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First Person: I Went To Wole Soyinka’s House And Came Back With A Nickname

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Tuesday, October 20, 2015, at about 8:30 pm, I had finished most my day’s work and was planning on retiring to bed (I have what people might call insomnia, so I have devised a way to get sleep, I go to bed before 10pm). But for some reason I cannot place my finger on, I decided to log into Facebook and saw a message from Onyeka Nwelue, he asked me where I was, I replied: “Ikotun.” Then he told me that he was going to speak with Wole Soyinka the next morning. I asked “Should I come through?” and he replied “If you want to”. I answered him “hahahaha… I want to.”

For those who don’t know, Onyeka Nwelue is working on a documentary on legendary writer, Flora Nwapa, who was a contemporary of Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and other evergreen writers of that generation, Hence the need to speak with him.

So the next morning I was up early and hit the road by 5:30am. If you are conversant with Ikotun, you will know that the traffic in that area is of legendary proportions. I left early in order to meet up with Onyeka and the rest of his 10 man crew made up of his assistant, Fellowship Okereke; cousin and entrepreneur, Gerald Konwea; Kuby Uyanga; German-American tourist. Conrad Whitaker, among others.

By 9 am, we started for Abeokuta. Our appointment was for 1pm. By 11 am we were in Abeokuta, but hunger was taking its toll on all of us, so we contracted a motorcycle rider to show us a good place to have amala. After a few minutes’ drive, we arrived at a spot called ALAGA Food canteen. We got in and in a few minutes we had downed several plates of amala, ewedu and assorted meat. Conrad, who was on his first trip to Nigeria, had earlier told me that he was looking forward to eating native Nigerian meals, so he had his chance and although he somewhat maltreated the poor food, but ended up cleaning the plate. He must have enjoyed it thoroughly.

After our meal, we headed for Soyinka’s house, we were on time. By 12:30 or thereabout we were at his house. On getting to the entrance we saw a number of signposts but the one that caught our fancy the most read: “Trespassing vehicles will be shot and eaten.” I asked: How do vehicles get eaten and by whom or what?

Well we got in only to be told that he had stepped out a few minutes before.  “Well we are here, and we are not going anywhere, even if it means buying mattresses and sleeping here,” Onyeka said as he sat on the floor.

Let me talk about his house a little. The building itself is not so big; it’s just looking a tad complicated, but that is good for someone who is creative and more importantly should be security conscious. I am not good with estimating land area, so I’ll just say the rest of the “compound”- if I can call if that – is what can be best described as nature. All you see is trees. A lot of them, everywhere is green. There’s a also little stream in which he later called his River Ogun.

While we waited, we took out a few drinks and helped ourselves out as we talked, joked and took photographs. About an hour later, a black SUV drove in. We all rose to our feet, and there he was, exactly how had always looked on television, only this time in real person.

Then he spoke, the baritone I have mimicked so many times. Ha-ha. He told us to give him a few minutes; we set up camera and took positions.

Soon enough he was back and Onyeka started the interview session. Onyeka told him of a few similarities between himself and Flora Nwapa. They spoke about other writers, Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Achebe and others.

Soyinka availed that although he did not have a problem with Achebe’s “There Was a Country” since it was a personal narrative; he feels that Achebe took some conclusions which were not the exact representation of things on ground. He spoke about the Biafran war, which he deeply regretted. He also spoke about how influential Achebe’s writings were, how Emecheta had to run to him when publishers wanted everybody to write like Achebe.

Clearly, Soyinka admired Achebe. When Onyeka asked him how many honorary doctorate degrees he had, Soyinka mentioned that he had only one-third of Achebe’s doctorate degrees. Then he went back to regretting the war. He shook his head and said “It’s a pity about the war.”

They talked about a lot of things, but it would be better if you see and hear them for yourself in the documentary proper.

At a point, Soyinka wanted to buttress a point he was making. He pointed at me and said “HEY, YOU FUCKFACE.” It was not a planned remark though, but there… Wole Soyinka called me Fuckface.

When they were done, mobile phones came out as everyone wanted to take pictures with the octogenarian, but he calmly replied: “I’m not really into all these paparazzi business, just a shot or two and I’m done.” So he took one shot with Onyeka and another group picture with everyone.

As we left, Onyeka quckly asked his how many cars have been “eaten” so far, and Soyinka humorously replied: “They don’t make tasty vehicles these days.” At this we laughed and bade him goodbye, with happiness in our hearts.

It was worth the journey. Unfortunately, on our way back I lost my internet modem. But it was worth it, I guess.

See photos from the visit below:

Ephraim Adiele is the Associate Editor of The Trent Online. He can be reached by email HERE and on Facebook.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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