Today, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature and conscience of the Nigerian, nay African Society Prof. Wole Soyinka clocks 82. We shall be celebrating this milestone with a 2 part series on Sage’s indelible footprints on the Nigerian political and legal system. Please lets us all give Prof. the blast he deserves on his birthday.

“This is a voice, the true voice of the people of Western Nigeria and all the voices are saying very simply:

Akintola, get out;

Akintola, get out and take with you your band of renegades who have lost with you any pretence of humanity, and have become nothing, but murdering beasts.

Take with you your goons, who would sooner kill and maim, than acknowledge that you are now an outcast to human society. The lawful government of Western Nigeria is the UPGA government, elected by the people of the West.

Let every self-seeking impostor get out now before the people, losing patience, wash the streets in their polluted blood. Get out, and take with you your lepers, your things, your army, your police, in their kits and armoured cars frightening old women in the markets, pumping bullets through the doors of female students and dragging their brave bodies down concrete steps because they dare to protest.

 The children loathe you; mothers curse you; all men despise you. And the youths of this country long for the moment when your presence will no longer pollute their home for a decent future.

In the name of Oduduwa and our generation, get out! Before the frustration of ten million people, their anger and their justice in an all consuming fire come over your heads.

And to you the Police, who think you merely obey orders; to you, the Army, who commit these crimes in the name of obedience and to you, our Obas who have lost shame, honour and dignity; to you the civil servants, Radio, Press, who think more of your bellies than the legacy you have bequeathed to our generation; to you, the intellectuals, who sit while acts of horror are committed before your eyes; to you, priests, bishops, imams who do not use your pulpits for the benefit of our generation:

We remind you that the floods that have waited many years to break loose will not have the leisure to choose between the hovels and palaces …”

The end of the 2nd quarter of 1965 marked the beginning of the climax of Nigeria’s post independence flirtation with democracy. The massive rigging of the 1965 Western Region elections had set the West on fire earning it the sobriquet the Wild Wild West!

Samuel Ladoke Akintola (SLA) the Premier of the crisis ridden Western Region ambition to remain in power was at a huge cost to himself, the people of the region and later the country’s stability.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was cooling his heels in prison courtesy of a conviction on a charge of treasonable felony but many attributed his incarceration to a fall out of the acrimony between the sage and SLA. Public sympathy still ran high for Awo.

Bitter power struggles in the Action Group (AG) between the Awo and SLA had led the latter to pitch tent with the Northern people’s congress in an alliance for the 1964 General Elections and 1965 Regional Elections.

SLA’s the New Nigeria Democratic Party (NNDP) was in alliance with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and termed same the National Alliance (NA). The remnants of Awo’s supporters in the AG and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) had formed the United Peoples Grand Allaince (UPGA).

The west was in flames when the election results were being announced. Operation We Tie was in full swing. The streets swarmed with mobs burning down buildings, cars and other properties of the NA politicians sometimes with the politicians or their family members inside. We tie was itself a corruption of the word “wet it”, presumably with petrol and set it aflame.

On 15th October 1965, SLA was to give a victory speech and thus the whole world waited with baited breaths for the speech that would seal the premier’s claim to a “stolen mandate” and at the same time, pacify the anger on the street.

At 7:45 pm, an unknown voice boomed not the premier’s speech but the speech excerpted above. A lone “mystery gunman” had beat the security and gained entry into the studios of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, held 4 crew members hostage, seized the English and Yoruba languages version of SLA’s recorded speech and forced the crew to play a tape containing the above recorded speech. The gunman then vanished from the studio. Though only the first two paragraphs of the speech were broadcast, and the excerpts of the full speech would only be publicised 40 years later in the book titled “The Mystery Gunman” by Justice Kayode Eso, the damage had been done.

Who Dunnit?

The Police would put a face to the mystery gunman which was no other but 41 year old playwright and social critic, Wole Soyinka. What followed was a manhunt, arrest and trial with dramatic twists and turns as recounted by the duo of Soyinka and Eso.

How It All Began

Soyinka was an ardent critic of SLA’s government t and had staged many plays ridiculing the very unpopular government which the people of the West had come to see as an occupying army. Awo, from his prison cell had according to WS “gradually acquired the image of a victim of political intrigue and injustice, a martyred visionary and leader, thanks to the NNDP misgovernment and repressive measures. There was no ambiguity about it – the NNDP was unpopular. The West seethed with resentment.”

The 1965 elections would be the denouement of the political drama in the West. The various actors in the drama were battle ready. The mood in the West was aptly captured by vintage WS;

“The region simmered as even the normally apolitical prepared for what they embraced as a revenge match, where scores would be settled definitively, and the world would know just who enjoyed the people’s support. It was to prove a contest between terror and resistance into which I would be drawn for my first taste of political blood”.

So sorry, we shall apply the brakes here. Part 2 loads in a bit. Meanwhile help us celebrate Soyinka, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature by sharing this post across all your social media platform