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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Wole Soyinka (Bros Kongi) At 80 By Ebenezer Babatope

I remember our days at the Jos Prison. Our days refer to the period politicians of both the NPN and the UPN (political parties of the second republic) spent at the Jos Prisons as detainees of the General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime of December 31, 1983 till 27 August 1985. 
The Jos political detainees in 1984 decided to celebrate the 50th birthday celebrations of Africa’s well-known political dissenter, Professor Wole Soyinka aka “Bros. Kongi”.  Professor Wole Soyinka has made his name as a Nigerian intellectual who has never allowed any regime with fascist inclinations to go without being seriously checked by his (Wole Soyinka’s)

radicalism and revolutionary commitment to the cause of the masses of the people.

Detained several times by reactionary regimes in Nigeria, Bros Kongi (who has, been given that name because of the book he wrote in the early 60s entitled “KONGI’S HARVEST) has ever been on the side of the long suffering masses.

During the first republic, the Nigerian police had taken firm positions to cut Professor Wole Soyinka to size after his famous disruption of the broadcast of the late chief S.L. Akintola whose party the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) had seized power in the old Western Nigeria. Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola had attempted to make a broadcast to the people of Western Nigeria in one of his desperate moments to square it up – with the leader of leaders, Papa Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo (now of blessed memory).

Professor Wole Soyinka had entered very smoothly the premises of the then Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service and had in the end taken away the tape meant to contain the broadcast of S.L. Akintola. Professor Wole Soyinka did not leave the radio station until he had passed very serious comments on what he believed the Akintola regime was in the national life of Nigeria of that time.

Bros Kongi later left for Nsukka where he had taken refuge while the Nigeria Police under the prime ministership of the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had declared him (Wole Soyinka) a wanted person.

Professor Wole Soyinka was eventually arrested and brought to trial by the Nigeria Police. He was tried and later discharged and acquitted by my uncle, Justice Kayode Eso (late) then of the Western Nigeria judiciary.

When the civil war broke out in Nigeria in 1967, Bros Kongi was there attempting to prevent the escalation of Nigeria’s political crisis into a civil war. A coup and counter coup had taken place in Nigeria in January and July 1966 respectively and the whole country had become enmeshed in a major crisis that had threatened to destroy the unity and political existence of Nigeria. Professor Wole Soyinka had tried to use a “third force” to mediate between the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu from secessionist Biafra and General Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State of Nigeria.  Professor Wole Soyinka visited Eastern Nigeria (Biafra) at that time to carry vividly home his reconciliatory moves.

Bros Kongi was paid back with ingratitude by the Yakubu Gowon regime. W.S. was picked up by the security forces and sent to a near three year detention by the Gowon regime. Bros Kongi spent his detention days at Kirikiri and Kaduna prisons.

When Professor Wole Soyinka was released from prison sometimes in 1970, he released a book which he had entitled “THE MAN DIED”. The book became a best seller in the world at that time. It was in that book that Professor Wole Soyinka  preached his well known political statement on Nigeria stating inter-alia “TO KEEP NIGERIA ONE, JUSTICE MUST BE DONE”.

When I was in Buhari’s detention camp at the Yola prison in present day Adamawa State, “THE MAN DIED” had been one of the books, my friend Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi then of the Guardian newspapers sent to me to help keep my body sane during one of the darkest days of Nigeria’s political existence.

For all the period that Bros Kongi served in exile after 1970, he never ceased attacking seriously the political reaction that the Gowon-led military regime represented in Nigeria.

At the back of his book “THE MAN DIED”, Bros Kongi had narrated the encounter his bosom friend, the late Uncle Bola Ige had had with General Yakubu Gowon who had then paid a state visit to the Agriculture Institute in Ibadan. Uncle Bola Ige was a Commissioner in the military government headed by General Adeyinka Adebayo in the then Western Nigeria.

After General Yakubu Gowon had asked Bola Ige about his friend Wole Soyinka, the then Head of State (Gowon) had said to Uncle Bola Ige “TELL HIM (WOLE SOYINKA) THAT BYGONE IS BYGONE”.

I was a student of the department of English University of Lagos in the civil war years when Professor Wole Soyinka was the Head of the Department of English. We never had the luck of being directly lectured by him during those years but we were lucky to have been very well acquainted with his radical and revolutionary politics.
When I entered the University of Lagos in September 1966, my friend Layide Abass had told many of us how he and some students of the University of Lagos had gone to distribute a Wole Soyinka statement early in 1966 at the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos. It was a statement that Bros Kongi had written to condemn the International Conference on Apartheid that the Tafawa Balewa regime had called in Nigeria when the then Western Nigeria was burning after the rigging of the Western Nigeria elections in 1965. The rigged elections had further cemented in power the minority rule of Chief S.L. Akintola and his colleagues of the N.N.D.P. Professor Wole Soyinka had said in the statement:- “BALEWA THE KETTLE, IAN SMITH THE TEA – WHICH IS DARKER”.

Ian Smith was then the racist Premier of Rhodesia now Zimbabwe. The Wole Soyinka statement exposed the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Balewa regime. Layide Abass from Ede, retired not too long ago from the services of the University of Lagos, Yaba as Professor of Computer Science.

I was with Bros Kongi in 1987 when he was announced as the Nobel Laureate in English for that year. I was then a law student at the University of Buckingham after my Buhari prison years.

Immediately I heard of the famous announcement, I quickly made my way from Buckingham near Milton Keynes, U.K. to London to establish contacts with Professor Wole Soyinka.

I had met Bros Kongi in the office of his friend, Rex Collings who had published his popular book “THE MAN DIED”. The man died was prison memoirs of our own Bros Kongi.

I remember that later that day, Professor Wole Soyinka was interviewed extensively for a South-South magazine by a Ghanaian journalist, Cameron Doudu. Cameron Doudu had been a long standing friend of Bros Kongi.

Professor Wole Soyinka was the founder of the Pyrates Confraternity at the University of Ibadan when he was an undergraduate there. He had formed the Pyrate Confraternity with his friends among whom was Professor Awe (our Ijesa In-law married to our Egbon, Professor Mrs. Bolanle Awe).

It was under the Wole Soyinka inspiration that myself and my colleagues Made Olusanya, Oyelakun a.k.a. “Babwire Thinker” etc had formed in 1967 the Panama Pyrates Confraternity at Unilag. I remember too well that the very first meeting of Unilag’s Panama Pyrates Confraternity had taken place at the Atan Cemetery. When I remember those days,  today, I simply marvel at what we did as young men at that time.

Wole Soyinka never formed a Pyrates group that carries such a frightening image. We just had our main ideas at that time – Pyrates – NO FRIEND, NO FOE, SWORN ENEMIES OF CONVENTION, AHOY SEA DOGS. My Pyrates name was PINCO BARBAROSA - Commander of the howling Archipelago. Bros Kongi is 80. At 80, Egbon continues to live a simple but highly ideological life. Professor Wole Soyinka has seen a lot in Nigeria. His books explain his revolutionary life in full. You can never have a dull moment with him.

I say with all the emphasis at my command that Professor Wole Soyinka is my hero. There are many Wole Soyinka boys in Nigeria of today. I simply love him!

God bless Nigeria!!


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