By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
I will chop Professor Wole Soyinka’s $1000.
I am ready to lead him to the underground caves where my fellow “unlettered and uncultured” people who write all the fake news about him reside. The question now is, will the Nobel Prize winner come with me?
For people like me who go far to collect quotable quotes, apart from the indomitable Robert Mugabe, Wole Soyinka has emerged as the leading African who dishes out words of wisdom daily. I don’t know how he does it, but I am delighted whenever I see another of his great saying flying across the information superhighway. I quickly scribble them down on a wall that does not leak. I ensure I date it before someone else steals the quote and attributes it to an undesirable fellow. You see, children nowadays have no respect for giving proper attributes and credit. In effect, I have a warehouse where I store Wole Soyinka’s quotes, off news clips with his name boldly pasted on screaming headlines.
Why Soyinka is unhappy with this new development is what I don’t understand. Since many people are not reading his books, I thought he would be happy that the next best thing to reading his books is to read his quotes. Has he ever seen Robert Mugabe complain? No. The man is in Harare talking to his pillow and having every word of his encased in easily shareable quotes. Social media sites cheer each time Robert Mugabe drops a new saying. And the man is so versatile that he has an opinion on everything, including Portable. (Someone should please explain to Soyinka who Portable is.)
That level of accessibility that Robert Mugabe has is your 21st-century immortality.
At Soyinka’s age and level of accomplishments, following Robert Mugabe’s example is what I expect of him – relax and enjoy the flow. He should not be correcting the grammar of his unauthorised biographers and invisible reporters embedded in his brain while residing deep inside the forests of Okitipupa, the mountains of Abakaliki, and the deserts of Zamfara. If they miss a comma here and there or use sentences where the subject disagrees with the verb, Soyinka should let it slide. After all, he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There is nothing else to prove to fiction writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Okey Ndibe, or anyone else.
As for Datti Baba-Ahmed and his spewing of fascist rhetoric, Soyinka failed me. I don’t know about Soyinka, but I learned everything I needed to know about Datti from what he said during the 2014 debate about gay rights in the Nigerian National Assembly. Here is Datti Baba-Ahmed view on gays: “Such elements in the society should be killed.”
Datti Baba-Ahmed did not say it while sitting in the toilet and pushing and pushing a hard stool out. He said it while standing. It came out of his mouth cold, calculated, and styled in the manner that fitted into what Kingsley Muoghalu might call “cultured.” So, unlike Soyinka, when I heard Datti say that inaugurating Bola Tinubu as the president would be the end of democracy in Nigeria, I was not rattled – not even by his Kashima-like body language.
And then, to the landmine – the classic Wole Soyinka attempt to peg an elephant.
While the unlettered and uncultured were waiting for him to take over a radio station at gunpoint as he did in 1965 to demand the cancellation of a rigged regional election, Wole Soyinka revealed that he told Peter Obi that if he ended up losing the election, it would be because of his followers. Why Soyinka? Why? Must you say everything that comes to your head? What do you even mean by that? Are you saying that Obi’s followers differ from the Kegites, the Pyrates, and the groupies who follow Portable? Haba, what is problematic in differentiating a sonnet from a sunset? For a man who has beautified an Area Boy, you suppose get am.
If Wole Soyinka were not an 88-year-old man, I would have said, ntooooor to him. Nonsense, negritude!
After making several generations of students suffer while they read and reread and reread Kongi’s Harvest, Madmen, and Specialists, The Interpreters, The Man Died: Prison Notes, and many other yeye books that he wrote, Soyinka thought he would quietly walk into the sunset without any repercussion. Mbanu! Iro. He must get wotowoto. (I hope someone explains what wotowoto means to Soyinka).
I will go straight and tell you the trouble with Wole Soyinka. It is simple. Soyinka’s trouble is that he is sometimes just like his rascal cousin, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Even when the rest of the world is changing, Soyinka refuses to change. Look at his hair, look at his vest, look at his steps, how he carries his shoulders and his chin. Come on; those are so 1950s and 60s. Don’t even talk about how he rolls out words from his mouth. Preposterous! This aliment extends to his understanding of the world around him. And that is his tragedy.
I pity the man, for real. In case he forgot, his fellow Nobel Prize winner, George Bernard Shaw, warned, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Wole Soyinka should stop trying to adapt the world to himself. But he won’t. That is what makes all stubborn grandfathers stand out.
When Donald Trump said that he could kill somebody on 5th Avenue in New York and would not lose a vote, he showed an understanding of the ingenuity of his followers. This wisdom has escaped Soyinka. Even in the era of the cancel culture, a die-hard subculture exists that defies all the rules of reason. Soyinka is still trying to understand this subculture of loud and agile followers of modern-day saviors. Why Soyinka did not get it is something that I don’t know.
Let me help Soyinka out.
My dear poet, you don’t write limericks for us. We are a unique breed. We frown at unknown poetry. But those are the things that you, Soyinka, know how to do. If, as a playwright, you want to show us dramatic irony, you don’t stand in front of us and count our nine fingers. That is so yesterday. You have to be more creative if you must get through to us. Please don’t write novels. We only read a few sentences before we fire our reaction. Try something clever on Tik Tok.
By the way, why are you not on Tik Tok? A big-time writer like you should be on the platform selling your books. Has nobody told you that your silver hair would be a hit?
Prof, this is the secret of understanding us, the unlettered and uncultured bunch. We know something that you do not know. We know that nobody in our generation has achieved or will ever achieve anything close to what you, Soyinka, have achieved. We know that. We know that we are not worthy to untie your shoes. We read that in the Holy Book. We know you, Soyinka, can feed our family for ten generations. But goddam it, that does not mean that we have no right to abuse you. We reserve the right to abuse you for saying nothing and for saying something.
Granted, we are not the Royal Court type. But because we are not lettered and cultured does not mean our voices are invalid. Hell, no. We are angry for good reasons. And an angry man is a boiling pot of wotowoto.
Your wasted generation piled these burdens on us, swamp dwellers. It has turned us into deplorable madmen and specialists. In your eyes, we have metamorphosed into something you cannot recognise – futurologists who pick our teeth with violence. Oh, we are bad karma.
You can say a requiem high mass for us; for all we care, we are already prisoners of the sky. No scourge scares us anymore. Those of us entangled in the poetics of pseudo-transition interrupt those of you still having telephone conversations. We hope you will mind the gap between dialogue and outrage; and between discourse and dissonance. In the forest of Olodumare, there are a thousand demons. Not all of them know your name.
If you know this Prof, you will know peace, the type that passes all understanding.
Oya, Prof, abeg send me the $1000. You can use CashApp. (Can someone please explain to Soyinka what CashApp is?)
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others.