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Soyinka: My grandfather told me not to run away from fights

Wole Soyinka (Photo courtesy of African Drum Festival)

Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, who turned 85 in July, has said that his grandfather helped to nurture the boldness and determination to always face up to injustice and wrongdoing. He touched on this and more in a recent interview with journalist and author  Kunle Ajibade (Executive Director, The NEWS) and published on PM News.

Soyinka pointed out that his grandfather’s philosophy was the opposite of the Christianity-based beliefs of his parents, which schooled faithfuls to be meek and gentle.

“Definitely, my grandfather was very observant and he was also a great traditionalist. He observed a tug of war, in me, at least, in the teachings of my immediate parents in Abeokuta. The Christian turn-the-other-cheek ethos, and my sense of something not quite right about it,” Soyinka said in the interview.

Soyinka paraphrased the exact words from the encounter in Isara, when he was just a little boy, as follows. “…I think it was a psychological boost which he effected through what he said to me with those incisions: You’re going to be involved in many fights in your life and I want you to know that you must never run away from fights. If it’s a bigger boy, fight him. If he beats you up, don’t worry when you see him again, tackle him. If he beats you, don’t worry. The third time, either you will beat him, or he will be ashamed of himself.”

Speaking more on the events that shaped his childhood and his relationship with people later in life, Soyinka recounted times lived with cousins and non-relatives who his parents took in to live with them and who had to be treated like they blood relatives.  

“I grew up very early recognising wrong from right. Also, upbringing had to do with it. You know in traditional households, you had poor relations living with you or your family, waifs and strays picked up by your parents, their sense of concern for those people I absorbed all of that. And one of the things which I learnt very early from my parents was that they did not distinguish between their own children and the so-called poor relations, dependants who were sent to them as housemaids, house-boys…” Soyinka recalled.

He continued: “If you made the mistake of trying to treat them as if they were different from the rest of the family, you got the beating of your life. So we didn’t make that mistake twice.”

It is largely why he can’t look away when he sees less privileged people being badly treated.  

“If I see a Nigerian, for instance, traducing a non-Nigerian, I don’t care whether that Nigerian is from my own village, I will take the side of the other person,” he said.

Pressed further on the subject, he added: ”Yes, of the victim, of the disadvantaged, of the exploited. I have an instinctive solidarity with the exploited.”

Much as he is committed to fighting the causes he believes in, he said however that he would rather be doing other things, facing his creative endeavours particularly. 

“I’m a writer, I’m a creative person. I would rather be writing plays and poems. And,of course, there’s the leisure aspect: I’d rather be in the bush just by myself communing with nature.”

Also in the interview, he x-rayed the complexities of Nigeria, the many unfortunate turns of events, where the country got it wrong and the best way to get back on the path of progress, including how the youths, activists and social media can make a difference in political struggles.

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