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Soyinka's Birthday: 20 Facts You Need To Know About Him.

The literary icon whose full name is; Akinwande Oluwole "Wole" Babatunde Soyinka was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Theater performances like the one above are usually staged in in honour of Soyinka on his birthday.

Here are 20 facts about him we thought to share.

1. Cars Are Not Allowed in His Forest

One strange thing about Wole Soyinka's house apart from being located in a forest in Abeokuta, Ogun state is that he does not allow cars past a certain point. There are clear signposts instructing all to park their cars and proceed on foot. Many people find it very strange at first, but the literary icon is intent on preserving the purity of his surroundings.

Here is one of the signposts:

A sign warns trespassers to stay off Soyinka's country home in Abeokuta

2. Wole Soyinka's first son has a black belt in Karate

Wole Soyinka's first son, Olaokun Soyinka is the former commissioner of health of Ogun state, Nigeria. He has a black belt in Karate and is the result of the marriage between Soyinka and his first wife British multicultural educationist, Barbara Dixon. He is also a practicing medical doctor.

Olaokun-Soyinka is Soyinka's medical doctor soon

3. Wole Soyinka has been married to three wives

Soyinka has been married three times and divorced twice. He has children from his three marriages. His first marriage was in 1958 to the late British writer, Barbara Dixon, whom he met at the University of Leeds in the 1950s. Barbara was the mother of his first son, Olaokun.

His second marriage was in 1963 to Nigerian librarian Olaide Idowu,[35] with whom he had three daughters, Moremi, Iyetade (deceased), Peyibomi, and a second son, Ilemakin. Soyinka married Folake Doherty in 1989, to whom he is currently married.

Barbara Dixon. Photo Credit: Karl McClarty

4. Wole Soyinka is in the Guiness Book of Records

Although many know he is a Nobel Laureate, many do not know he is the first African to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Wole Soyinka at the Nobel Prize 1986

5. Wole Soyinka fled Nigeria on a motorcycle once

During the military reign of General Sani Abacha, Wole Soyinka who spoke out against the government had to flee via the 'NADECO' route.

(According to Wikipedia; The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was formed on May 15, 1994 by a broad coalition of Nigerian democrats, who called on the military government of Sani Abacha to step down in favor of the winner of the June 12, 1993 election, M. K. O. Abiola.  The members mostly came from the southwest of the country. They quickly became the symbol of mass resistance against military rule).

Wole Soyinka fled on a motorcycle to preserve his life. General Abacha proclaimed a death sentence against him "in absentia". With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his nation.

A young Wole Soyinka

6. Wole Soyinka was once declared wanted in Nigeria

Wole Soyinka was once declared wanted in connection with the NBC blackout in October 1965. He  seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and made a national broadcast demanding the cancellation of the rigged Western Nigeria Regional Elections.  He was subsequently arrested.

Wole Soyinks declared wanted by the Nigerian government

7. Wole Soyinka wrote poetry on tissue paper

While behind bars despite being denied access to pens and paper, he improvised. Soyinka wrote poetry on tissue paper, which was published in a collection titled Poems from Prison. His experiences in prison are recounted in his 1972 book The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka.

Wole Soyinka arrested

8. Soyinka wrote a play in one week

One of his greatest plays 'Death and the King's Horseman' was written in just one week. The play was based on a real incident that took place in Nigeria during British colonial rule: the horseman of an important chief was prevented from committing ritual suicide by the colonial authorities.

9. Femi Johnson assisted Wole Soyinka with money

Femi Johnson the son of Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson (born February 9, 1936)  a retired Nigerian Army Brigadier and former military Governor of Lagos State from May 1967 to July 1975 gave Soyinka a cash to start building his house in Abeokuta after the latter suddenly realized he could not access his money in his bank account. Soyinka was left devastated after Femi passed.


10. Fela is Wole Soyinka's Cousin

Wole Soyinka's mother was one of the most prominent members of the influential Ransome-Kuti family: she was the daughter of Rev. Canon J. J. Ransome-Kuti, and sister to Olusegun Azariah Ransome-Kuti, Oludotun Ransome-Kuti and sister in-law to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Among Soyinka's cousins were the musician Fela Kuti, the human rights activist Beko Ransome-Kuti, politician Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and activist Yemisi Ransome-Kuti.

Fela Ransome Kuti was Soyinka's generation

11. Wole Soyinka left the Christian faith

Wole Soyinka revealed in an interview that he has "lost his Christian faith and has a good relationship with all the various religions". Although he grew up in a home where he went to church and sang in the choir, Wole Soyinka later grew up to become an atheist, who also appreciated traditional religions.

12. Wole Soyinka founded Nigeria's oldest confraternity

Wole Soyinka and six others founded the Pyrates Confraternity, the first confraternity in Nigeria. Pyrates was founded to be an anti-corruption and justice seeking organization. Although this was later hijacked for wrong purposes by the younger generation.

13. Wole Soyinka's best friend is Femi Johnson

According to Wole Soyinka himself, his best friend was the late Femi Johnson. Femi Johnson whom we mentioned above has been described as one of Africa's finest insurance broking practitioners. Femi Johnson a wealthy insurance broker, was one of the people who came to Soyinka's aid to hide him or give him financial support many times he got into trouble.

14. His play was produced by the Royal Court

In 1957,  his play 'The Invention' was the first of his works to be produced at the Royal Court Theatre. At that time his only published works were poems such as "The Immigrant" and "My Next Door Neighbour", which were published in the Nigeria.

15. Wole Soyinka went into self imposed exile twice

In April 1971, concerned about the political situation in Nigeria, Soyinka resigned from his duties at the University in Ibadan, and began years of voluntary exile. In July in Paris, excerpts from his well-known play The Dance of The Forests were performed.

16. He delivered a speech on Chibok in 2014

According to Wikipedia; in August 2014, Soyinka delivered a recorded of his speech "From Chibok with Love" to the World Humanist Congress in Oxford, hosted by the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the British Humanist Association. The Congress theme was Freedom of thought and expression: Forging a 21st Century Englightenment. He was awarded the 2014 International Humanist Award.

17. His father was an Anglican minister

His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka (whom he called S.A. or "Essay"), was an Anglican minister and the headmaster of St. Peters School in Abẹokuta.

18. Wole Soyinka's mother was an activist

Soyinka's mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka (whom he dubbed the "Wild Christian"), owned a shop in the nearby market. She was a political activist within the women's movement in the local community. She was also Anglican.

19. He studied Greek history

Contrary to the popular orientation during his time, Wole Soyinka went on to study something quite different. He studied English literature, Greek, and Western history at the University of Ibadan, which was then affiliated with the University of London.

20. He was a Professor at Obafemi Awolowo University

From 1975 to 1999, he was a Professor of Comparative Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ife. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, he was made professor emeritus. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
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