Wole Soyinka at 86: Why I enlisted in the military but fled…
Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, a proud son of Nigeria, African statesman and global citizen, is 86 years old (13 July 2020).He explained why he enlisted in the Nigerian Army officer Corp but decided to leave after a period. He would have become a retired General now!
He said this during an interview with him on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2014. Now he is 86.
In his words: “I dedicated my Nobel Prize to Nelson Mandela. Why should that surprise you? I have been obsessed with South Africa since I was politically conscious. I told you, that was why I entered the military as a student joining the officer corps for a short while. I fled when they were going to pack me to the Suez instead of where I wanted to go – which was South Africa. I packed up my kit, saying “No, I wanted to train for South Africa, not for the Suez. You go and capture a canal on someone’s land, then declare war when he resists, and then you call me up to serve. Remember the Anglo-French invasion? I was called up and I said “No, that was not it”. That was why I left the officer corps. Fortunately, we the interior native – you know, the colonialists were very funny. Those in Lagos were British subjects, we from Abeokuta etc, the interior, were ‘protected subjects’ and we were not fully bound by the laws of the British. I was not a British citizen. I was like a second class citizen, not a real British citizen. Nice to be a second class citizen sometimes. I was able to go back to my studies after the intervention of the Students’ Adviser for foreign students.
He added: “I have always been obsessed with South Africa. And Mandela represents for me the bearer of African dignity. That’s why I used that expression that “the soul of Africa has departed” when he died. It was something which I didn’t really have to think about, that was how I felt on Nelson Mandela’s death. I did some reading at Marymount University after his death. It’s been a personal obsession with me. It was the most natural thing for me to have dedicated that lecture to Nelson Mandela. I remember our first meeting after his release as one of the most moving encounters of my existence.”