Despite his criticism of Nigerian politics, Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature, has taken a decisive step by launching his own party, Democratic Front for a People’s Federation (DFPF), a few months ahead of the West African country’s presidential elections.
“A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces”. This formula belongs to 76 year-old Wole Soyinka, a tried and tested literary man who has only just arrived on the Nigerian political scene as chairman of a “progressive” political party.
With the approach of presidential elections scheduled to take place in 2011, the internationally acclaimed Nigerian author Saturday launched the Democratic Front for a People’s Federation (DFPF). According to him “the party will be joining hands of course with more progressive elements, all progressive parties. It’s not an isolationist party.”
And he argues that the DFPF “is a party for frustrated youth and uncomfortable ideas”, at the “forefront of the watchdogs of democracy”, one that can make its voice heard without necessarily “swimming in billions”.
“My generation has failed the nation,” he said in July during his 76th birthday celebration before revealing his intention to create his own party.
“I have given up on my own generation completely. So this gift is actually for the young generation.” Nonetheless, the famous Nigerian author is not interested in the presidential seat. “I intend to take a backseat” he says.
In fact, what he really intends to do is to stop the ruling People’s Democratic Party’s stranglehold over Nigerian political power. The People’s Democratic Party party has been in power since 1999 and produced three presidents; Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Yar’Adua (who died in office) and Goodluck Jonathan.
An opposition pen
Playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, author and first black African to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, Wole Soyinka presents the typical profile of one of those rare African intellectuals dedicated to their country’s political welfare.
Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Soyinka was born in July 13, 1934 in the district of Aké, in Abeokuta, western Nigeria, to a Yoruba family. He recounts his childhood in Ake, a memoir about his youth (1981).
Soyinka attended primary school in his hometown before pursuing his secondary education in Ibadan after which went on to study at the University College, Ibadan (1952-1954) and later at the University of Leeds (1954-1957) in Great Britain where he obtained a degree, with honours, in English Literature.
Back to Nigeria
The young playwright’s enriching experience at the Royal Court Theatre in London bolsters his art when he returns to Nigeria in the early 60s. Wole Soyinka focuses on drama and founds two African troops, The 1960 Masks and in 1964, the Orisun Theatre Company.
The following years were marked by a political commitment that Soyinka traces to his childhood. The playwright begins writing radio plays that the federal government deems too critical.
Indeed, following the Biafra War, his prose, poems and views do not spare the country’s succession of military and dictatorial regimes. And it is in 1967, during the civil war, that Wole Soyinka pays the ultimate price when he is arrested by General Yakubu Gowon’s government.
He is thrown into jail for his attempts at brokering a peace between the warring parties. He spends a year and a half behind bars despite a strong international outcry. It was then that he penned Poems from Prison as well as his prison experience in his book The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972).
Wole Soyinka’s experience is symbolic of the sacrificial writer who risks his life as he fights for change. And in most cases exile is often of the essence.
Meandering his way barefoot through the bushes one night in 1994, following General Sani Abacha’s rise to power, he dashed for dear life. The renowned writer found refuge in the United States.
Upon Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in the late 90’s, Wole Soyinka returned to his country where he is professor emeritus of comparative literature at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He is also emeritus fellow of the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada.
Wole Soyinka is most definitely an intellectual combatant. In 2008 he called on the aggrieved young militants of the Niger Delta to replace gun militancy in their struggle for equity and justice with intellectual militancy in an oil-rich region whose exploitation has contributed to some of the worst social and environmental ills of the 21st century.
Last Saturday, he reiterated his appeal to the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) for them to engage in dialogue with the federal government.
The much appreciated author of Three Plays (1962) – which highlights The Swamp Dwellers also includes The Trials of Brother Jero and The Strong Breed; Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988), Myth, Literature and the African World (1975), The Interpreters (1965), etc, has not only been praised for the value he has brought to the African culture but also his contribution to the enrichment of the English language.
And his long overdue decision to launch into real politics might be the only remaining option of having his views translated into viable government policies, and finally giving his pen a golden opportunity to heave that sigh of relief.