FEATURE ARTICLE

Akin AdejumoFriday, September 29, 2006
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akinadejum@aol.com
London, UK

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“YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN”
– AN EVENING WITH WOLE SOYINKA


ateline: Southwark, London. Friday 22nd September 2006. The venue was at EMUKAY Restaurant situated at the corner of Albany Road and Camberwell Road, owned by Tunji Oyelana, affectionately called Uncle Tunji by everybody, and his delectable wife, Kike.


Professor Wole Soyinka delivering a lecture at ISS in The Hague


By 8 pm, it was standing room only. The medium sized restaurant was packed full of Nigerians and non-Nigerians. Appropriately, Southwark was the place to host this kind of event, because as is well known in London, Southwark, which includes Peckham, contains the highest concentration of Nigerians in the UK.

The event was to host Nigerians in London to spend an evening with Professor Wole Soyinka, foremost Nigerian writer, poet, artist, prisoner of conscience and the first African Nobel Laureate in Literature. A distinguished fellow who has wined and dined, discussed and debated with world leaders, Professor Soyinka is known by several nicknames such as WS (his initials), Kongi (as the author of Kongi’s Harvest), The Capone (as the founder of the National Association of Seadogs, NAS or The Pyrates Confraternity during his University of Ibadan days) or simply as Prof. The nickname you call him is entirely dependent on the type of association you have with him.

The event also incorporated the launching and signing of his latest book, You Must set Forth at Dawn. It is pertinent to note here that WS decided to launch his latest book amongst Nigerians in the UK in a very moderate setting, and as he put it, among his ”constituents” in the UK.

The food was great too, as usual. Kike Oyelana had outdone herself. Jollof rice, grilled fish on a bed of fried plantain piled with savoury condiments, her famous smoked guinea fowl, “awo”, giant snails and king prawns, akara (fried bean-cakes), moin-moin, amala, suya, fried meat with pepper, Nkwobi, isi-ewu, etc. were all available to satisfy the stomach, washed down by copious amount of wine, Star beer, Nigerian Guinness, Gulder beer, palmwine, brandy, etc.

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In attendance to honour the great, but very modest Nobel Prize winner, were several well known Nigerians and non-Nigerians in the UK and a few all the way from Europe and America. Doig Simmons, a Briton, who was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan in the 60’s and a long-term friend of Kongi was there. Peter Badejo (OBE), choreographer, artist and founder of Badejo Arts who was awarded an OBE by the Queen in the 90’s and who was one of the judges in Strictly Dancing Africa show on BBC TV, and who I like to refer to as “The Lord of the Dance” was there. Rufus Orisayomi, artist and photographer and one of “ WS’s boys” was there. Friday Ifode, popular newscaster on Nigerian TV and radio and now a Public Relations consultant was around. Yinka Ige, Theatre Arts graduate from University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, was there.

And so was Henry Folusho, another graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan. Princess Jaiye Aderemi, a granddaughter of the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, and sister of Folake Johnson, the widow of the late Femi Johnson, also graced the occasion. (I hope you get the connection between late Femi Johnson and WS). Not to be left out was Tunde Fagbenle aka Seriki, one of the first Nigerians to publish a weekly newspaper in the UK – The Nigerian Home News – in the early 90s, with his beautiful wife, Bukky. Linda Wheeler, teacher of Arts in London graced the occasion with her friends. Dr Ayo Owoade, IT Consultant and proprietor of Ovation Restaurant in London and a prominent member of PRONACO Europe and UK was there.

Other PRONACO Europe members were there too. Shola Shobowale, renowned Nigerian actress and sister to Kike Oyelana also graced the event with her bubbly presence. Mrs Efua Phillips, mother of Ronke Phillips of ITV was also there with her friend. Kayode Nathan, a long-term follower of WS was there as was Pius Bayode of the British Army. Lanre Makinde, lawyer and musician was there to assist Uncle Tunji Oyelana with the music. And of course, the regulars of Emukay were there Uncle Tunji Oyelana, artist, musician of the highest order, founder and lead singer of Tunji Oyelana and the Benders and one of the long-standing artistic collaborators of WS regaled the guests with his famous highlife music, displaying his expertise on the keyboard as well as a voice which makes people wonder that at his age of over 60, how does he manage to maintain that heavenly voice? Where does he get the energy to stand for hours playing the keyboard and singing from?

Femi Ojumu, IT Consultant and lawyer compered the event. Tony Ofoegbu, a very accomplished actor who has acted in most of Wole Soyinka’s plays, read from the first chapter of the book titled “IBA – For those who went Before” under the sub-heading “First Skirmishes – Spells of Sanity” to great applause from the audience. Next was Lola Soyinka, WS’s daughter-in-law, who read a paragraph from “First Skirmishes” which sent the audience into fits of laughter, because the paragraph dealt with one time when WS had to be taken to the University Teaching Hospital under police escort and where WS incidentally had been an affair with a nurse, so “while my obliging police escort - now back to mufti - ……stayed downstairs nursing a cold beer while I went up to be nursed”.

Then WS himself, dressed in his usual casual way, unassuming, dignified with his full head of white hair and beard, read from page 333 to 339, subtitled “ A Festival Improvised” under the main chapter “Tonight, We Improvise”, where he wrote about funny incidents while in Sienna, Italy with the Orisun Theatre, amidst respectful interruptions of appreciation, laughter, applause and toasts. His deep voice, his extraordinary command of the English language, his humour, his posture, his complete humility and humanness combined with dignity, were fully reflected in the reading and the text. Here was an Icon of our times, our very own Nigerian hero who, despite the often negative perceptions and publicity of our country, is a renowned and respected Nigerian, standing in front of us, reading from his book, interspersed with Yoruba idioms, sayings and phrases. It was a night to remember.

On conclusion of WS’s reading, questions were inevitably asked by the audience. Many were overwhelmed at being in his presence. The questions varied from Nigerian politics and problems, as one would expect anywhere where two or more Nigerians are gathered, to personal opinions and commendations to simply wanting to know his views about himself and his books, as well his escapades in the past with governments and other authorities. I will not bother to put some of these questions and answers which mostly dealt with the current political situations and issues in Nigeria in this article.

After the reading, came the personal signing of hard-back copies of You Must Set Forth at Dawn bought by members of the audience. The queue was so long that it took one hour for this to be achieved. In the meantime, the wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable music of Uncle Tunji continued, which in most cases brought good memories of Nigeria to many people. Immortal songs written by the late Papa Ambrose Campbell, Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, and his own songs. (I am always at EMUKAY Restaurant on Friday nights to enjoy the music, unless I am not in London) At around 12 midnight, Kongi departed to a standing applause and ovation. Uncle Tunji continued with his wonderful highlife music till around 1 am and then Larry Makinde took over from him to continue till, and end at 2 am.

All in all, it was a wonderful night. Kongi, WS, the Capone was here in London to pay his respects to the Nigerian community and the Nigerian community duly acknowledged him and paid him his due respect, love and affection as a noble, erudite, renowned and respected Nigerian, who has more than done Nigeria, Africa and indeed the black race all over the world proud. Yes, you must set forth at dawn, Kongi.