Does Wole Soyinka deserve to win the Nobel Prize in Literature?

By Azuka Onwuka

Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka

Definitely yes!

I have heard some people dissing him on his Nobel Prize and literary works.

You can disagree with him on his strange fixation on Peter Obi as well as deafening silence on Tinubu at a time Nigeria is in deep crisis, but it will be petty to argue that Soyinka did not deserve to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

By the standards of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, he deserves to win the award. If you study his drama pieces like Death and the King’s Horseman as well as his poems, and compare them to the works of past winners, it will be obvious that he deserves it.

You can argue whether he should have won it before Chinua Achebe, given their respective global impact on literature. But typical of all Nigerian issues, each side will argue fiercely in favour of its kinsman. (In the literary world, it is only in Nigeria that people argue over who is greater between Achebe and Soyinka).

But there is no denying that the Swedish Academy, which selects winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, sometimes brings politics into it. If your ideology, view on world politics, religious inclination, etc don’t align with theirs, they can decide that you can never win the prize. They did it to Achebe. There is no serious group which selects the best 100 novels of the world that will not include Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Some scholars, including Achebe, even believe that his Arrow of God is richer than Things Fall Apart. Globally, Things Fall Apart is the most translated, most sold, most read, most studied, most quoted and most analyzed African book. Any part of the world where African literature is studied, Things Fall Apart is always there.

The same way the Swedish Academy chose never to award the Nobel Prize to Achebe, it seems to have chosen never to award the Nobel Prize to Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

They also did it to Henrik Ibsen, regarded as the father of realism. They did it to George Orwell of the Animal Farm fame as well as Graham Greene, Robert Frost, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, etc.

They also did it to Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, regarded as one of the best writers of all time.

In his report to the Academy, the Permanent Secretary of the Committee, Carl David af Wirfsén, said that while he admired “immortal creations” like War and Peace and Anna Karenina, he could not condone Tolstoy’s social and political theories, nor his presumption in rewriting the New Testament “in a half mystical, half rationalistic spirit,” nor, finally, his denial to both nations and individuals of the right of self-defence.

For that, they denied Tolstoy the Nobel Prize in Literature.

On the Nobel Peace Prize, the awarding group, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, did it to Mahatma Gandhi of India when he was the greatest living advocate for peace on earth. After his death, they regretted not giving him the award.

In 2006, Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, noted: “The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, [but] whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question.”

But while some have been denied the award, some have rejected it. Jean Paul Sartre chose to reject the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.

Le Duc Tho of Vietnam refused to accept his Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Interestingly, in 1926, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Johannes Fibiger for “finding a cure for cancer”!

That is the difference between the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, or even FIFA Prize. FIFA insists that football should not be mixed with politics, but the Nobel Prize managers have continued to mix the prize with politics and ideologies of individuals.

It is rare to find any great footballer who was denied the Footballer of the Year award because of his personal life or ideology.

If you criticize FIFA, you can still win FIFA’s award, but if you criticize the Nobel Prize or some actions of the West, you are marked for life. That is the challenge.

For now, there is nothing one can do about this unless the Nobel Prize awarding committees decide to change that policy and judge individuals based on their contributions in their field.

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