Wole Soyinka’s Protracted Struggle With Àbíkú, the Metaphor of the Nigerian State

Adérónké Adésolá Adésànyà

My reflection on Wole Soyinka (WS), takes me down memory lane, about his work, his activism, his love and labor for a nation that I have chosen to call Àbíkú. To the Yoruba, Àbíkú also known as (emèrè, elére, elégbé) refers to the one born-to-die, the restless wanderer and an in-betweener who oscillates between the earth and the otherworld. For those familiar with Àbíkú ethos , the entity lives to-die, dies-to-live again, in an endless chain of episodic tumultuous journeys. Àbíkú is a thorn in the flesh of beleaguered parents, a palpable and an intractable entity in the universe of a traumatized mother. Àbíkú is also the prodigal spirit, prone to leave a trail of waste in its wake. Àbíkú defies the diviner, teases and courts death seamlessly. The entity remains in a constant state of flux, a perplexing ambivalence of rupture and rapture. What has Soyinka got to do with Àbíkú? Yes, as writer, he has penned a poem about Àbíkú, (John Pepper Clark-Bekeredemo also did in the same year), and I will make reference to WS’s version at some point in this presentation. However, I engage WS as a change agent and as an embattled transformer. I attempt to situate Soyinka within the context of the diviner/herbalist, the one soused with the zeal to keep Àbíkú alive, against all odds but is repeatedly frustrated by the other contenders for the life of Àbíkú. There are indeed many evil geniuses and contenders in Nigeria who do not want Àbíkú to be reformed - those sworn to and charmed by Àbíkú’s theater of waste.