YEARS after presenting a ‘spotless’ ram to the late Prof. Chinua Achebe to mark his 60th birthday, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has described as barbaric the insinuation from those he referred to as ‘homicidal clerics’ that the gift caused Achebe’s accident.
Achebe, an octogenarian, who died in the United States (U.S.) recently, was given a state burial in Anambra State.
Soyinka, in a statement entitled ‘The Village Mourners Association’, said it was lamentable that some people could ridicule him in such manner.
The statement reads: “What happened was that I found myself unable to return to Nigeria for a Colloquium in honour of Chinua’s sixtieth birthday. My dramatic mind immediately scrambled for some striking manner of compensation.
“So, I telephoned a business friend who had some agricultural connections in Delta State and told him: find the chunkiest, spotless ram in Delta State – all white or all black, but a thoroughbred of striking physique.
“Find a leather pouch, tie it to its neck with the following message and deliver it at the venue of the Colloquium. I no longer recall the exact dictated wording, nothing inspirational, just the usual felicitations and injunctions to turn that ram into ‘asun’ for general feasting.
“Those who attended the event will recall the grand entry of the gift – as reported by one and all, including the foreign visitors, and Chinua’s reported reaction, seated on the podium. He shook head and said, ‘Typical of Wole.’
“The ram was then led off to meet its destiny at the hands of the gathered. (As a side note, it was I who took a gift away from his seventieth at Bard University – a sobering flash of time past that resulted in my ELEGY FOR A NATION. I had that poem re-published to mark the day of his funeral.)
“Our story is only beginning. On the way back from that celebration, Chinua had his accident and was flown to the United Kingdom. At the first opportunity, I made my way there and called up the High Commissioner, Dove-Edwin, who was certain to know the hospital location.
“It turned out that he also planned a visit that afternoon, and he agreed to give me a ride. We waited – I was joined by two others – waited, and waited, then a phone call came from him that the visit had been called off. The High Commissioner would explain why, on arrival – over a promised dinner, as compensation.
“That explanation was this: Dove-Edwin had received communication that some of ‘Chinua’s people’ – a university professor among them, who was named – had pronounced publicly that ‘Chinua should have known better than to accept a spotless ram from his enemy’ – yes, that was the word used – ‘enemy.’
“I verified this report from various other sources. Later, an alternative diagnosis surfaced: ‘Chinua had been too long away from the chieftaincy politics of his hometown, otherwise he would have realized that the title that he took was coveted by some others – and these were deeply steeped in traditional psychic combat.’
“In short, those rivals ‘did him in.’ Both diagnoses competed for dominance for a while, petering out eventually.
“Before the promotion of that alternative cause-and-effect however, Dove-Edwin had re-scheduled, and we had a most bracing, optimistic afternoon with Chinua. Yes, our patient was eventually told the cause of the earlier postponement, and he had a good laugh.
“On my return to Nigeria, I could not wait to take the opportunity of a public lecture to invite all desperate enemies to please send me their rams of choice – spotless, spotted, piebald, striped or nondescript – so I could treat starving writers to free meals in my home for the rest of the year. And I promised to taste a piece of each ram before serving.”
On his critics, Soyinka said: “Äs a teacher, I lament your failure to use the opportunity of the passing of a revered writer to turn your younger generation in enlightened directions. You have chosen instead to coarsen their sensibilities and breed in their minds misunderstanding, suspicion and above all – hate!”
“You will have understood by now how I have come to view you as no different from the homicidal clerics who arm youths with kerosene and match, cudgel and knife, a few Naira in their beggars’ bowls, and dispatch them to set fire to structures of comradely cohabitation, of reflection, of mind enlargement, and destroy communities of learning.
“Your gospel of separatism goes beyond the geographical – in which I have not the slightest interest! – but the humanistic. The difference is in the weapon – in your case, poison, mind corrosion.
“The means – Internet, and it’s wide open, undiscriminating generosity. That is where you lay spores of poison, and doom future generations to a confinement of human relationships within the darkest corners of the mind. You are beyond pity. Kindly absent your selves from my funeral, when that event finally intrudes”.