Babatunde Olusunle couldn’t have bagged a more befitting title. In 2006, Oba Hambolu of Ekinrin-Adde in Kogi State honoured him as the “Otunba Baba eto” of his kingdom. Every one of us – his friends – hailed the royal father for having captured in the title the very essence of this accomplished poet, journalist and politician who turned 50 recently.
Olusunle is a master planner, meticulous organizer, skilled strategist and dexterous fixer of all things fixable. Give him any task and he will plan and execute it to the letter with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Olusunle can never be found wanting either in words or deed. He is always prepared – sometimes over-prepared – for the exigencies of life. The harsh realities of life in Nigeria has taught him to always be prepared for the worst. He learned very quickly in life that to survive in Nigeria requires some aggressiveness and mental nimbleness. He takes FULL advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
Over the last Easter weekend, Olusunle ferried eight of his friends in a bus and pick-up truck to his expansive, bucolic resort in Isanlu, Kogi State, for a memorable all-expenses-paid Easter holiday. It was a movable feast of story-telling, laughter, jokes, music, palm wine, amala, barbequed ram and Ebola-free bush meat. We created our own island of sufficiency in a sprawling town which among numerous other needs had not seen public electric power supply for more than a year. I am sure that if Olusunle has the capacity to address these needs he would have done them for his beloved Isanlu. For Olusunle is never selfish. He always looks out for his family and friends.
That was why in 2004, the Ekenobisi community in Umuahia, Abia State, conferred on him the title “Enyi’Oha 1 of Ekenobisi” (means trusted friend of the people). For indeed Olusunle is a trusted friend of all of us. His mentor, Onyeama Ugochukwu, former Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), facilitated the conferment of the title obviously in appreciation of Olusunle’s loyalty to friends and willingness to assist friends in need.
Olusunle was born to be “A Man of the People”. He was born in Kaduna, had his early education in Benin, attended University of Ilorin, performed his national service in Imo State, taught in Ponyan, served three Kogi State governors as Press Secretary in Lokoja, worked as features/editorial writer with the Daily Times in Lagos, and then moved to Abuja in 1999 to join the Obasanjo Administration. He speaks Yagba, Yoruba, English and a smattering of Bini, Igala, Ebira and others. His friends come from different parts of Nigeria – Chief Femi Ajisafe (Kogi), Gbenga Ayeni (Ekiti), Tivilum Nyitse (Benue), Tony Olofu (Benue), Sunday Dare (Oyo), Jonathan Towuru (Delta), Blessing Wikina (Rivers), Segun Sobogun (Lagos), Mopah Aileku (Kogi) and the Ugochukwus of Abia – to mention just a few.
His early exposure to various groups, cultures and places gave him the cosmopolitan outlook that has enabled him to navigate effortlessly through unfamiliar environment and cultures. Olusunle is at home anywhere. He is street-smart and seems to know all the survivals skills in the Nigerian book.
Olusunle’s 76-year old father, Pastor Jacob Adeniyi Olusunle, and his mother, Deaconess Elizabeth Ajayi Olusunle, a retired registered Nurse, have had a strong influence on him. Like Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart, the younger Olusunle would have wished that they got more out of life for all their hard work and devotion to God. Tunde Olusunle seemed to have resolved, based on the experiences of his parents, to be what they could not be and to acquire all that eluded them.
Pastor and Deaconess Olusunle are simple, easy-going people whose greatest joy today is seeing their only son and six daughters and several grand children doing very well in life. But for their hard work and devotion to God, the journey of life has been tough and tortuous. They have lived so that their children and grand children could live better. They have made enormous sacrifice for family and friends, denying themselves even the little pleasures of life. It is this self-denial that seemed so natural to his parents’ generation that Tunde Olusunle’s generation is not particularly fond of. This is the impulse behind Tunde Olusunle’s aggressive attitude to life. This is the reason for his unflinching determination to get more out of life. This is what explains his near-obsessive quest for perfection and his readiness to explore and exploit any opportunity. If the door of opportunity has a tiny opening,Tunde Olusunle will squeeze himself through it, get as much as he can and then throws it open to everyone.
Olusunle is more than an average man in size and intellect. Standing at six feet plus and with a Japanese Sumo wrestler beefy frame, Tunde Olusunle is truly intimidating. He can never be lost in the crowd. And he does not hesitate to throw his weight around to get whatever he wants. One more thing: whoever finds his trouble, tries to cheat him or to take him for granted will certainly feel the full weight of that massive body. As nice and gentlemanly Tunde Olusunle can be, he does not hesitate to physically deal with any irritant himself. And Lord have mercy on such a person.
When in 1998, Onyeama Ugochukwu introduced Olusunle to the then presidential candidate Olusegun Obasanjo as his new campaign press officer, Obasanjo sized him up and then turned to Chief Ugochukwu: you will have to get him a press tag, otherwise people will mistake him for a bouncer. Ugochukwu laughed, knowing Obasanjo’s sense of humour. Thankfully, Ugochukwu did not have to deal with identity mix-up regarding Olusunle throughout the campaign. Olusunle acquitted himself well in that assignment. He followed Obasanjo to Abuja in May 1999 and he was appointed Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs. His immediate boss was Chief Ugochukwu. Olusunle traveled frequently with President Obasanjo and made himself very useful. He drafted unsolicited memos for the President and drew up talking points for him at public functions. Obasanjo took note of his peerless writing skill. The President brought him to his office to draft and clean up his memos and letters.
Obasanjo was a hard task master. If he disagreed with the contents of one mail out of 10 drafted by Olusunle, he would descend heavily on him.
“This man, it seems you wrote this under the influence of pito (fermented alcoholic drink made from guinea corn)”, the President said in Yoruba. Olusunle would also get into trouble with Obasanjo if he spotted factual errors in his talking points. Early in the administration, Obasanjo visited Cross River with Olusunle on the entourage. Olusunle misread the public display of a harmonious working relationship between Governor Donald Duke and his deputy, the late John Okpa. In his talking points for Obasanjo, Olusunle advised him to commend the Duke-Okpa partnership and advised other governors and their deputies to learn from them. When Obasanjo made that point in his remarks, the people of Cross River chuckled knowingly. They knew there was no love lost between Duke and Okpa. Obasanjo had been deceived by the photo-trick on display during his visit. Someone later brought this faux passe to the President’s attention and he quickly fished out Olusunle and tongue-lashed him. It did not matter to the President that Olusunle had done dozens of such talking points in the past that were flawless.
Anyway, Olusunle survived Obasanjo for eight years. Reminiscences from that sometimes rocky but interesting relationship will make a best seller if Olusunle ever gets to write it. It will be his second book on Obasanjo. The first is titled “On The Trail of History: A Reporter’s Notebook on Olusegun Obasanjo. It is a collection of essays published in 2006. In that book and in his numerous contributions to newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals, readers will find Olusunle’s command of the English Language really remarkable.
He writes flawlessly but verbose sometimes. His years of serving military and civilian governors with big egos has made him a master of ego-massaging memos in which “the President/Governor will recall his grand vision for the transformation of the state/country” and how the issue in the memo fits perfectly into that vision, and that is why “Mr. President or His Excellency the Governor is now being invited to consider and approve” this memo. It is always amazing how he weaves together such syrupy bureaucratese to appeal to the ego of the various bosses he worked with. Olusunle’s memos are rarely turned down. And that is because they are always well crafted.
Olusunle is perhaps better known as a poet. He has published two volumes of poetry -”Fingermarks (1996) and “Rhythm of the Mortar” (2001). His poetry is so accomplished and mature that it has been praised by two of the nation’s best known poets – Odia Ofeium and Niyi Osundare on whose work Olusunle wrote his master degree thesis. Olusunle is now building on that foundation in his doctoral studies at the University of Abuja by looking at the nexus between journalism and literature.
Olusunle, who now lives in Abuja with his beautiful wife, Funmi, and children, Aramide, Abayomi and Tobi, has accomplished quite a lot in his first half a century. The next half promises to be even fulfilling. Twice, he sought to represent Kogi West senatorial zone in the Nigerian Senate and failed. This dream may turn out a reality in the second lap of his remarkable life journey. Happy belated birthday, Baba eto. Welcome to the 50s club.
*Adinoyi-Ojo is former Managing Director of Daily Times of Nigeria.