Wande Abimbola @91: How An Abíkú Decided To Live (5)
By Tunde Odesola
Building the letters of the alphabet into bricks of sentences and paragraphs is serious business. While writing the fourth part of this article last week, the roots of my creative fibre hit the rocks when I needed simultaneous imagery to portray twin dangers. I fetched a popular proverb, “Ikú ń de dèdè, dèdè n de ikú,” to convey the imagery but ran into a roadblock, still. Ikú means death. But I don’t know what dèdè means.
For a long period, I racked my brain; searching and researching, constructing and deconstructing, writing and unwriting, but I couldn’t untrap myself from the knot called dèdè. So, I decided to call a friend as they do in ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’
I called a friend and said, “Ikú ń de dèdè, dèdè n de ikú is a popular Yoruba proverb. What’s dèdè?” My friend, whose voice excites the eardrum like ocean waves spreading frothing fresh bubbles on the beach, hails from Ila-Orangun, the beloved home of palm wine. He said in Yoruba, “The word is not ikú, it’s ikún. Ikún is a rodent. Dèdè is a trap. It means the rodent is eyeing the trap just as the trap is eyeing the rodent.”
The name of my friend is Sulaimon Ayilara, known to his teeming fans as Ajobiewe, the popular bard and actor, who broke into public consciousness in the Fèyíkógbón and Super Story drama series of the 1980s and early 2000 respectively. In my piece last week, I forgot to attribute the unknotting of dèdè to this great oral poet. Ajobiewe, please, take a bow!
Were singing the only profession that provided daily bread for all mortals, I would’ve died of starvation. I think my voice is good when I speak but when I sing, things fall apart. My voice just doesn’t have regard for musical keys – like most Nigerian soldiers who have no regard for constituted authority, stupidly feeling they are superior to the civilian populace.
Ogunwande has a great voice which moves listeners to tears when he sings the panegyrics of Yoruba deities, wars and mores. In the course of my interviews with him, he sings about the virtues of Yoruba revivalism and truth, punctuating his folklore with, “Uhmm, nkan se wa;” – we are doomed.
He renders a short song in praise of truth and continues with the story of how he became the VC of Great Ife. “When my friend, Sanda, told me Chief Adisa Akinloye had collected my letter of appointment, I said it’s ok. I reminded him that my main reason for choosing academics was to be a scholar and not an administrator. I just drove to Ife. It never bothered me and I never made any enquiry about it,” Ogunwande said.
But some days later, Ogunwande got a letter from Akinloye, saying, “Prof, please, see me in my house on….” Ogunwande went to Sanda, his friend, and showed him Akinloye’s letter. Both of them went to Akinloye’s house in Ibadan on the appointed day.
“Akinloye was blunt. He said he collected my letter after Oyo people complained that I was an enemy for being a Unity Party of Nigeria member. Akinloye, an Ibadan indigene, said there was no Ibadan indigene among those vying for the VC post, stressing that his action was based on the protest of Oyo people, and not to favour Ibadan. Chief Richard Akinjide came in while we were at Akinloye’s house. There was a crowd in the house.
“I told him I wasn’t an enemy of the NPN. I reminded him he was the one, in company with other chieftains such as Chief Bode Thomas and Chief Abiodun Akerele, who brought the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group to Oyo. I reminded him of the speech he delivered in Oyo which called for Yoruba nationalism. I said I’m a UPN member because of Yoruba nationalism,” Ogunwande said.
Akinloye kept quiet for some time. A woman in the crowd shouted, ‘Wande dobale!’, ordering the academic to prostrate. Did he prostrate?
“Never, I didn’t. Akinloye said he wouldn’t have them humiliate me. He described me as a decent man, adding that some other fellow would’ve renounced the UPN and joined the NPN. Long before the VC position became vacant, I had served as the Chairman, Oyo State College of Arts and Science (OSCAS), a position I was appointed into by the Oyo State Governor, Chief Bola Ige.”
“Meanwhile, the Elepe of Iseke was my aunty’s husband. When he died, his son ascended the throne and made me the secretary of the Council of Baales of Alahoro. So, Oyo people, who heard that my letter was withheld, also found their way to the residence of Chief Akinloye, in solidarity.
“One candidate among the three of us shortlisted for the VC position had quickly renounced the UPN and joined the NPN. But President Shehu Shagari saw through the ploy. The Secretary to the Federal Government, Alhaji Shehu Musa, particularly said there was nothing wrong with a man to serve his state as chairman of OSCAS. Eventually, President Shagari noted that all three of us were UPN members.
“I got to know all this because I had a student, Olu Afolabi, whom I taught at UNILAG. He was a student unionist at school but had joined politics and become the Deputy Majority Leader, House of Representatives. He was at the meeting with the President when the issue was being discussed along with Chief Akinloye, SFG, and others. When the SFG said I should be given my letter, it was him who got the SFG to do another letter immediately after the meeting, and personally brought it to me.”
According to Ogunwande, the seven years he spent as VC were the happiest days of his life. His first and second terms were four and three years respectively. During his era, OAU had 30,000 students. Then, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo; Moore Plantation, Ibadan; and the School of Agric, Akure, were all part of OAU.
About a year after being appointed by Shagari, the military, led by General Muhammadu Buhari, sacked the democratically elected government of Shagari on December 31, 1983, floundering Nigeria down the path of 16 years of successive despotic rules. In those heady days of military rule, student protests were rife. How did Ogunwande deal with student protests?
“Whenever I heard that students had gathered in numbers and were surging in protest to my residence, they always met me standing by my gate or on the road – walking to go and meet them. I’m talking of about 20, 000 charged students. Whenever they become unruly during the protests, I charge back at them and ask, ‘Are you barbarians?’ Don’t you have a leader? But I was always ready and willing to listen to them. Àyà níní tó òogùn lótò; courage is equivalent to charm.
“My success as VC boils down to upholding the truth and being fair to all at all times even though I consulted Ifa and made sacrifices to the gods on major decisions. But I wouldn’t have succeeded if I didn’t uphold the truth. I ran an all-inclusive administration that met with the students every month. I didn’t miss any of the monthly meetings with the students.
“The students saw my sincerity and fatherly leadership. After each meeting, they would tell me to pray for them. After praying, they will sing ‘Babalawo, mo wa bebe, alugbinrin…There was a particular protest when all students across the country converged on OAU for a mother-of-all protest. I consulted Ifa and Ifa told me to make a sacrifice, after the sacrifice, the students dispersed peacefully, with those from outside running back to their respective schools and Ife students going back to classes.”
Buttressing the supremacy of sacrifice over supernatural powers/charms making oogùn síse) and Ifa consultation (Ifa dida), Ogunwande explained that sacrifice is the power of the Yoruba. “That’s why foreign religions are always against sacrifice done in Yoruba traditional religion. When you give sacrifice to the gods, we, traditional religion worshippers, believe you’re feeding the entire universe because organisms of the air, land and water are going to partake in it.
“For instance, a sacrifice placed by the river, aquatic animals such as fishes, crabs etc, would eat part of it; birds of the air and land animals would eat from it. Even ants would partake, too. We believe that all the creatures that ate from the sacrifice would communicate with Oludumare about the good you’ve done by feeding them. Sacrifice is like fuel, once you do it, it’s boom! It’s efficacious,” Ogunwande said.
Illustrating his point with folklore, Abimbola sang in Yoruba, “Sacrifice is the eldest of three siblings. oogùn (supernatural power/charm) is the younger, Ifa casting is the youngest.”
Ogunwande, the father of three sets of twins, earned N49,000.00 per month when he was VC, an amount that cannot buy a bag of rice today.
Written by Tunde Odesola and first published in The PUNCH, on Friday, February 2, 2024)
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola
(The full story will soon be out in book form. Watch Out!)