The Nigerian Copyright Commission has dedicated this year’s World Book and Copyright Day to the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and named July 13 the National Reading Day to mark the 90th birthday of the literary icon.

This was disclosed by the Director-General, NCC, John Asein, in a statement, wherein he also stressed the importance of allowing individuals to read in their preferred manner and location.

“Our Nobel laureate in Literature, playwright, essayist, literary icon and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Prof Wole Soyinka, will turn 90 on the 13th of July, 2024.

“We are pleased to dedicate this year’s World Book and Copyright Day to him. He is unarguably the tallest living iroko in Nigeria’s rich literary forest and an advocate of books, reading and copyright.

“Beyond a befitting celebration of the literary icon on his 90th Birthday, the commission is calling on stakeholders in the book industry to recognise July 13 as Nigeria’s National Reading Day to encourage Nigerians to read for pleasure and draw attention to some of the values that he has advanced in the literary world.

“By this recognition, he becomes our first Copyright Change Champion,” the NCC DG announced.

The commission urged stakeholders in Nigeria’s book industry to recognise July 13 as Nigeria’s National Reading Day, coinciding with the 90th birthday celebration of the literary icon.

The World Book and Copyright Day is set aside every April 23 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to focus on books, celebrate authors, promote reading, encourage non-discriminatory access to knowledge and raise copyright awareness.

The theme for this year’s World Book and Copyright Day is ‘Read Your Way.’

In his goodwill message to The PUNCH to mark the World Book and Copyright Day, on Tuesday, Soyinka stressed the importance of intellectual property rights for authors.

The renowned playwright said the prevalence of pirated copies of authors’ works reflected poorly on society and governments’ understanding of copyright.

To achieve the essence of the day, Soyinka urged concerted efforts to protect intellectual property, highlighting its significance in the global intellectual landscape.

He said, “An author’s encounter with pirated copies of his or her work is not the most inspiring of social responses to the literary occupation.

“It is also a sad reflection on such societies and the slack understanding of governments to the meaning and responsibilities of – copyright – the fundamental entitlement to intellectual property.

“As we celebrate yet another day dedicated to this product of human enlightenment, we should dedicate ourselves to the protection of this cornerstone in the intellectual edifice of humanity, across nations, races, faiths, cultures and histories.

“Even where the world persists in its impeccable strides towards a seeming destiny of self-destruction, the still, small voice of humanity refuses to be silenced, nor is its zeal of mission diminished.”

To ensure a broader audience as one of the aims of World Book and Copyright Day, the NCC DG stressed the importance of publishing more books in indigenous languages and leveraging modern technology through digital platforms.

“The real joy of a book is in its reading and this year’s theme reaffirms the need to allow people to read in the way they choose and wherever they are.

“It points to the need to publish more books in indigenous languages and take advantage of modern technology to reach more readers on digital platforms.

“In furtherance of this year’s theme, NCC is today launching its year-long intervention programmes to promote reading for pleasure and build respect for copyright through our ABC Action Plan:

“A is to Adopt measures to make reading more fun for all; B: Bring books closer to more children; and C: Choose change champions for books and copyright,” the commission said.

Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka Hon. FRSL, known as Wole Soyinka, is a Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist in the English language. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature for his “wide cultural perspective and poetic overtones fashioning the drama of existence”, the first sub-Saharan African to be honoured in that category.

Soyinka was born into a Yoruba family in Abeokuta. In 1954, he attended Government College in Ibadan, and subsequently University College Ibadan and the University of Leeds in England.

After studying in Nigeria and the UK, he worked with the Royal Court Theatre in London. He went on to write plays that were produced in both countries, in theatres and on radio. He took an active role in Nigeria’s political history and its campaign for independence from British colonial rule. In 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. 

In 1967, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the federal government of General Yakubu Gowon and put in solitary confinement for two years, for volunteering to be a non-government mediating actor.

Soyinka has been a strong critic of successive Nigerian (and African at large) governments, especially the country’s many military dictators, as well as other political tyrannies, including the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. 

Much of his writing has been concerned with “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it”. During the regime of General Sani Abacha (1993–98), Soyinka escaped from Nigeria on a motorcycle via the “NADECO Route”. Abacha later proclaimed a death sentence against him “in absentia”. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, Soyinka returned to his nation.

In Nigeria, Soyinka was a Professor of Comparative literature (1975 to 1999) at the Obafemi Awolowo University, then called the University of Ifẹ̀. With civilian rule restored to Nigeria in 1999, he was made professor emeritus. 

While in the United States, he first taught at Cornell University as Goldwin Smith professor for African Studies and Theatre Arts from 1988 to 1991 and then at Emory University, where in 1996 he was appointed Robert W. Woodruff Professor of the Arts. Soyinka has been a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has served as scholar-in-residence at New York University’s Institute of African American Affairs and at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. He has also taught at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Yale, and was also a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Duke University in 2008.

In December 2017, Soyinka was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in the “Special Prize” category, awarded to someone who has “contributed to the realization of cultural events that promote understanding and the exchange of knowledge between peoples”.