Celebrating the 'Soyinkan spirit': A tribute

Celebrating the 'Soyinkan spirit': A tribute

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 2:11 pm

By Femi Osofisan

Our WS has become a sage! He has attained the rare, ripe age of 80, and climbed to the honoured rank of the orisa!

The season should be for celebration. All the gongs should be clanging; all the trumpets blaring; the drums beating; our feet dancing and stamping; our songs ringing in the air.

But, against the grim reality of current headlines, we all know how hard it has become nowadays to summon that spirit of celebration. And that when evoked, perhaps by sheer stubbornness or force of will, it is harder still to embrace it, or sustain it. So sour has grown the soul of our nation.

A year ago, when we began the preparations and we all re-arranged our schedules enthusiastically to enable us to play our roles in this grand birthday event, nothing forewarned us that the situation in our country would turn so dire.

Our state of anomy—as Soyinka himself named it—had become so familiar, and our nation’s tragedies so commonplace, that each of us had had to find a way somehow to inure himself or herself, at least sufficiently to be able to get on with our lives.

Professor Femi Osofisan: a birthday tribute to Wole Soyinka

Professor Femi Osofisan: a birthday tribute to Wole Soyinka

Despair, that is, had become routinous with us such that, in spite of it, we could still find the excitement to go ahead with hope and plan for the coming anniversary, and for how the drums would be rolled out to mark it.

But as I flew back home some days ago from Beijing for the occasion at last, I must confess that my spirit was damp. How does one celebrate in the still unresolved context of Chibok, of rampant kidnapping of hapless people for ransom, of an expanding market in human parts, of sprouting baby factories and slave marts, of bombs detonating in markets and viewing centres and worship places?

How do you celebrate, as a dreamer and believer in the future, in the context of Boko Haram—or of the Ekiti governorship elections?

Some time ago, in his introduction to his English translation of Igbo Olodumare published by the Nelson Publishers in Ibadan, Soyinka himself had speculated that perhaps Fagunwa’s fabled forest daemons have all incarnated at last and are now all around us, especially among our ruling elite and their buccaneering followers.

Certainly, seeing most of these senators and ministers and councillors, police officers as well as security agents—these officials in one arm of the government or another and those who call themselves politicians, whose creed seems to be to loot the country dry and impoverish as many as possible in the process—you cannot but believe that you are seeing them live at last, these Esu-kekere-ode, the Gongosu-takiti, the Ibembe Olokunrun, the Ojola Ibinu, the Arogidigba, and so on, who people Fagunwa’s forests and have a terrible animus against the human race.

But still, we must remember that Fagunwa’s hunter-heroes never accept to be daunted by these creatures, however fearsome or grotesque. One of their weapons as they set forth at dawn to meet them, is the armour of faith.

As I see it, it is this faith that Soyinka untiringly presses upon us—faith in our land and our future, in our people and our culture, and above all, in ourselves as acting men and women.

If not exactly by the impact of his plays, whose conclusions can sometimes be depressingly bleak, Soyinka never leaves us in doubt about what our options should be when it comes to the question of confronting evil in the concrete field of action.

Again and again by dint of direct personal engagement and sacrifice, he has taught us never to surrender to tyranny, never to retreat from any humane struggle till victory is won.

Because he himself is never seen to be missing whenever action is needed, we too must accept to stand up relentlessly for our humane ideals against these apostles of extremist creeds and the bloodthirsty seekers of power, who seem to be never in short supply in the human community at any period of history.

Here therefore lies, I think, the answer to the troubling question of why we should still be celebrating in this terrible season, when our country sinks deeper and deeper into an orgy of senseless and callous carnage.

True, our wish to gorge ourselves on Soyinka’s numerous achievements as a writer and outstanding artist, as a man of fertilizing ideas and boundless imaginative powers, may have been compromised by this spate of seemingly indomitable crises.

But not his boundless faith in struggle, the example he has demonstrated again and again, of fearless confrontation with evil. At various moments along our history, and against formidable ‘King Baabus’ like Akintola, Gowon, Abacha, Idi Amin, and so on, Soyinka has shown us how to conquer fear and to stand for justice so that ‘the man will not die’ in us. In his various triumphs, however brief, he has shown us that evil and its generals can be conquered.

It is this faith then, this irrepressible ‘Soyinkan spirit’ of defiance and affirmation, of articulate perseverance, that we need to celebrate, and acclaim, against all the negative forces threatening to rift our country apart and kill our humanity. And some day we shall be free again to dance with the Sidis, frolic with the Segilolas, laugh with the Brothers Jero, caper with Eleshin Oba, and gulp our wine with abandon at the shrine of Ogun. Oh yes, this birthday shall be merry still.


Professor FEMI OSOFISAN wrote this tribute to mark Professor Wole Soyinka’s 80th birthday in July 2014. The Article was originally titled: KONGI’S FAITH



Professor Femi Osofisan

Professor Femi Osofisan

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