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Echoes from Soyinka’s 82nd birthday… Art in service of anti-corruption fight

By Charles Coffie Gyamfi,Abeokuta
24 July 2016   |   3:01 am
Professor Wole Soyinka was 82 on Wednesday, July 13. Going by his status, and the society Nigeria’s has become, many expected an elaborate programme, where there would...
Prof. Wole Soyinka, his sister, Prof . Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka and a cross section of the 82 students drawn from schools across

Prof. Wole Soyinka, his sister, Prof . Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka and a cross section of the 82 students drawn from schools across

Professor Wole Soyinka was 82 on Wednesday, July 13. Going by his status, and the society Nigeria’s has become, many expected an elaborate programme, where there would be drinking, eating, drumming and dancing. Less mortals than the Nobel laureate usually spend fortunes to celebrate fewer years on earth. But like in past years, Soyinka preferred to spend the day on things that would profit his country, Nigeria and humanity generally.

Indeed, he was not even the organiser of his own birthday celebration; he never has. Rather, the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE 2016) programme has, for some years now, spearheaded a festival of ideas and healthy competition among secondary school students on the noble ideals that Soyinka represents. It has been the idea of Alhaji Teju Kareem and Prof. Segun Ojewuyi, who have for some years now deployed Soyinka’s birthday as a moment to reflect on, through a series of lectures and students’ essay competition, and educate the people, especially the youth on how to be responsible citizens, patriotic and useful to the nation. The occasion was also used to highlight some of the corruption vices plaguing the country, and how art could be deployed to fight it.

And so, once again, friends, family and admirers of the literary icon and social critic thronged the Jegba Forest home of Soyinka on the outskirts of Abeokuta, and other venues to partake of the feast that the yearly WSICE celebration offers. Those who spoke at the lectures held at different venues included, Prof. Femi Osofisan, Prof. Ojewuyi and Mrs. Hafsat Abiola-Costelo.

At Soyinka’s Ijegba Forest abode, where the trio spoke on corruption, most of the audience was made up of youth, students from various secondary schools and literary aficionado. Also present were Tunde Fagbenre and Prof. Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka.

Dramatist, Osofisan, like his co-speakers, described corruption and the damage it has done to the Nigerian nation, while addressing the theme ‘Corruption: A Battle for the Arts.’ He spoke on how practitioners in the arts can use their talents to fight corruption.

Osofisan described Soyinka as the father of the literary world, whose “legacies take many forms and cannot be exhausted in a day.” In his view, corruption does not apply to monetary aspects, alone and listed, lies, deceit, cheating in examination, parents paying for their wards to sit for examination in special centres, as well as, giving undue favour to people as forms of corruption. He said it was regrettable that Nigerians don’t see such vices as corruption.

He ascribed greed and lapses in morals as the reasons why people in higher offices steal billions of naira with impunity, saying, “It was not like this before. Corruption cannot change by itself; we have to fight it. If you help your child to get admission when he is not qualified, you are encouraging corruption”.

Osofisan argued that the present hardship in the country encourages corruption, and insisted, “When people are hungry, morals mean nothing to them. The economy we run in Nigeria encourages corruption.”

Fagbenre agreed with Osofisan that for Nigeria to progress, all must join hands with the government to fight corruption, which he said has drawn the country many years back. He challenged the media, artistes, moviemakers, both audio and visual, to use their talents to fight corruption.

In his words, “Those in these areas must make sure they communicate issues that will benefit the society. Today, in the media, people pay for either front or inside page stories. From the billions of naira allegedly stolen by former Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezeani Alison-Madueke and others to illegal road blocks, mounted by the police are manifestation of abuse of power for selfish reasons.”

For Nigeria to progress, he maintained, virtues such as “Character, honesty, sincerity, love and caring for one another as well as integrity must be returned to the society.”

Fagbenre urged the Federal Government to involve those in the communication industry in its fight against corruption. According to him, “In the battle against corruption, the government should involve those in the communication industry – arts, music, movie, drama, media; it is important government forms partnership with them for the corruption war to be won.”

He challenged the media to cease “glorifying corrupt people, and also the church from calling them to the front seat.”

Ojewuyi who teaches theatre at University of Illinois, U.S., insisted that it behooves every patriotic 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 better Nigeria, but ended up by paying the supreme price.

Prof. Ajayi-Soyinka, who spoke on how corruption has affected Nigerian women and children, insisted that Nigerian 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 are often stolen.”

Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor, Mrs. Abiola-Costelo, reasoned that Nigerians encourage their political leaders to engage in corruption through their actions. She explained that as a government appointee, she is bombarded on a daily basis by members of the society with their individual problems and they expect her to use her salary to meet all their requests.

As she put it, “The followers have problem. With my little salary I receive a crowd on a 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, encourages people to steal government’s funds.”

According to her, another thing that encourages corruption in Nigeria is people living above their means, adding, “I know someone whose salary is N50,000 per month, but his child is attending a school that charges N1 million school fees.”

For corruption to reduce to the barest minimum, she stated, “The system must take care of the people. Besides, 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.”

Soyinka, while also speaking at the Obas Complex, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, a day before the grand finale of activities lined up to mark his birthday, pleaded that the nation must be returned to its place of honour and dignity, where anybody found to be corrupt in the society would be ashamed to walk freely on the streets.

On ‘Corruption: A battle for the Arts,’ Soyinka enjoined creative writers and artistes to use their place of work to fight corruption. While lamenting the level of corruption, which he said had eaten deep into the fabric of Nigerian society, he affirmed, “Anybody caught or found to be guilty should be made to face the full wrath of the law without sparing anyone”.

Also, Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, charged students who formed the bulk of the audience to continue to show love and support for the country, “just like the professor did”. He spoke on ‘Challenges or Not, you must love your country.’

Youths in the country, he said, should always live a life of honour that places Nigeria in a position of pride among the comity of nations. Amosun expressed joy that more Nigerians had begun to appreciate the works of arts, and promised to extend the participation, in the subsequent contests, to all students in Nigeria and beyond.

The highlight of the occasion was a competition among secondary school students from Ogun State in the poetry recitation, essay, reading and debate.

One of the personalities at the event was the wife of the state governor, Mrs. Olufunso Amosun. She advised the students not only be patriotic, but should also show love for the country in words and deeds at all times. She urged them to be proactive, and charged them to use their “energies” to assist in finding solution to Nigeria’s problems.

Mrs. Amosun who spoke through the Commissioner of Education, Mrs. Modupe Mojota, told her audience, “Think win, win, don’t be selfish; we are facing challenges as a country because both our leaders and followers are selfish. For us to progress, we must win together, and help each other.”

She told the students that for them to be good citizens in future, they must seek “first things first, learn to listen for you to understand, because we as Nigerian don’t listen to each other for us to understand ourselves.

“If we can synergize, collaborate, cooperate and look for the good of everyone, then we will progress. Sharpen your swords, seek opportunities at all times in order to be relevant and represent Nigeria well everywhere you are.

“Above all, you must learn to give your all for your country without expecting anything back”.

The event ended with the figurative burning of corruption as the sign of ‘corruption’ mounted in the Ijegba forest amphitheater venue of the closing ceremonies, was set ablaze amidst chants of curses and abuse on all corrupt entities in Nigeria by the Masquerades who represented the spirits of the forefathers.