Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has revealed how he almost killed
himself with a gun out of curiosity at the age of 10. The global
citizen, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Sunday, 13 July, revealed
this in an exclusive interview in the current special edition of TheNEWS magazine.
to Kongi, as he is fondly called, “I used to go with my father when he
hunted. It was a mere air gun but was good enough for squirrels, the
wild pigeon and occasional rabbit. I was just curious. One day I sat in
the house frontage waiting for him to come out of his bedroom so I
could accompany him.
about that part of his gun which he used to pull. I tried the same
motion and it just exploded. But he knew it was his fault so he never
chided me. He knew he should never have left that gun loaded and he knew
me enough to know that I had learnt that lesson and I didn’t need to be
reminded of it. Of course, there was a sort of mutual standoff; I
wasn’t rebuked but he knew I wasn’t going to do it again.”
said that as a child, he participated as a messenger between the
different women groups, carried messages, thoroughly enjoying himself
when the women rose in revolt against the excesses of the Alake of
Abeokuta and his ally – the district officer when an unjust tax was
imposed on them.
anti-establishment; they were anti-despotism. That is why my mother took
part as one of the lieutenants of Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti when they
rose against the excesses of the Alake of Abeokuta and his ally – the
district officer. They resisted feudal despotism on behalf of the
messenger between the different women groups, carried messages,
thoroughly enjoying myself when the women rose in revolt. Day after day,
they kept up the siege. They were threatened, they were bullied, they
were assaulted. They said, ‘No, this unjust tax must go’,” he said.
how his stubborn exuberance and pranks justified his mothers’ worries
when he was a child that his over-confidence would kill him one day, he
said, “when a child tries out something which people, even adults,
should undertake with great caution, then they think that child is
over-confident and is going to destroy himself.
think it stemmed from the fact that if I thought about something which
was possible, then I should be ready to test it. That included even the
sciences – the theoretical side of which I hated. I enjoyed trying out
the practical side of science at home— I used to perform experiments.
Things like that, you know, sometimes blew up in my face. Same with
because I felt mine was the best way. I looked at customers, studied
them and decided which arrangements would attract them more. She would
give up and let me have my way. After I had gone back to school, she
would undo everything,” he said.
experiences of how he was able to cope with older boys as a 10year-old
scholarship student at Government College, Ibadan, he said, “those
school mates of mine, they were bullies. They were terrifying because
they looked big. Some of them, I’m sure, had children already. Some had
moustaches and so they shaved every morning.
‘over-confidence’ that my mother used to complain of saved me and put me
in trouble also. Because they were big they felt they should trample
all over me. I had no hesitation in taking them on. It was a very good
training because you defeat people like that largely with moral
persistence. They knew they were misusing their power.
they turned on me, being really small, the bullying got really intense
because these big boys could not stand the idea that this rondo (small)
boy was sitting while others were standing. They couldn’t stand it. They
intensified the bullying, which made me even more aggressive. I must
confess that sometimes I was responsible for bringing disaster on my
head because I would provoke them: I would call them names they didn’t
Kolade and Mesida, and said: ‘Let’s form a tripartite alliance. Anytime
any of us is bullied, the other two would come to the rescue of the
others.’ And that’s what we did. I summoned the most notorious to our
presence and read him the riot act. We tried to move together as much as
possible. The bullying reduced.
the three of us were ganging up against bullying infuriated that
particular bully. He just couldn’t stand it. Even though the others
backed off, this individual— I remember his name very well— he just
became more and more aggressive. And he somehow sensed that it was my
library was sanctuary. When I was cornered, or didn’t feel in a battle
mood, there were two places into which I escaped – the library and the
chapel. Their respect for the latter used to amuse me, so sanctimonious!
They would back off and start circling the chapel when I sat in there,
indifferent. I used to enjoy their frustration.
would just step inside the chapel and the fool would wilt. I remember
one of them who decided to invade the library sanctuary. He didn’t want
to beat me up inside the library; so he tried to drag me out. As we
struggled, I remember that I was catapulted through the glass door and I
had a huge gash. I bled profusely. And he became frightened.
was very amusing to see this bully cowering because he thought he had
killed me. Of course, I enjoyed that sense of power over him during that
incident,” he said.
since his days as a college student, he said: “I hated snakes. I still
do. If you like, I was even scared of snakes – those creepy creatures.
Many of us have a superstitiouus dread of snakes. Since I was afraid of
them and considered them dangerous to humanity, it seemed logical not to
leave any such intruder alive – wherever possible. Made me feel safer.
preferred to attack them instead of running away. I grew up with an
attitude that you must overcome your fear – but this I only realized in
retrospect,” he averred.
as the best human being one can think of and who is very concerned
about other people and their suffering even to his own detriment
you may not know this, but that is who he is. He is someone you would
want as a friend. He is very loyal. He is the best friend you can ask
you are not going to get the Lamborghini or Bentley Continental GT, but
you will get your school fees and it won’t be late. He is very
responsible,” she said.
Commissioner for Health, Ogun State and first son, while describing him
as a father and a public figure, said to him as a kid, Soyinka looks 10
times as big and was quite scary in his mind because of his appearance
as a father, he was a very relaxed person in terms of allowing you to
be yourself, to explore your boundaries and freedoms with just one or
two fairly strict no-go areas. Following his instructions to the letter
or respecting other people or other people’s property, important roles
that kids tend to neglect, you do it at your peril.
he is not a spanker or beater. He doesn’t believe in disciplining
children with the rod. It was either he was giving you lines that you
write a thousand times after you had done something naughty. At an early
age, he established the fact that you can be strict and fair,” he said.
Soyinka-Onijala, lawyer and one of the daughters of the Professor,
recalls the thrills and the pains of growing up as a child of the Nobel
Laureate as well as the personality of the renowned playwright.
on her fondest memories of Soyinka as a father, she recalled she and
her sisters used to plait his beard and his hair because he has always
had a lot of hair.
would take a comb and we would be weaving and practising styles and all
that. And when we finished, he would say, “Now that you are done, loosen
it and comb it back.”
siblings and I used to have the opportunity to go and watch the
performances at the Arts Theatre. Because we were always free viewers,
my father would not let us sit on the chairs that are paid for, so we
had to sit on the stairs and just enjoy the show. Those are just a few
of the memories.”
nature, she said, “definitely, it was a concern and even though we are
grown up, it still is a concern, not just for us the children, but also
for the grandchildren. Our dad is not, and never was a typical dad;
neither is he a typical grandfather at all. Right from when I was a
toddler and when some of my younger siblings were born, he wasn’t around
a lot. He was either away in detention, away in exile, or pursuing
other career interests. He was at University of Ibadan briefly, and then
resigned, I can’t remember for what reason.”
magazine circulating nationwide, there are at least 17 tributes by
renowned associates, wife, sons and daughters of the professor in
commemoration of his birthday. The tributes were written by Folake
Wole-Soyinka, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Biodun Jeyifo, Femi Osofisan, Kole Omotoso,
Moremi Soyinka-Onijala, Tejumola Olaniyan and Femi Soyinka.
are Okey Ndibe, Odia Ofeimun, Akin Adesokan, Olaokun Soyinka, Promise
Ogochkwu, Folabo Soyinka-Ajayi, Bankole Olayebi and Dapo Adeniyi. Ask
your vendor for the collector’s item.