Wole Soyinka: Africa's Resilience Icon

Published on 25th July 2011

Wole Soyinka

May I have your attention and permission to take you along the road to, “How We Got Here,” from the perspective of a Nigerian, the country that proudly claims Prof. Wole Soyinka as its own.
The struggle is about issues that held you down right from the moment when you were born. Your early childhood started with mosquito bites. Yes, this was what you encountered the moment you were delivered to this earth; those little ants married to your ears. The danger they posed was not only felt by you. Even foreign invaders were challenged and executed in mid sea by mosquitoes.

In other words, the invaders could not conquer all the land of today’s Nigeria and indeed Africa because of the dangers mosquitoes posed to their health. That singular incident reminds me of Mongolia's invasion of Japan on the Island of Kyushu in 1274 during the time of Shogun Kamakura Bakufu. Two times, the Mongols came and twice, they were rebuffed by bad weather. Hurricanes backed with Japan's Samurai spirit turned them back at high seas.
Bouts of fever saw your parents make incessant trips to the ‘chemist’ shop nearby to buy Aspirin. Doctors were scarce when you were born and they would only make rounds once a day, when let out by their wives.
After you escaped death by mosquitoes, you faced war. Some people opted not to marry until Nigeria gained independence. Take for instance, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi. Had he married earlier, his son, Barrister Ikenna Mbazulike…my friend, could probably have arrived before the year he did.  Chief Mbazulike made a choice not to marry till Nigeria gained independence. He did not know what shape the struggle for independence would take. 
I read that some people lost their lives in that war but that’s not the only thing I know. You survived shelling, mortar, Ogbunigwe, saboteurs, and ultimately kwashiorkor, itself, the result of starvation introduced by Awolowo due to his love for Igbos’ {South-easterners of Nigeria} “so that the war could quickly come to an end and save Ndigbo {South-easterners} further suffering.”

But what is the opportunity cost of the survival? Did you survive all the annihilations only to have fierce stubbornness embedded in your system as a product of after-effect of these deafening shelling, bombardments, mortar and gunfire? Did you survive all these to find yourself an immigrant probably deceived by how attractive globalization was?
All the above in a literal sense is the foundation of how you got here. No sooner had you arrived than you were caught for visa offences. You found yourself in prison and rather than hand over your green (Nigeria) passport, you refused. You lied to the police that you had lost your passport on a sunny afternoon while eating junk in a McDonald outlet. Without knowing where to relocate you, the authority decided it was better to keep you in prison and continue to feed you on watery pork soup and white rice in the morning and evening. The communal feeling of those suffering the same fate as you guaranteed you pepper sprinkled on the rice bowl for better taste.
Your jailers played into your hands because you had discovered that the prison world was better than the outside world, accepting the status-quo and  deportation.You swirled before inmates, fell on the ground, lay comatose and refused any treatment. Diagnosis was not needed since you had repeated bowls of this falling sickness. But there is this root…a medicine that can only be procured far in Africa. If only they can release you, you can ‘look for fund,’ return home by yourself and go for full recovery using that traditional root.

Your jailers considered that your skin was turning pale yellow and released you to exactly where you wanted—back on the streets. You were let off at the airport, no money, no return ticket. What luck, brother?
Shall We Ever Return?
Some people proffer the opinion that had they known what life overseas had in stock for them, they would not have left. Some arrived overseas to play more roles only to find their wings clipped at each attempt. Many came to make money, return home and shine. To these last, basic amenities means almost nothing to them. The category that may not care about returning home value comfort in terms of functional and basic amenities. To this last group, not even an enemy would be advised to go live in Nigeria.
Prof. Wole Soyinka was born on July 13, 1934. He had most of his education in Nigeria and later, at Leeds, UK. For those who believe in astrology, Prof. Wole Soyinka's birthday fell under the Zodiac sign of Cancer. He served prison sentences {like many people with his Zodiac sign of Cancer are doing in many prisons}in Nigeria and wrote, “The Man Died.” To his credit, he authored many books and in 1986, bagged the prestigious Nobel laureate for Literature.
What we have experienced in different but similar ways as immigrants when we got here, with the short-comings of leaving our environment in search of the ever elusive “golden fleece” mirage in the first place, should make us localize, rather than globalize.
Yes, I prefer the life of Prof. Wole Soyinka, his life in his natural setting. I prefer the silence that existed between us when I carried his briefcase to his car outside USA embassy in Lagos, Nigeria many years ago. I prefer the life of the man that keeps to time as he does severally upon events and yet, without access to electricity, rolling trains, and computer to guide his departure and arrival. 
I prefer the life he has lived with all the attendant sufferings, protestations and honor, I wish him many more years ahead as his contributions to humanity is infinite. 

By Patrick Nwadike
[Board of Education, Tokyo, Japan]

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