Professor Wole Soyinka (born 13 July 1934) is a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, the first African to be so honoured. He devoted his Nobel acceptance speech to South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. His speech was an outspoken criticism of Apartheid and the politics of racial segregation imposed on the majority by the Nationalist South African government. In 1994, he was designated United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication.
Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family, specifically, a Remo family in Isara-Remo in 1934. He received a primary school education in Abeokuta and attended secondary school at Government College, Ibadan. He then studied at the University College, Ibadan (1952-1954) and the University of Leeds (1954-1957) from which he received an honours degree in English Literature. He worked as a play reader at the Royal Court Theatre in London before returning to Nigeria to study African drama. He taught in the Universities of Lagos, Ibadan, and Ife (becoming Professor of Comparative Literature there in 1975).
Soyinka Role in Nigeria Civil War
Soyinka has played an active role in Nigeria’s political history. In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the Federal Government of General Yakubu Gowon and put in solitary confinement for his attempts at brokering a peace between the warring parties. While in prison he wrote poetry which was published in a collection titled Poems from Prison. He was released 22 months later after international attention was drawn to his imprisonment. His experiences in prison are recounted in his book The Man Died: Prison Notes.
Achievements and Educational Honors
He has been an outspoken critic of many Nigerian administrations and of political tyrannies worldwide, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. A great deal of his writing has been concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it”. This activism has often exposed him to great personal risk, most notable during the government of General Sani Abacha (1993-1998). During Abacha’s regime, Soyinka left the country on voluntary exile and has since been living abroad (mainly in the United States, where he was a professor at Emory University in Atlanta). When civilian rule returned in 1999, Soyinka accepted an emeritus post at Obafemi Awolowo University on the condition that the University bars all former military officers from the position of chancellor. Soyinka has been the Elias Ghanem Professor of Creative Writing at the English department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the President’s Marymount Institute Professor in Residence at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, US. In 2005, he became one of those that spearheaded an alternative National conference – PRONACO.
Professor Wole Soyinka is a wonderful and reserved Nigerian. He deserves the honour as a Very Distinguished Nigerian.
Read Also: A Glance at the Yorubas