interviewBy Ademola Adegbamigbe and Tayo Odunlami
Professor Sola Adeyeye, an old friend of Professor Soyinka, says his wife blames his sudden passion for wine On the Nobel Laureate. He spoke with Ademola Adegbamigbe and Tayo Odunlami.
How, where and when did you meet Prof. Wole Soyinka?
I met Soyinka about 1968, I was then an undergraduate and he was, of course, a lecturer at the University of Ibadan. We didn't meet through academics, we met through a mutual friend, Chief Bola Ige, who, as you know, was one of Soyinka's best friends and who was a very very good friend of mine and I considered him an uncle.
I would say that I have been his admirer. I believe he is one of the greatest human beings who ever lived. And I certainly believe that he would rank as one of the greatest Nigerians of all time. Of course we all know that he is a great writer otherwise he would not have won the Nobel prize. But my relationship with him transcends letters and the arts, I am not an arts collector, I see him as a great mind, a creative mind, a revoluntionary and of course an organiser and I consider him a mentor.
Can you tell us what you know about the operation of Radio Kudirat?
Radio Kudirat, the name originated from Wole Soyinka's mind. He felt that Olayinka Kudirat Abiola had given her all in the pursuit of liberty for Nigeria.
And therefore deserved a unique honour and that unique thing was that Radio Kudirat was the first radio station to be named after a woman. The initial hope was that it would not only be an organ for the liberation of Nigeria but that as much Nigerians that would be liberated would use it for the liberation of other African countries.But in any case the idea for a radio actually began from many minds.Prior to radio Kudirat there had been Radio Freedom, which was an FM station that was housed in the coconut groove. But different groups were working on this idea of having a radio station and at a point we began to know about the effort of one another and we then agreed to pull resources, so you cannot say that one group brought was solely responsible.We had usefull contributions from some NGO's, some activists, some NADECO people and some politicians.Though it must be emphasised that, but for the commitment, the resources and the clout that Wole Soyinka exerted on the international community the project would have been a nullity. I would not be fair to the other contributors if I give the impression that it was his own effort alone. Infact, the names of some of those who put their best to that radio have never been mentioned. And I don't think it is time to mention their names yet because some of the basic causes of the woes of yesteryears are still around and if need be, it maybe necessary to resurrect that radio station in the nearest future. Left to me, if I had to do everything all over again I would not have used my name everyday on air as I did on Radio Kudirat. If that radio station had to come alive again I know I would be one of the prime suspects but of course, we leave that issue for the future.
Can you recall some indelible moments you shared with Prof. Soyinka?
I tell you I can remember scores of times and a few of them always come to my mind. One of them, there was an occasion where it became necessary for both of us to meet in a location.He was at that time in California and I was in Washington and he called me and asked me to meet him in Dallas, Texas. And we boarded the same plane from Dallas to the place. During landing we ran into the most severe storm I have ever experienced in an aircraft.It was a big plane, It wasn't a small craft and the plane was rocking back and forth and everybody was screaming. At that moment it occurred to me that we might die and I said to Professor Soyinka, Prof. I don't mind dying for this struggle, but the only regret I would have, if a dead man can have any regret, is, should we die today here, the world newspaper will devote pages upon pages upon pages for you and they will just write one line for me. They will just say Sola Adeyeye a Professor of biology who also died in the plane. I said if I'll die in a plane crash I would like to die alone so that at least I can get my own paragraph. And I got a most unique response from the Prof.
He looked at me and clenched his fist and punched the body of the plane and said Omo Ogun ni mi, Ogun o ni pa mi ... .. that is to say I am the son of Ogun and Ogun will not kill his own son. What struck me about that was that I take my Christian faith very seriously and wondered; here is this man whom I would refer to as an "unbeliever" in the moment of life crisis, teaching me how to have faith in the providence of God. I will always remember that occasion. Of course, I don't believe in Ogun, I believe that it was by the Grace of God that we came out of it alive. Another moment that I can tell you about was on my birthday in 1998. It was in Europe and he came to a hideout where he was to brief me on some of our liberation efforts. He flew in from the US just to be with me and a few hours before he got to the hideout, we got the news that Frank Kokori and others had been released in Nigeria. When we met for dinner, I didn't know he hadn't heard the news. I just said by the way, have you heard that Frank Kokori has been released and Kongi just got up and began to dance at a public restaurant, it was so ecstatic. Frank Kokori junior was staying with me in my house in the USA. To see a Nobel laureate in an Indian restaurant doing an African dance, it was quite a unique sight, I remember that.
Way back in Ibadan, I think when Kunle Adepeju was killed during the first riot of the 70's. There was the Justice Kassim enquiry instituted to probe the student unrest of the time. I remember that Kanmi Ishola Oshobu and Gani Fawehinmi were prominent lawyers representing the students at that time. And Gani Fawehinmi especially had been most reverred.He threw questions at Prof. Lambo and at a point I remember Lambo began to speak very bad grammar from the witness stand.When it was Soyinka's turn to speak, he spoke and spoke,at a time, you could see that he had been transported from the room where the inquiry was taken place to a zone of his own. When he finished, Gani as usual tried to ask him question among other things.
What was he talking about?
He was talking about the decay of the system, decay in the university system and administration, decay in the government, decay in the student system that fostered the environment where students had to go on strike for food that had to result in the death of an innocent student. So, Gani Fawehinmi said "as an educationist" And Soyinka said "I beg your pardon I am not an educationist". Gani said afterall you've done this, you lecture here and there. Soyinka said yes! That makes me a teacher not an educationist. And Gani said you wrote this and wrote that and Soyinka said that makes me an author. Everytime Soyinka corrected Fawehinmi, the whole court rocked with laughter and it was obvious that this man knows his onions. At the end of the day the Chairman of the enquiry said: "Mr. Soyinka, are you here as the lecturer or are you here on behalf of the university or you are here on behalf of the students"? Soyinka said: "I have come to blow the trumpet of conscience." I thought that was great. I still think so.
Looking back and forth at your relationship would you say that Soyinka has been a pathfinder and motivator or how would you place him outside of himself ?
The one word I can use for him and I am sure he will not like it, is that he is a prophet. I can tell you he sees well ahead of his peers. Even some of the problems that later arose in the political process Soyinka saw well ahead of time and he tried to warn politicians to steer clear and adopt different postures from the stands they took.
Although politicians are politicians they have their own way of doing things. But you can also say that on many international issues. Soyinka has always been way ahead of the rest of the nation. Let me give you an example. When in the name of not interfering in the internal affairs of member nations, OAU nations chose to be silent over Idi Amin, Soyinka was among the first to issue a statement declaring public support for late Dr. Nyerere when he led forces to topple Amin. And history has proved that Nyerere was right. His role on the Biafran war is also another case in point. We all want Nigeria to be united but if Nigeria will be united it should be united on the basis of respect for human life, for dignity, for civil liberty. Unity should not be achieved through the barrel of the gun. In any case, when you keep a nation together by the barrel of the gun, all you create is a state of constant chaos. And as he once told us, to keep Nigeria one, justice must be done. And we have seen to a large extent that ours is a very unjust society we have not heard the kind of unity and peace that our people deserve.
Have you ever had any disagreement? What was it about?
First and foremost, I take religion seriously. I believe in the Bible from cover to cover and in the cover themselves. But I respect him for his views on that, he and I have talked about that extensively. I have to make a convert out of him and it will be a happy day for me when I see a Wole Soyinka that is born-again. Having said that, the question, is, are there issues in politics and public affairs on which we disagree? Yes, but I will not discuss that on the pages of any newspaper. I think in the article I wrote after the published speech between the president and himself. I did write that at the meeting the three of us had among Soyinka, Bola Ige and myself, there were instances where Soyinka and Ige were together against me and there were occasions where Ige and I were together and so on. So I believe that we are still people of our own minds, we give and take sometimes and atimes you bow to superior argument. Let's talk about international politics. For instance, on the matter between Iraq and USA, Soyinka issued a statement, which on the surface might be interpreted to be pro-Iraq. I was pro USA and I said that not because I want the US to invade another country but people forget that the record of Saddam Hussein in office has been most despicable. Look at the genocide that occurred under this man. I felt that God was using America to invoke his own judgement on Iraq. But Soyinka would not like that kind of logic, he would insist on rule of law and all that..
What exactly were the secrets Bola Ige told you and Prof. Soyinka?
You have to remember that Ige and I and Soyinka had this long duscussion three weeks before Ige was murdered. And during those two days I slept on the same bed with Bola Ige. On the day he was killed, I spoke with him three times and I called him four times and the fourth time, he was not there only for me to be called later by Prof. Wole Soyinka and be told me that Ige had been assassinated. Yes, there were things he told me but I still believe it is still too early to divulge them.
In the years of struggle were there any moment you felt threatened?
First and foremost, we were infiltrated by Abacha people. They joined our organisation and stole our money. I raised a large sum of money that we sent through a treasurer who was sponsored by Soyinka and the treasurer went away with our money. Later we reckoned that he must have been working for Abacha. You learn your lesson and move on. A struggle that was as protracted as the one we had and with the kind of limited resources we had, it was bound to have some setbacks.
You just talked about trust, was he too trusting, believing in people too much?
Soyinka is a great man but Soyinka is human we are not saying he's perfect by no means. But some of us who are his admirers know all his weaknesses but that is not the discussion for the day. We've seen quite frankly one or two elements that we thought should not be around him. We've seen some impostors and those who want to use his name as a ticket to the corridors of powers. That is okay. In life, you take the good, the bad and the ugly.
Do you share his love for wine and women?
There is one thing that my wife does not like about Wole Soyinka and that is that he was the one who taught me how to drink wine. I was raised in an Anglican home but in my days at Ibadan, I became a Baptist and I took it seriously.
For years, I never drank, offered nor gave anything that had to do with wine. But in the last 20 years, studies have shown that a little red wine is good for your health and studies have also shown that France has the least amount of cardio-vascular diseases. That fact has been attributed to their consumption of wine. And the southern part of USA where wine is not taken has the worst incident of cardio-vascular diseases. From about the time that Prof. and I became very close, a little sip here and a little there, before I knew it, I was into wine. But I don't have any apology for that because I looked through the Bible again and I have seen that the Bible warns you not to get drunk, but I don't take beer, I don't take hard liquor, I don't take spirits, but there is no place in the bible where they say don't take wine.In fact when we get to heaven we will see a tumbler in the hands of our saviour Jesus Christ. I know people may want to kill me for this. But really I am not a wine connoisseur like Soyinka. He's the only person that can go to the best hotel in the world and order a kind of wine that would make the Oyinbo there to say where is this black man from ? As for women; I told you I take my Christian faith seriously and as a married man, I am not given the chance to be at liberty to follow any other woman beside my wife. I learnt that Soyinka is a lady's man. I will not be surprised because he's a charismatic human being. Throughout history, great men have always had their way with ladies.