•The 50 ‘spirits’ in his Ijegba forest (home)
By Daud Olatunji
The 82nd birthday of the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, was unique as scores of people converged on his Ijegba forest abode for the celebration. Soyinka was born on July 13,1934. The low key celebration was organised by Zmirage and featured lectures to highlight some of the vices plaguing the country while proffering solution. The annual Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSCIE) was the seventh edition which had as its overall theme: ‘Corruption: a Battle for the Arts’.
The event was divided into the youth and the adult segments. The youth segment featured essay writing, while the adult segment featured two keynotes on the main theme as well as an all female panel of discussants on corruption as it affects children, women and our common humanity.
Three hours at Ijegba forest
Unlike many prominent people in the country who erect mansions, the Ijegba residence of the Nobel Laureate is modest. Soyinka, who lives in Kenta Idi-Aba , Abeokuta, threw his ‘doors’ wide open to the public to mark the 82nd birthday.
The environment depicts the occupants as hunters and located in the middle of a thick forest. Entering the road, the Soyinka residence may look as if one is entering a forest for hunting. At the entrance to the place had a screaming signboard hung on a tree : “Trespassing Vehicles will be Shot and Eaten”. Everywhere you look, you find tall trees and palm trees with thick shrubs. Birds tweet rented the air.
The main building constructed with red-brick nestles atop a hill with a tiny river flowing below and giant trees towering above it. The flowery ambience in front of the main building conceals the structure. The main building has amphitheater for drama rehearsals and performances, shooting range that provides a bird’s eye view of a section of the path that leads to the house, covert study rooms and assumed special prayer rooms for Christians, Muslims and traditionalists – to Soyinka, there is room for all religions to co-exist.
There are art collections which comprise contemporary and ancient works. The place had more sculptures than paintings. A stage theatre was seen built right in the middle of the forest. Sunday Vanguard learnt that it was built by Zmirage. You will think that millions went down in setting up the drama to mark the birthday. Colourful stage, colourful costumes, excellent actors. The programme officially began around 7:30pm with the drama and booming of gun rounded off the three-day celebration.
As visitors waited for the drama to commence on the first day, masquerades, later described as spirits, numbering about 50, suddenly appeared. Some of them sat on the stage, others stood at the back of the stage whiile yet other ones danced to the admiration of the audience. The drama, which lasted twenty minutes, centred on how the country had enjoyed peaceful co-existence when the people were doing their businesses without intruders until the colonialists came. The drama also described the current polity, especially how politicians promise the masses heaven and earth but as soon as they assume public office forget all their promises.
It also showed how the citizens are hungry after elections and whenever they complain to elected leaders that they are hungry, the elected leaders ignore them. Soyinka sat in the audience, watching the drama. Explaining the rationale behind the drama and other programmes, Producer, Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange Project 2016 , Haneefat Ikharo, said the Ijegba forest-abode of the Nobel Laureate Prof . Soyinka became the venue of the programme three years ago. Ikharo said the programme started at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency as a way of telling Nigerians not to kill one another in the name of religion.
She said: “It was the main ideal of WSICE to bring people of different religions, ethnic groups together for the betterment of the country”. According to her, the aspect of the program, which featured masquerades, was to create awareness that spirits were still in the midst of human beings. Director Artistic, Peter Badejo, who claimed that he had worked with Soyinka across the country and beyond, said the drama was from the Nobel Laureate’s works, adding that the visuals, dances were taken from a poem written in 1976.
‘How corruption destroyed Nigeria’
The special guest of the occasion, Prof Femi Osofisan, a playwright, in his keynote address, said that celebrating the legacy of Soyinka takes many forms, saying he was proud to be part of the legacy because Soyinka inspired him and many others to start writing. Osofisan said corruption nowadays is interpreted as a good thing because greed has taken over the country and that is what leads to corruption. Another keynote speaker, Tunde Fagbenle, said some people steal because others are stealing and not because they need the money.
Fagbenle advised the people involved in arts to be up doing because, without the support of arts, the battle against corruption will be difficult. He challenged journalists, artistes, among others, to use their talents to fight corruption. Prof Segun Ojewunmi, who also spoke at the occasion, insisted that it behoved every Nigerian to join the anti-graft war. He cited Dele Giwa, Chief M.K.O Abiola and Chief Bola Ige as people who used their positions to fight for a better Nigeria but ended up paying the supreme price. Ojewunmi, who spoke on how corruption has affected women and children, said women “are the greatest victims of corruption .”
She lamented that pregnant women, for example, could not access quality health services “because money budgeted for health is often stolen.” Mrs. Abiola-Costelo, a Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor, reasoned that Nigerians encourage their political leaders to engage in corruption. She explained that as a government appointee, she is bombarded, on daily basis, by members of the society with their individual problems and they expect her to use her salary to meet all such requests.
“The followership has problem. With my little salary, I receive a crowd on daily basis asking me for one help or the other and this is the situation for all political office holders in the country. This is what encourages corruption , encourage people to steal government’s funds”, Abiola-Costelo said. “I know someone whose salary is N50,000 per month but his child is attending a school which fees is N1million. “The system must take care of the people. And when a good leader leaves office, the people must make sure that another good leader succeeds him. “Again the electorate must stop putting pressure on political appointees on their individual needs.”