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My burden as Soyinka’s son– Olaokun

Posted by By SAM ANOKAM on 2006/07/14 | Views: 4345 |

My burden as Soyinka’s son– Olaokun


Except you look very closely, you may not notice any resemblance between him and his father. Dr. Olaokun Soyinka looks more like a half-caste with his handsome face, fair-complexioned skin and curly hair. The contrast does not end there.

Except you look very closely, you may not notice any resemblance between him and his father. Dr. Olaokun Soyinka looks more like a half-caste with his handsome face, fair-complexioned skin and curly hair. The contrast does not end there.

He neither has silvery, bushy hair or jutting beards like his father. And if he tells you he is Wole Soyinka’s first son, your credulity may be stretched to the limit, except you have the patience to compare his identical bold nose or listen to his deep sonorous voice.

At the recent presentation of his father’s memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, Dr. Olaokun Soyinka joked how he was mistaken for an impostor in London when he introduced himself as the son of the Nobel laureate, and it was only his nose that made the foreigner to believe a little that he had anything in common with his father. Compared to his father’s towering status in literature and social activism, his doctor son is a distant pretender to fame. Yet being a Soyinka’s son comes with its own burden, as Olaokun explains in this interview.

Wole Soyinka’s universal acclaim means a highly demanding schedule. This means he has to lead a life of globetrotting, so to speak. Given this, his family life suffers. According to Olaokun, "My dad moves around a lot and has spent more time in incarceration, so nobody gets to see him.

His family members are real frustrated, because it is very difficult for us to get to speak with him." But over the years, there have been moments to be treasured in the family. "As one gets older it becomes less of father and son and more of father and daughter, a friend and mentor. So, I think that is how the relationship revolves in our case," said his son.

His father has come to represent a to rn in the flesh of successive dictators in Nigeria, and at various times his life has been in danger. Being Soyinka’s son, therefore, becomes very risky. Olaokun recalled during late General Sani Abacha’s military regime when his father became a wanted person and his life was in danger. According to him, in those days, "We happened to exist under a regime that made it a modus-operandi that if you can’t get the person you want, you go for the nearest person to him or her, because we had examples of wives, children, brothers being picked up, tortured and jailed by Abacha."
Olaokun was living in the U.K. then, and was really homesick.

But anytime he mentioned that, people would tell him it was crazy. They told him that "if Abacha could pick Wole Soyinka’s son, he would just slam you in jail. So, for five years, it became impossible for me to come back home. Although I was at that time living in the U.K, but I never regarded myself on being in exile. I felt really, really bad for not being allowed to go back because of the fear that I would be picked up and be used. So that was probably one example of the challenges, but I am happy to say it’s now better than before."

People have always wondered why Wole Soyinka’s sons don’t hog the limelight as expected. Olaokun is aware of these expectations. In fact, some people have even told him that he should be up there shouting and beating his chest and all that, but he is not the kind of person given to that. He said, "You see if you are comfortable with what you do and who you are, then it is not a matter of competition. I am not here to show that I have to go one step further or what have you. It is good to know that I have an illustrious immediate father up there and it gives me target and challenges of the things to aim at. So, I think that what Wole Soyinka is doing is enough and we don’t really need another one right now. Maybe, we are just waiting in the wings to take over the baton when he decides to relax.

"Currently, he has shown no sign of tiredness, so I am very happy carrying on with my own things. When you sit face to face with your father, what do you see? I see my dad. I say that because it is a contrast, I often listen to people and I listen with a close attention when people describe how humbled or grateful for having the privilege to be close to him. So, I always remind myself that it is also a privilege to be with somebody whom many people struggle to be with or have the privilege of seeing. So one should be grateful of being lucky enough to be that close to Soyinka," he said.

Olaokun is tripped by his father’s principles. He believes that if you stick to your principles, those principles would guide you through any given situation. The lesson he has leant from his father is that when other people are tasking their brains about some kind of dilemma, the man with principles knows what to do. Commenting on Nigerian leadership in 2007, he remarked that the old guards should quit the scene to make way for the younger leaders. He admitted that, although he inherited so many things from him, unfortunately he didn’t inherit his father’s literary skills, more especially "his extremely unique and profound style." And this is not only him. Nobody in his family is literary inclined. "Everybody is just doing what they like doing to him, " he revealed.

Trained as a medical doctor, Olaokun had his early years in Ibadan and attended Government College, Ibadan. From there he proceeded to the U.K where he trained as a medical doctor. He had a stint with professional practice in London before returning to Nigeria. Married with four kids, Olaokun currently works with an NGO on primary health care research based in Abuja.

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