The Inimitable Kongi at 88

Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka

The Inimitable Kongi at 88

By Abdulrahman Abdulraheem

This world is full of incidents that are too strange to be dismissed as mere coincidences. They may just be the divine arrangements or manipulations of the Celestial Choir (apologies to Hon Patrick Obaihagbon) to prove His superiority over us.

Yes. Pele of Brazil (Real name: Edson Arantes Donacimentos) was named after the great inventor, Thomas Edison, and he took greatness from the name and went on to become arguably the greatest striker that ever played the game of football. Many years after he was born, our own Rasheed Yekini, aka Gangling, was born on the same date, took greatness from sharing birthday with Pele and also went on to become one of the greatest African goal scorers of all time. The undisputed ‘GOAT’ of the round leather, Cristiano Ronaldo, was named after Late former US President, Ronald Reegan, who was his father’s favourite actor before he joined politics. He took greatness from the name.

What about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who spent her formative years in the same apartment where Chinua Achebe had lived decades earlier while he was scripting his most iconic pieces of literary genius. If you grew up reading Achebe and you now read Chimamanda religiously, you would easily mistake the latter for the former even though the two great Nigerians have been extremely successful in their individual craft. You would be right to say Achebe left something in that house for Chimamanda… The striking ‘co-incidental’ similarities between the life and times of Abraham Lincoln and JF Kennedy are too numerous to delve into here.

When he was born and named Oluwole Akinwande Babatunde Soyinka on the 13th day of July, 1934, and his parents chose to simply call him Wole Soyinka (WS), he took the initials of the greatest playwright that ever lived, Williams Shakespeare (WS) and then, he immediately and automatically caught greatness.

On the way to becoming the greatest and most celebrated playwright on the African continent and a patriotic international statesman of Nigerian origin, he has dedicated the last 60 years of his extraordinary life to the written word, to scholarship, to the stage (play), to poetry, to fiction, to human rights activism, to democracy, to the principled fight for justice, equity and fairness anywhere and everywhere. He was sent to jail early in his life for standing for truth and justice in speaking against the massacre and maltreatment of southeasterners. Regime after regime, generations after generations, time and time again, he has remained consistent for over 60 years speaking truth to power, writing powerful pieces and fighting for the advancement of the black race and the dignity of mankind.

A Professor of Comparative Literature, he has become Nigeria’s greatest export to the world stage and his trademark beard and simple hunter’s dress distinguish him as an ‘Irunmole’ who is not to be compared with mere mortals. Even though he has made immeasurable success out of teaching, advocacy and Literature and has been deservedly honoured as Africa’s first and Nigeria’s only Nobel Laureate, he actually prefers his lonely life in the deep forests where he goes hunting and bringing down wild animals, and conversing with the spirits of his forebears. As we have Nobel Awards for Academics, Oscar for Movies, Grammy for Music, Grand Slams for Tennis and Ballo n D’Or for Football, if we had a global stage for Hunting, Kongi would have won all the awards repeatedly and he would have preferred a celebrated career in Hunting rather than in Literature. A real ‘Akanda,’ he has access to all the red carpets in the world but he prefers to dine in the bushes and forests in his native space so he can live his life at its traditional best.

As you, Kongi, celebrate your birthday, I on behalf of all the mortals who have benefitted from your extreme intellectualism expressed through many sound Literatures that have blessed our libraries, I say thank you sir for everything you have done for the Body of Knowledge in this country and beyond. Thank you for Kongi’s Harvest, The Ake Days, The Man Died, Death and the King’s Horseman, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, Abiku etc.

While growing up, I remember having to read The Lion and the Jewel again and again just to be able to memorise all those bombastic and high-sounding words in it in order to impress members of the other gender… All of them who ended up doing our biddings actually thought me and my friends were brilliant guys, they never knew we were just reading The Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis, and emulating Soyinka’s elevated use of the White Man’s language.

I must, therefore, on behalf of my friends, thank you, Kongi, for contributing your quota to the fulfillment of the teenage and juvenile events that have formed part of our fond memories.

This is wishing you a memorable birthday celebration, the one and only Kongi, the ‘Orisa Akunlebo’ of African Literature.

As you turn 88, may ‘Ogun Lakaaye’, your preferred worshipful deity, continue to tidy up your path and illuminate your walk to the grand old centenary stage.

May the great Nigeria of your lofty dreams come to pass in your time and may it meet you in sound health and good spirits.

Igba odun, odun kan ni.