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Day Soyinka’s “The Man Died” Ressurected
Published Oct 15, 2022 IN Column, SATURDAY COVER,
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  • Trappings Of Literature And Society



AS the 2023 general elections draw closer by the months, the need for Nigerians to be decisive in determining their choice of representatives during next year’s general elections has been brought to the fore in a rather unique manner.

The consequences of being docile in the political process or being swayed by sentiments or pecuniary considerations might be too severe for the nation to tolerate for another dispensation. At least, this was the assertion of scholars and researchers while reviewing the prose of Prof. Wole Soyinka’s 1972 masterpiece; “The Man Died”.

The event, which was organized by the Asaba Reading Club (ARC) in conjunction with the Dennis Osadebe University (DOU), and the Admiralty University of Nigeria (ADUN), attracted scholars from the humanities to pontificate on Nigeria’s political experiment as well as offer solutions.

In their postulations, the bibliophiles likened the prose to the past and current happenings in Nigeria’s sociopolitical milieu. The 1972 masterpiece is both a testament to enduring under duress, a powerful piece of literature in its merit, following the arrest and solitary confinement of its author for 22 months.

Soyinka tried to intervene in the Nigerian Civil War as soon as it began. It was his meeting with the secessionists led by Odumegwu Ojukwu that landed him in prison on the false indictment that he was supporting them, one way or the other.

His mission was to broker peace on both sides as a mediator, but that never came to fruition and that led to his incarceration as told in the brilliant piece- an exercise that has since attracted academic excellence.

Addressing newsmen, the President of the Asaba Reading Club, Mr. Maxwell Ajufo, gave a chronological history of the club and why the masterpiece was picked, amongst others, for review.

Ajufo submitted that ‘’as a culture the book is for the “now” following the societal issues. We need to talk about what goes on in our society, Prof. Soyinka is like a prophet who spoke about the time, and by discussing the issues, we try to find solutions to our challenges as a country.

‘’The book is for the ‘’now’’ seeing that Nigeria is in a transition stage and at this point, we need to get it right’’. He encouraged Nigerians not to allow the negative occurrences in society to kill the man in them, but rather, to be strong and face the challenges.

‘’Simply put, do not allow the circumstances that you face to kill the man inside; rather, be creative to find answers to your challenges. ‘’The Man’’ in Ajufo’s definition is ‘’the embodiment of who you are, and whenever we allow the essence in us to die, we have lost it’’ he said.

‘’Nigeria had her independence in 1960 and from then till this moment we have been moving in a suicidal curve trying to get it better after testing several political structures; military, and now democracy in its fourth republic.

One of the reviewers, Dr. Tony Nwaka, who is also the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency buttressed the significance of the book as it related to the political state of Nigeria. “Not just the present Nigeria but across societies, the effect of tyranny in human freedom and how it conscripts the expression of human excellence’’.

Sitting before the panelists whose undiluted perspective was borne out of their convictions was Dr. Kester Dibia, a lecturer at DOU. He supposed that the discussion was apt and timely as Nigeria was in dire need of freedom.

The academic don further questioned the freedom of the press, drawing from the Soyinka experience as documented in the literature under review. He quarried, ‘’in Nigeria are writers free? Not, what Nigeria is going through now cannot be remedied by force of arms, but by the use of our intellects’’.

According to him, ‘’when we have our intellect intact, when we can organize those of us who are intellectuals to confront the monsters who are torturing us at all fronts, economically, psychologically and socially, then we will be able to rescue our destiny’’.

He concluded by saying that the occasion called for a sober reflection so that ‘’the man in us will not die’’ Dibia suggested aggressive intellectual confrontation as a powerful tool to break our prison.

Meanwhile, a lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Dr. Idoga Ochala reviewed the prose from an existentialist and phenological perspective. ‘’Soyinka, fortunately, or unfortunately, was conditioned to the predicament.

‘’However, he was not delimited by the fact of his existence. He went ahead to exercise his freedom with authenticity; he took responsibility, A scholar is a prophet. He had the foresight of what will happen.

‘’Nevertheless, separationists had unprecedented and unpleasant situations, but the writer was committed to humanity by taking responsibility in certain regards against the situation that tended to reduce him. At this point “The Man Died” is a way to seek justice which will make way for social ordering and this is a phenological strategy that is imperative.

In the views of a legal practitioner, Bar, Egondu Ikeatu, the book was applicable to present Nigeria, regardless of the year it was published. Ikeatu observed that ‘’if we don’t stand for something, we will fall for something’’.

As she puts it, “The vital point is hatred for complacency. We must stand up and build a Nigeria that we believe is strong enough for our children, for us, and for generations to come”.

‘’Also is the demand for justice. There is a lot of injustice in Nigeria; the less- privileged are being maltreated. Coming to the entrance of power as it were, one is been denied of his fundamental right because he/she has no godfather or godmother somewhere.

‘’The truth remains that justice will start from you and me. When you see something that is wrong, you can be the lone voice just like the activist Soyinka was at that time.

The legal practitioner reiterated the need for lone voices in Nigeria’s democracy who would speak up and check the excesses of government as the writer was in the military regime. For Nigerians to survive, we need those lone voices.

‘’In another light, the book is like a prophetic book that draws from Nigeria’s experiences from 1972 to 2022; 50 years after, the book is still relevant because there are not many differences compared to the present.

Similarly, a member of the club, Mr. Austine Nwulia, said that ‘’The Man Died” is a riveting account of the atrocities perpetrated by the military regime against the civil populace, in which the author was also a victim - of solitary confinement without trial for 15 grueling months’’.

‘’Accounting of the abuses fill you with horrors: the flogging syndrome, detention, and imprisonment without trial, killing, torture as a pastime; sadism and crushing of the civic will; the climate of appeasement against the rule of law.

‘’Relating to the memoirs of the three-odd years that Soyinka spent imprisoned by the Nigerian state, mostly in solitary confinement. This is quite marvelous; Soyinka’s prose is excellent, his motivations admirable, and his struggle to avoid madness uplifting.

‘’This stands among the better examples of what is, alas, a distinctly popular 20th-century subgenre. What is baffling is that: In solitary confinement, living with the knowledge that he could be summarily executed at any moment, preserving his sanity by writing his thoughts down on toilet paper with homemade pens and ink, he devotes something like three typewritten pages to how much he hates oranges.

Soyinka’s prison memoir “The Man Died” is both a testament to enduring under duress and a powerful piece of literature on its merit. In 1967, Soyinka was arrested for a period of 22 months and held in solitary confinement in a 4ft. by 8ft. cell.

‘’A savage, stabbing inquiry, not into human nature proper, but human nature viewed through the concave mirrors of solitary confinement and human evil, stretched and warped into horrible familiarity.

He added, ‘’Soyinka is difficult to read if you read him straight -- this book is most effective when you enter into its twisting, doubling corridors and let him (Soyinka) transform your mind and introspection into a prison of your own’’.

‘’Like most great books, this one works on several levels: an indictment of political injustice, a psychological study of the prisoner, and (pardon the cliche) a metaphor for the human condition.

‘’At least Soyinka’s incarceration resulted in this extraordinary book, a work so brilliant that it necessarily invites all sorts of superlatives. The full range of Soyinka’s literary talent and nous is explored in this work, with his patent intellectualism augmenting this memoir – a memoir that one can read over and over again with multiple rewards.

‘’He (Soyinka) never hides his disgust and disdain for certain tendencies and personalities, and there are many instances here. The author’s innate imagination and creativity are “gathered, stirred, skimmed and sieved” (to purloin his expression here) during his travails behind the bars.

In the same vein, Mr. Obi Chukwuma, another lecturer at DOU, and a scholar of Soyinka’s book “Civil War Poem” dissected the book from a different perspective. In his analysis, he described the author as a unique and brilliant youth who was overwhelmed by the challenges of his country at age 34 while trying to broker peace.

“He was a young man at that time who was very concerned and involved in the issue of his country (Nigeria). 50 years after, the country has become even more rotten than it was in 1972.

‘’Today, a kind of psychology has been forced on the average Nigerian. It has got to a level where we have endorsed bloodshed as a norm. We have commonized killings with no iota of conscience. They are forcing new ideologies of violence on us.

‘’Today, killing is everywhere, irrespective of your tribe and religion. Some of these kidnappers are indigenes of the state where they carry out this mayhem. How do we come out of this mess? We say we practice democracy but we have recorded more bloodshed than the military era’’.

‘’We need to reject the evil of the moment. It’s so disheartening seeing what is happening…. the absence of food causes one to endure hunger but not compared to when there is wickedness as food.

He urged Nigerians to think beyond the box of religion, tribe, and political associations. ‘’Let’s make our choice wisely and make a better country, so we don’t shed tears when our National Anthem is being recited; holding unto building a nation where peace and justice shall reign. The man dies in you when you don’t speak up’’.

For Mr. Henry Unuajohwofia, another panelist, the nature of man is being egotistical and self-driven. This, he said, was the disposition of political leaders as deduced from the award-winning book. His views were psychoanalytical and built on theories of psychological fragmentation.

“Human beings are not whole. In the struggle with our emotions, which plays out in their subconscious mind, what we act is 10 per cent, while the rest goes on in our minds’’ adding that the disposition of politicians in Nigeria’s democracy could be likened to that of the military.

‘’We need psychologically-balanced leaders; those who can hold on to their emotions, those who can balance their fragmented personalities; those whose decisions will be to the benefit of those they rule.

“Fragmented Personality says ‘If you are in love with yourself, you will not love others. That’s the problem with our leaders. In trying to be perfect, they take what rightly belongs to others and make themselves richer, while the masses are poorer.’’

At the event, the audience were also thrilled by drama and poetic recitations by students of the Dennis Osadebe University. Also gracing the summit were students from various secondary schools in Asaba and its environs.

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