BY SNR. CHIEF ‘LEKAN ALABI
This is long narrative, backed with empirical facts/photographs, can be understood only by the patient, deep, initiated sages.
As such, I humbly appeal for your patience and understanding, in order that the messages/lessons therein do not get frittered away. Thank you.
Thurday, July 13, 2023, my humble self joined millions of fans/well-wishers and friends of Africa’s first Nobel laureate Professor ‘Wole Soyinka, in celebrating his 89th birthday. We wished, and still wish, him many seasons in wellness, wisdom, safety, joy, honour and contentment. Amen.
As stated n my 89th birthday special radio/TV production transmitted on NTA, Ibadan, OGTV, Abeokuta, SPACE 90.1 FM, Ibadan and posts on the social media, my first contact with WS was 63 years ago, when he won the Shell Oil Nigeria Producing Company Limited’s (SONPCL) Independence Playwriting Competition in October, 1960. SONPCL had organized the landmark competition to mark Nigeria’s independence from the British colonial rule.
The British-owned oil company, SONPCL produced a voluminous souvenir, wherein the story of her entry into the Nigerian business hub was lavishly told.
In addition, the special Independence publication also told about Nigeria, under colonial rule, agitations for independence from Britain by Nigerian nationalists politicians, journalists etc till freedom eventually came on 1st October, 1960.
Quite expectedly, SONPCL featured the winner of her Independence Playwriting Competition, Mr. ‘Wole Soyinka, a 26-year old budding playwright, civil rights activist and lecturer at Nigeria’s first university, the University of Ibadan.
My paternal grandmother, Mama Asma’u Odunola Alabi, the matriarch of the Ekerin Ajengbe Chieftaincy Family of Ile Ekerin Ajengbe, SW1/131, Isale-Osi, Ibadan, was the late Woman Leader of the NCNC party in Ibadan, under the leadership of one of Nigeria’s most colourful politicians and magnetic public orators, the late Alhaji (Honourable) Adegoke Adelabu, alias “PENKELEMEESI”.(1917 to 1958). May his valiant soul continue to rest in perfect peace. Amen
Due to Mama Odunola’s political clout and visibility,she brought home a copy of the aforementioned SOPNCL’s Independence book, moreso as her political leader, Adelabu, was featured, even though Adelabu, the brilliant, petrel Leader of Opposition in the Western Region House of Assembly, had died, two years earlier, in a motorcar accident on 25th March, 1958.
Each time Mama wanted information about Nigeria, particularly Adelabu, and the country’s political leaders, out she brought the Shell book, and I, her Personal/Political Assistant, as it were, would be told to read out what topic she wanted.
Kindly permit my immodesty to say that even though I was only 10 years old in 1960, and in class three in primary school, I was precocious and capable enough to perform the role of interpreter, the role which brought ‘Wole Soyinka’s academic/political exploits to my consciousness from a tender age.
As I grew in age and social awareness, the more the enigma and icon, ‘Wole Soyinka, grew in my focus and admiration. I wanted, and still want, to be like him.
Little wonder, I rose, at age 17,in defence of Professor Soyinka, when the General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Military Government incarcerated him, in indefinite detention, in Kaduna Prisons, without trial, in 1967.I was then a form three student of African Church Grammar School, Apata-Ganga, Ibadan.
The nexus between Professor Soyinka and my humble self is a long story, which I have been telling the world since it started in 1960.
In 1969, upon his release from the unfair almost 2- year detention in Kaduna Prisons, Professor Soyinka formally wrote me a letter of appreciation for my intervention and formal appeal to General Gowon on his behalf, while in detention.
He, WS, formally invited me to visit him at the former School of Drama (now the Department of Theatre Arts) of the University of Ibadan, where he was the HOD. The day I chose to visit him in 1969, he was out of town.
But, 52 long years after, I made the courtesy visit appointment, in 2021, thanks to the divine intervention of the Abeokuta, Ogun state-based lawyer/politician, Chief Joju Fadairo, a close ally of WS and Soyinka’s well-known alter-ego, creative artiste, Chief Biodun Lasile, the recenly-elected Orunto (one of the Kingmakers) of Owu Kingdom, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
So, what about Soyinka being caught as in the headline of this post?
Those who are close intimately to Professor Soyinka, know that he, since decades past, disappears, totally unreachable, weeks to his birthday, every 13th July, and will only resurface thereafter!
But,40 years ago, exactly on 13th July,1983, his late soulmate and friend, Chief ‘Bola Ige, SAN, the first Executive Governor of the old Oyo State (present-day Oyo and Osun States) and Nigeria’s sitting Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, till he was assassinated that black Sunday, 23rd December, 2001, at his Bodija Housing Estate, Ibadan home, CAUGHT, or let me say cornered, Professor Soyinka at his official “jungle” quarters at the former University of Ife (since renamed the Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife,Osun State! I was present.
Governor Ige, of old Oyo State (1979 to 1983) whose Publicity/PR organ I had joined in February 1983, as the Press Secretary in charge of Television Matters, diverted from our regular weekend Esa-Oke Retreats to Ile Ife, one day, to felicitate with WS, his bosom friend of decades. They were two peas in a pod.
Although we didn’t meet Professor Soyinka at home, as he and his fellow hunters had gone deep into the UNIFE forests on Apaaro-hunting, right in our hands he, WS, fell into (Owo wa lo bo si i) as they say, when he eventually returned to his quarters very late in the night.
Shocked, at first, on seeing Governor Ige’s unexpected convoy in his premises, WS calmed down quickly on seeing his friend and chum, Uncle ‘Bola.
Since we were uninvited, apart from being unexpected, there was nothing to swallow or gulp. But, the bits and pieces found by us inside the refrigerator in WS apartment were consumed by us, amidst backslappings/handshakes.
Let me end this short narrative here, as I pray that next year, 13th July, 2024, will be conducive for us to slaughter cows, goats, apaaros etc to welcome our dear WS into the no-negarians circle. Amen.
*Senior Chief ‘Lekan Alabi, the Maye Olubadan of Ibadanlan writes from Ibadan.