Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate, has commented on the situation of Nigerian writer and filmmaker Onyeka Nwelue, who was dismissed from his position as an Academic Visitor at the University of Oxford and Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge.
Nwelue had his status terminated after misusing the university’s logos and premises for commercial purposes, and is also facing allegations of misogyny and spreading discriminatory content online.
Soyinka has stated that he felt the need to intervene in the issue, having come across certain details in Nwelue’s attempt to clear up the matter with the British university establishment.
He expressed shock at the reaction from Nwelue’s Canadian publisher, who threatened to remove Nwelue’s book, The Strangers of Braamfontein, from their list, and emphasized that the charges against Nwelue did not involve plagiarism or other literary offences.
According to Soyinka, “It has become a rampaging pastime. It extends across professions and classes. Not so long ago, I drew the attention of a young colleague to the fact that he was being falsely addressed as “Sir”, and needed to put a stop to it. For a while, he shrugged it off as inconsequential, but eventually took action. Yet the media persisted in investing him with this spurious knighthood.
“Discreetly, I pressured Mediaville to spare us the impending day of national embarrassment. It took some doing, but it stopped. That potential capture of the titular craze owes me. Going by the recent expulsion of Prince Harry and his princess from their accustomed lodgings after their rupture with the monarchy, that artiste friend would have received even shorter shrift from the elite Order of Knights Distempered.
“More airing is required on the media trade in personality conscription – be it for negative or positive packaging. That goes also for exposed individuals who get sucked in – through unawareness, nonchalance, or gradations of collaborative conduct. Among Nwelue’s intimate associates unfortunately, are some dubious hangers on who exploit his own susceptibility and frail health to nurse their hunger for notoriety.
“The ultimate responsibility is however his, and he has emerged upfront to accept this in a letter of apology. Now it is the turn of the enabling environment to also take stock and clean up its act. ‘Casting the first stone’ is easy enough; ensuring that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater is the harder, and far more productive responsibility. The literary world can do with more babies from the bassinet of The Strangers of Braamfontein!”
Soyinka went on to say that beyond Nwelue, society as a whole must engage in some soul-searching and remedial action. He noted that public figures are often creations of social media, and some of these figures fail to exercise caution when using these platforms.
Soyinka also drew attention to the media’s tendency to invest individuals with false titles and the responsibility of individuals to exercise caution when it comes to their own online presence.
In conclusion, Soyinka stressed the need for an enabling environment that supports creativity and the literary world’s need for more innovative works like Nwelue’s The Strangers of Braamfontein.