Sunday, 17 September 2017

Wole Soyinka’s Open Letter After His Resignation From University of Ibadan by Onigegewura

Professor Wole Soyinka

Onigegewura recently published a piece on Why Soyinka Rejected University of Ibadan’s Honourary Degree. Please read here:

Today, Onigegewura brings you a ringside account of events leading to the resignation of Kongi from the premier university. The following excerpt is in the words of Professor Ayo Bamgbose who was the Dean of Faculty of Arts at the material time. Let’s go!

“One of the celebrated cases that came up at A&P [Appointments and Promotions Committee] during my time as Dean was that of Wole Soyinka, who was Director of School of Drama (now Department of Theatre Arts) from 1967-1970 and 1970-1971.

The reason I focus on this case is that a lot of misrepresentation has occurred as a result of people not knowing what actually happened.

A renowned writer and dramatist, Soyinka was up for promotion to the grade of Professor. His papers had been assessed at the A&P and recommended to the Inter-University Council for assessment. As Dean of Arts, I was invited on 13th and 15th September 1971, in accordance with usual practice, to read the reports in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office.
Professor Ayo Bamgbose - Dean of Arts

When the case came up for consideration at the A&P, the Committee was unable to approve the original request for promotion to full professorship but instead recommended the slightly lower grade of associate professorship.

The candidate’s reaction was devastating, as can be shown in the open letter which he wrote and circulated to staff and students of his department.

27th March 1972


I have had swift reactions from some of you over my resignation. Since they are all uniformly optimistic about a possible change of mind on my part, let me not encourage false hopes by delaying a reply. My decision stands.

Let me try however to do something about the complaint that my letter was too cryptic. First, it is necessarily so. I have no wish to create a situation which would involve me in devoting any further time and attention to people whom I profoundly despise. They have had all the attention they deserve except in a more general context.

Which leads me to one elaboration I can make. As some of you are aware, I tend to view the university not in isolation but in the larger context of the entire social phenomenon. When faced for instance with the swollen emptiness of these types who, by a series of accidents are in a position to play destructive roles in decision-making within the university, I see them solely as twin-specimens to larger menaces which bedevil society and constantly stultify real progress.
Professor Akinkugbe -
He was Soyinka's classmate at GCI

Faced with such a recognition this question becomes increasingly insistent: is it really an intelligent commitment which tries to cope with the nibbling propensities of these minnows? Is it not time to tackle the plague in a far more fundamental manner?

I have never seen my task at any university in which I have taught as being limited to pouring knowledge across the gulf which separates tutor and pupil. For those who do not know it already, this is not the place to go into a definition of what I consider the true role of a university teacher. Such a role, with all commitments, is jeopardized and becomes suspect the moment that I have to pay attention to my own personal place within the university hierarchy.

This is the most personal of the two or three main causes which lie at the heart of my present decision. On the other hand, I look forward with impatience to the inevitable moment when the present expedient but valueless and dishonest rankings in all Nigerian universities will be replaced by a new system which eliminates the desperation which goes into canvassing, bargaining, denigrating, begging, cheating, forging, and even specialised forms of bribery.
Mr. Wole Soyinka - Director of School of Drama

On the other hand, trapped within the system by the very fact of working within it, it is not possible for me to accept for myself a situation which empowers lightweights of intellect and performance, the political professors, the professional committeemen, and smug university upstarts to pronounce on my achievements, much less insult them by derisive offers. Such a situation makes demands on me on behalf of myself. Since I cannot even entertain such an idea I am left with one course. Resignation.

Such a withdrawal must not therefore be thought of as a negative act but a positive course. Since my work with certain students is not yet completed, it is likely that I shall seek some kind of attachment to another university in the country for a further brief period.

I want it understood however that this represents a very final break with the university system as it stands today in the country. When the universities are finally caught up and shaken to their foundations in the authentic value convolutions which are now inescapable for the entire country, it will be possible to integrate myself into one.

For the moment, those who can must cut themselves off from corrupted systems and commence the work for a lasting alternative.

Very sincere greetings,

Wole Soyinka

The stricture on members of the A&P is most unfair as both the Faculty of Arts and A&P were in favour of the promotion. In fact, according to our regulations, if they were not, the papers would not have gone forward to the Inter-University Council for assessment.

In the chair on the occasion the decision was taken was the Ag. Vice-Chancellor, Professor George Edington, and in addition to other members of the Committee and myself [Professor Ayo Bamgbose], the other Deans of Faculty were Professor Ladipo Akinkugbe (Medicine), Professor Olumuyiwa Awe (Science), Professor Olu Tomori (Education), Professor Ajibola Taylor (Agriculture) and Professor K. M. Barbour (Social Sciences).

I need hardly to point out that the Dean of Medicine and the Dean of Science [Professors Akinkugbe and Awe] were Wole Soyinka’s classmates at Government College, Ibadan.
Professors Soyinka and Akinkugbe

Rather than blame members of the committee, it is the rules, as they were, that should be blamed. Creative writing, no matter how distinguished, did not at that time attract as much credit as scholarly analytical articles published in learned journals or books.

The situation is now different as such works are now rated highly along with critical works. The good thing is that the setback at that time turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Professor Wole Soyinka is today not only recognized as a distinguished literary giant and the first African Nobel Laureate in Literature, he is also a formidable literary critic.”

I thank you very warmly for your time.


History Does Not Forget

Credit: Ayo Bamgbose: From Grass To Grace - An Autobiography, University Press Plc, Ibadan (2016) - available at Booksellers and other leading bookshops nationwide


  1. Please quote the title of the book, for copyright purposes. It is called "From Grass to Grace." By Ayo Bamgbose. This is a good way to comply with fair use rules.

  2. The finest of humanity,a specie of higher scientific inquisition. Onigegewura you are gifted.

  3. The finest of humanity,a specie of higher scientific inquisition. Onigegewura you are gifted.

  4. Onigegewura, how do you get to bring out these wonderful stories. We should as a Country dare to be different positively, sometimes we like dogmatic positions to creativity.

  5. Your style of writing is unique, e ku lakaye

  6. This is critical and creative created. Kudos

  7. This is wonderful and highly motivational.

  8. If the Country had many more Soyinkas, then the Appointment & Promotion Committees in our Universities would not be polluted, corrupted and politicized as they have turned out to be with the attendant fostering of a bunch of half-baked pseudo intellectuals on the Society as Professors. The Currency of a "Professor" has been devalued in Nigeria.