“George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have said: I find it easy to forgive the man who invented a devilish instrument like dynamite, but can one ever forgive the diabolical mind that invented the Nobel Prize for Literature?... a prize whose mode of attribution you can in no way influence?
How the rumours began, only the Gods can tell, but they were there, and I at the distastefuk centre of it all. Confronted by confident predictions, pursued by journalists in the weeks leading up to the announcement in October 1985, then pursued after the defaltion of their prophetic presumptions, just to be asked what I felt, my answer oscillated between: ‘let that be a lesson to you all’, ‘serve you all right’, ‘no comment’, ‘can I now get on with my writing?’ etc. Etc.” (from “Set Forth”, Nig. Version, pp, 359 and 261)
“Da man is too difficult!”
While I was on a trip to report one of the many wars in Nigeria’s north-eastern neighbour Chad, the Nobel Committee in Stockholm decided to award the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature to Kongi. I decide not to join the congratulatory crowds and hangers-on and to stay in Chad, then travel to Nigeria later.
A day before Wole gets the prize I pay a visit to Radio Nigeria, and talk to Mrs. Ewuzu, who was then responsible for external broadcasts to West Africa and Europe. Only a few weeks before she had been a guest of one of my stations, WDR in Cologne, and so she asks me if I would please check on the command of the German language of some of my Nigerian colleagues: colleagues in charge of broadcasts about Gunter Grass and Bert Brecht. I do as asked, but I also ask whether my colleagues have ‘prepared anything on the forthcoming big event, next day, when the ‘shon of...’ will receive his prize, on Wednesday, the 12th? When Mrs. Ewuzu ‘hands’ my question on to my colleagues she is rewarded only with looks of sheer fright on their faces.
“Yes, we do know that he is getting the prize, but: No, we don’t touch the man. He is too difficult, too dark!“
I am shocked: for the first time an African gets a Nobel – a man who has already been on the list for more than ten years, and a Nigerian to boot – and then my African, Nigerian colleagues are too afraid ‘to touch him’! I decree a firm NO and demand to be interviewed presto.
“I am going to fill the program. Me all by myself!“
Big surprise all around:
“How now? Do you know the ‘man’? Have you read anything of his? And did you understand it?“
I sure know the ‘man’. I’ve known him since 1962, and intensely so since 1965 when I visited him in the Ibadan police cell (see story above). “So when do we start working? Any studio available?“
Sudddenly a studio is available and we record half an hour for the German-language broadcasts of Radio Nigeria – which Nigeria afforded herself in those days. And while we were still recording some colleagues from the other language services walked by and developed an interest, or should I say long ears.
“Est-ce qu’on ne pourrait pas faire une petite conversation en francais aussi sur votre ami Wole?”
“Mais pourquoi pas, on y va.”
Meaning that after the half hour in German, I also did another half hour in French, and then another in English. 90 minutes in all in three different languages. I chatted about ‘Akinkoyi’, but even more so about his constant fight against Africa’s new tyrants, his relentless fight for democracy and human rights. And also about his love for ‘women, wine and song’.
I have never checked whether those broadcasts also became a part of my fat dossier with Nigeria’s secret service. But I suspect, however, that my colleagues
in the Hausa section of Deutsche Welle in Cologne will have supplied them to Alagbon Close... for, when I had the occasion to take a look at my dossier, I did discover that quite a number of the scripts on Nigeria which I had written in English, and which they had then translated into Hausa for DW broadcasts, had also been fotocopied and sent to that special service back home. For a fee?