Viewpoint

April 12, 2023

Professor Wole Soyinka and the Economy of Language

Professor Wole Soyinka and the Economy of Language

By Onyeka Nwelue

In 2019, Professor Wole Soyinka had a fascinating conversation with Christiane Amanpour of CNN. When he was asked about the right to give and take offense in a democracy, he said, “We’ve got to learn to give offense if we believe that we are on the right side of history.”

I recreated his relationship with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in my film, Other Side of History, which he has seen, set before Nigeria’s Independence.

I am Igbo. I am openly a supporter of Peter Obi. I am also a Soyinkaphile.

I want to say, it is, sometimes, difficult to understand the cryptic words of Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka.

When he talks to me, I listen attentively, so I don’t miss anything he says. When he sends me an email, I go back to read it. At least, three times.

The Wole Soyinka I know is Igbo-centric and is a vital force for the inclusive fight for humanity in general. No matter the current heat, I must plead with young Nigerians and supporters of Peter Obi, to believe me, when I say Professor Soyinka supports Peter Obi. In private and even in public, he always stressed how it is important to have an Igbo President or let the Igbo have their own country.

If you had two people, an Igbo and a Yoruba, come to Professor Soyinka for help, I can tell you, without mincing words, that he will attend to the Igbo first. He may not like this, but I found out over the years. A Yoruba friend of mine once described me as ‘Soyinka’s gatekeeper.’ It didn’t end well between us. We practically stopped talking, because of that appellation.

Just weeks ago, he broke his silence and came out, publicly weighing in on my imbroglio with the British educational establishment. It was after that, he started speaking to the press. It was because of this Igbo boy that he left the quietness of his life, to speak to the media. People were genuinely shocked that he would attach his name in defense of me. I was also shocked. It brought me to tears. I will remain eternally grateful to him.

In 2021, I visited Frederick Forsyth in his hometown. We spoke about Ojukwu. The moment I asked if he met Wole Soyinka, he brightened up: “Is he alive?” He asked me. I said yes and he asked me to do a video and send it to Professor Soyinka. After making that video, which I sent to Professor Soyinka, Mr. Forsyth told me, that the last time he saw Professor Soyinka, was in Biafra. That they sat under a tree in Biafra and talked.

I have stories to tell you: on February 9, 2019, Professor Wole Soyinka, while ‘recruiting’ people by himself, to get on the Campaign Team of Professor Kingsley Moghalu, wanted me to do a documentary on Professor Moghalu, whether in Igbo or anything. I had never met Professor Moghalu then. So, Professor Soyinka said to me afterwards: “Regarding Moghalu – I’ve let him know that you’re available to do a documentary for him but it turns out his team already has an on-call documentarist, so I’ve left them alone.” He took the Moghalu Project seriously. We would have asked why.

Wole Soyinka loves Igbo people. Sincerely. If we are going to label him a ‘tribalist.’

Right now, we are all emotional. I understand why. But, I want you to remember that Professor Soyinka said he was in touch with Mr. Peter Obi. Perhaps, there was a tangible reason why he didn’t ‘endorse’ him publicly. The Soyinka I know, is a fierce loyalist. When he loves you, it is hard for him to turn his back on you.

Let me plead with Obidients – and every lover of Peter Obi – that, it is impossible that the great Nobel Laureate is against them. Knowing Wole Soyinka – having followed him personally as a child, he stands for liberation from dictatorship and anarchy.

Soyinka speaks from a place of love and concern for our democracy. If we could listen to his voice of rage, he talked about investing his energy in the ‘new kid on the block.’ I remember him saying his dream was to see an Igbo President before leaving this world.

At 88, Wole Soyinka is technology savvy. He uses his iPhone and MacBook efficiently. He is the most modern man I know. He can defend himself, but I want to assure every supporter of Peter Obi, that as tribe goes, the Nobel Laureate wants an Igbo President and as political movements are involved, he is also not against the Obidient Movement. I can strongly assure you that!

Someone asked me yesterday: “What are you going to do about the attacks on Wole Soyinka? Did you see the posts by David Hundeyin?” I replied: “David can decide to attack me tomorrow if he feels like. He is not 16 years old. He can’t be compromised.” It’s the democracy we all want, where we can agree and disagree.

Many of Peter Obi’s supporters are not Igbo. They are Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Nupe, Edo – from all tribes. His fierce supporters like David Hundeyin, Rinu Oduala, and Aisha Yesufu are not even Igbo. I tell you, Kongi is not against us. If anything, he wants the ‘new kid on the block’ to be President.