Finally, I Met Wole Soyinka

By: Deji Yesufu

At about quarter to 8 yesterday morning, I received a message from a friend that Prof. Wole Soyinka was going to be at Booksellers, Dugbe, Ibadan, later in the day. My friend knows I am a fan of the Nobel Laureate and he was almost sure I would give everything up at short notice to see Kongi live. After reading his message, I was not sure I would be able to make it to Dugbe that evening. The event, a book reading session and signing of Soyinka’s latest book: Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, published by Bookcraft (Ibadan), was going to start off at 5pm. I was billed for school runs between 2 and 4pm and I live in a part of Ibadan that is quite some distance from Dugbe. But the temptation of seeing Nigeria’s first and only Nobel Laureate was too much to ward off. Immediately I did a mental re-organization of my day and I was almost sure I would be at Dugbe by 4pm. I replied my friend: I will be at Booksellers at 4pm, latest. There was also another reason to go to Boosellers: I had supplied the bookshop some copies of my book, Victor Banjo, in January and I was almost sure that they would be out of stock by now. I needed to check on them and see whether I could get some extra change for this Christmas period.

I got to Booksellers at 4:30pm. The atmosphere was alive with preparation. The organizers had wisely chosen the open spaced car park for the program. Chairs were arranged wide enough in keeping with the social distancing rules that the COVID-19 public health pandemic had cast on the entire world. In spite of the separation, the seating could still take no less than 500 people. Security was in place and people had already begun to arrive. I realized I had some time to spare so I went into the bookshop to enquire about my book: “it has sold out…” – the best news I had received that day. I should be returning for a cheque soon enough: these are just some of the little blessings that writers get in life. I have always said that no writer lives off his written works – except you are Wole Soyinka or Chinamanda Adichie of course. And it was because some of us want to be like these people that we make the effort to see them when the opportunity arise.

Prof. Wole Soyinka did not enter the arena until a few minutes after 6pm. He explained that he had been in the Lagos/Ibadan traffic for seven hours! After that remark, Soyinka did not say anything more; it was obvious that the whole business of criticizing poor governance has become trite to the sage and the audience were better off reaching their own conclusion on the matter themselves.

The program began with soft music being played in the background by a live band. There was very good lighting and a viewers’ screen was also provided that enlarged the scene on the podium better. In my years of attending public events, including churches, I could swear I had never seen such a clear screen; the images on the screen, expectedly larger, were even clearer than the live images we were looking at on the stage. I brought this to the attention of my friend, whom I had met at the venue, and he agreed also. There were four book reading sessions – three ladies and one guy. There was a drama skit also performed that portrayed a part of the book – the duplicity of Nigerian prophets. The drama was very well done except that the microphones were not properly placed and those of us at the back could barely hear what they were saying.

Then entered the Nobel Laureate himself dressed in his customary jacket laced with “Amotekun” insignia: Wole Soyinka is 86 years old but still walked briskly and smartly. From where I sat I hazard a guess that the revered literary Prof would be about five feet, nine inches tall. His signature wooly and grey hair was pointing conspicuously from his head, while he was lead to his seat at the front row. I noticed one thing about him though: Soyinka’s skin was glowing with some unknown youthful strength; he was surprisingly very fair skinned. I have seen many pictures of Wole Soyinka but I never envisioned him as fair in complexion. I suspect however that while Soyinka may not be regarded as fair in complexion, this man has worked hard enough in life to enter into a well-earned rest that now manifests in his elderly but youthful look. Dr. Musuro, the CEO of Booksellers, mentioned that while the whole world was lockdown in their homes because of the Coronavirus, Soyinka was “locked-in” completing this book. And as we emerged from the lockdown, Soyinka emerged with his book. Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth is a novel that tells the story of the Nigerian people with a perspective from every part of the country. It is Soyinka’s first fictional work after about 40 years but it is enjoying the normal literary acclaim that the Nobel Laureate’s works usually enjoy around the world. The program was concluded with a book reading from Soyinka himself and a question and answer session led by the young Edem Osai. I could not wait till the end of the program as it was nearing 8pm and I needed to get home. I was given a food pack and some souvenirs, with the hope of returning to purchase the book soon. Seeing Soyinka was sufficient an adventure for one evening.

The only little let down about yesterday was that COVID-19 protocols prevented Soyinka from signing the books people purchased and it also meant that he could not be approached to take pictures with. I had hoped that I would have the opportunity of giving him a copy of my book, Victor Banjo, which contained a lot of references to the heroic deeds of Soyinka before and during the Nigerian Civil War. Unfortunately I could not do this. So when I say I met Wole Soyinka, I actually mean I saw him from a distance and only came about 20 meters close to take a picture. It is however a dream come true and hope that when my grandchildren ask me about this great literary giant, the man I once argued is the most accomplished Nigerian that ever lived, I would be able to tell them about yesterday, Wednesday, 9th December, 2020, – the day I met Prof. Wole Soyinka; albeit from a distance.

Soyinka at Booksellers, Ibadan, Yesterday

Posted by Deji Yesufu

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