‘My Encounter With Wole Soyinka In Ife’
The Head of Department’s office at the University of Ife was attached to the General Office and the name WOLE SOYINKA, boldly written in capital letters, welcomed both students and visitors.
The name was not only intimidating, it added great value to the department that even years after he stopped being head, the name was still on the door when our set left University of Ife in 1985.
We heard about the great WS, but never had direct dealings with him, except those who were in the cast of two of his plays, Requiem For A Futurologist or Blues For A Prodigal. But in our final year, we were billed to meet him, as he took us Aesthetics and Drama As Literature (not too sure about the title again).
The morning of our first meeting was charged. It was a full class. Everybody was in the class. He warned that it was going to be a long session to make up for two weeks that the class did not hold.
Prof. Soyinka started with a question: “What is arts?”
There was a dead silence that you could hear a pin drop.
I raised my hand and defined it as a man-made or object of nature that attracts our attention for its beauty and attracts our evaluation. He nodded his head and I got an encouraging look from Tejumola Olaniyan, our graduate assistant.
Soyinka took us on Nichomachean ethics and the necessity of the arts through the ages from ancient times to the present. We were so engaged and engrossed that hours passed without us feeling it until he wrote the list of books. He provided some to be shared and divided us into four groups and briskly left and we erupted in discussions.
Despite the fact that he had started travelling the globe as he had become known, he was prompt and kept to scheduled lectures that, at times, we saw his orderlies from Oyo State Road Safety Corp escort him directly into our class as a signal he just came in from travel unpacked.
We had our tutorials, which brought us closer to him and my love for South African music earned me a visit to his house, covered completely with wild flowers. It also earned me a respect from Francis, his house minder, who worked at Oduduwa Hall Cultural Centre.
Prof. Soyinka brought out the best in our class and took us on path of research that would later be of great help to me when I did my post-graduate studies in English at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
It was in our examination that he took us to a journey on limitless imagination by asking us to bring in notes into the examination hall and warned no textbooks are allowed. We accepted and asked him about the invigilator’s tolerance of his idea.
WS informed us that he would tell the invigilators officially as the essence of his instruction to bring in notes is to encourage research and notified us that the answer sheet will be marked with the knowledge that notes were allowed and 15 marks points gone.
Soyinka asked us to feel free to come to him with any problems even personal ones and should be free to ask him any questions even personal ones about his life.
Towards the end of our final year, I was summoned by Kemi Ilori, who told me I missed two courses, and therefore, will not graduate that year. I know I did the two courses and scored A+ and a B+ that were not recorded.
I ran to Prof and explained to him that it is tribalism at play here. He assured me that I wouldn’t only graduate that year, but agreed with me that tribalism was a stark reality in Nigeria.
He told me to go and get the results from Political Science Department and the one from Drama Department. The two courses when added put me in a comfortable second-class upper, but in the end, and to my surprise, Ilori did not add those courses and I heard he is now a pastor.
So, and again, because we were free with Prof, it was not hard for me to go to his office and discuss with him after reading his strongly worded press statement in Punch Newspaper over the killing of three drug dealers by Major General Mohammed Buhari by firing squad in 1985
At Ife then, we heard about his banter with other lecturers, especially the one he penned his own obituary as a joke and shared with his friends exclaiming he never knew he would reach 50 years.
Please help me give loud-sounding gbosas to the Eniogun, The Lion and Kongi of Africa and the world, as he clocks 88 and counting.
Many more years to you inimitable Prof. Wole Soyinka, poet, dramatist, novelist, critic, director of films and plays, musician, researcher, freedom fighter and champion of justice.