Africa’s trailblazing Nobel laureate in literature, Prof. Wole Soyinka, yesterday, said Nigeria has reached a stage “where a series of town hall meetings should be organised to ask ourselves retrospective questions about what has happened to us.”
Speaking during the presentation and discussion of his book, ‘Chronicles From the Land of The Happiest People on Earth,’ inside the British Library Knowledge Centre on Monday night, he said the country has degenerated into a situation where human dignity has been devalued by vices such as the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls and the recent alleged ritual killing of Timothy Adegoke Oludare at Osogbo in Osun State.
Fielding questions during the event tagged ‘An Evening with Professor Wole Soyinka,’ he said the failure of leadership across Africa has made “some of us sell ourselves into slavery.”
He noted: “The worst part for me is that we have allowed the slave trade to continue for so long. Who could have thought we would reach the state where people will trick one another to be used for rituals? We need a series of introspective sessions to ask questions about what has happened to us as a people.”
He described Britain as “a shameless country for continuing to charge me for visa.”
Asked by the moderator what message he has for the future, he quipped: “All l will say is let us restore the loss of humanity.”
Yesterday’s reading was the second book Soyinka presented to a London audience in over a decade. In 2007, The Guardian was at the Southbank Centre when he launched and read from his autobiography, ‘You Must Set Forth at Dawn.’
Writers, like most people, tend to slow down with age. Not Soyinka. After focusing for nearly 50 years on plays, poetry and activism, at 87 he has returned to fiction, which he last published in 1972.
When the pandemic imposed isolation for much of last year, Soyinka decided to write his first novel in nearly 50 years. He sequestered himself away in a seaside cottage in Senegal and then in the hills of Aburi, outside of Accra in Ghana.
The pseudo-fictionalised Nigeria that Soyinka constructs appear hyperbolic, with an influx of oil wealth allowing rampant excess and materialism to become the canvas on which critical themes play out. Tremendous wealth and abject poverty are clearly visible side by side.
Soyinka also reveals the dichotomies between north and south, desert and forest, purity and corruption, fame and infamy. What appears as exaggerated sarcasm is, to a large degree, just holding up a mirror to the Nigerian society. Rather than a satirical caricature, the work is a chronicle as the title denotes.