Happy birthday to Kongi at 86.
He is larger than life. But always reminding us of his infallibility as a human being. He has severally being misunderstood but, there is no doubt where he stands and what he represents. Perhaps the last of them standing, with a genuine claim to being the conscience of the nation. He is a father most people dream to have, even when some loathe him. He is afterall human, to be loved and hated.
I have had three memorable close encounters with WS, aside having the honour of email conversations with him. Yes, to me it’s a big honour. Wole Soyinka is no ordinary person. In Yoruba mythology, such a man has earned the right to be seen as a god.
My first close encounter with WS was in 2005, as we were about to host the maiden Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism award, which I had the honour and privilege to run from 2005 – 2008. For a maiden award that projects the essence of the man and, which showcases excellence in Nigeria’s journalism, he wasn’t going to be present physically. So we decided to pin him down and shoot a speech. That task falls to baba Tunde Kelani. It was a memorable experience to be in the presence of a man who has achieved so much, many firsts and, who stood shoulder tall above many men. After the awards ceremony, we staged a dinner for WS and the winners of the award at MUSON centre on Lagos Island. And it was a perfect environment to really see WS with the humanity that he exudes.
I had a special request of him that night, which had to take him away from his sit, and he willingly obliged to my surprise, having not informed him before.
That period was in the thick of HIV stigma in Nigeria. To highlight that stigma should have no place in our society, I had Prof take a photo shoot, at a corner of the restaurant with two of my special friends, who epitomizes courage and resilience and who were in on my plan to join WS in the shoot. Imagine then seeing a Wole Soyinka in passionate hugs with young women who are open about their HIV status! That for me was it.
Recently, in my current station of work, and having lost contact with him and needing him to headline a campaign, I reached out to my darling aunty and super supporter, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, to reconnect me with WS which she gladly obliged. And then starts the email exchanges. He is at different continents almost on a daily basis. Again, I put TK on alert, just to be ready, whenever WS signaled that he is around and we can shoot. Thanks always to TK for being a father and an inspiration, always. We got it done.
On the day of the shoot, I met his son, Dr. Olaokun, a quiet but dispassionate intellectual in his own right. I have known Makin, the more outgoing of his sons earlier, and, through Makin and a big masquerade always behind the scene, I got to understand WS taste for classy grapes!
For all you represent baba, for inspiring generations after you and, for remaining consistent for decades and for the talent you offered Nigeria, let me join others to say happy 86th birthday to a god of the land. E pe fun wa.