By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
But for the thunderous ovation that kept interrupting his speech at intervals, the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka took effective control of his audience at the capacity filled hall. In his usual characteristics, Soyinka literarily dissected the relationship between politics and art using current and distant happenings in the society to explain the correlations between several factors that shape the actions and inactions of political leaders in modern day Nigerian state.
Worried by the increasing state of insecurity in the nation’s politics, the laureate wondered if the late D.O Fagunwa’s protagonists in his book, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, (Forest of a thousand demons), would not find themselves more at home in today’s Nigeria than in the forest of animal violence. He said considering the goings on today, there are correlations in Fagunwa’s work, which further prompted the question of which is the jungle and which is the human habitation?
Soyinka spoke on Culture and the challenges of development in Nigeria as guest speaker at the international conference on culture, organised by Ondo State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, last Thursday at Akure, the state capital.
“The question one is compel to ask from time to time is whether or not Fagunwa’s protagonists such as Akaraogun and Olowoaiye would not find themselves more at home in today’s supposedly developed and modernised Nigerian cities than in the forest of animal violence and embodiment of various forms of evils with which Fagunwa sought to reveal to his readers.
Yet, he is still a modicum of morality, decency, rationale dealing, selfishness and even a sense of fruitful progression. In other words, looking at society today, one sees such correlations with Fagunwa’s fantasy world, and one is moved sometimes to ask: Which is the jungle? And which is the human habitation?
He said as one who roams the forest, cocooned therapeutically in the tranquility and order of nature, its intrinsic laws and logic of development, he was also moved to ask: Which one signifies civilisation and the state of barbaric of the most dispiriting setting? He stressed that certainly, in the forest, any resemblance of a blackout is a mere manifestation of the diurnal order of phenomenon; predictable because night follows day, and on a guaranteed duration. He noted that it is neither a sudden failure of solar power that lets the yams rot in the ground or withers the vegetable and fruits nor a sudden surge of same energy that incinerates anthills, computer and fridge in the home.
On art and morality in the culture of politics, he observed that politics itself has a culture that could be nurtured. Acknowledging the timing of the conference, which coincided with the flagging off of general electioneering, Soyinka said the conference dragged in its wake the perennial question of will there be a cultured election or an uncooked one? And that ‘how much maim will be let loose?’ He noted that something cultured and humanistic appears to be lost along the way, and that a new anti-culture of jungle politics is fast becoming the national norm, where unspeakable bestialities are committed for desperate aspiration or self consolidation. The nation, he said, is being brain-washed into an understanding of politics as an uncultured event as the survival of the richest and triumph of the beastly.
“It was as if Fagunwa has been eavesdropping 50 years into the future on several conversations I have over heard during the past decade. And this has contributed to the general sense of be wilderment and depression,” the speaker said.
On how fiction sometime rises to fact and how act sometime overtakes reality, especially as an insightful exploration of the psyche and conduct of humanity, he cited Fagunwa’s most popular work, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igborumole, which he translated nearly 50 years ago as Forest of Thousand Demons. He said he resolved to translate all of Fagunwa’s novels in order to make them accessible to non-Yoruba readers, but that Fagunwa is not an easy writer to translate, which was why it has taken him nearly 50 years to translate another of Fagunwa’s works.
He said: “After the rigorous experience of struggling through Ogboju Ode, I realized that I better attend to my own writing at least for some time before attempting to tackle another product from master of Yoruba language. And of course, I read nearly all of Fagunwa’s books as a young man. I find myself in good company when I still see find Ogboju Ode, the truest expression of Fagunwa’s creative originality and inspiration. Some of his other works are far too preachy overloaded with morals. Fagunwa was a product of a remarkable phase in African socio-cultural transformation.”
The advantage that art and culture have over life, he said, is that in addition to being expository, they are prescriptive and offer models of alternatives. “It offers itself as a metaphor. Art, in the broad sense including the act of performance, which is closest to politics, as politics is an act of performance especially when pursued in a socialized or human experience not as a do-or-die affair,” he added.
Governor Segun Mimiko noted that Nigeria would only have good governance when there is mass participation, transparency and accountability, stressing that ‘we must create our own Nigeria in Ondo State as development would not come as holistic nation. We must recreate hard work as part of our culture, which we are doing in Ondo State.’ Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Tola Wewe said it is the hope of the state that the conference would produce a policy document on culture and tourism development in the state, provide proactive strategies for greater involvement of women and youth in cultural activities, underscore the distinctions between culture and religion among others.
The conference that featured over 20 papers resolved that cultured politics and democratic ethos are achievable through mass participation, transparency and accountability. The ten-paragraph communiqué said
*that electorate must be prepared to defend their votes as this is a sure way to curb election rigging;
*that the Ondo State philosophical mantra of Ise lgun ise, must be reinforced by government, mass media as part of the people’s culture in order to dislodge the ‘get-rich-quick’ syndrome;
*that the state should reduce its activities on religion and place more premiums on cultural rejuvenation;
*that schools curricular at various levels should be reviewed and developed to include functional cultural education as a tool for national development among other resolutions. The two-day event was rounded off with a musical performance by Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 Band on Friday night at Adegbemile hall, Akure.