Lagos @ 50: Soyinka replies Eko Foundation

Prof-Wole-Soyinka-504x336Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, has described a paid advertisement published by the EKO Foundation in the Punch of 2 June 2016 that the Soyinkas had no family house in Lagos, as ”a statement born of ignorance.”

”Worse still, the critics said that Wole Soyinka does not know the “sounds and sights” of Lagos.

Soyinka dismissed this as “a sweeping claim with no deductive basis,” adding that he grew up not only with the sounds and sights, but also the smells of Lagos.

“I smelt Lagos at its most rancid when my father was building the family house at Ebute Metta, on Franklin Street, which was then nothing but swampland, occupied by overfed mosquitoes and mudskippers. Even after completion, we continued to fish out mudskippers and sprats from the living room anytime it was flooded – which was every rainy season. In short, my family was one of the pioneer developers of that former swampland, now a flourishing sector of Yaba/Ebute Metta. By the way, at that time, my mother had her shop and temporary residence in Agarawu Street, a stone’s throw from the palace at Iga Iduganran, the heart of Lagos.”

This is Soyinka’s full response to the Eko Foundation advertisement.

A RESPONSE TO THE EKO FOUNDATION LATEST (Punch, June 2, 2016)

WOLE SOYINKA

I would not dream of declaring, or even insinuating, that Lagosians are ignorant about their own state, not with such luminaries as my friend from schooldays, Chief Femi Okunnu. I meant it however when I claimed that there are aspects of Lagos about which even Lagosians themselves are ignorant, just as there are aspects of Ogun State, where I am undisputed indigene, of which I am ignorant. I make new discoveries every day, some of them revelations by total strangers – even mere birds of passage. That is a general statement on the limitations of human awareness, not open to dispute.

Here now is one minor footnote from history. In one of their paid advertisements, the EKO Foundation stated that the Soyinka had no family house in Lagos. This is a statement born of ignorance. Allied to that is the claim that Wole Soyinka does not know the “sounds and sights” of Lagos. I’m afraid that is a sweeping claim with no deductive basis. I grew up not only with the sounds and sights, but also the smells of Lagos. I smelt Lagos at its most rancid when my father was building the family house at Ebute Metta, on Franklin Street, which was then nothing but swampland, occupied by overfed mosquitoes and mudskippers. Even after completion, we continued to fish out mudskippers and sprats from the living room anytime it was flooded – which was every rainy season. In short, my family was one of the pioneer developers of that former swampland, now a flourishing sector of Yaba/Ebute Metta. By the way, at that time, my mother had her shop and temporary residence in Agarawu Street, a stone’s throw from the palace at Iga Iduganran, the heart of Lagos.

I am sorry that I have failed to write about Lagos – in the manner of Ake, Ibadan and Isara – but then, one cannot write about everything and everywhere that has contributed to one’s development as a human being, a citizen, and a writer, especially when excellent work has been done in that direction by scholars like Professor Michael Echeruo, whom I single out for an obvious reason – he is a non-Lagosian.

A Lagos commemoration is the issue, let us remember, not the individuals who write about, or respond positively to an invitation to preside over the celebration of such a daunting heritage, only to become most embarrassingly, its distracting issue. My off-the-cuff remark at the VISION OF THE CHILD event was not intended to prolong a pointless discussion, but to caution against the human failing of presuming to know it all.

Oh, I nearly forgot: two or three years ago, the family took a decision to sell the family house in Franklin Street so as to raise funds for the renovation of its replacement in Osolake Street, same Ebute Metta sector. That house also has a minor history which might be of interest to the EKO Foundation. During FESTAC 1977, when I was invited to produce a spectacle, any event at all, to round off Festac, which had generated quite a number of disasters, I threw open the Osolake house as a hospitality recourse for participating African writers and artistes and from the Diaspora where they could, and did enjoy “Ogun State” hospitality. Presiding over their comfort throughout, was my helpless conscript, the family matriarch – the “Wild Christian” – from the pages of AKE.
And now, can I get back to work, please?

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