woleProgrammes for the 80th birthday celebration of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, draw stakeholders to his home tucked away in a forest in Abeokuta, Ogun State, AKEEM LASISI writes.

Like a snail that hides in a shell, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has, since over two decades ago, sought to secure privacy in his ‘exclusive’ house. The location of the house in a faraway bush in Abeokuta, Ogun State, says a lot about its owner in terms of a writer in need of privacy and a hunter who wants to catch animals at will.

But the house is no longer as distant from the town as it used to be. The neighbouring Kenta Estate it is steadily becoming so large that it is inching close to the legend’s ‘hide-out’. But it is still an interesting experience visiting the haven.

As soon as you leave the Kenta Estate proper, you are ushered into Soyinka’s territory an imposing forest staring you in the face by a number of notices inscribed on white planks nailed to some veteran trees. Based on the wit and humour embedded in the messages, you could rightly guess that they were composed by Soyinka himself.

While one, for instance, says ‘Vehicles are by appointment only’, another simply warns, ‘Trespassing vehicles will be shot and eaten.”

As a prelude to the 80th birthday of the landlord, some culture promoters, Ogun State Government functionaries and journalists visited the place on Wednesday. This was courtesy of the organisers of the Open Door Series and the International Cultural Exchange, who used the opportunity to unveil programmes of the 2014 edition of the projects that also celebrate Soyinka.

At the centre of these is the Alhaji Teju Kareem founded Zmirage Multimedia Limited, backed by the Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Rivers State Governments. The Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Mr.Taiwo Adeoluwa; Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Yewande Amusan; Kareem and the producer, Lillian Amah-Aluko, led the contingent into the grove.

This edition will feature some plays, but the star is Soyinka’s independence classic, A Dance of the Forests, a play that foresaw the contradictions that have continued to becloud the Nigerian dream. Directing the play is Tunde Awosanmi, who has done justice to a good number of works in recent years.

While he has directed Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvests, Awosanmi seems to be ideologically and emotionally attached to A Dance of the Forests, which he regards as the playwright’s most important play. He describes it as being very loaded, adding that it establishes the genius of Soyinka, though he wrote it when he was 26.

He said at the conference where seasoned actors, such as Edmond Enaibe and Steve Ogundele were also present, “Dance of the Forests is the most profound of all Soyinka’s plays. It was supposed to be performed at Nigeria’s independence. But because of its critical nature, it was denied performance. When you watch it on July 13, you will participate in the psychoanalysis of it.”

Adeoluwa also said Kongi was worth celebrating because he had put the name of the state positively on the world map and that he had achieved a significant feat by joining the octogenarian class, having lived as a non-conformist.

“For a man who has led a non-conformist life to live to be 80 years is a significant feat. It is worth celebrating,” he said.

Amusan, on her part, explained that the state government was not just supporting the celebration because Soyinka is an illustrious son of Ogun but because “he has also been an untiring fighter for social justice.”

She noted that the celebration “symbolises a continuation of the life of an inspirational man who has fought and is still fighting for the dignity of man, the rights of individuals, unity and security of his country.”

Kareem expressed happiness that organisers had begun to realise some of the objectives of the WS/ICE project. He listed the essay competition among secondary school students from all over Nigeria, children’s creative and cultural presentation, tours of landmark places, conferences on national life and state of Africa, poetry performances and plays as some of the programmes that will happen.

Enaibe and Ogundele recalled their early encounters with Soyinka and noted that he deserved to be honoured.

For the Managing Director of Terra Kulture, Lagos, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, what Z-Mirage and Ogun State are doing is crucial and it is part of the need for Nigeria, nay Africa, to tell its own story.

She said, “Nature harbours a vacuum. If you don’t own your own thing, someone will own it for you. That happened to Fela on Broadway. So, it is good to do this for Soyinka. I feel honoured to be part of this.”

The visitors savoured palm wine and local delicacies at the event.

Culled from: www.punchng.com