It is Tuesday, the 24th of November 2020.
The sign posts at the gates reflect the nature of Wole Soyinka, the man who lives beyond them.
We leave the entrance and drive a short distance through a canopy of dense vegetation of trees. We cross a small trickling stream and emerge into a beautifully lawned clearing, a shaded paradise.
Open sesame – our eyes rivet on this fairly large building of exquisite beauty planted on the higher ground in the environment, a unique architectural masterpiece of red bricks and unpainted walls.
Everyone that comes here must be as intrigued as we are, arriving at a place with a name that reminds one of another person and place from the past – Fela and Kalakuta Republic. But here is different.
I am riding on Tunde Kelani’s (TK) ticket to meet with the man lovingly referred to by those that have known him well and long enough as Kongi, or any one of other names depending on the nature of their relationship with him – Capone, WS (Wole Soyinka) , Eniogun, Captain Blood. There may be other names but I prefer to respectfully and simply call him Prof.
I am TK’s ‘hand bag’ on this visit. I don’t have a visa. It is a requirement before anyone can visit the republic located high up in the hills of Kemta, a short hop from town in the outskirts of Abeokuta. Tk assures me that he is my visa to the place on this trip and that I am ‘covered’.
So, we go to this place, once a secluded environment far from the bustle of town, but is now teeming with new buildings.
It is not everyday that you get to meet with the man who spends more time in the skies than on the ground, flying from one continent to another to meet up with the endless demands for his talks and speeches.
I have been looking for a second opportunity to share some time with Professor Akinwande Babatunde Oluwole Soyinka, writer and teacher (as he likes to describe himself) since after meeting him one-on-one for the first (and last time) over 10 years ago at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s in Lagos. But that was a different setting. It was very brief and not on his own turf. I needed to see and experience him where he lives.
Now, here I am, in an anticipated experience of a life time.
TK and I are here alone with the iconic literary giant, a global ambassador of humanity, scholarship and deep thinking. We are having a conversation without boundaries or structure, pure talk from the heart.
Two hours come and go very quickly in a flash.
It is an incredible journey into the unguarded side of Prof. Soyinka. We gently traverse the periphery of various subjects, one magically conjuring another in a seamless stream of light-hearted banter – phenomena, spiralism, spiritualism, philosophy, films, literature, the state of Nigeria, the Yoruba race, Ogun State, my political odyssey, the incredible agricultural revolution in Ogun State driven by a certain Dr. Adeola Odedina, and so on, one subject dovetailing into another.
Nobel Laureate Soyinka lives in this forest of woods, shrubs and even some monkeys, I am told. A shallow stream meanders gently directly in front of the house. The chirping of unseen birds punctuate the silence and interrupt the serenity of this kingdom. Here, there are no ugly and unnecessary physical structures, no pollution of any sort, no obscene images, only tokens of art works strategically positioned around the exterior of the house like a woman’s facial ‘makeup’.
Prof Soyinka welcomes us at his door and takes us into his sanctuary, a small but special part of the house where he escapes to when he wants to get away from the world to commune with the spirits of creativity.
It is here that we sit, with shelves of books, files and video cassettes as company, to have our chat and later have a communion of wine specially selected by Prof Soyinka himself from his famed cellar of rare and exotic collection from different parts of the world.
The only decor in the room is a few works of art. TK assures me there is nothing more to see anywhere else than books, more books, and more unique works of art.
Prof Soyinka is not a victim of materialism, so his home and life style are spartan but with a touch of class.
The only items of furniture in the room are three cushioned cane chairs and a 3-seater settee. The floor is of beautiful rugged brown wood. Could it be Iroko? I wonder.
Pablo Picasso will not go back to his native Malaga in spain should he come here. He would make it home to create his most imaginative works.
I am thinking and watching Prof Soyinka from the corner of my eye. He is very calm, a gentle smile dancing on his face. His deep rich baritone voice providing melodious music to my ears as he discusses Ayinla Omowura, TK’s next movie project that has listed ‘yours truly’ as a ‘major’ actor. The shooting starts next week. I can’t wait to get started and ‘conquer’ Nollywood.
I eventually join in the conversation and we travel through time, space and the various subjects. I observe that Prof Soyinka is thoroughly enjoying the conversations. I like the man very much.
Then it is time to go. Prof has another appointment to keep. One day, probably, I shall write about our conversations.
Finally, I remind him of my open invitation for him to visit the sports academy in Wasimi Orile. He gladly grants my wish. He will come pretty soon to meet with the students and the people in the community. I am enthralled.
I try my last tease. How about TK and I transforming to flies on the wall to watch Prof Soyinka and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo spend a day together, just the two of them, in a room? What would they talk about? What would happen?
He laughs out very loud, immediately seeing the humour and ‘trap’ in my plot of an unlikely event that could only be made possible if TK, arguably the foremost cinematographer in Africa, turns on his creative genius and scripts a fictional blockbuster film series to capture Ebora and Eniogun in a duel of any sort.
Between them, Prof Soyinka says, there is no enmity or animosity, but lots of mutual respect. They obviously don’t belong to the same planet and see the world very differently. For that reason, my proposed scenario as well as TK’s movie would not last more than10 minutes before Kata Kata will burst and there would be a ‘tsunami’.
Still in that mood, he tells us a few of their past encounters. Gripping, interesting and humourous stuff.
Prof walks us to our car.
We depart. TK and I are silent for a while as we head back to town. It has been a truly fascinating experience in my first visit to ARI, the Automous Republic of Ijegba..
If you ever want to visit the Republic do not think of doing so without securing a visa first.
There is a whole list of Ministers of the Republic that can be of help – Tunji Oyelana, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Jimi Solanke, Peter Badejo, Wale Adeniran, Jahman Anikulapo, Bankole Olayebi, Tunde Makanju, Peter Badejo, Teju Kareem, Tunde Awosanmi, Makin Soyinka, Kunle Ajibade, Segun Ojewuyi, Tunde Kelani, and a few others. They are all citizens of the Republic. I may soon be one too, the elements permitting.
All visitors are advised, however, to always keep in mind the grim warning signs at the entrance.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed 😜😜.