By Osmund Agbo
Once upon a time, long before Jonny Depp played the egoistic fictional character, Captain Sparrow in Walt Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” as an adventurous swashbuckling pirate in the Caribbean Sea during the 18th century, there was a real life Captain blood of Tortuga. He is a Nigerian born in the hummocky terrain of Abeokuta, Ogun State on July 13, 1934. But unlike Sparrow’s pursuit of treasures and personal gain, however, Captain Blood fights for something far more noble – freedom.
Every day, this legendary Pyrate braves perilous seas and treacherous waters, battling against formidable odds for the sake of liberty. His tale resonates with the spirit of pirate life, drawing inspiration from the infamous Tortuga Island, nestled within present-day Haiti, during the illustrious Golden Age of Piracy.
Tortuga Island is today known for breathtaking scenery, amazing snorkeling, and calm bays perfect for swimming but centuries ago served as the ramshackle haven for pirates, rogues, scoundrels, outlaws and sailors in the Caribbean. The island was the strongest and safest buccaneers’ port in the mid-17th century. It was a place from where they launched numerous attacks on Spanish colonies.
Inspired by the daring adventures of Caribbean pirates of old, Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka led a group in 1952 that would later be known as the “Magnificent Seven” to establish the Pyrates Confraternity. Their founding mission was to champion human rights and advocate for social justice in Nigeria and beyond. Taking on the persona of Captain Blood, the renowned protagonist of Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 novel of the same name, Soyinka embraced this pseudonym as his nom de guerre.
Sabatini’s novel tells the captivating tale of Peter Blood, an Irish physician who was unjustly convicted of treason in the 17th century and then sold into slavery in the Caribbean. Through a twist of fate, Blood transforms into a formidable pirate, commanding a crew of buccaneers and embarking on thrilling adventures and exhilarating escapades. It is this very narrative that perhaps served as inspiration for the Nigerian Captain Blood who, armed with a gun at the age of 31, managed to infiltrate the heavily guarded premises of NBC, causing quite a stir.
On the 15th of October 1965, an election was held in the old Western Region for the position of Premier. In Chief Ladoke Akintola and his party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP)’s mind, he was coasting towards victory. In fact, he had sent the tape of his recorded victory speech to the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in Ibadan. As he eagerly sat down to listen to the upcoming broadcast, his excitement grew. However, instead of hearing a triumphant speech, he was greeted with these words: “Akintola, go! Drop your stolen mandate, leave town, and take your reprobates with you.” Mission accomplished, Soyinka slithered out like a serpent, disappearing just as he had arrived.
The event that prompted Soyinka to take action was the massively rigged Western Regional election, which favoured Chief S.L Akintola’s pro-North government. Soyinka demanded the cancellation of that election, showcasing his vintage Captain Blood persona – an extraordinary being with uncommon courage, far from being an ordinary armchair critic lost in endless theorising. Unsurprisingly, chaos erupted in Akintola’s camp, leading to Soyinka’s subsequent arrest.
However, the problem that Soyinka vehemently protested against persisted, ultimately triggering a conflagration that resulted in Nigeria’s brutal civil war, claiming the lives of millions of innocent people. Undeterred and appalled by the circumstances unfolding in his country, Soyinka sought peace through an article in which he called for a cease-fire. Unfortunately, Gowon’s government in 1967 viewed such act as treasonous. Consequently, Soyinka was arrested and accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels. He endured solitary confinement as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969.
During his incarceration, Soyinka chose not to wallow in self-pity or bemoan his harsh prison conditions as a prisoner of conscience. Instead, he channeled his energy into writing “The Man Died,” a remarkable work aimed at educating and inspiring his fellow compatriots to take action against evil. Within its pages, Soyinka delved into the nature of tyranny, the resilience of the human spirit, and the imperative of speaking out against injustice. This memoir stands as a poignant testament to the unwavering determination of an individual fighting for freedom and underscores the enduring power of literature in the face of oppression.
Speaking of literature, Professor Soyinka, the first African recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, utilises literature not only for entertainment but primarily as a tool to expose societal ills, combat oppression, and confront tyranny. His efforts extend beyond targeting individuals; he also takes on institutional oppressors. In his profoundly satirical play, “The Trial of Brother Jero,” he denounces the character of Brother Jero, a self-proclaimed prophet and charismatic religious leader who manipulates his followers through charm, cunning, and purported spiritual abilities.
Soyinka also fiercely guards African customs and traditional practices. This sentiment is evident in his recent open letter addressing an influential Emir. After carefully reviewing his letter to Ibrahim Sulu Gambari, the traditional ruler and Emir of the Emirate of Ilorin, my friend and I concluded that even in his grave, Soyinka would still remain vigilant against any form of injustice. He would likely rise, retaliate, resolve the situation, and then retreat to his eternal rest. And whether he will ever find true rest is a different question altogether.
However, that wasn’t even the aspect of the letter that excited me the most. It was the way he concluded his exhortation, identifying himself with a string of his traditional titles that reaffirm his love for African culture and tradition. It went as follows: the Akintalun of Egba, Giiwa of Ijebu-Remo, and Akogun of Isara. At that moment, I proudly declared to my friend that I fully embrace my own title as an Igbo Chief and demand to be identified and addressed as such with all due respect. Should anyone take issue with it, they are welcome to bring the matter to court. My egbon Soyinka has spoken, and so it shall be.
Whether it’s through his illuminating literary works or his crusades for social justice, Soyinka has embodied hope during the dark ages of oppressive and opportunist leadership. From his youth to his twilight years, the man has never wavered, sparing no effort in pursuing justice and the greater good. The story of Nigeria’s Captain Blood transcends imagination. It symbolises the indomitable human spirit, the unwavering pursuit of justice, and the steadfast commitment to a cause greater than oneself.
If Nigeria possesses a living legend, it is none other than the indomitable Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka. Playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, Nobel laureate, the Akintalun of Egba, Giiwa of Ijebu-Remo, and Akogun of Isara – a man guided by the courage of his convictions. Ahoy, Prof! Absolutely no lagging Captain.
Osmund Agbo is the Okanga-Omenuko of Imilike Umunnaogene kingdom and writes from Houston. He could be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org