Wole Soyinka at 85: His Ibadan Radio Station Invasion and Why Court Set Him Free

Wole Soyinka at 85: His Ibadan Radio Station Invasion and Why Court Set Him Free

Monday, July 15, 2019 5:26 pm

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka arrested in 1965

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

It was 15 October 1965, the year when election held in the old Western Region. In Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Premier’s view, he was coasting home to victory, a development that he expected would render the jaws of his political opponents hanging slack. In fact, he had sent the tape of his victory broadcast to the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Ibadan. He sat to listen, his excitement heightened by the crackles and howling of the state house radio’s atmospherics. What came out of the contraption jolted the daylight out of him. Instead of a victory speech, what he heard was: “Akintola go! Drop your stolen mandate, leave town and take your reprobates with you.” Pandemonium! Akintola started working his phone, calling everyone who was someone in government to find out what happened.

Samuel Ladoke Akintola

A few minutes before Akintola experienced that big shock, a piece of drama was being enacted on the premises of NBC, Ibadan. It was not some acting that was striving for verisimilitude; it was reality, political reality with real characters in time and space. A man, alleged to be then 31-year old  Wole Soyinka, now a Professor and Nobel Laureate, made his way into  the heavily guarded NBC premises and caused a stir.  That day, Chief Ladoke Akintola was scheduled to give a broadcast at 7:14pm.

In order to meet up with the Premier’s regionwide speech schedule, Akinwande Oshin, the continuity announcer, breezed into the studio at 6.45 pm with a Yoruba and an English tape containing Akintola’s speech. It was at the point when Oshin wanted to slot in the tape into the console that a man suspected to be 31-year old Soyinka came in stealthily like a phantom.

The intruder was described this way: “The man was tall, a little over six feet, light complexioned. His hair was luxuriant, his sideburns and moustache shaved but he had a beard that shot out aggressively from his chin. He wore a pair of blue jeans and a smock of traditional Igbira cloth. He produced a Bereta pistol and held it to the technician’s head. “Give me those tapes. GIVE ME THOSE TAPES OR ELSE……!” His voice was neutral, educated but not foreign, clear but not menacing.”

A debate, perhaps, ensued in Oshin’s delicate brain matter. Should he obey the intruder or call his bluff? Then, the cold snout of the gun reminded him that if he had the strength of Sango and Ogun put together, that instrument the stranger pointed at his palpitating temple could despatch him straight to the other side of eternity to meet his ancestors. He played ball in a jiffy. He  handed over the tape to the gun bearing man who gave him another tape as substitute. Oshin slotted in the new tape and a new broadcast went live. Mission accomplished, the intruder slithered out like a serpent into the night!

Justice Kayode Eso

Confused, the Police declared Soyinka wanted, arrested and docked  him before Justice Kayode Eso “for holding the radio station to ransom.”

A man who was earlier described as clean shaven was brought to court with his rough beard. The lawyers on the side of the Western Regional Government were: T. A. B Oki, Thomas Gomez. Attorneys who, according to Legit, stood for the Soyinka were: “Oladele Ige, his brother, Bola Ige ;  Olajide Olatawura (he became a Justice of the Supreme Court; Omotayo Onalaja (later Justice of the Court of Appeal); and Moronfolu Olakunrin (later Senior Advocate). The team was later to be led by Michael Odesanya (later. Justice Odesanya of the high court of Lagos state).”

Soyinka gave an alibi that he was in Enugu as “a guest of one  Okwonah of the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation,” as such he could not be the same man who sneaked into the radio station.

It was when the lawyers of the government called one of its witnesses, Professor Axworthy who was Soyinka’s head of department that more confusion about the identity of the intruder became more pronounced. Axworthy said he and Soyinka, a clean shaven man attended the same meeting two hours before the said invasion.

Justice Eso, therefore, ruled: “All the eyewitnesses, including Oshin, were positive that the man who held them up was not masked. The gunman, they all said, was bearded. Professor Axworthy told the court, and it was the DPP who led him to give this evidence, that ‘Wole Soyinka, whom he saw two hours earlier, was clean-shaven’. While I can understand a bearded man at 5 pm in the evening becoming cleanly shaven at 7 pm, I cannot unravel the mystery of a clean shaven man at 5 pm becoming bearded at 7 pm, except he is somehow masked. And the overwhelming evidence placed before the court by the prosecution itself was that the gunman was not masked…with this sharp contradiction in the evidence of the prosecution, I am bound to give the accused person the benefit of the doubt. I, therefore, found him not guilty and he is, accordingly, acquitted and discharged.”

 TheNEWS asked Professor Soyinka a question of the radio station invasion drama during his 80th birthday, five years ago. Below are excerpts from the interview:

You were charged with armed robbery for breaking into the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation studio in Ibadan during the heady days of the Western Region’s political crisis in 1965. Fully armed, you asked the man in the studio to use your own recording, asking the premier to get out. Can you share with us what happened?

I thought the charge sheet was very unkind. It was no robbery.

Where is the tape now?

I don’t know. How do I know?

But you removed the tape. Didn’t you?

Look, the person you are talking about substituted his own tape. He said, ‘Take this one instead, there is also material in it, play it so there is no gap in transmission.’ Tell me, how does that amount to armed robbery? The man came, exchanged his tape, is that something for which to charge someone for armed robbery? I think that was most inconsiderate. Didn’t those prosecutors belong to this country where we say ‘exchange is no robbery’?

But you went there fully armed

Who was fully armed? I went where?

How did you get into the studio?

Look, I was acquitted and you are talking as if I was the culprit. I was acquitted. I stood trial and I was acquitted. Why do you keep saying you, you, you? What’s your problem?

In fact I found Justice Kayode Eso’s The Mystery Gunman very interesting in the sense that part of  that memoir says the Premier actually came to him at a point…

The Premier?

Was it the Deputy Premier?

Yes. The Premier’s own voice was on the phone but physically it was Remi Fani-Kayode, the Deputy Premier, who went to him. Told him – ‘You must get this young man out of the way. He must go to jail.’

It was a very interesting period. When you recollect public mood and attitude and your self-involvement within your individual capacity, that was one period this was a demonstration of human solidarity you don’t easily forget. Remember, the telephone system was the antiquated switch board model. Public mood was anti-government virtually everywhere – even within the police because they saw the physical atrocities that were being committed on top of the fundamental atrocity that was the deprivation of a people’s will, the robbery of their choice. And so they were sympathetic. I would be sitting in my quarters for instance, the phone would ring and the voice of a total stranger would come over, saying ‘This might be of interest to you’ – and switch you into a conversation.. I can tell you I distinctly heard the Premier himself haranguing Justice Kayode Eso – as that judge himself narrated in his book – that I must be convicted. I think that was after the Deputy Premier had visited Kayode Eso, then reported to his boss the failure of his mission.

You had great lawyers on your side. Great lawyers many of whom turned out to be great judges.

Onalaja, Somolu, Olatawura, among others. We sort of became an informal circle – a cult, if you like – with a special greeting: Gunmon, Gunmon! – mimicking the Studio Continuity announcer’s evidence in court. He said he clamped his hand over his mouth in fright when the gunman entered and made his demands with the gun pointed at him. Well, ‘gunmon’ or no ‘gunmon’, the people were on the move and I felt I had matured into a period of a people on the rise, on the move – people of dignity who refused that their voices should be stolen, arrogantly and contemptuously. There have been quite a few moments of my existence among people like that.

So, it was for those people you intervened?

Yes, of course. I was one of them, my voice was being stolen. I could not sit down and accept that somebody should steal my voice. I felt at one with the majority of the people.

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