DATELINE: 31 YEARS AGO TODAY (SUNDAY, 16TH DECEMBER, 1986) IN ESA-OKE, OF THE OLD OYO STATE, BUT NOW IN PRESENT DAY STATE OF OSUN, NIGERIA.
A FORMER GOVERNOR OF OLD OYO STATE AND ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTER OF JUSTICE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, THE LATE CHIEF ’BOLA IGE, HOSTED HIS BOSOM FRIEND, PROFESSOR ’WOLE SOYINKA TO A LUNCHEON AT HIS ESA-OKE HOME ON WINNING THAT YEAR’S NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE. PROF. SOYINKA THUS BECAME AFRICA’S FIRST NOBEL LAUREATE
My wife and I were invited by Chief Ige and his wife, the late Honourable Justice Atinuke Ige, to the Esa-Oke celebration of Prof. Soyinka’s Nobel award. After the celebration, I wrote an article titled “Nobel and the Esa-Oke Connection” published in the Sunday Sketch issue of December 23, 1986. I wrote an updated version of the article in The Sun newspaper issue of September 12, 2004 on Professor Soyinka’s 70th birthday. It was titled “How ’Bola Ige ‘washed’ Soyinka’s Nobel Award”. My 1986 article follows below.
“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, re-lived the December 10 ceremony last Sunday.
“Esa-Oke, the hometown of Chief ’Bola Ige, a former governor of old Oyo State and Prof. 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, ‘lion’ of the theatre, connoisseur of wine; brave hunter of games, humanist and rank ‘rank-xerox’ of divine wisdom and culture
“I am no stranger to the venue of the ‘home-washing’ of the Nobel award, but I must admit that the home of “Cicero” had never witnessed the congregation of Nigeria’s cream of the society in the likes of Mrs. Francesca Emmanuel, Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Sports, Chief Tayo Akpata, Professor Abiola Irele, Alhaji Ali Baba from the Adamawa Hills (in the words of Chief Ige), Professor Toriola Solanke, husband of Nigeria’s First Lady (SAN), Chief Folake, Mrs. Teju Alakija, Oyo State’s former Head of Service, Mr. Femi Johson of “Broking House” in Ibadan, Professor Muyiwa Awe and his wife, Professor Bolanle, Chief Segun Olusola (Creator of NTA’s Village Headmaster play) Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Director of Public Affairs (Guardian), Justice and Mrs. Tayo Onalaja, Chief Bode Akindele (Parakoyi of Ibadanland and founder of ARAMED), Chief Bayo Akinnola, former Commissioner in the defunct Western State and Professor Obaro Ikime of the University of Ibadan.
Prof. Soyinka (left) receiving the materials cited in the article from me at the Esa-Oke celebration on Sunday, 16th December, 1986. In the middle is the late Chief ’Bola Ige, the host.
“From Professor Soyinka’s clan came Commonwealth’s latest poetry prince, Dr. Niyi Osundare, Odia Ofeimun, Dr. Kole Omotoso, Chief Wale Ogunyemi (MON), Mr. Segun Sofowote, Mr. Yemi Farounbi, progenitor of ‘Arelu’, Dr. Tunde Adeniran (whose poem to WS was read in absentia), Dr. Bode Sowande, Mr. G. Onibonoje, who left publishing for farming, Mr. Peter Ajayi, MD, Sketch Press Limited, Mr. Tunde Odesanya of Sunday Times, Mr. Sina Odugbemi, Dapo Aderinola of Peter Enahoro’s ‘Africa Now’, Mr. Sola Odunfa (one time Editor of The PUNCH newspaper), Barrister Akin Ige and his friend, Dr. Adebayo Williams (Newswatch columnist).
The Master of Ceremonies of the occasion was no less a personality than the host, Uncle ’Bola (he never brothers to aruge with anybody about ’Wole Soyinka) who kicked the Esa-Oke show open by drawing the guests attention, after cocktails, to a performance by a ‘magician’ –in the person of Dr. Sowande.
“It was halfway into the ‘magical show’ (a sketch of an imaginary ECOWAS citizen’s bid to enter Nigeria) that the ‘lion’ and guest of honour, Nobel Laureate Prof. ’Wole Soyinka entered the small dome in grand style!
“I am sorry for the lateness. Our car broke down on the way and we had to charter a ‘molue’ (commercial bus) to get here,” I quote Professor Soyinka.
“He was welcome, because the gathering heralded his arrival with claps as he took his seat to watch the ‘immigration’ drill ‘Mr. Omowale Dako Dacosta’ into bargaining his entry into his mother’s birth-place, Lagos.
“And he had hardly been absorbed into the on-going drama, when the tiger proclaimed his tigritude’ The connoisseur of wine, who was said to have taught Mr. Femi Johnson wine in exchange for food lectures, stood up and strolling to the wine table, picked his choice and poured a shot.
“From the dome, we tropped outside unto the green lawns to have lunch. In the meantime, Uncle ’Bola had announced the day’s programme to the hearing of all.
“It would go like this”, as the ‘Cicero’, 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 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 concluded.
“Lunch eventually came, and Dr. Sowande read the poem dedicated to Prof. Soyinka by a member of the Political Bureau, Dr. Tunde Adeniran, Odia Ofeimun recited ‘Abiku’ and one other poem by Prof. Soyinka, Dr. Biodun Jeifous read a passage from “The Man Died”, the prison notes of Professor Soyinka, where the prison governor (a discharged British West African Force Sergeant) warned prisoners to behave or else he would put his knowledge of Archeology (studied in Khartoum) into practice, since he had decided not to impart his knowledge in Ecology to University undergraduates for nothing. Whatever that means!
“Then came my turn. I read out my letter to Professor Soyinka and recalled that day in 1967, when as a form III student of African Church Grammar School, Apata-Ganga, Ibadan. I had written him a letter of solidarity while he (Soyinka) was in detention in Kaduna Prison and his letter of gratitude to me upon his release in 1969. My requests, in 1974, while a reporter with Daily Sketch, to join him in Accra, Ghana and how he had not been able to offer me a place on the defunct ‘Transition’ magazine which he then edited.
“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 television interview (Speak Out) for NTA, Ibadan with him while was a lecturer at the University of Ife and the manuscript of my book, “Thrice Upon a Time”, which I wanted him to edit.
“Rising like a lion, and with a firm ‘I shall respond to your letter’ comment, Professor Soyinka went behind the microphone to applaud Dr. Osundare (Commonwealth poetry award winner) and Odia Ofeimum as two of the best up and coming poets.
“And if Sir Mobolaji Bank- Anthony wonders what Prof. 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 Prof. 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 long-time acquaintance in the form of ‘Meta, meta 1’ 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 newspapers report last week that Prof. 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.”
As promised by the host, there was a lucky dip of copies of the book, “Before Our Very Eyes,” after which sweet was served.
The celebration in Esa-Oke that Sunday, 16th December, 1986 of the Nobel award to Prof. Soyinka ended on a convivial note with the host, Uncle ’Bola and his family wishing us, their guests, a merry Christmas and a prosperous 1987.
Oloye ‘ Lekan Alabi, D,Litt (h.c)
Agba Akin Olubadan of Ibadanland and Cultural Ambassador of the National Museum, Ile Ife