Professor Wole Soyinka Goofed. (Part 1)

Filed under: Educational Issues,Letters |
Prof Soyinka

Prof Soyinka


The heavy reliance on Internet for academic activities would soon witness the end of books as instrument for mind development and potential building

QUESTION: Who made this statement?  A. Prof Soyinka B. Salisu Buhari C. Bode George

It is almost certain to most readers that the answer should be either B or C. But surprisingly, your answer is wrong and the correct answer is staring you in the face. Option A? ‘Impossible’ did I hear that? Yes, you are as shocked as I was when I found out too.

These were the words of the man who needs no introduction, Prof Wole Soyinka speaking on the theme ‘The Magic Lantern, Excursion in the Creative Realm’ at the 3rd Zik Annual Lecture last week. He went further to say that if reasonable steps were not taken, the current internet revolution would destroy scholarship. I am puzzled by the apparent contradiction between his statement and the modern era considering that he falls into the stature of people we could say have seen it all and known it all. How could he descend so low to make such a retrogressing assertion that we may ascribe to Lord Lugard? Yet these are the same people that our government will look up to for advice on critical national and educational issues. No wonder our government and country is plagued with a lot of wrong misdirected policies that can take us nowhere when such people continue to advise the government of the day. Soyinka and the likes who have been in the vanguard of criticizing every government of the day, after all have no clue as to the problems in Nigeria let alone the solution. With statements like this coming from the highly educated critical elites, some policy commentators may want to affirm that fierce critics do not make good leaders; so why listen to them?

For the sake of some blind ardent followers of the cerebral professor, I will like to address some important issues here. Some may want to claim that he was quoted out of context or it was a slip of the tongue. I dare to say that Prof Soyinka is highly gifted enough in the ‘Oyibo’ language that he can express himself clearly in the lingo. To others who may want to postulate that the speech was written out for him and the insertion of the statement was not his thought but that of the script writer, I also want to debunk that claim because Prof would have deciphered the gravity of the expression under scrutiny in his preparatory reading of his speech. Therefore I can conclusively say that Soyinka said what he meant and he meant what he said.

Having set the stage for discussion, I have the following rhetorical questions to castigate the erudite Prof about his faulty statement:

-Does he think paper work will remain forever? Once upon a time there was no paper and ink. Human records were on manuscripts, engravings and verbal witness. But paper-and-ink technology wiped all that away. In a similar vein paper-and-ink technology will also go into the archive someday.

-Does he know of e-library where an individual with a device (computer, tablets etc) can access all the books in a library? I doubt if he has used this before.

-Is he aware of the ambitious plan launched 2-3 years ago by the technology giant Google to scan and make available online popular books from around the world? I am sure it is Soyinka and his technology skeptic friends who sued Google in the American court to thwart this noble course. Google opted for out-of-court settlement of USD200 million with the litigants.

-Is Soyinka aware that during his university days knowledge doubled every 50years but now it is every 2years? How many books and how voluminous) would be written to keep track with this jet-speed expansion in knowledge? The internet and related technology remains the most veritable tool to disseminate this info.

-Is Soyinka aware that before any scientific/literary work (including his dictionary) is published, it is already obsolete? Putting up any scientific literature takes years of research, careful script writing and careful editing. Before it is released, it would have been overtaken by newer knowledge. It is only information technology that can remain up to date.

-Does Soyinka think that when an academician goes online for research, he interacts with the computer using his finger and thinks with his gut? The intellectual challenge while reading or writing a ‘paper’ book remains while writing or reading online.

-Does he think the university libraries in Nigeria today are well stocked with up-to-date quality books? In fact let him go to his alma mater library, he will be shocked to find that the most recent book there was published 10years ago. What a tragedy!!! The online books remain the best option (fortunately many of them free) for getting the information you want in relation to research and project work.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that he certainly misfired by equating the use of internet to loss of ‘intellectualism’. To make it even more amusing, there are aspects of knowledge in human endeavours known by 10-year-olds that Prof Soyinka is totally ignorant of due to internet revolution. If Soyinka were to be a doctor, he would insist that patients’ record in hospital be on paper eternally rather than embrace the space-and-time saving electronic medical record. In my early university days, all my medical textbooks were hard copies. But in the final 2years of my medical education, electronic lectures and textbooks became the norm. If  Soyinka were to be a student then, he would have led a protest that scholarship was being killed.

The opinion expressed by Prof Soyinka reflects the generally held view by his contemporaries who see the evolution of information technology as a ‘play thing’. Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun state never knew that providing a computer for every child could enhance learning if not for his foreign-trained son who sold and impressed the idea on his father governor. Similarly, it is almost a taboo in many churches (mine inclusive) to come along with electronic Bible to church.

One other thought that crossed my mind was to think that Prof Soyinka’s sense of judgement was being beclouded by age. If this is the case, then he must see his psychiatrist before dementia takes him unaware. Another point to note is that was the statement made out of fear that his books will soon be out of the shelf in bookstores because of online competition? If that also is the case then he should approach Google ebooks as they have an answer for him.

In summary, it is sad to note that men of honour, whom we may term accomplished, have so much perverse opinion about the direction our country should go. The youth must take their destiny in their own hands as there is no role model up there.