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Celebrating A Literary Gem: An Orator's Humble Bow For Kongi At 80 By Rahaman Abiola Toheeb

July 14, 2014

Kongi at 80 is a celebration of national hero.

There is no quantum of doubt in the assertion that Wole Soyinka is an irreplaceable gem and a literary treasure to the generation of black race.

Wole Soyinka

There is no atom of hyperbole if we say our Kongi is unrivalled blessing to the present generation of African literature and orature. A literary pathfinder and avid reader, veteran poet and indefatigable activist, public critic and seasoned playwright, respected director, skillful raconteur, essayist, translator and filmmaker, actor and musician, connoisseur, hunter, and a typical African man - Kongi is indeed an herald of peace, an harbinger of hope, waver of consciousness and an all-rounder hero who has braved many roads and sailed through many hazard-laden seas.

Undisputedly, Wole Soyinka is an household name that is not strange to our auricles. And I can confidently claim that as a child growing up in a semi-urban enviroment, I was fortunate to be among the naive primary school pupils whose Soyinka's name served as an anthem. This lingering name of William Wordsworth of our time can be said to have echoed till my secondary school days when Soyinka's Night, a recommended poem for National Examination Council (NECO), was a cause of migraine for me and my colleagues because to us, it was one conundrum on its own. We would exhaust many hours doing critical analysis and dismantling the thematic formation of the poem that is compressed and condensed with different set of jaw-breaking and ribs-cracking words. It was diffent from David Rubadiru's African Thunderstorm and other poems we were at that same time exposed to, which were easily grapped because of their simple diction and fathomable thematic pre-occupations. This shows how excellent and expert a weaver of words can be even in a language that is not originally his.

Taking dimensional look and personal in-depth evaluation of Wole Soyinka as a cerebral Renaissance man and curator of African traditional heritage, there is no scintilla of doubt that our dear Kongi has exercised this both intellectual and pragmatic. Soyinka is an hunter who loves going for hunting especially on his birthday; he is a great aficionado of Ogun- Yoruba's god of Iron. And unarguably, his adaptional translation of D. O Fagunwa's books from indigenous language to English shows his high level of literary prowess and second-to-none passion for African cultural legacies.

Considering his enviable impacts as a political trailblazer and activist, coupled with his physical activeness, his valour and unparalleled bravura, Soyinka, just like his cousin Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Black American poet and playwright of The Dutchman Amiri Imamu Baraka, can be described as a great revolutionary fellow and a skillful political analyst and architect, whose inimitable resilience against the tyranny of the then Nigerian military rule and its draconian decree, and zero tolerance against the present power-thirsti-ness of Nigerian civilian post-bearers have immensely helped the country cast away the chronic bane and bile, problems and plight daily plaguing Nigeria as a nation with ethnical diversities and political point of differences; and a state paddled and ridden by political cynics and bigots, religious zealots and ethnical gladiators, without excluding our conscience-deprieved intellectual confussionists and paranoids. Hence, Prof. Wole Oyinka once said that "the greatest threat to freedom is absence of criticism."

Kongi deserves our encomium indeed! Oluwole Soyinka deserves our eulogium not only because of his social courtesy or being a good ambassador of his fatherland while in diaspora, but also because of his literary fatherliness to both contemporary budding and established writers, his motivational fostering and benevolence to aspiring critics, and also his awe-inspiring display of intellectual sagacity which is worthy of emulation to prospective activists.

As one of the notable and reknowned pioneers of African literature and respected admirers of primitive cultural values and socio-religious heritage, the oratory grey-haired professor of Comparative Literature has imprinted his footprints on the sand of time. Soyinka can be described as victorious hero who has left the dents of his foot on the shore never imprinted by feet of man, having being the first African man to be awarded the prestigious prize of Nobel Laurel for Literature (1986). And one won't be jaw-dropped that writers like Akeem Lasisi, a prolific tradition-inclined African bard, author of a nuptial poetry collection Night of my Flight, and a seasoned journalist made a single release of a Yoruba chanting album Ori Agbe in celebration of Soyinka's inestimable greatness, having being his (Lasisi's) mentor and colleague hunter so to speak.

As a politically inclined individual who has been rekindling political cognizance in many Nigerians, Kongi has never allowed political interest to befoul his moral consciousness and conscience. His constructive criticism against Nigerian political goliaths is enough to affirm his political neutrality and compassionate sympathy for down-trodden hoi polloi. He has never associated himself with the nation killjoys, fortunes reapers and plunderers. He has been a protagonist in the cause of anticipation for just and purely democratic government. And despite the sizzling of battle-front, Kongi has never given room for political opportunism, intellectual robbotism, syconphacy and personal share and siphoning of national cake usually given to public critics by power-driven political tyrants, to silence him into moribund mute. Correspondent to this is his frank rejection of recent centenary award which he regarded as 'national shame.'

Kongi as an humble personality, genius and sociable creative writer who is always ready to learn cannot be relegated to the fringe. Asked if he sees himself as omniscient writer, he quickly rejoined ". . . that the best learning process of any kind of craft is just to look at the work of others." With this afore quoted statement, Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka can be said to have been greatly influenced by writers like William Shakespeare, George Benard Shaw, Oscar Wild and the likes. And in 2011 the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre built a writers' enclave in his honour, because of his enthusiastic outlook towards developing African literature and building writers of the same kindred spirits.

Conclusively, I'll say the celebration of Soyinka as an octogenarian, Kongi at 80 is a celebration of national hero. It is a celebration that calls for libation in honour of our literary deity. As someone absolutely convinced by the legendary impacts of Kongi, I think there shouldn't be any reason to generate ripple of controversy if we say Wole Soyinka is the progenitor of modern African literature, drama in particular.

May the sun rise, may thousand flowers blossom. May Soyinka grow old to see his enormous grey hair becoming scanty and dust. May he grow old to munch many kola nuts with old-age gingiva.

Happy birthday, our pride and gem.

Rahaman Abiola Toheeb is the Editor-in-Chief, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. Follow him at @Donrabtob on Twitter.