Scholars, poets, others gather for Soyinka’s 80th birthday

Prof Wole Soyinka

“The quintessential Soyinka that is being celebrated globally is a product of ceaseless hard work and commitment to scholarship”.

Several scholars and poets gathered in Lagos, Sunday, at the 6th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series in Lagos to celebrate the sage at 80 and hail his commitment to proffering solutions to forces that tend to bleak the future for man in society.

The event, organized by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, WSCIJ, had the Nobel laureate’s admirers, students, children, grand children and other relatives in attendance.

Delivering the lecture ‘Wole Soyinka and the moral burden of literature,’ the keynote Speaker, Abiola Irele, shared insights of his understanding of Prof. Soyinka from the period of a bustling young scholar who exhibited curiosity and attitude for excellence at the University College Ibadan.

“The quintessential Soyinka that is being celebrated globally is a product of ceaseless hard work and commitment to scholarship,” said Mr. Irele, a Professor of French Linguistics and Literature.

Mr. Irele was joined by Dan Izevbaye, a scholar-critic; Odia Ofeimun, playwright and poet; Ropo Sekoni, professor of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies; and Jeffrey Hawkins, the U.S. Consular-General in Nigeria.

Mr. Hawkins described Mr. Soyinka as a writer who had the moral burden to transform his society.

“This he executed excellently in many of his works especially the novels: The Interpreter and The Man Died,” Mr. Hawkins said.

On his part, Mr, Izevbaye noted that Soyinka’s works are not elitist as claimed in some quarters.

“Soyinka sees literature beyond pleasure, if his language is considered elitist (as is commonly said) it means more literature teachers need further education,” the professor said.

He listed some guidelines to make Soyinka’s works more accessible in schools, such as the promotion of the culture of stage plays in schools and the further training of the language of literature in English to teachers.

In his contribution, Mr. Sekoni, WSCIJ’s board chair, emphasized that the appearance of Mr. Soyinka on the political scene of Nigeria was not an accident.

”The occurrence of anti-corruption theme in Soyinka’s work from the Jero plays in the early sixties show that he has diligently studied the phenomenon of corruption which still bedevils the Nigerian society,” he said.

Mr. Sekoni also attributed the claims that Soyinka’s works are not “accessible” to the decline in the education in the country.

“If our generation can read and understand Soyinka, it’s because of the education we got. Are these generations getting the same kind of education?”

“The younger generation will carry forth Soyinka’s ideals if they are properly taught,” he added.

Supporting Mr. Sekoni’s views, Mr. Ofeimun said anyone in tune with Soyinka’s works is in touch with the future.

“If you’re taught by a bad teacher, you would have a cause to dislike Soyinka’s diction,” he added.

The event witnessed stage presentations of Soyinka’s ‘Trials of Brother Jero’ and ‘No! He said’ by the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Troupe.

There was also a cutting of a cake with the inscription ‘Kongi @ 80’ presided by Maiden Alex-Ibru, Publisher of the Guardian Newspaper, who shared her experience as a Student of Soyinka at the University College Ibadan in the 60s.

Earlier, Dapo Olorunyomi, founder of the WSCIJ, highlighted that the centre was established to fill a lacuna created by a failing media, and that one of the ways to renew the media is by recognizing men and women doing things right in the media.

“Soyinka was one man who represented the values we advocate,” said Mr. Olorunyomi.

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