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Setting Forth At Dawn With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka – Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Wole Soyinka did not waste any time at all from the very beginning. 

As if ordained right from the womb of his beloved mother Wild Christian, Soyinka was determined to kick aside any obstacle standing in his way from setting forth at dawn.

When he could barely stand he of his own accord followed his elder sister Tinu to start attending St. Peter’s School, Ake, Abeokuta, under the headship of his father, Essay. 

He was a brilliant, if rascally, pupil who played a lot of practical jokes, and in Standard III performed the role of The Magician on prize-giving day:

For I’m a magician 

You all must know

You’ll hear about me wherever you go

You can see my name in letters large… 

At age 10 in 1944 he was admitted into Abeokuta Grammar School (AGS) where the maverick musician Fela’s father, Rev. A. O. Ransome-Kuti, was the principal. 

Fela was of course Soyinka’s cousin. 

Soyinka was the youngest student in the school as most of his classmates could even pass for his teachers in age! 

Soyinka’s early grooming by the principal Ransome-Kuti, whom Soyinka fondly addressed as Daodu, was matched by the mother-care offered the young lad by the principal’s famous wife Olufunmilayo, whom Soyinka fondly referred to as Beere. 

Soyinka started building his stature as an activist early by serving as a go-between between his mother Wild Christian and Fela’s mother Beere in the Women’s Movement that demanded the abolition of taxing women from the District Officer, the Alake of Egbaland and his Council of Chiefs. 

In Soyinka’s second year at AGS, he sat for an examination in the bid to win a scholarship into the prestigious Government College, Ibadan (GCI) because his father wanted the best education available for the lad.   

Soyinka passed the exam and was summoned for an interview in Ibadan, and for the first time in his life he had to make a long travel without his parents or any elders. 

He eventually got admission into GCI but did not win a scholarship. 

Most of the students of GCI, drawn from all parts of Nigeria, were men just as in AGS though a good number of them were nearer his age bracket. 

One of his mates was Olumuyiwa Awe who recalled that even in Class Four Soyinka was so small in size that he was appointed the Captain of Mosquito Football Eleven, a team made up of Class One or Two students! 

The young Soyinka was a scorer for the cricket team, touring with the squad to such far-flung schools as Government College, Umuahia; Kings College, Lagos; Edo College, Benin; and Government College, Ughelli. 

He left GCI in December 1950, and was in January of 1951 appointed a stores assistant in the medical stores of the Government Medical Department in Lagos. 

Soyinka wanted to start a career in journalism and applied to the Daily Times, as depicted in his memoir Ibadan: The Penkelemesi Years:

“His goal was journalism but he failed to secure a place on one of the main newspapers – the Daily Times. All applicants took a written test. They were required to report an imagined market fight as they would expect to read it on the pages of a newspaper. He proceeded to cover eight foolscap sides of lined paper with an elaborate account that spanned the background lives of the combatants, the histories of their extended families, their business dealings, etc, etc. Others had long finished but he was carried away by a reality that had taken such a hold on his imagination, forgetting the context into which his account was expected to fit. The European invigilator looked at his watch several times with increasing ostentation, and took to walking up and down in front of his desk until finally, without a change of expression, he snatched the reams of paper from him, snarling, ‘I need my lunch. You were not asked to write up the entire newspaper, just report an incident.’”

In 1951Soyinka had one of his short stories broadcast on the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS). 

It was then the aspiring writer mastered typing and bought his first typewriter. 

He quit the job at the medical department in September 1952 following his admission into University College, Ibadan (UCI). 

A major highlight of his UCI days was the founding of the Pyrates Confraternity aimed at abolishing convention, reviving the age of chivalry, and ending elitism and tribalism. 

The original seven founders of Pyrates Confraternity are: Wole Soyinka, Muyiwa Awe, Ralph Opara, Pius Oleghe, Ikpehare Aig-Imoukhuede, Ifoghale Amata and Nat Oyelola. 

Soyinka was politically active on campus, belonging to the radical Progressive Party that opposed the policies of the Dynamic Party, and he edited the cyclostyled newsletter The Eagle.

His acting prowess was showcased while playing the part of Tobias in the play Tobias and the Angel by James Bridie, and Soyinka was the source of admiration of the few young ladies around then.

Soyinka left Ibadan for Leeds University, England, in October 1954 but continued to send articles as “Epistles of Cap’n Blood to the Abadinians” published in the campus publications The Eagle and The Criterion edited by his friends Pius Oleghe and Ralph Opara respectively. 

In one of the articles, he wrote of the strong winds blowing in England which pushed his hand so sharply that he ended up shaking the person behind him when he had actually wanted to shake the hands of the man in front of him!

In yet another article, he wrote of a white girl who kept staring at him until he felt he had won the girl’s love only for the girl to retort that she was only wondering how many averagely-sized noses can be made out of Soyinka’s big nose! 

Let me stop here before my teacher beats me up!  

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