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Sunday, July 13, 2014
Home » » Happy Birthday, Nigeria's literary icon Wole Soyinka
Nigeria's literary icon Wole Soyinka turned 80 on Sunday July 13 with friends and foes alike paying tribute to the poet, novelist, playwright and social activist, whose works often satirized Nigeria's society and harshly criticized corrupt and inept leaders.
President Goodluck Jonathan praised his ardent critic in a statement on Saturday, hailing Soyinka's "life-long dedication and indefatigable commitment to using his acclaimed genius and talents, not only in the service of the arts, but also for the promotion of democracy, good governance and respect for human rights in Nigeria, Africa and beyond."
Former dictator General Yakubu Gowon, who jailed Soyinka for some two years during Nigeria's 1967-70 civil war, paid respect by attending a lecture in Soyinka's hometown of Abeokuta on Friday.
Soyinka, who looks several decades younger than his age, sprang to his feet and warmly embraced his former jailer as soon as he entered the lecture hall, sparking applause from the audience.
"I have come to Abeokuta for the sake of this particular man, to honor him," said Gowon, who imprisoned the writer on suspicion of support for his rival in the 1967 standoff that eventually led Nigeria to a 30-month civil war in which an estimated one million people died, mostly of disease and starvation.
Born into an Anglican family on July 13, 1934, in Abeokuta, Soyinka cut his literary teeth in the 1950s at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria's premier university, where he studied English literature.
He also studied literature at the University of Leeds.
The poet, novelist and playwright has around 30 published works to his name, most of which satirise Nigerian society and which have made him a darling of the critics.
"Soyinka, a literary giant, is God's gift to Nigeria in particular, Africa and the world at large. His style is inimitable," Dare Ademola, a literary critic, told AFP.
Chima Anyadike, head of the English department at the Obafemi Awolowo University where Soyinka last taught in Nigeria, said: "Soyinka is a great writer of his time."