THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A Conversation With Segun Odegbami, Part 5
The Eagle Landed On Planet Nollywood
In this closing conversation with Segun Odegbami, Mathematical 7 speaks on his acting experience in “Ayinla”. All photos include some of the lead actors and scenes in the movie.
You wrote about a visit you made to the residence of Professor Wole Soyinka with Tunde Kelani. Many have wondered what a literary genius and teacher, a foremost cinematographer and film maker, and an exceptional football player could have in common? Tell me about the genesis of the visit and the encounter itself.
Tunde Kelani has been my family/friend forever – almost 50 years. He knew my elder brother, Dele, during their secondary school days in Abeokuta.
The elements were at mysterious work when TK and I lived briefly together in the home of a friend mutual to ‘Badmeat’ (as my elder brother was called at the time for his wicked tackles on opponents in football) and TK in Ibadan. That was in 1972.
TK and I also worked briefly around the same time in WNTV/WNBS, and, later in life, connected again in Lagos where we had a few close, mutual friends – Yinka Craig, Tunde Oloyede, Tunde Adegbola, and so on, from the mid-1970s. We became neighbours again in FESTAC Town for over a decade, meeting for coffee and conversation many evenings in TK’s home, in the late 1980s till the mid-1990s.
We remained very close throughout. I was an integral part of TK’s family, just as I was in the periphery of his film projects for decades. I just enjoyed listening to his endless stories, film after film, and he enjoyed hearing the comments and opinions on his works as seen through the untrained eyes of a football player. Once, he showed the premiere of one of his movies in my house with an assembly of our two families over a feast and plenty of drinks.
He inspired and smoothened my path into the audio/visual world, helping me successfully navigate the challenges of sports TV production without any formal training in the 1990s.
I have remained around the TV production business till now, and I am in the process of setting up sports radio and television stations as a business and public service and as a production centre for films, documentaries, capacity training, scholarship and research.
During some of our conversations a long time ago, TK found out that my uncle, my father’s immediate elder brother (by the same father), was the same well-known writer, Amos Tutuola. When the man died in 1990, TK desperately wanted to speak with my father to get complete information about his brother. That’s how TK came to interview my late father. That’s when I also heard more about my uncle and stopped wondering where my inborn interest in storytelling, literature, the arts and Yoruba cultural issues sprang from. Uncle Amos and I are from the same genetic stock.
Amos Tutuola was originally Amos Tutuola Odegbami. His children still bear the Odegbami surname. He lived in Ibadan, and my father used to go and visit him in the early days of my sojourn in the town in the early 1970s. I took my father a few times to his brother’s house in the Apata area of Ibadan.
My father told us about his famous brother and how they were all shocked by his global fame. Like the rest of them (brothers), he had minimal western education, only as much as their mothers could afford or arrange with other relatives to give them. My grandfather did not send any one of his children, from many wives to school.
Amos wanted very badly more education than the few years in primary school that he had. He was so angry later in his life with their father that he dropped his surname from his name and decided to bear his mother’s surname when the unexpected path to fame opened up through his writings.
My father, who only had a standard four education, and could read and write, never had a copy of the famous book, “The Palm-Wine Drinkard’, that made his brother famous during my childhood years in the 1960s Jos where we lived.
I believe, like his brother, my father was a master at telling us folkloric stories on some moonlit nights in front of our house at 64/5 Yandoka St. in Jos. Later in my life in Ibadan, I once tried to read the book. I was amused at the relatively ‘bad’ English it was written in and did not read far enough into it to appreciate the fascinating fantasy, imagery and creative mind of Amos Tutuola.
TK’s enquiry many decades later triggered my interest to reread it. This time I enjoyed reading it. TK enthusiasm for telling stories on Fagunwa, Bayo Faleti, Akinwunmi Ishola, and other Yoruba writers opened my mind to Nigerian literature and writers, including Wole Soyinka, and their relationship.
I went to Roman Catholic Primary and Secondary schools. We studied Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and the Anthology of Longer Poems for literature in English. I did not read and was never exposed to any African writers.
Once, at the prompting of TK, when I tried to read Ake by Wole Soyinka purely out of curiosity to read a Wole Soyinka book, I could not go beyond the first chapter. Navigating through the words and style of his writing were too difficult. I laboured in reading it. I later read ‘The man died’. I did not find the true-life story fascinating reading. Recall that I grew up feasting on the diet of ‘James Hardley Chase’ for my novels and Thomas Hardy and Jane Eire for my more serious school work.
During my football playing days, reading novels was my pastime in camp. I loved to read all manner of books. Every time I travelled abroad, the first thing I did (and still until today) visits WH Smith and charter books and novels.
As I grew much older, particularly after my footballing years from the mid-1990s, and had new friends, many of whom were in academia or the arts, my mind started to be fertilised with a different mindset about literature.
Many persons around me, led by Tunde Kelani, were ardent ‘disciples’ of Wole Soyinka – Tunde Fagbenle, Tunde Dabiri, Tunde Makanju (Capone), Peter Badejo, Uncle Tunji Oyelana, Tunji Odegbami (Capone), Rufus Orisayomi, and so on.
Through the years, I was always fascinated when they discussed and spoke so glowingly of Prof Wole Soyinka and their different rather unique relationships. Everyone had incredible stories to tell about Kongi. He was like a god.
Yet, in all my ‘walkabouting’, my path with the great man never crossed. We met once at the airport, but with people milling around him, I never had the space to approach him and introduce myself; after all, a smaller crowd milled around me too. Remember that I was a little bit of a celebrity too at the time. Even when TK finally did the introduction at his 60th birthday celebration that Prof attended, it was so flitting that I could never have registered in Prof’s mind. A footballer’s name or face would be the last thing to register on the Prof’s sophisticated mind. TK’s introduction was drowned by the noisy tenor of the evening. My name would have flashed and faded immediately through Prof’s mind. Football and scholarship did not go together in the world of scholarship and intellectualism.
I was so frustrated not being close to WS, like all my friends, that I got Prof’s email from TK, sent him a short message introducing myself, shockingly received a warm response, and started a conversation thread that lasted quite a while with one of the greatest living literary giants in the world. For that period, I lived on the moon.
One day, WS actually agreed to meet with me in Lagos at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s. Uncle Yemi is one of my late cousins, Tunji Odegbami’s best friends. He knew me very well.
That’s how I met Prof, one-on-one, for about 30 minutes for the first and only time before I had the better opportunity to meet him again over a decade later with the preparations for the filming of ‘Ayinla’ by TK.
This time it was so close to home in Abeokuta. TK asked if I wanted to fulfil my dream to visit Professor Wole Soyinka in his Abeokuta residence in the ‘jungle’ of Kemta. I jumped at the chance.
TK told me he needed to brief Prof about the new film project and to secure his blessing. He told me he never did any film production involving Professor Wole Soyinka, mainly since several were adaptations of books and plays written by renowned Yoruba scholars. TK told me he had secured a ‘visa’ for me, that is, permission to bring me along.
TK is very close to Professor Wole Soyinka. They have an umbilical relationship through their mutual work, passion and life in the arts. So, that’s my story. That’s how a film-maker, a writer and teacher, and a football player found themselves in ‘Ijegba’ for an uncommon conversation.
Fascinating. Tell me about the encounter.
It is Tuesday, the 24th of November 2020. The signposts at the gates reflect the nature of the man who lives beyond them.
We leave the entrance and drive a short distance through a canopy of dense vegetation of trees. We cross a small trickling stream and emerge into a beautifully lawned clearing, a shaded paradise.
Open sesame – our eyes riveted on this reasonably large building of exquisite beauty planted on the higher ground in the environment, a unique architectural masterpiece of red bricks and unpainted walls.
Everyone that comes here must be as intrigued as we are, arriving at a place with a name that reminds one of another person and place from the past – Fela and Kalakuta Republic. But here is different.
I am riding on Tunde Kelani’s ticket to meet with the man lovingly referred to by those that have known him well and long enough as Kongi or any one of other names depending on the nature of their relationship with him – Capone, WS, Eniogun, Captain Blood. There may be other names, but I prefer to respectfully and simply call him Prof.
I am TK’s ‘handbag’ on this visit. I don’t have a visa. It is a requirement before anyone can visit the republic located high up in the hills of Kemta, a short hop from town in the outskirts of Abeokuta. TK assures me that he is my visa to the place on this trip and that I am ‘covered’.
So, we go to this place, once a secluded environment far from the bustle of town, but is now teeming with new buildings.
It is not every day that you get to meet with the man who spends more time in the skies than on the ground, flying from one continent to another to meet up with the endless demands for his talks and speeches.
I have been looking for a second opportunity to share some time with Professor Akinwande Babatunde Oluwole Soyinka, writer and teacher (as he likes to describe himself), since meeting him one-on-one for the first (and last time) over ten years ago at Uncle Yemi Ogunbiyi’s in Lagos. But that was a different setting. It was very brief and not on his own turf. I needed to see and experience him where he lives. Now, here I am, in an anticipated experience of a lifetime.
TK and I are here alone with the iconic literary giant, a global ambassador of humanity, scholarship and deep thinking. We are having a conversation without boundaries or structure, pure talk from the heart.
Two hours come and go very quickly in a flash.It is an incredible journey into the unguarded side of Prof. We gently traverse the periphery of various subjects, one magically conjuring another in a seamless stream of light-hearted banter – phenomena, spiralism, spiritualism, philosophy, films, literature, the state of Nigeria, the Yoruba race, Ogun State, my political odyssey, the incredible agricultural revolution in Ogun State driven by a certain Dr. Adeola Odedina, and so on, one subject dovetailing into another.
I am told that the Nobel Laureate lives in this forest of woods, shrubs, and even some monkeys. A shallow stream meanders gently directly in front of the house. The chirping of unseen birds punctuated the silence and interrupted the serenity of this kingdom. Here, there are no ugly and unnecessary physical structures, no pollution of any sort, no obscene images, only tokens of artworks strategically positioned around the house’s exterior like a woman’s facial ‘makeup’.
Prof. welcomes us at his door and takes us into his sanctuary, a small but special part of the house where he escapes when he wants to get away from the world to commune with the spirits of creativity.
It is here that we sit, with shelves of books, files and video cassettes as a company, to have our chat and later have a communion of wine specially selected by Prof himself from his famed cellar of rare and exotic collections from different parts of the world.
The only decor in the room is a few works of art. TK assures me there is nothing more to see anywhere else than books, more books, and more unique works of art.
Prof is not a victim of materialism, so his home and lifestyle are spartan but very with a touch of class.
The only items of furniture in the room are three cushioned cane chairs and a 3-seater settee. The floor is of beautiful rugged brown wood. Could it be Iroko? I wonder.
Pablo Picasso will not go back to his native Malaga in Spain should he come here. He would make it home to create his most imaginative works.
I am thinking and watching Prof from the corner of my eye. He is very calm, a gentle smile dancing on his face. His deep rich baritone voice is providing melodious music to my ears as he discusses Ayinla Omowura, TK’s next movie project that has listed ‘yours truly’ as a ‘major’ actor. The shooting starts next week. I can’t wait to get started and ‘conquer’ Nollywood.
I eventually join in the conversation, and we travel through time, space and various subjects. I observe that Prof is thoroughly enjoying the conversations. I like the man very much.
Then it is time to go. Prof has another appointment to keep. One day, probably, I shall write about our conversations.
Finally, I remind him of my open invitation to visit the sports academy in Wasimi Orile. He gladly grants my wish. He will come pretty soon to meet with the students and the people in the community. I am enthralled.
How about TK and I transforming to flies on the wall to watch Prof and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo spend a day together, just the two of them, in a room? What would they talk about? What would happen?
He laughs out very loud, immediately seeing the humour and ‘trap’ in my plot of an unlikely event that could only be made possible if TK, arguably the foremost cinematographer in Africa, turns on his creative genius and scripts a fictional blockbuster film series to capture Ebora and Eniogun in a duel of any sort.
Between them, Prof says, there is no enmity or animosity, but lots of mutual respect. They obviously don’t belong to the same planet and see the world very differently. For that reason, my proposed scenario and TK’s movie would not last more than 10 minutes before Kata Kata will burst, and there would be a ‘tsunami’. Still in that mood, he tells us a few of their past encounters. Gripping, interesting and humourous stuff.
Prof walks us to our car. We depart. TK and I are silent for a while as we head back to town. It has been a truly fascinating experience on my first visit to ARI, the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba.
I forget. If you ever want to visit the Republic, do not think of doing so without securing a visa first. There is a whole list of Ministers of the Republic that can be of help – Tunji Oyelana, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Jimi Solanke, Peter Badejo, Wale Adeniran, Jahman Anikulapo, Bankole Olayebi, Tunde Makanju, Peter Badejo, Teju Kareem, Tunde Awosanmi, Makin Soyinka, Kunle Ajibade, Segun Ojewuyi, Tunde Kelani, and a few others. They are all citizens of the Republic. I may soon be one, too, the elements permitting. However, all visitors are advised to always keep in mind the grim warning signs at the entrance. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
What is a footballer’s connection with the cultural movie on Ayinla, the late legendary Apala musician?
I have known Tunde Kelani, TK, the filmmaker, for almost half a century. I have never been a close part of his film community through this long period. This time, we are ‘5 and 6’, tied in a knot.
TK has been ‘close marking’ me, the way Claudio Gentile marked out Zico at the 1982 World Cup, giving me no breathing space. Everywhere Zico went on the field of play, Gentile followed him like his shadow. That was the strategy Italy adopted to stop Zico.
In my case with TK, he may have adopted a similar ‘strategy’ to forestall any possible ‘escape’ for me. He obviously remembers my ‘versatility’ as an actor; that’s why he is investing a lot of time in me this time. I am all set for him to play a significant part in the movie. He thinks a footballer cannot conquer Nollywood. I will show him.
The only caveat is that apart from playing my part, I shall keep a diary of the highlights of my experience, telling it all, tiworo tiworo, mainly what this faded football star thinks of the experience and how well he does in Planet Nollywood.
What have you learnt so far in the two weeks that you have spent on the set?
The past two weeks have been intense, exciting and a blast. Working with TK and seeing how a movie is being put together has been a unique experience. The details in producing an epic film like ‘Ayinla’ are mind-boggling.
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Tell me about it.
The only subject anyone can get TK to discuss these days is the film. Every conversation starts and ends with ‘Ayinla’. I am in his ‘prison’.
The good news is that, at last, the actual filming started some days ago in Abeokuta. That has taken over his life.
Before that, TK had been prancing around like a boxer on the eve of a big fight. He reminded me of how I used to feel before a big game – restless, singleminded, anxious, poor sleep, fasting and praying, adrenalin pumping in the veins, all emotions unleashed. At such times, time moves very fast, racing at a thousand kilometres per hour.
We have an exciting but challenging movie script in our hands. It is tasking TK’s creativity and stretching the limits of improvisation in securing the tools and locations for a film set a long time ago, in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The other day I jokingly teased TK about why he is not using me as his lead actor, considering the rave reviews I got for my ‘world class’ performance in one of his previous movies, Campus Queen.
His response left me confused. The protagonist in ‘Ayinla’, TK says to me, is not Ayinla Omowura, but the ancient ‘town under the rock’ around which the movie is intricately woven – its environment, people, culture, history, language, and a social life that moulded a local musical genius, whose songs were deep socio-cultural and political satire.
Abeokuta provided all the ingredients that created Ayinla Omowura and gave him all the ‘materials’ for evergreen songs for those who understand the Yoruba language and appreciate his genre of music, Apala.
So, the movie captures the odyssey and adventures of the local musical hero and recreates them in Abeokuta, this quiet town in the heart of Yorubaland, saturated with nature’s ‘accidents’ in its resultant ‘catastrophic’ topography of meandering brooks, rocky boulders, dangerous rapids, rolling hills and valleys, deep gorges, and so on. Abeokuta also birthed some of the most accomplished and educated people in Nigeria’s history in virtually all sectors. This was where Ayinla lived, loved, worked and tragically died on the eve of his greatest triumph.
TK has always wanted to let people see and appreciate Abeokuta in all its splendour and spectacular beauty.
I can almost read TK’s mind about his ultimate but unwritten mission – to market Abeokuta to the world through this film. His greatest challenge, however, would be how to do justice to the sites, sounds, culture, architecture, people and the fear of the Coronavirus pandemic lingering in the land in order to achieve that goal.
Do not let me take the thunder out of the movie. It promises unique music, suspense and great drama.
How did the filming eventually go? What were your experiences? Were you able to get rid of the butterflies in your stomach? What were the differences between a football field and a film set?
For three days, I saw action in two locations in Abeokuta as soon as filming started. The first was on a Saturday, at a police station in the Ibara GRA area of town. There was little to report. The crew were just milling around, and no filming had started by the time I left.
The second day was on Sunday, in the evening, at Ake, behind the Palace of the paramount ruler of Egbaland, the Alake, at the location chosen as Ayinla Omowura’s residence during his lifetime.
The external scenes in Ake were incredible. The entire community came out of their homes and gathered in the big square in front of Ayinla’s house to watch the filming. Tk would surely not need to invest in any ‘waka pass’ actors. There were enough from the environment during the filming of several major scenes.
I watched the production at Ake, a particular scene inside Ayinla’s apartment where he welcomed a neighbourhood masquerade. The conversation between them was not part of the original script but an absolutely natural and brilliant improvisation that must have been inspired by the actors on set caught in the spirit of their characters.
The acting was out of this world -hilarious, spontaneous, dramatic and colourful.
Lee Evans, the African American athletics legend who was with me, could not get over the experience long after we left.
It was fantastic watching TK and his team of producers at work from very close quarters.
TK had grown more grey hairs and plenty of additional worry-lines on his face in a few days. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and from peering for long hours through the lens of a camera like a sniper in a war zone.
Filming went on all day and part of every night. I could see, just as many in the audience of watchers confirmed in conversations on the sidelines, that this movie had all the potential and trimmings of a blockbuster.
TK called me early on Monday morning to give me the message I had been quietly dreading – that my part in the movie would be shot on Thursday and that I should prepare for it.
Butterflies started to rumble again in my stomach. All my bravado of an Eagle coming to conquer Nollywood disappeared in an instant. I was shaking like a leaf. This was my litmus test.
All-day that Monday, I wrestled with my simple lines.
An interesting debate was taking place in my head: between football and acting, which was more difficult?
Those were the thoughts racing through my mind since TK gave me my filming schedule. All my earlier ‘sweet talk’ about some past acting records and prowess evaporated, and reality stared me in the face.
A film is an eternal documentary. I will either be applauded or crucified!! There is no place to hide anymore. That’s why I needed Uncle Jimi Solanke.
I had watched him act at close quarters in the past. He chews up acting with the ease of a Lionel Messi doing things with a football.
That is why I needed to make the pilgrimage to Ipara. I am glad I did. It helped me when the time finally came for me to act my part.
So, what happened to TK’s concept of Abeokuta as the film’s main protagonist? Did it unravel to you? What is it about the town that is so fascinating?
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Ha, it is a long story. The most unexpected things happened.
The filming of Ayinla lasted three gruelling weeks. It ended on Christmas day. On Boxing Day, at my insistence, Tunde Kelani, TK, went into ‘hibernation’ to catch his breath, to catch up with sleep and to recover from the mixed bag of the good and the ugly of experiences whilst filming inside Abeokuta. Stress and satisfaction found common ground on this his most challenging of works. Filming amid a global pandemic cannot be anything but a challenge of monstrous proportions.
One week into the filming, the arrival of Kunle Afolayan, actor, filmmaker and cinematographer, to Abeokuta to play his role in the movie provided an excellent lift for TK. Kunle arrived with refreshing energy, charisma and vivacity. Almost effortlessly, he charmed his way into the hearts of those watching the quintessential actor in his best elements as his role was knitted together, scene by scene, like a complex jigsaw puzzle.
Kunle is no stranger to Abeokuta, but he had not worked there in recent years, at least. He fell in love with the town all over again for its scenic beauty and told TK that his next movie, titled ‘Swallow’, still on the drawing board, would be shot in the ‘City under the Rock’.
That was all before he got down to filming his parts in Ayinla.
After 12 days of sharing in TK’s experience and having a taste of the reality of a new Abeokuta under Coronavirus, in the morning that he was to leave town, he announced that he would be taking his proposed new movie anywhere else but Abeokuta. He had changed his mind about the town.
What he experienced, first-hand, and saw beneath the calm exterior, the quiet streets, and the peaceful ambience of Abeokuta, were ordeals. Miscreants and hoodlums may now be holding the town by the jugular.
They were everywhere, lurking at every location, like leeches. Their daily demands of ‘filming rights’ are presented as threats and warnings of dire consequences should their illegal demands not be met.
In the absence of any form of protection by the police (rendered impotent since Endsars), the miscreants became a law unto themselves. If TK could have aborted the filming at a point, so frustrated was he that he would have. He did not.
Kunle saw all these and decided Abeokuta had become a no-go area for a serious movie producer, for now. The risks are not worth taking. Abeokuta is under seige!!
Abeokuta, today, has become like a girl, a figure-8, ten-over-ten, beautiful on the outside, but a simmering volcano on the inside. It took the filming of Ayinla for us all to see beneath the superficiality of life on the streets, the amount of unseen damage that the pandemic and other social ills are wreaking to shatter the innocence and the magic of this once-enchanting town.
TK’s dream was to use Ayinla to ‘sell’ Abeokuta to the world as the new Mecca for foreign filmmakers in Nigeria.
The good news now is that a few nights ago, TK called to tell me that Kunle Afolayan has again changed his mind. Like a pregnant woman that gives birth and immediately forgets about the pain, she goes through, the allure of Egbaland is overpowering. Kunle has changed his mind again – he will return to Abeokuta to shoot ‘Swallow’. But this time, he would come prepared to take on the menace and nuisance of the hoodlums and miscreants all over town.
Ironically, the best night of TK’s filming almost turned out to also be a nightmare. It was the filming of a major scene at the famous Centenary Hall, Ake, the historical and cultural landmark of old Abeokuta, the venue of many epochal events in the days of yore. To be able to use the hall, TK did a cosmetic refurbishment and restoration. With some fresh paints, new rugs, and excellent lighting, a magical transformation took place. The whole of Abeokuta knew something big was to happen.
Like locusts, they descended. Every area boy in that part of town used the opportunity to feed their extortionist appetites. TK paid through the nose that night. Despite that, there were fights between the different groups of miscreants, some of the artworks on the walls went missing, chairs and tables were upturned, and filming was disrupted intermittently for hours. Some calm finally returned at the end of the day, and even TK was over the moon with the pictures from that unforgettable night, where the scripted plot and unscripted reality blended to make Ayinla Omowura’s concert at Centenary Hall a scene in the movie that is a must-watch for the world when ‘Ayinla’ is finally released.
So, did you find out why the town, Abeokuta, rather than the man, Ayinla, is the movie’s protagonist?
That’s very interesting. It is an unconnected incident that opens my eyes finally.
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It is five days to Christmas, the eve of my first major shot at cinema stardom. The scene of my special appearance in ‘Ayinla’ is to be filmed in 24 hours’ time. I am preparing hard.
Then, Tintin comes to town.
Tintin is a media and communications consultant based in Lagos. He is a new friend. I like him a lot – young, wickedly handsome, lively, brilliant, on top of new technology, immensely gifted, creative, and a real guru of the broadcast media.
When he arrives, I am in a depressed place in my mind, the product of second-hand pressure. I have been worrying that TK is worried. The menace of the area boys and miscreants everywhere in town, whilst trying to film, has been making life miserable for everyone. I am worrying about Abeokuta. This is the same town TK intends to market to the world through ‘Ayinla’ as the new Mecca’ of cinematography. Can’t these hoodlums see the damage they are doing?
The Ogun State government must come to the rescue and quickly establish a special place where filmmakers can get adequate security support for future filmmaking and other projects.
But Tintin is entirely oblivious of my movie involvement and also of the mood around me in Abeokuta. He walks into it all like a man with a blindfold.
On alighting from his car in front of my house, the first words out of his mouth are jolting. The filming crew must not hear him, I tell myself. The prevailing mood is too reflective. TK is frustrated. Kunle Afolayan is angry. Everyone is depressed. Abeokuta, our fantasy paradise, has been under the siege of miscreants.
And then, in the midst of all these, Tintin loudly and innocently arrives and proclaims: “I love this town”.
Ha! Love ke? Abeokuta? Who is this?
I am looking at him and thinking: Tintin does not know anything. He is fooled, like we all have been, by the surface-look, the quiet and peaceful ambience of the residential estate where he meets me.
Tintin must be thinking he is making a good impression and goes on: “driving into town is breathtaking. You cannot miss the beauty of the landscape; the undulating hills and valleys stretching out as far as the eyes can see, by the Muhammadu Buhari Estate on the Sagamu entrance into town”.
This Tintin is in love, indeed.
“Who owns those empty houses?”. He is pointing at some uncompleted houses in the GRA. The man cannot be serious.
“There is something about Abeokuta that makes it different from every town I know in Nigeria. The moment you enter the town, all the tension and pressure imported from Lagos dissolve and evaporate. The streets are clean and uncrowded. They calm you down. The sanity and casual pace of life suck you in. Chief, I am thinking seriously about moving here to join you o”.
Ha, Tintin. 5 minutes in town, and you are singing such a lullaby. I can understand, though.
Coming straight from Lagos, a city that never sleeps, a city groaning and bursting at the seams with the weight of competing forces – an exploding population, impossible and chaotic traffic jams, hustle at every turn, deafening noises and mega environmental pollution, and an ocean of okada riders and area boys that make our Abeokuta-experience look like Kindergarten stuff.
Tintin’s romantic melody about Abeokuta starts to make some sense. His words are true, despite our troubles with hoodlums during filming ‘Ayinla’.
They jolt me back to reality. In the heat of some local challenging social problems, we forget to appreciate the bigger picture of what Abeokuta offers that we (TK, Seun Oyefeso and I) saw some years ago as we traversed Ogun State on my theatrical but very fruitful political odyssey.
I remember vividly.
We were constantly fantasising about Abeokuta; how, through the arts and entertainment – film, music, dance, sports, drums, theatre, sculpture, literature, culture, poetry and other artistic expressions, we would position and promote the town as a deserving capital for a new Black civilisation to be established in the world.
Our ambitious plan was to plant the seeds of a socio-cultural, political and economic revolution in the Statè, by building a solid relationship with our Black and African Diasporàn ‘brethren’ in all parts of the world through projects that will bring them back to their roots in Africa, re-settle those that are interested, provide opportunities and incentives for them to invest, to work and to live in a land they can rightly call their homeland. Ghana has embarked on that route in the past two years!
Abeokuta has the ambience, the knowledge base, the cultural institutions and traditions, the human and intellectual capacity, and the resources to justify our belief that it can be achieved within a short time with the right kind of leadership vision and political will.
We fantasised about reviving and repackaging the FESTAC ’77 project and goals; of recreating the festival with an ingeniously new funding mechanism and methodology; using it to catalyse and facilitate the design of a new cultural, infrastructural architecture that will transform Abeokuta into a global destination of choice for an annual cultural pilgrimage for all Black people!
We were like prophets.
As if we saw the future, our plans have become relevant in the past few months. The Black Lives Matter movement and the global fight against racism, inequality and social injustice have become trending global struggles. Sports have become a potent tool in the global struggle. Sports and politics that used to be two parallel lines have now become Siamese Twins.
All these things mean that in our little heads and for our little town, we were dreaming right – Abeokuta can become the epicentre of a new and mighty cultural army in the world. It has all the essential ingredients. One only needs to visit the old sections of Abeokuta, look deeply into the history and surviving traditions, and take lessons from local cultural and spiritual institutions to stimulate a revival of a once-well-established and very sophisticated society and civilisation in history.
So, Tintin’s coming to town is a divine commission to re-set my mind temporarily dislodged by the troubles that TK has been facing. So, he comes, re-ignites the fire, fans the embers, revives the flames, and departs.
‘I love this town.
His words continue to ring in my ears. They are magic words, and Tintin says them with innocent sincerity. He is ‘rewarded’, of course, with an unforgettable evening. Outdoors in my little compound in the sequestered serenity of Ibara Housing Estate, I fete him with charcoal-grilled freshwater fish, boiled same-day corn, the freshest palm wine in the world (trust me), some good company and elevating conversations under the half-moon of mid-December!
The following morning is the day of my filming. Tintin announces his final, new Egba residential ambitions. He is unable to resist the temptation of the squirrels and the rabbits scurrying in the surrounding bushes full of ‘singing’ birds. The tranquillity, peace and leisurely pace of life under Olumo Rock have won him over. He has decided to set up both shop and home here in Abeokuta.
Tintin returns to his Lagos base a very happy man, his unplanned assignment to restore my waning spirit in the ‘Ayinla’ movie accomplished. Now I understand why Abeokuta is the protagonist in ‘Ayinla’.
So, how does your filming go?
Well, things start to happen very fast.
All schools in Ogun State are shut immediately by an order of government due to a second wave of the Coronavirus all over the country.
In Abeokuta, there is a virus-fatigue. As far as the public is concerned, the virus does not exist. Wearing masks in public is a rarity. A gentleman asks me the other day to mention one poor person I know in Abeokuta that has caught the virus or died from it.
“Corona is for rich people o”, he declares and walks away.
I hope we all do not have to pay the price of this disrespect and carelessness.
My advertised role as Vice-Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School in the movie is no longer feasible. All
schools are closed for the year.
A completely new plot has to be scripted into the movie and a new scene created in order to accommodate me, the ‘joker’ in TK’s pack of screen cards!
TK is smart. He knows he cannot leave me out of this movie no matter what happens. The noise of an Eagle landing in Nollywood has reached even to the moon and back. ‘Ayinla’ without ‘Mathematical’ will be incomplete, like sauce without pepper. We have even consulted with the gods of theatre and obtained their blessings. Remember our trips to the Autonomous Republic of Ijegba, to Ososa and Ipara?
A new plot is, therefore, written into the movie. I do not know what to make of it. I notice it does not give me the space to put on the full array of my acting skills😜.
This TK cannot be serious, I tell myself. We shall see.
The day of filming my scene arrives, four days to Christmas. The preparations at the Sports Lounge in the Panseke area of town takes the whole day. Heavy trucks, cranes, the army of technicians, set designers, make up artists and the ‘waka pass’ audience all land at the location. That’s the nature of filming – the preparations take more time than the actual filming.
Later in the evening, after sunset, the time finally comes to play my ‘lead’ role. The set is beautiful. The lighting is fantastic. I am in my full royal purple regalia. Even Tori Adelanwa, my friend, travels from his home in the hilltop outskirts of Abeokuta to bear witness to my performance.
TK is all over me and all over the place. I am taken through my lines.
“Chief Ishola”. That’s my name in the movie. I am called to the stage.
I climb onto the podium. A million eyes are trained on me. The lights, a packed audience of guests in the set, the large technical crew of cameramen, audio specialists, and many others with or without functions are all focused on me.
Expectations are high. I have made too much noise about this role and my prowess. Too many people are interested in what I will do. The smile on my face is plastered and cosmetic. The words I have been memorizing all evening freeze halfway between my brain and my mouth. I am struggling. Kai, Universe, don’t disgrace me o.
I open my mouth. Words start tumbling out. My heart is racing.
“Cut!”. TK’s shrill voice cuts through the suspense on the set. I pass out.
After all the weeks of preparation, prayers, and fasting; after all the noise I have made; after visiting Kongi and Jimshow; Kai, this TK is wicked.
On the outside, I am cool and calm. Inside, I am trembling like a leaf. But I survive! 30 minutes come and go quickly. The shoot is like a minute. I keep asking myself: Is that it? All my ‘noise’ about an Eagle landing in Nollywood with a bang, is this it? What is all my lala koko fefe for, if this is all to it?
Anyway, I believe TK, the filmmaker, has an ace up his sleeve. I am waiting patiently for the final magic he will perform to make a footballer an actor.
At the end of the day, TK appears to be very happy with everything. That’s the best news.
Tell me, did your expectations and reality coincide? Did they meet at all?
I believe so. For me, being a part of filming ‘Ayinla’ has been an incredible experience, even with my limited days on the set. It was better than I had imagined it would be but more complex.
When I finally depart Abeokuta 3 days to Christmas, I carry an unbelievable catalogue of pictures in my head of unique moments. I can still picture the legendary filmmaker from very close quarters on this greatest of his projects. TK is my own subject in this movie.
I can already see what’s coming, though TK’s relief and excitement when we speak on the phone on Boxing day.
TK swears that the movie has been everything he dreamt it would be at the start and even more. He thinks we have an international blockbuster in the kitty.
So, in the end, I am glad too.
So, in your estimation, did the Eagle finally land successfully on Planet Nollywood?
Yes o. This Eagle landed safely on the planet. I am not sure if it is with a bang or a thud. Either way, that he safely lands at all is enough to hold on to until ‘Ayinla’ comes out of the production furnace. The rest of the world will have to wait to make up their mind about landing quality.
The movie will be released, I am told, by June.
Thank you. I cannot wait to see how you will fare in your minute of fame in “Ayinla”.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Alaafin Adeyemi III: The Throne Of Numerous Authorities
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH OBA LAMIDI ADEYEMI III, PART 1
Ikú Bàbá Yèyé
Royal positions in Africa, especially in the pre-colonial time, were not necessarily because the beneficiaries of such exalted hierarchy inherited it by birth. Of course, being born into a royal family places one within the circumference of the possibility of becoming a king, but more important are the virtues and the strength of the individual’s character. Africans understood what bad leadership could mean for the survival of a people, a household, identity, or even a family. Because of the natural aversion to leadership unvirility or inefficiency, the ascension of an unprogressive individual into the Yoruba kingship stands an odd of zero to ten. This was inevitably so because the position of leadership is reserved not for loafers and myopic individuals who hardly see beyond the boundaries of their nose; instead, it was meant for people who had vision and clarity of purpose, especially when it comes to what they intend to add during their reign. For this reason, the philosophical brilliance of the potential king cannot be undermined in the selection process for various reasons. His emotional intelligence is a necessary precondition too, and his sound and prescient knowledge of economics are fundamental.
While it may appear that the selection of kings in Yorubaland, particularly during the heyday of African pre-colonialism, was partly based on the people’s consultation of Ifa, it should be noted that whoever was indeed selected by the system possessed great qualities expected of progressive leaders, and their reign would have enough positive and desirable impact on the cultural traditions of the people. Ultimately, this would translate to the economic prosperity of their lives, improved financial conditions of the state, more robust moral architecture of the community, and their reign would be marked by incredible success. This tradition has existed from time immemorial among the Yoruba people and continues in places where they have not circumvented the process for some financial advantage. In Oyo, the tradition continues even up to the present postcolonial time. The ascension of Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi in 1970 marked a turning point in the leadership of the ancestral city-state of Oyo that was historically known for different exploits. Oba Adeyemi III has been very diplomatic and circumspect for different reasons. His reign deserves all the accolades it attracts because his outstanding contributions cannot be overemphasized.
To appreciate the significance of his roles and responsibilities, one must first understand what leadership meant to his forebears and what it means now. To his forefathers who single-handedly controlled the economic and political system of an empire, the concept of Western democracy where parallel governance over the subject would be alien, if not vehemently oppressed, for the period of their dominance saw strength as the ability to repel oppositions that threaten the sovereignty of their country and state. Kings felt personally incapable when their kingdom was overrun by invaders who came on the platform of friendship, although with the intention of a parasitic relationship. For this reason, they would expend their energy on challenging such colonial development in their time.
However, change is constant, and as the world evolves, it would be discovered that the sign of strength is not always the ability to crush oppositions and dissidents who express an alternative perspective. Instead, strength is the ability to contain various contradictory positions in the navigation of human physical and political existence, at least in the contemporary understanding. Oba Adeyemi has demonstrated this sense of tranquility and shown that he can live in tandem with the dictates of contemporary time. After all, change is the only constant thing, and he moves with time.
The profile of the current Alaafin of Oyo speaks to this sense of tolerance because there are hardly any instances where he mobilized his subjects to challenge the colonialist establishments that have come to challenge the importance of their suzerainty. This is applaudable, for example, because not only do traditional rulers, especially in the Yorubaland, still wield power to control the affairs of the community over which they preside, they also reserve the right to instigate atrocities that could crumble the social architecture of their sovereignty if they feel threatened. The Alaafin’s position is respectably different for reasons that are not unconnected to the fact of history, which his genealogical power confers on him. For the record, anyone in the Alaafin’s position sits on the throne of numerous authorities who have consolidated their political power and left great legacies in terms of what they accomplished during their reign. We would recall that the historical empire of Oyo attributed to the Yoruba people was created and sustained under the leadership of departed Alaafins, who made aggressive changes that improved the condition of the people.
As it stands, sitting on that stool of power in a time when colonialism has changed the reality of the people can erupt different internal reactions of the king for different reasons. At some point, they may be overtaken by a sudden desire to wrestle the establishment that has forcefully taken away their political power from them, while at some other time, they would be sandwiched between despair and fear. This is the other reason that complicates traditional leadership among nearly all ex-colonies. For this king, however, he has impressively managed the situation greatly and incredibly well. Instead of basking in the euphoria of past glory or withdrawing himself from the world of the present time, Oba Adeyemi has been exceptionally outstanding in his efforts towards the unification of the Yoruba people both at home and in the diaspora to solidify the ancestral relationship that bonded the Yoruba people together. He has demonstrated that even though the political dimensions of the contemporary postcolonial time have changed the structure to favor individuals who, in most cases, have no business with administration or leadership, they still have the mandate to unify their race.
Presently, the Alaafin of Oyo has revolutionized the Yoruba world by standing up to challenge political machinations that seek to impede the progress of the race. He has also refined their political system in such a way that distributive democracy becomes a political order. There are more royal heads in the contemporary time than it was in history, a development that cannot be detached from the manipulations of Western political structures available in modern history, and this has not precluded the Alaafin’s responsibility to ensure that they maintain some decorum in an attempt to promote a common agenda of progress that would catapult the Yoruba people to an enviable position of greatness. Achieving such incredible success has come with a series of challenges and castigations from individuals who are either uncomfortable with the existing political structure of the people or those who are jealous of his expansion. This notwithstanding, the king has fulfilled his destiny as he has continued to glow irrespective of the political party in power. He has served important purposes for the people because he accommodates opinions considered necessary for the advancement of the Yoruba, even when people disagree over historical matters.
Oba Adeyemi was born into the Alowolodu Royal House to Oba Raji Adeniran Adeyemi, his father, who ascended the throne in 1945. His great-grandfather, Oba Atiba Atobatele, was the originator of the new Oyo who redefined its political system and set in motion various ideas that transformed the place exponentially. Under the guidance of extended family members, Oba Adeyemi was raised to the satisfaction of the existing cultural traditions because he was educated about several things that have to do with the people’s history. At the time, the western education system was already in place, and it was necessary for potential leaders to be educated so that they could incorporate the ideas and systems that align with the world imperialized by the Western powers into their knowledge. Beyond western education, however, the prospective king was treated to the historical knowledge of the traditional educators who baptized his mind with the memory of events carried out by his forebears from the beginning to the present.
In what would not be understood by non-members of such cultural identity, the education system was aimed at building members of the society in every aspect. So, when one realizes that Alaafin Adeyemi has been exceptionally functional in the political organization of his people and his ancestral suzerainty, such motivation was genetic as much as history has taught us.
As laid bare to people in the pre-colonial African time, the knowledge of history served a different but exciting purpose. For one, it gives the individual the clarity of achievement made by his predecessors and allows them to resolve what would be their contributions to what has already been achieved. This was the system by which the people continued to transform themselves to enhance their success and collective progress. When individuals are aware of the immeasurable contributions of their predecessors, they become conscious of what they should do and not do in an attempt to move that record a bit forward for the succeeding generations over whom they would hand the legacy. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Oba Adeyemi’s various efforts to bring about unity and oneness to the Yoruba are an indication that he desires to leave behind a shining and immortal legacy.
But then, the responsibility placed on him because of the colonial and postcolonial politics has been compelling, as he needed to make remarkable contributions. He has seized the opportunity to expand his leadership significance and establish numerous links for himself as a king in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For example, upon his coronation in 1970, he was involved in several national politics that inevitably demanded his social significance and the need to rise to issues of communal significance. For example, Oba Adeyemi was very active in 1975 when the head of state, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, included him in his entourage to Hajj. The Alaafin was considered a selfless king who did not allow his flair for cultural traditions to overshadow the need for diplomacy, which allowed other religions to thrive under him without unnecessary struggles. He was raised a Muslim, and his love for the religion did not diminish because he ascended his ancestral throne. This attribute promoted his social and political significance in the nation’s politics. The moment he was seen as de-tribalized, he was elected to function in different areas in the country’s politics.
Regardless of his unavoidable involvement in the country’s political engagements imposed on him because of his cultural and identity significance, Oba Adeyemi III remains committed to the course of his ancestral politics that concerns the well-being of the Yoruba people before any other thing. Whenever the welfare of his people is threatened, the king stands firm to defend them and speaks fearlessly to the concerned authority with whom lies the political responsibility of Nigerians. In recent times, when different groups are challenging the country’s security apparatus, the king has continued to charge the federal government for the need to come alive to their statutory responsibilities, lending his voice to issues of national impact. He has written to the Nigerian president several times to register his displeasure about how things are done. This is not because he is interested in scoring cheap political points in the country but because he understands that the importance of his leadership in the race is to ensure that disorderliness does not replace orderliness.
Oba Adeyemi is fully aware that on the shoulders of every Yoruba ruler is a burden that they can hardly bear, especially when things go wrong in society. The reason for this is very understandable. In the existing political structures of the people, there is a power hierarchy that puts kings at the zenith of social responsibilities. They are whom people go to immediately anything goes wrong within the community. This is predicated upon a belief that social development and progress have something to do with the leadership in office, and this has nothing to do with the Western political system imposed in colonial and postcolonial times. It is about the spiritual complementarity, or not, of the person in power. It is generally assumed among the Yoruba that once a leader is spiritually unsuitable for the people, there will be a chaos of unknown magnitude and disorderliness of unprecedented exponent. Therefore, to become a representative king is to actively engage the various networks associated with the assurance of stability needed to crystallize projected development as envisaged by the people. Also, the individuals who occupy the seat of power in Oyo and some other primordial city-states like Ile-Ife, Ila, Ede, among others, are considered as the pillars of the Yoruba, and would always stand to oppose predatory pressure from the outside, even if it means sticking their necks out.
The life of Oba Adeyemi III is not one without corresponding ups and downs. In fact, for people of his political and cultural position, as far as nationalist politics is concerned, it is more of the norm than coincidence that they find themselves surrounded by issues that can potentially expose them to controversy. This is necessary because their positions come with a commitment, which, in most cases, require that they take decisions or make choices that would not go well with everyone in the society. Of course, that is the beauty of the plurality of ideas and perspectives. One such occasion happened in the post-election period of 2011, where Oba Adeyemi III was relieved from serving as the Permanent Chairman of the Council of Obas and Chiefs in Oyo State by the then governor of the State, Adebayo Alao-Akala, who alleged that the king had involved himself in partisan politics, as against the moral duty of his leadership role. A king must be neutral in matters of politics, the governor lamented, and in situations where they refuse to live up to this moral standard, they would most likely bear the consequences of their actions. For reasons best known to the Oba, he had engaged in the political process and, therefore, faced the challenges that came with it.
Meanwhile, the king, outside of his political engagement and impact, is lively, lovely and warm. He indulges in things that give happiness and fulfillment to him while he allows himself that opportunity to revitalize his dreams. Like a child graduating to adolescence, he picked interest in boxing as a sport, and he did not allow the myriad of responsibilities that his royal office comes with to overshadow that interest. In equal measure, he pays great attention to issues around his recreational activities while simultaneously attending to political affairs that concern his people. Undoubtedly, the king has a beautiful heart that accommodates plural identities and opinions because he has learned from experience that a society full of diverse people cannot be prevented in a world where migration, transnational exchange of goods and services, cross-border movements, among others, have become inevitable. For this reason, Oba Adeyemi III remains very functional to his traditional roles and the political duties that modern society has brought. This explains why he continues to remain relevant in the political transactions of the country.
Despite all his engagements, the king is a loving father and a great husband to his wives. He inherited a tradition that allowed him to marry as many wives as he wants. He is yet to equal his father’s record! Someone who cannot manage diverse opinions and is emotionally unstable to cater to the numerous challenges of polygamy cannot dare such a marital adventure. Someone who succeeds in managing the affairs of a polygamous family structure is usually respected because he has undergone a series of events that could capsize his financial, social, emotional, and even spiritual journey in life. This is why individuals like Oba Adeyemi III are socially respected for the strides they have made with their lives.
Oba Adeyemi III is a mixture of excellence and competence, an epitome of brilliance and intelligence, a combination of visionary leadership and purposeful technocrat. He has committed himself to the cause of the Yoruba people while simultaneously contributing to the country’s affairs within his capacity. He is brave, and he continues to demonstrate his capacity for instigating revolutionary ideas, which explains why his popularity spans beyond the boundaries of Nigeria. He is respected both at home and away, and the number of diaspora Yoruba hold him in high esteem for the wondrous things he is doing to change the course of the Yoruba people globally for good. There are many kings in Africa, but the truth remains that not many of them have reached the exalted position associated with their traditional positions. And though political power has shifted to Western political representation, this does not negate the significance of traditional rulers. Kings have more power than the country’s political elite because they have easier access to the people.
Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi III, the reigning Alaafin of Oyo, belongs to a select group of notable Obas who have transformed their societies through ideas and philosophies while also creating an environment conducive to the advancement the people seek.
Please join us for a conversation with the Iku Baba Yeye, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Alao Adedayo: Journalism For The Promotion Of Yoruba Language And Culture
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH ALAO ADEDAYO, PART 1
This month, The Yoruba Studies Association of Nigeria will be marking its 50th anniversary. It is a remarkable moment for the association, those who developed the foresight to make it grow over the years, and the enthusiasm of its current members. The Toyin Falola Interviews is glad to be part of this anniversary. As part of our contribution, we devote the interview on Sunday, October 17, to an extensive conversation on promoting Yoruba languages and cultures. The prominent editors of Yoruba Studies Review, Professor Arinpe Adejumo of the University of Ibadan and Professor Tunde Akinyemi of the University of Florida, as well as the accomplished writer, poet and translator, Professor Akinloye Ojo, will interview Alao Adedayo, the brain behind the leading Yoruba newspaper and television station, Alaroye.
Every ex-colony faces one horrible challenge: the survival of its cultural identity, and this situation is more aggravated by the scarcity, if not absence, of individuals who are interested in lending a hand of rescue to this identity. This condition is usually occasioned because people have weak foundations of their cultural traditions in an environment where colonial values are placed above their indigenous ones. The preservation of ex-colonized people’s identity would not have experienced such arduous problems provided that they have individuals who would drive their heritages into the subconscious of the forthcoming or younger generations.
However, the problems persist because those who know their past are first ostracized from serving as socialization agents to the younger ones by creating an alarmist narrative, so much that they are devoid of the requisite knowledge and understanding to transform the lives of their people following the dictates of contemporary development. When this is practised repeatedly, the people’s cultures suffer abandonment, and their identity is suppressed gradually and furtively. In all these uncomfortable conditions, it takes only the courageous ones to stand up and then stand out in their rescue strategy to save their identity from potential damnation.
In the case of the Yoruba culture, Mr. Alao Adedayo is one of the illustrious sons of the Yoruba people who decided to face-save his ancestral identity by establishing a newspaper business that would project the aspirations of the people, their challenges, and also make known the different philosophical ideas that are etched in their language. The vibrant young man trained as a journalist and immediately became a significant figure in the Nigerian journalism industry. He began his news reportage sojourn in the printing form at about 1985, when he was barely 25 years old. This means that he had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, and he did not give in to distractions that could swerve him away from the lofty dream of being an instrument of change for the cultural traditions of his people. Establishing a journalism firm in an indigenous language in a postcolonial environment is like staging a powerful protest that does not enjoy enough patronage by the people. This is because even when the government of the ex-colonies does not mandate anyone to use or discard a particular language as the language of their business, the realization that people craved for their imperialist’s language could pressure indigenous languages out of vogue.
Therefore, the emergence of the Alaroye Newspaper served different purposes to preserve the Yoruba identity in a world constantly evolving into what supported imperialist establishment than others. Meanwhile, the preservation of the culture was necessary for different reasons. There is a consensus that many ex-colonies have beautiful cultural traditions and history that are worth looking into only if the people would have a marvellous compass and goodwill to embark on such a journey. Consequently, it would be discovered that a people’s power lies in their cultural traditions because they are not only disposed to seeing the world from that perspective, they also draw a large part of their moral and spiritual philosophies from the template of their indigenous structures, which were bequeathed to them by their ancestors and past generations. When the people’s language now becomes entirely strange to them because it is neither used as an instrument of education nor employed in the execution of commercial engagements, they would express ideas that are not grounded in their indigenous epistemology. For that reason, they would not be expressing themselves in whatever engagement they have but would be projecting a different cultural agenda. Mr. Adedayo is against such an end, and he decided to fight it with his Alaroye newspaper industry.
The promotion of news in an indigenous language seeks to achieve something outstanding and marvellous, and that is the idea that it would have a broader readership. Many people with their cultural knowledge do not need an extensive educational background to understand the orthographical system of their language. Because they have residual knowledge of their cultural traditions, they flow effortlessly when it comes to sharing or consuming information that is relayed in their indigenous language. For this reason, more people are involved in the dissemination of information that concerns their people. And under this reality, more people become very powerful in deciding the political and economic process of their environment. This means that the empowerment that indigenous language usage brings cannot be undermined, making the people who use it more powerful than can be readily explained. This explains why the Alaroye has been a massive success since its foundation in 1996 to contemporary time. More than it could be thought of, promoting the Yoruba language through a newspaper industry has helped win more people’s attention in issues associated with their sociopolitical state.
In addition to this, a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria needs a constant reminder of their diverse cultural traditions, which can only be guaranteed by outlets that project their heritages only in the way they have done by the Alaroye newspaper industry. We should be informed that even in academics, there is a need to redirect the people’s interest towards a line of research. In the case of the Alaroye, the exploration of the Yoruba language and their culture attracts potential researchers into knowing more about the traditions. Through the rendition of cultural practice in their columns, interested persons would want to dig more about their cultural identity, which would always bring numerous economic benefits to the people whose culture is explored. The fact that the newspaper industry uses the Yoruba language as its instrument of communication increases its cross-border significance because individuals in the diaspora community derive a measure of pride when they come across their language and culture being preserved and packaged into something ethereal. In essence, no one needs additional information about an identity of a newspaper outlet that projects the language of the people.
More importantly, the Alaroye has been very informative. Apart from the educative purposes that it serves among the people, this indigenous newspaper forum has helped to paint messages in a tangible and creative form. No one can deny that an alien language cannot fully represent a sociocultural experience the same way their indigenous language will. In essence, the idea of relaying the people’s day-to-day experiences in their mother tongue helps to drive home the necessary points that need to be made in some instances. One needs no soothsayer to predict that the people would massively receive such a newspaper outlet. It is apparent that they relate to it more than they would relate to journalism that ostracizes their cultural experiences through language use. Some issues and matters are understood only by people who share similar cultural experiences with the language of instruction, which non-members of the identity cannot correctly understand. Because of their strangeness to outsiders, they would not be adequately depicted in the language that is not indigenous to it and would, therefore, potentially lose interest in them. But for such an opportunity that Alaroye has provided, such news gets aired to people in their preferred language.
Alao Adedayo is the brain behind the evolution of Nigerian journalism that centers on indigenous language use. Through the persistence of his dream, he has expanded the frontiers of journalism to encourage others who share a similar ambition. In essence, he can be seen as a courageous fighter and a fantastic person with uncommon foresight. The rise of the indigenous newspaper industry, which he championed, experienced a series of challenges that toppled and consolidated the conclusion that he was ready to withstand every temptation that came his way. For a project that he began in 1996 and which suffered immediate downfall, Alao’s rejuvenation of such a project attests to his commitment and determination to make his presence known in that domain. Although it would appear that he was dedicated to such ambition so that he would achieve personal success, it is essential to emphasize the fact that some dreams, while they appear to grace the dream of the dreamer with success, also help in the transformation of a people or social group. Such is the case with Mr. Adedayo’s Alaroye newspaper. Obviously, it is evidence of success for the pursuant of the dream because it has expanded widely and extraordinarily. In the same vein, it remains a shining success for the Yoruba people because it represents them and projects their culture beyond the shores of their cultural geography.
Even when the newspaper industry overshadows many other significant feats associated with this outstanding individual, it cannot eclipse them generally from relevance because they also speak for themselves. One of the most significant additions to Alao’s journalism career is that he is also a writer. Although it would appear that being a journalist draws one close to being a writer, it cannot be overemphasized that not all journalists understand the art of creative writing. This is because writing requires creativity and organization that supersedes what can be found in journalism. For this reason, it takes an extra amount of creativity and zeal to become an author. Despite the challenges involved, Alao also falls within the category of Nigerian authors because he has written a couple of books. In one of his books, Ọrọ Kan, Owe Kan, which loosely translates to “One Word, One Proverb,” the cultural particularity of the Yoruba people is explored. From the book, one discovers that Yoruba people freely use aphorism in their conversations. It is so because they have a moral and linguistic purpose for using their expressions in such ways. Elders in conversation employ proverbs because they assume that they have more knowledge and experience at their disposal, which they share with the younger ones at every conversational possibility.
Ọrọ Kan, Owe Kan educates the readers about the importance of moral fabrics in society and establishes the position of every individual in the development and evolution of their people. It is apparent that the proverbs employed in conversation situations are used for various reasons. One of them is to educate the audience about the moral architecture of the Yoruba society. To do this, the elders deploy different sayings to reinforce their argument about the need for a strong moral character. They encourage younger ones to be hardworking without having to spell it to them.
In most cases, the meanings of proverbs are left for the voyeuristic and exploitative interest of the listeners, who are expected to do some findings to associate what is being said in the context of the conversation. This is the foundation for the book’s title, Oro Kan, Owe Kan. Proverbs also tell history, and Yoruba elders do not undermine the place of history in the building or development of their civilization. This is usually because, through the knowledge of history, a younger generation would understand what has been done by their forebears and would thus be keen on building an additional legacy that would outlast them so that the succeeding generations would also find something vital to leverage and work on.
Another defining work of Adedayo is Ọmọ Yoruba Atata, a creative work that educates readers about the Yoruba. It is grounded in the philosophy of the people as it talks about the characteristics of anyone who shares that identity. Among many other things, it is established that Yoruba people value the philosophical concept of “Ọmọluabi,” where Ọmọluabi designates the term used to refer to individuals who are morally upright, emotionally intelligent, mentally stable and ideologically sound. Although such a concept helps construct individuals who would become important to themselves and their society, it does not indicate that not being an Omoluabi automatically extradites an individual from their Yoruba identity. However, what it does is that it places some form of dishonour on the individual because they have become a liability to their culture. Beyond the showcasing of Ọmọluabi as someone who is considered as Ọmọ Yoruba Atata (a good representative of the Yoruba identity), the book emphasizes how morality works in the construction of a collective identity that projects the carriers in good descriptions. It is worthy of reiteration that being a good referent of the Yoruba culture encapsulates being the ethical ambassador of the people in whatever position the individual finds themselves.
While it appears that Alao helps in the preservation of Yoruba ancestral legacies in these works, he has also written books that indicate he is a conscience of his Yoruba identity, and this can be immediately spotted in his work, Yoruba, Nibo La n Lo? (“Yoruba, where are we going?”). This book serves as a self-reflection message for the people aware of the Yoruba people’s progress in history and contemporary times. It appears that looking at the history of the people, they were so advanced that they maintained a beautiful and unique trajectory for themselves before they came in contact with the European and Arabs who came for expansionist agenda. However, the situation became scarier as the colonial system of the imperialists was introduced to them. That period saw the underdevelopment of the Yoruba culture because not only did it experience deliberate putdown by the colonialists, but it also became stagnant because it was not promoted as it used to be. The situation abated with the acquisition of independence under the white administration, but the ugly incidence raised its head again as the neocolonialist structure overtook the terrain of their governance. This affected the Yoruba people a lot, putting a question mark on their trajectory of development. This is the issue that the writer seeks to address in this book, Yoruba, Nibo La N Lọ?
Having made all these accomplishments, it is indisputable that eminent personalities in Nigeria and beyond feel the impact of Mr. Adedayo and his revolutionary ideas. Because they are aware that he has a broader reach, there have been series of accolades and tributes that he has been accorded in recent history. And because news circulation to the grassroots has remained a powerful instrument in shaping people’s opinions, his newspaper became very active in the public court of justice by providing people with the necessary information they need to navigate their existence. Considering the role that his newspaper played in agitation for the unjust annulment of the 1993 presidential election, which came to the favor of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, it dawned on the Nigerian government that the power of the news circulated by Alaroye is influential and imposing. The combination of the fact that a Yoruba man had been denied of his political mandate and that the military leadership trumped a democratic choice of the people worked in the fuel of the newspaper as it became widely received by an audience that appeared thirsty of whatever information shared in the medium.
The Alaroye newspaper continues to dominate the market, an indication that its management board are especially tactful, market-ready, and innovative because the survival of journalism in the country, especially in an era when increasing interest is shown to the English language more than other languages, sustaining the people’s interest requires a different level of creativity. Such creativity enables the newspaper to explore different areas of stories that activate the readers’ voyeuristic experiments. For example, the expansion of the Alaroye newspaper to give room for Iriri Aye Alaroye holds the people’s interest because it explores issues that happen around the world from which people can learn and then use the knowledge to navigate their own lives. This is not only the creativity introduced to the Alaroye newspaper. It is garnished with more entertainment news that makes people take the industry as their go-to source whenever they want to be abreast of happenings around them. His entertainment news features Nollywood stars and music artists, and their stories always attract people who want to be informed about their progress.
Meanwhile, Adedayo’s success story is mixed with various experiences of challenges and trials. He did not become the beacon of hope for the indigenous Yoruba journalism he has been known for today without having his shares of rugged experience which stretched his very creative ingenuity to the limit. Raised in Abeokuta, schooled in Ado Ekiti at the University of Ado Ekiti, Ambrose Ali University, Edo State, and the Lagos Business School, the combination of toughness and persistence made him come out as victorious and also helped him attain his position of social importance. His journalism expertise does not come without corresponding sacrifices in different forms. For example, he began his career in journalism at the Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Lagos), where he was test-running his knowledge and experience of news reportage. Eventually, he worked at the Federal Radio Corporations of Nigeria (FRCN) and Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), where he was very active and instrumental to their collective success. Mr. Alao Adedayo is a success not only in the career he chose and developed, but he is also a loving husband and responsible father. He has advanced the Nigerian journalism industry to a very impressive degree, and he is highly invaluable to the Yoruba. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Yoruba Studies Association of Nigeria, I once again congratulate them and the visionary leadership of Alao Adedayo, our first-rate town crier.
Would you please join us for a conversation with the publisher of the Yoruba national Newspaper, Alaroye, Mr. Alao Adedayo?
Sunday, October 17, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
Register and Watch:
Join via Zoom:
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Molefi Asante: On Reimagining Africa And Africans
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH MOLEFI ASANTE, PART 4
What is Africa? Who are Africans? What is African history? What do you make of Africa in tracing its history? What should be the focus and center of African history? Have these questions ever crossed your mind as an African scholar or a scholar of African history?
Here is one answer: Africa is a culturally and historically rich continent—of brave, creative, and intelligent people. However, there was the curse of plenty for Africa. Africans were content, and nature handed them virtually everything they needed to survive. Here is another: there was little to no need for exploration among Africans. Africans’ drive to explore did not go beyond seeing neighboring African cities and war-incited travels and conquests. There was also the large absence of written history and traditions in the more significant part of precolonial Africa. Asante has his own answer.
In the latest edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, Molefi Asante, a celebrated philosopher and promoter of Afrocentricity, made his reservations about the focus of the study and scholarship of African history. He has a problem with Europe being the center of African history—from the precolonial to the colonial and the post-colonial. Drawing on Asante’s reservations, it does not speak well of a culturally rich and diverse people as Africans to center their history on their colonizers’ civilizations, cultures, and beliefs. Africa was there before the first visit of the Europeans to the continent. And even if it were true that the people might not have fully seen themselves as one continent, there were enough inter-ethnic relations to prove that they saw themselves as having certain things in common. If that were the case, why should Africa wrap its story around the Europeans and their countries? That comes across as off—a case of in-built dependency and self-inflicted inferiority to the cultures, civilizations, and peoples of Europe.
If appropriately traced, the concept of centering Africa’s history on Europe stems from the ease of blaming the colonizers. This makes it easy to promote the concept of decoloniality, a somewhat surface-level concept that asks Africans to save themselves from the European and colonial mentality without proposing what to replace such a mentality with. In asking people to decolonize themselves, the focus is not on the people, their continent, or what they could become, but on what decoloniality, as a concept, wants them to be free from. However, Afrocentricity goes beyond the surface level of asking people to get decolonized to suggest replacing the colonial mentality. Afrocentricity takes the spotlight away from Europe and colonialism and totally gives it to Africa. As a concept, Afrocentricity focuses on making Africans think in an African manner, value African beliefs and cultures, and live in an African way till their love for all things Africa consumes them, so much that the love burns out colonialism and colonial mentality from their minds.
There is no gainsaying that the biblical maxim that “a prophet is not welcome in his hometown” is true of Africa and how it treats its academics. Africa is richly blessed with human resources, yet these human resources are either relocating to European and American countries for a greener pasture or are severely underappreciated back home. Prof. Molefi Asante lamented the gap in African-scholars-centered study among African universities. How many African universities have a department of Africana Studies? When we ask these questions, we will find out that we have given attention to the less important things for so long.
Molefi Asante disclosed that the theory and practice of Afrocentrism are not centered on deconstructing the Africans but reconstructing them. This is indeed true and needed, as a deconstruction without a reconstruction only leaves pillaged rubble . Afrocentrism is a state of mind; one does not just happen upon it suddenly. It comes from the consciousness awakened when the African comes into contact with Africa, African scholarly writings, African arts, or African cultures and religions. This is true of every Afrocentrist, and it is likewise true of the celebrated scholar and full-blooded African man, Molefi Asante.
In responding to the question on when he first realized that he is African and must think Africa, Asante said the African writers and historians who had an early influence on him were Essien Essien-Udom, Chinua Achebe, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, among others. Asante fondly recalled that he developed the affinity to Africa through Essien-Udom’s writings and his meeting with the African scholar. The same should be said of every well-meaning African-American and other Africans in the diaspora. Asante pleaded that it was high time we all found a link back to Africa, one that would complement our ancestral link. Beyond doing a DNA test to know our ancestry, we must awaken our consciousness and identify ourselves with Africa, its people, and its culture.
It is also expedient to touch on the raising of African children and how that impacts cultural consciousness and identity among African-Americans. The average African American is trained to join the National Basketball Association or any other money-making sport from childhood. For the average African American family, especially in the United States, child upbringing is an investment that must yield significant returns. This is a not-so-explored concept discussed by Professor Reiland Rabaka and the special guest on the Toyin Falola Interviews, Asante. Asante did have his share of the African-American dream, and becoming an academic was never his first choice. He tried his hands on basketball. He was, at a time, a preacher and also tried all the often-suggested options. However, the defining point surfaced for him as he sought answers and read books to add to his wealth of knowledge.
Professor Asante passed through that phase of his life with the consciousness that he must be, which moulded and shaped him into who he is today. This also tells us so much about what the intellectual Asante considers Afrocentricity as. According to him, Afrocentricity is the quality of thoughts that allows anybody to look at and examine the African phenomena from the perspective of African people, cultures, and values as the centrality of our narratives. Afrocentricity is not Africanity, and it is not anti-people too. The concept of Afrocentricity is more concerned about the people’s mentality and how they see things than how they dress up or what they wear.
Is there a relationship between Afrocentricity and Pan-Africanism? For the Afrocentric scholar, the concept of Pan-Africanism as a philosophy is impossible or almost impossible without having Afrocentricity at its core. In essence, Asante considers Pan-Africanism and Afrocentrism as two intertwined concepts. According to him, a careful consideration of the concept of Pan-Africanism would reveal that it is not as deep-seated as it appears on the surface. We must ask what people need to be pan-African. Pan-Africanism calls for and promotes the unity of Africans and cannot stand on itself without an underlying consciousness, awakening, and identity. This is where Afrocentricity comes in. Afrocentrism can serve as the foundation for Pan-Africanism. In that case, you ask people to be united because they all view African phenomena from the African perspective.
Additionally, the interview touched on other important issues, such as African scholarship. Asante qualified the bulk of African scholarship as imitative. It is difficult to find an interconnectedness between the past, the present, and the future of Africa in African scholarship. And that is very necessary, seeing as the present will one day be the past, and the future will one day be the present. Asante lamented the absence of this interconnectedness, even among Africa’s greatest intellectuals and their scholarly works in diverse fields.
Professor Niyi Coker took us back in time to when Asante proposed grouping Africa into six large countries as a solution to Africa’s problems. The question was whether the Afrocentricity vanguard still believes in this mass grouping as a solution to an Africa that has failed to develop and take its pride of place among other developed continents of the world. In response, Asante said he proposed six federations as the United States of Africa, basing his theory on Pan-Africanism and the riches of African nations, which would make these six states some of the wealthiest countries in the world. He recounted the story behind his proposal to create the United States of Africa and how then African presidents, including Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, kicked against the creation of the six states during their tenure. Asante further stated that the United States of Africa would be achieved only if the people actively get involved, and on a wide scale at that.
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Consequently, the onus lies on us—on you, on the average African—to become African in your thinking and mentality. Asante calls on you to become Afrocentric so that a reveille of our collective consciousness would lead us to create fortified and formidable African states.
(This is the final report on the interview with Molefi Asante on September 19, 2021. For the transcript, see YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNMT3q-Psqc
and on Facebook. https://fb.watch/87kf9tlYA5/)
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