Citation on Professor Wole Soyinka Nobel Laureate
The First Recipient of THE OBAFEMI AWOLOWO PRIZE FOR LEADERSHIP
Emeritus Professor O.O. Akinkugbe CFR NNOM
6th March 2013
In presenting Chief Obafemi Awolowo for the degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris causa) at the University of Ibadan Convocation in November 1972 (a little over forty years ago) I, as the institution’s Public Orator at the time, drew attention to the remarkable cluster of attributes that made him stand out in his generation - a robust intellect, intense application, a rich fund of integrity, sagacity in the planning and execution of people-oriented programmes and an uncommon courage in engaging the challenges of life. I then ended with a quote from Cicero to illustrate his unquenchable commitment to freedom:
Patria cara, carior libertas
(My country is dear but liberty is dearer).
We are today in the presence of a man who justly lays claim to most of the imperishable virtues carefully delineated for the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation Leadership Prize Award. Wole Soyinka (a.k.a. WS) eminently epitomizes these attributes. We take special notice of his propensity to practice what he preaches, and this is where I invite you all to continue to celebrate a scholar in the humanities who has an edge over the rest of humanity. WS’s canvas extends well beyond leadership in public affairs, in academia, in the professions and in religion. His works and actions are relevant to, and have lessons for every department of life in society.
Soyinka’s tools are honed in his life experiences variously as a gnome in creative writing, in drama and theatre arts, in comparative literature and in African studies. He is universally acknowledged not merely as a story-teller but as a man uniquely endowed to use events of the world around him as a veritable construct of the imperatives of social justice and egalitarian identity. He does this well even when in harness.
This unique display of talent as a cerebral polyglot whose seminal works by way of Plays, Novels (fiction and non-fiction), Poetry, Biographies and Memoirs have all impacted the thinking and behavior of millions within his continent and beyond, amply demonstrating the power of the written and spoken word. Indeed, these very attributes fully justified his admission to the immortal club of Nobel Laureates a quarter of a century ago.
Soyinka may not directly relate to governance – that is not his real parish - but we know that through his versatility, his innate sense of fairness, his sustained identity with the common cause and the plight of ordinary folk and his exposure to the dangers of embracing ‘veritas’ in an environment such as ours, where truth is often an expensive commodity, he has demonstrated what true leadership is all about. All these blend seamlessly with WS’s occasional daredevil instincts and undisguised passion at protest marches for worthy causes.
It is therefore to this defender of the defenceless, a man who invariably stands up to be counted, an explorer who prides himself in setting forth at dawn, and who does this fearlessly, the archetypal critic and critique and, above all, the Ombudsman extraordinaire that we must all concede this unique Foundation Award for Leadership and invite to accept an honour so well deserved and about to be so gracefully bestowed.