By JAPHET ALAKAM
The popular adage that failure is an orphan while success has many relations was inhibited in the life of Professor Oluwole Soyinka as people from all walks of life struggled to be part of his 80th birthday celebration.
The activities started earlier in the year with Pirates confraternity which he co founded that organised a lecture and opened a web site for the Soyinka lecture series. Thereafter, Zmirage, WS/ICE, that has been anchoring his birthday celebration since five years took over and from Lagos, Osun, Ondo and finally in Abeokuta his home state several events were packaged to that effect, and it was great as many keyed into it.
After the Ogun lap of the celebration , the art community in Lagos took over again and the venue was the Freedom Park, Lagos where for five days they celebrated him with songs, drama, film, lectures, music etc. While many were relaxing after a long celebration, the government of Rivers State led by its art loving governor, Chibuike Amaechi organised a birthday dinner in his honour at the Banquet Hall of Government House, Port Harcourt.
Well attended event
The well attended event was graced by Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, former Cross River state governor, Donald Duke and wife, Gabriel Okara, Prof Biodun Jeyifo, friends and associates of Prof. Soyinka and a host of eminent Rivers State citizens. It will be recalled that while governor Amaechi was in Lagos for the prize presentation of Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, he promised to host Soyinka during his birthday and that was why the dinner was organised.
It was like another gathering of the tribes as people from many divides including writers, scholars, traditional rulers, diplomats, government functionaries converged at the government house auditorium, venue of the event to key into the celebration of the birthday of the first African Nobel prize for literature, The event was anchored by Rivers state Information Commissioner, Mrs Ibim Semintanri.
It was a harvest of tributes and performances as many tried to identify with the Nobel Laureate .First, it was the Rivers state dance troupe with their Niger Delta motifs who took to the stage and performed in a dramatic way some bits of what the Niger Delta was made of when it comes to dance. The sang in English, Yoruba and ended it with one in their local dialect.
Thereafter, veteran actor Sam Dede who teemed up with his stage colleagues Nobert Young and Deinbofa Ere took over with greetings from the land of Kelekuru and presented the poem Ere wrote for Soyinka at 80. It was great as they hoaxed with their voices as they read.
Nobert Young was to mount the stage again, but this time, he was alone to thrill the audience as he read Soyinka’s evergreen poem, the Telephone Conversation.
After that the quest relaxed
to a wonderful dinner while the legendary Tunji Oyelana, a long time associate of Soyinka who flew in from London because of the event performed songs from Soyinka’s plays including From Zia with love, I caught you in your trap and Soyinka’s popular song , I Love my country which the audience joined in the dance.
Earlier on in his tribute, the host governor, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State lauded Nobel Laureate, Governor Amaechi said Soyinka rose to his towering height through hard work. Congratulating Soyinka at 80, Amaechi thanked him for honouring the dinner invitation, adding that “the reason for same is basically because of the achievements that you have made globally, not just in Nigeria.
“You have in the midst of our so many bad news brought good name to Nigeria. The good thing about your achievement is the fact that it has to do with hard work.
“If you do not read, you will not be a good writer. Nobody can say you can just wake up and become a good writer. Reading begets writing and you must understand what you are writing.”
“The good thing about your own achievement is the fact that it has to do with hard work. If you don’t read, you won’t be a good writer. Nobody can tell you that once you wake up, you become a good writer.
On his part, Governor Fayemi also poured encomiums on the literary icon and described him as one of the world’s literary amazons.
He recalled that Prof. Soyinka fought so much for the liberation of Nigeria during the Sanni Abacha days in office and was for sometime even incarcerated. He listed Prof. Soyinka’s attributes of justice, fair play, dignity for the human person and faith in good governance as commendable virtues of the literary giant.
For Professor Biodun Jeyifo who had earlier prepared a paper for the toast, but was not allowed due what can be seen as a coup by the celebrant extolled the virtues of the man, Soyinka which he said he won as a result of hard work. He observed that Soyinka has ailment which he called Tribute fatigue and said “ it is an ailment that I pray to have when I grow up like him.” He said that Soyinka is one of the last avant garde of the century. Recalling some of the risk he has taken towards a better Nigeria, he stated that he is a radical who still remains radical at 80.
Responding to the toast, Soyinka gave the audience one of the greatest gift, the secrets of longevity, which he said lies in eating pepper and drinking grape. “Wherever you go make sure you carry your grape and pepper. Make sure you drink less water, drink wine and take pepper, once you do that you fool humanity and live long.” He added.
While the guest were busy with the stomach infrastructure, the writer remembered one of the famous tracks of one of the famous bands from East in the early 80s called Sweet Breeze titled Mr Beggar. Actually, according to the song writer, Mr Beggar has no towns man but when he is rich, everyone is his uncle…..Kongi is not Mr Beggar, so he has many townsmen/women and that was why the world rolled out drums of celebration for his joining the club of 80 and according to Prof. Jeyifo who gave the toast, “in 10 years time, we will gather, and in another 10 years gather again for his centenary celebration, Long live Kongi.”