
“I pray the Professor was being sarcastic when he said the collection on him by critics and friends in ‘Before Our Very Eyes’ is not “a factual account of me, but of the writers”.
“Now, you know what Esa-Oke has got to do with the Nobel!”The foregoing was my piece in 1986. It was 30 years ago that the late Chief ’Bola Ige celebrated his friend and the 15th anniversary of his (Ige) assassination. May Uncle Bola’s noble soul continue to rest in peace. Amen.
Alabi writes from Ibadan
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