Femi Osofisan At 75: A Literary Luminary And Statesman
I am often saddened by one fact: Nigeria is one of the most blessed nations in terms of human resources. Yet, it wallows in underdevelopment due to bad governance, poor policies, and a horde of other negative factors. The internet is awash with the details of many Nigerians who have done and are still doing exploits, and one cannot but wonder how the same country is home to both fantastic people, and to bandits, and myopic leaders. Among the Nigerians who will always fly the country’s flag high and bring glory to its name is an enigmatic literato, the grey-bearded Babafemi Osofisan.
Today, June 16, 2021, marks Emeritus Professor Babafemi Osofisan’s 75th birthday. On an auspicious day as this, one is given to lots of reminiscent thoughts, which cannot but be rounded up to assertively affirm that Okinba Launko is a literary luminary. His influence spreads its wings beyond the literary world to hover above the Nigerian political space. Although he is not known to have actively participated in politics by contesting for any post, Osofisan is of the order of very few Nigerian literati who significantly influenced national affairs, especially during the military era.
Ogun State has long since proven to be the place with the most significant concentration of celebrated Nigerians. It is hardly surprising that renowned Professor Osofisan is from Ogun State, like Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, M.K.O. Abiola, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and a host of others. Professor Osofisan was born on June 16,1946, as Babafemi Adeyemi Osofisan in the Ogun State town of Erunwon. Given the circumstances of the literary icon’s background, it is not news that he ended up as a professor who married a fellow professor! Osofisan, as he is widely known, was born into a literate family, something the Yoruba will call “báàwéńlé.” His dad was a schoolteacher, the same as his mom. This background must have sown the seed for Osofisan’s love for books and literature. Osofisan was given birth in a largely undeveloped place that otherwise would have adversely hampered his development and exposure, but his family and academic disposition helped shape his life.
Although Osofisan was born in Erunwon, his studies took him to different parts of Southwestern Nigeria. He started his education in the ancestral home of the Yoruba, Ile-Ife, where he attended primary school between 1952 and 1958. He then proceeded to Government College, Ibadan, one of the three prestigious government colleges in the country that bred some of our most influential literati–Osofisan, Soyinka, Achebe, and Clark. A child who would be great would show tendencies for greatness from a very young age. Such is the story of Osofisan. His tilt towards the literary started manifesting from his secondary school days. When he graduated from Government College, Ibadan in 1963, it was with a feather in his cap–the T.M. Aluko Prize for Literature.
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Upon finishing from Government College, Professor Osofisan gained admission to the Department of Modern European Languages, University of Ibadan, to study French. His study lasted for four years between 1966 and 1969. He bagged a Bachelor’s with honors in 1969. The initial educational trajectory of Professor Osofisan would almost convince one that he would not venture into literature. That’s because, upon the completion of his undergraduate studies in Ibadan and Dakar, he was subsequently awarded a scholarship to study at the famous Sorbonne in Paris. His postgraduate degree in French at the Sorbonne lasted between 1972 and 1973. If life happened as straightly as Osofisan’s initial path, perhaps we would have been celebrating Femi Osofisan as a renowned French author or translator on this occasion of his 75th birthday. However, life and personal interests and passions had another plan for him.
Osofisan’s divergent nature, which would in the future help him brazenly criticize the government of his nation, started to manifest during his program at Sorbonne. Being an African proud of his roots and deeply interested in drama, Professor Osofisan wanted to work on African drama for his thesis, a proposition that his supervisor rejected. This hindered him from bagging his postgraduate degree in French, and it changed the course of his academic sojourn.
What he was denied at Sorbonne, Ibadan offered him. Osofisan’s career as an academic started at the University of Ibadan, where he had bagged his first degree at the same Department of Modern European Languages. He worked as an assistant lecturer at this department and furthered his passion by doubling as the President of the Ibadan Drama Society. The University of Ibadan served as the consummate breeding ground for Professor Femi Osofisan’s scholarly sojourn. He started his doctoral program at the University of Ibadan, where he worked on the origins of drama in Africa. It went down in history that Prof. Osofisan’s program was one of the fastest doctoral programs. He bagged his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1974, a year after his return from Sorbonne.
The academic called Femi Osofisan has worked as a drama and theatre arts lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University, and the Kwara State University. He was promoted to the position of professor 11 years after getting his Ph.D. Although he officially retired from active service in 2011, Professor Osofisan has proven that passion and love for drama fuels and invigorates him. He has agreed to continue to contribute his scholarly wealth to academia, which made the University of Ibadan honor him with the Emeritus Professor status.
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I have spent time speaking of Osofisan as an academic because that is not the Osofisan generally known. The Osofisan known by many is Femi Osofisan, a literary god, skilled dramaturge, dexterous adapter and sustainer of literary works, social critic, champion of just causes, and lyrically sound poet. Osofisan is known to some as Okinba Launko–the Dreamseeker on a Divining Chain. He is of a generation now rare, of an order that has almost entirely left us–the ones who held the literary front in much needed defiance against the military era. He is a celebrated African dramatist who has won several local and international awards of repute. Beyond that, his works have been translated into other languages, thereby extending the tentacles of his influence.
Everything remarkable has a catalyst—a starting point and a phenomenon that catapults it to the limelight or greatness. This is the life story of Professor Osofisan. His career as a dramatist started from the days when he was a columnist for some national dailies. The series of stories he wrote in the national dailies became his book titled Cordelia. Of a truth, Osofisan is much more known as a dramatist. However, he has written works in all four genres of literature– poetry, drama, prose, and literary criticism. He has four prose works to his name, over 60 plays, five books of poems, and several essays and papers.
I will term Osofisan as the African icon of relatable literature, and the reason is not far-fetched. He has carved a niche for himself as a dexterous adapter of other works of literature–adaptations that reflect the beauty of the Yoruba culture and serve as a relatable work of literature. One of the lessons that his adaptation of works has taught us is that everyone is first human, and human flaws, vices, or strengths are not unique to any one race. As women are often the most affected victims of war in Europe, so are they also the most affected victims of war in Africa, a point projected to light by Femi Osofisan’s narration of the Owu story, which has semblance to the story of Troy.
Professor Osofisan is a recipient of numerous awards. It will not be out of place to call him one of Nigeria’s most decorated literary icons. He is the winner of the 1st Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service [WNBS] Prize for Independence Anniversary Essay. His first poetry book, Minted Coins, won the ANA Poetry Prize and the Regional Commonwealth Poetry Award for First Collection in 1987. Morountodun and Other Plays won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) 1983 Award for Drama. He also won the 1993 ANA Award for Drama for his book, Yungba-Yungba and the Dance Contest. He made the shortlist for the prestigious USA-based Neustadt Prize in 2000. He is the only African to have received the World Literary Prize in Drama, the Thalia Laurel.
Osofisan is a critic and activist who voiced out the best way he knew–through the mightiness of the pen. For this, he has been honored as an Officier de l’Ordre Nationale de Mérite, Rép. de France, which he graciously received in 1999, and also as a recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit in the Humanities, the most prestigious merit-based award in Nigeria which recognizes the best of the best in various walks of life. He received this award in 2004. In 2006, he equally received the Fonlon-Nichols Prize for Literature and the Struggle for Human Rights.
Professor Osofisan is a well-rounded man: a family man, a fulfilled literatus, and a world-known academic. As he marks the occasion of his 75th year on earth, it is sure that the professor has many things to be happy and smile about. However, I cannot but remind the emeritus professor of the days when he and other literati were at the forefront of activism against the military regime. The country claims to run a democratic system of government, but its actions and policies have tended towards dictatorial rule. It would be better for the activism space if Osofisan resumed at the forefront to weigh in on national issues.
Happy Birthday, Professor Babafemi Adeyemi Osofisan; you are of the league of those who have placed Nigeria among the stars!
Falola is Professor of History, The University of Texas at Austin .
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Death At Dawn, Rebirth At Dusk
By Toyin Falola
Twilight-zone, Afterlife, What-Mays, and Whatnots;
Questions that transcend mortal thoughts.
Uncertainties plucked by the hands of certainty
pondering life beyond the galaxy.
Philosophies, religions, and sciences;
Ancient lenses to dissect and ponder.
Beliefs, opinions, and standpoints in their multiplicities;
Scalpels that open the heart of certain death
Blazing free the skins of uncertainty.
Science, a nobility I revere,
But it stammers answering to the afterlife.
For science is knowledge and knowledge from experience
But the dead neither speak, nor take records.
Their journeys, ordeals, triumphs or woes?
No one bears witness.
But as dead, we must all be witnesses;
witnesses that testify not.
So, for now, we survive the knowledge of death.
On my Agbàlàgbà head lies my Ọ́kpụ́ Ágwụ́
With eagle feathers, rare and honorable
Adorning it for three scores, a decade, and some more days.
I had flipped my Kente given by the Gaa
And danced to crescendos from Gàngàn drums
I have been celebrated and celebrating
For the miracles, I have worked with pen, paper, keyboard, and brain
I have taken the tales we tell in my village square beyond the Atlantic
Changed the songs that disdain us into appraisals
I have called my brothers not to point to our fathers’ house with their left hands
I have honed Africa and beyond
To answer the calls of the people’s need
I have reached the thinkable and done the unthinkable
So, I danced and keep dancing.
Suddenly, I felt a touch on my host?
Electrifying my hand, leg, brain, and my whole
Telling me that my jur from the Dinka people awaits me.
That my hourglass tells of crossing the bar.
I thought I knew what it was like,
But my grasping convictions of approaching jur were perceptions
Just surviving the death of the knowledge of death
So, arms wide open ready to abound
What was there to fear?
No catacomb of secrets
No palm oil-drenched white garments
I have taken many to my gourmet
To feast and to see.
What was there not to fear?
With medicine men and women,
Syringes, lights, water, ECG, Oximeters, voices, and touches
Hovering around me like a sacred etutu
Making conversations with me and beyond
I was thrown into a pool of reminiscence
one leg and a part of me were already in the boat
It beckoned but I heard another.
A loud voice like my mother’s.
Who takes a journey without locking his home?
Who takes the jur with unpatched palm fronds on his hut?
While the thunder rages up the sky?
The walls are broken and Balogun journeys?
So, I left the sea to clear the cobwebs and light up the night lamb.
The past few weeks have opened new lights of understanding to me. I now see the world from different hills and have helped to reach new resolutions. I know I have written about “transitioning to nothingness,” but my emphasis was on the “nothingness” with lesser attention on “transitioning.” I think we need to continue to ask questions. Philosophies, religion, sociology, psychology, science, and other ramifications are mere perceptions and we are uncertain. The transitioning occurs when death becomes an angel to hug not a beast to fear. We do not know what it entails but one must always endeavor to go with clean hands.
My recovery from an illness may have offered me a fresh opportunity to shout some more, point to societal needs, and settle unfinished businesses. No, not those caused by my personal undoing, but rather those of the people who would be left unguided, and for matters untold about life, society, and individuals. I can say I have passed through the lessons of tantra transfiguration, to use an elegant phrase that I recently came across, to move from secular to sacred activism. No one survives death because of its finality, but when it seems that you did, it is a renewed quest, offering a new purpose.
Professors On INEC’s Will (3)
By Tony Afejuku
The debate has progressed well so far. Our professors, whose strokes have centred on their fellow professor’s manned INEC have tried as best as they could not to confine their impressions solely to the prism of subjectivity. Even when their impressions seem to be subjective, they still make allowance for contrary views, for opposing views. This obviously gives clarity, objectivity and logic to the subject at hand. Is the will of INEC of a professor minder and mincer of words’ control the will of the people or of the masses? On whose side are the Professors who are as concerned as almost everybody is with what is going – or with what has gone on – primarily about our Presidential 2023 elections? Our Professors who are debating the subject constitute the courageous and prophetic Nigerian voices of our day. Their authentic and responsible thoughts are not restricted to the local or regional. They are also not confined to electoral duties and responsibilities expected of the umpire and the will that belongs elsewhere. The truth about the quality of leadership about our country and elsewhere is also told in the debate of the literati.
Professor (Mrs.) Razinatu Mohamed in her submission, in her salvo-cum-explosion actually, drew attention to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s explosive explosion in the presidency. If Professor Osinbajo had provided the right vice-presidential leadership there would not have been the need for him to explode as he did as per a viral video Professor Razinatu Mohamed referred her fellow debaters to. “What has he been doing in the eight years of their administration? Irritated my foot; he is complicit.” Not done, Professor Razinatu drew attention to the kind of leaders that Nigeria and Africa need: “Leaders that understand the rudiments of modern socio-economic development and systems; Leaders that understand the crux of requirements for economic growth. Leaders that could demonstrate to the rest of the world that just as the world needs Africa, African countries need the world in a symbiotic relationship and partnership context where assistance becomes a dual role…..”
Razinata’s concern is clear. Nothing in Nigeria will climb out of its hollow hole. In fact, the will of the people will remain hollow so long as a hollow mincer and minder is in charge of its electoral affairs.
Professor Da Sylva perhaps responds better to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s algebraic stroke. “Unfortunately, Nigeria’s democracy is trapped in its primordial self-made ethnic and religious sentiments and so, standards, merit, competence and pedigrees are measured by their curious divides of religion and ethnic inclinations. Until we all come to realize that heavens help those who help themselves, Nigeria ain’t going no-where – meeen!”
But below is Professor Da Sylva’s sledge hammer response to Professor Razinatu Mohamed’s Osinbajo hammer blow:
“Prof Osinbajo’s office demands he does what he did. Besides, it shows maturity and spirit of sportsmanship on his part. Every loser in a game “healthily” contested, is naturally expected to do the same. The only difference which again shows Osinbajo’s magnanimity is that in this context, the contest under reference was neither healthy nor just. The umpire seemed compromised and merely worked to a prepared answer. Yet the gentleman did the needful. I guess, brothers and sisters, that we should put all that behind us, and work for our common good, and the wellbeing of the country, provided the mythical Aso cabal will let the President-elect be, and let the masses be, and as such, they should not create any cause for us to think otherwise, lest they provoke our sense of patriotism to take appropriate action! I guess that those were the reading or feelings of the dirty-minded Aso Villa cabal. People that kill with sword never wish that any folk should pass a sword over their heads, a wise saying goes in Yoruba. The human principalities simply suspected that should they allow PMB to give the VP the intended latitude, they might not be able to control him. I remember on his return from London, he commended the efforts of his VP while he was away. He said he would still continue acting while he would still have some more rest at home. The following day everything changed, PMB decided to take charge as the President. I suspected some back door politics was playing out. My co-debaters, quite naturally, you’ll agree with me that, it is not over-ambition or sheer opportunism as you might insinuate for any deputy in an office to aspire to the next higher office, in a legitimate manner, there is nothing really unusual about it, and it would amount to killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer, should Oshinbajo be crucified for that, if at all. And as for his wishing Buhari’s non-recovery, I think that, again, like my Sister R, is a little unkind and not fair to the gentleman who I know to be a servant of God. He knows as much as I do, by our true Christian orientation and Biblical injunctions that, should he ever wish Buhari’s death or wish him any form of misfortune in those trying periods of the President, God Almighty who we serve would deal mercilessly and ruthlessly with him. That is what Psalm 41:1-13 is all about. So rule that out, because it is not, and could never be in his character. I can vouch for him. Rather, I saw him in those times that he acted for his principal, as someone zealous and appreciative of the trust his principal invested in him, and as such he tried to do his very best to merit the trust and the opportunity! I know and I am also sure that this is what an IBK, or a Razinat, would have done too had they found themselves in a similar situation! It does not amount to wishing one’s principal any evil, not at all. Not everyone can be like Chief Obafemi Awolowo who resigned his position under Gowon when the regime became financially reckless shortly after the civil war. Awolowo also gave very profound argumentation to justify convincingly his actions. He also turned down some other appointments including the “49 Wise Men of the Constitution Drafting Committee.” Oshinbajo couldn’t have resigned, normally, and naturally his principal, PMB should have supported him as a capable successor, but again, the President’s ethnic and religious bigotry took the better part of the President. Besides, PMB’s mind was long poisoned against his VP, a clean job by the Aso Villa cabal. IBK, Lady R, until the faceless cabal is permanently silenced the wheel of Nigeria might continue to go round in a circle, and to nowhere in particular”.
And Professor IBK takes the floor: “Prof. DAO, yours is a powerfully convincing submission, at least in a large measure. Now I am willing to hold a slightly different opinion about Osinbajo. Yet, I cannot fathom why he chose to run against Tinubu, days or weeks after the latter had begun his campaign in the party primaries. There’s much we don’t know about why OSBJ decided to run against BAT. Nothing is wrong with that politically but a little problematic from an Ethical or, at least Moral, point of view. Osinbajo did a poor job of it and came out a distant 4th in the primaries. I think he didn’t read the situation correctly and was probably misled by some cabal of sorts. Either way Osinbajo made a politically fatal error in this regard. Perhaps he must have sensed, or was told, that BAT was not the anointed candidate, or that BAT would be crippled by some ill-health or a medical condition. I remember the party’s screening committee publicly recommending that only younger contestants would be recommended to the NWC or such. Clearly there was an attempt to sideline BAT. Whatever the explanation, Osinbajo make the error in his campaign of promising to be more Buhari than Buhari. A man despised by whole sections of the northern population, a man whose reputation for laziness and incompetence was on the ascendant. Anyway, all is now history and Osinbajo has not given a good account of himself in this particular case. Prof DAO, I think your concept of the Trickster should account for Osinbajo’s situation here. FULL DISCLOSURE: a very close family member of mine was drafted to head Osinbajo’s campaign effort in Kano. We discussed extensively about Osinbajo’s pledge to carry on with Buhari’s policies. There was bewilderment and shock within the members. A week later half of the membership resigned on account of Osinbajo’s increasing identification with Buhari’s policies. Many mistakenly thought that Osinbajo was Buhari’s anointed one! I could go on…”
Interestingly interesting and intriguingly intriguing, dear, dearly dear readers: this debate.
To be terminated by the columnist-terminator and terminator-columnist next week after Professor Olu Obafemi’s summation of the debate he presided over.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
With Us, Not For US
By Ijeoma Fynecountry
The 21st of March of every year is international day for the celebration of persons living with down syndrome. The advocacy and push for communal and political recognition of the basic fundamental rights for persons living with various types of disabilities, particularly intellectual disability, just as enjoyed by their peers who do not have any form of challenge – physical or intellectual has recorded a substantial success around the globe, especially in more developed climes.
While the same cannot be said of the situation in Africa and Nigeria in particular, scanty breakthroughs have also been seen over the years, with the consistent and dogged efforts by some specialized organizations such as Down syndrome Foundation, Nigeria (DSFN).
The theme for this year’s celebration is “With us, Not for us”. This theme is apt particularly in the current era where the push for inclusion has taken a center stage in the campaign worldwide. While it is comforting to know that people, government and communities alike are now becoming more empathetic to the plight of persons living with disability, it is also necessary and most important that their rights as human beings deserving of not just empathy but actual concrete benefits accruable to other citizens without disability, is massively taken into consideration and actually provided for.
Therefore, it is not enough for the government to map out and create as in Lagos state and few other states, sections in the public schools to admit children or persons with intellectual disability, it is necessary to adequately equip these special schools with the needed “specialized” manpower, infrastructural and educational aids to attain the targeted educational goals for these persons. Likewise in the provision of better healthcare, economic, social needs of persons with disability etc.
Persons with intellectual disability do not just need to be specifically educated in accordance with his or her type of disability, but MUST also necessarily be able to aspire to or expect to be employed according to his or her learned ability. That way, a full right, befitting of a person, be him a person with disability or not, is assured. For what is the need of going through a learning process, acquiring a specialized knowledge about a craft or handiwork and eventually still not being given the opportunity of gaining employment as supposed, not due to lack of knowledge but for having a disability? No human being should be subjected to such. Our government should do better. The society at large should do better.
The theme for this year is enjoining all stakeholders – the government, communities, corporate organizations, religious bodies/organizations, individuals to open up their hearts, and recognize the very urgent and important need to help in the actualization of these basic human needs, rights of persons living with intellectual disability as we are all human. No human rights or needs should be prioritized over the other no matter the state of their health, mental and physical capacity. Stand with us by taking actual intentional steps towards uplifting and elevating the humanness of persons living with disability. It is not enough to say that you are for persons living with disability, your specific, intentional, targeted actions toward ensuring the practical applicability of these rights matters.
Fynecontryis a Lagos-based legal practitioner and the legal resource person for the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria.
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