Here are some things you may not know about literary icon and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who turns 85 on Saturday as we celebrate a living legend and a true son of The Nigerian heritage:
- He is related to Afrobeat Legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Soyinka is the cousin of the late revolutionary African musician Fela Kuti. Wole’s mother, Grace, was a member of the Ransome-Kuti family known for its contributions to Nigerian art, religion, education, medicine and politics. Aside from Fela, his other cousins include activists Beko Ransome-Kuti and Yemisi Ransome-Kuti and former Health Minister Late Olikoye Ransome-Kuti.
- He has been married three times and divorced twice: 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 with whom he had three daughters: Moremi, Iyetade (deceased), Peyibomi and a second son, Ilemakin. He has been married to his third and current wife, Adefolake Soyinka since 1989 and has three children with her. Adefolake is a former student of Soyinka.
- He fled Nigeria on a motorcycle hounded by Abacha: During the military reign of General Sani Abacha, Wole Soyinka who spoke out against the junta had to flee via the ‘NADECO’ route. Wole Soyinka fled on a motorcycle to preserve his life. General Abacha pronounced a death sentence on him “in absentia”. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to the nation. 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 favour 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.
- He wrote poems on tissue paper while in prison: 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.
- He has been named Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: This is a Nigerian honor first established in 1964 people who served and benefited Nigeria. Soyinka was awarded in 1986, the same year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The medal was awarded in 1986 by General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler. On Sunday, July 24, 1994, he threw away his ‘national merit’ medal in Tafawa Balewa Square. He got angry that police halted the march he led for the restoration of democracy, end to military rule and release of Chief MKO Abiola.
- He does not allow trespassing cars in his forest: The literary icon is intent on preserving the purity of his surroundings. There are clear signposts with this order in his forest in Abeokuta, Ogun state.
- He helped found the first confraternity in NigeriaWhile pursuing a degree in English literature, Greek and Western history at University College in Ibadan, Soyinka helped founded the Pyrates Confraternity with six others. It was built as an anti-corruption and justice-seeking student organization, themes that would play into much of his later work.
- He is not religious although his father was an Anglican minister: His father, Samuel Ayodele Soyinka (whom he called S.A. or “Essay”) was an Anglican minister and headmaster of St. Peters School in Abẹokuta. His mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, owned a market shop, was active in the women’s movement in her community and also was a practicing Anglican. Soyinka, on the other hand, is an atheist. His beliefs contributed greatly to his writing. Photo Credit: Getty