Today, Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020 is the 19th remembrance anniversary of the late Chief ‘Bola Ige, SAN, the first Civilian Governor of old Oyo State (October 1, 1979, to September 30, 1983). May his valiant soul continue to rest in peace, Amen.
At the time of his assassination in his Bodija Estate, Ibadan, Oyo State Home, on Sunday, 23rd December 2001, Chief Ige was Nigeria’s sitting Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. His assailants or their sponsors are yet to be found or prosecuted till date. December 23rd, 2001 could be described as bitter, concerning the life of Chief Ige, even though, my December 23rd, 1986 article concerning Chief Ige and his bosom friend, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Professor ’Wole Soyinka, that I am recalling here now is better than bitter.
The late Chief Ige celebrated Professor Soyinka’s October 1986 award of the Nobel Prize with a luncheon at Esa-Oke, Osun State, to which my humble self and my wife were invited by the Ige’s.
The following is my 1986 article, which remains evergreen:
“For those of us who, due to no fault of ours, missed the presentation ceremony of this year’s Nobel prize for Literature to God’s gift-to-Nigeria Professor Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka, in Stockholm, Esa-Oke re-lived the December 10, ceremony last Sunday.
“Esa-Oke, the hometown of Chief ‘Bola Ige, first Executive Governor of old Oyo State and Prof. Soyinka’s bosom friend of 36-odd years, was agog with a mixture of Stockholm presentees and the rest of us to honour the living WS; lion of words, ‘lion’ of theatre, a connoisseur of wine; brave hunter of games, humanist and a ‘rank-xerox’ of divine wisdom and culture.
“I am no stranger to the venue of the ‘home-washing’ of the Nobel award, but I must admit that the home of “Cicero” had never witnessed the congregation of Nigeria’s cream of the society in the likes of Mrs. Francesca Emmanuel, Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Sports, Chief Tayo Akpata, Professor Abiola Irele, Alhaji Ali Baba from Adamawa Hills (in the words of Chief Ige), Professor Toriola Solanke, husband of Nigeria’s First Lady (SAN), Chief Folake, Mrs. Teju Alakija, Oyo State’s former Head of Service, Mr. Femi Johnson of “Broking House” in Ibadan, Professor Muyiwa Awe and his wife, Professor Bolanle, Chief Segun Olusola (creator of NTA’s Village Headmaster), Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, then Director of Public Affairs (Guardian), Justice and Mrs. Tayo Onalaja, Chief Bode Akindele (Parakoyi of Ibadanland and founder of ARAMED), Chief Bayo Akinnola, former Commissioner in the defunct Western State, and Professor Obaro Ikime of the University of Ibadan.
“From Professor Soyinka’s ilk came Commonwealth’s latest poetry prince, Dr. Niyi Osundare, Odia Ofeimun, Dr. Kole Omotoso, Chief Wale Ogunyemi (MON), Mr. Segun Sofowote, Mr. Yemi Farounbi, Progenitor of ‘Arelu’, Dr. Tunde Adeniran (whose poem to WS was read in absentia), Dr. Bode Sowande, Mr. G. Onibonoje who left publishing for farming, Mr. Peter Ajayi, MD, Sketch Press Limited, Mr. Tunde Odesanya of the Sunday Times, Mr. Sina Odugbemi, Dapo Aderinola of Peter Enahoro’s Africa Now’, Mr. Sola Odunfa (one-time Editor of The PUNCH Newspapers), Barrister Akin Ige and his friend, Dr. Adebayo Williams (Newswatch columnist).
“The Master of Ceremony of the occasion was no less a personality than the host, Uncle ‘Bola (he never bothers to argue with anybody about ‘Wole Soyinka) who kicked the Esa-Oke show open by drawing the guests attention, after cocktails, to a performance by a ‘magician’ – in the person of Dr. Sowande.
“It was halfway into the ‘magical show’ (a sketch of an imaginary ECOWAS citizen’s bid to enter Nigeria) that the ‘lion’ and guest of honour, Nobel Laureate Soyinka, entered the small dome in grand style! I am sorry for the lateness. Our car broke down on the way and we had to charter a ‘molue’ (commercial bus) to get here,” I quote Professor Soyinka.
“He was welcome because the gathering heralded his arrival with claps as he took his seat to watch the ‘immigration’ drill ‘Mr. Omowale Dako Dacosta’ into bargaining his entry into his mother’s birth-place, Lagos. And he had hardly been absorbed into the on-going drama when the tiger proclaimed his tigritude “The connoisseur of wine, who was said to have taught Mr. Femi Johnson wine in exchange for food lectures, stood up and strolling to the wine table, picked his choice and poured a shot.
“From the dome, we trooped outside unto the green lawns to have lunch. In the meantime, Uncle ‘Bola had announced the day’s programme to the hearing of all.
“It would go like this, “as the ‘Cicero’ requested for the audience, “Tunde Adeniran’s poem for ‘Wole Soyinka will be read by ‘Bode Sowande, Odia Ofeimun will read two poems of Soyinka, Professor Irele will sing. Someone (and that’s me) will read a letter meant for ‘Wole which I have seen. There will be a lucky dip for copies of “Before Our Very Eyes” – a publication of tributes to ‘Wole Soyinka by those who know him and then, sweet will be served,” Uncle ’Bola concluded.
“Lunch eventually came, and Dr. Sowande read the poem dedicated to Prof. Soyinka by a member of the Political Bureau, Dr. Tunde Adeniran, Odia Ofeimun recited ‘Abiku’ and one other poem by Prof. Soyinka, Dr. Biodun Jeyifous read a passage from “The Man Died”, the prison notes of Professor Soyinka, where the prison governor (a discharged British West African force Sergeant warned prisoners to behave or else he would put his knowledge of archaeology (studied in Khartoum) into practice, since he had decided not to impart his knowledge in ecology to University undergraduates for nothing. Whatever that means!
“Then came my turn. I read out my letter to Professor Soyinka and recalled that day in 1967, when as a secondary school pupil. I had written him a letter of solidarity while he (Soyinka) was in detention and his letter of gratitude upon his release in 1969. My requests, in 1974, while a reporter in Sketch, to join him in Accra, Ghana and how he had not been able to offer me a place on the defunct ‘Transition’ which he then edited.
“And in my attempt to prove that Esa-Oke does not ‘lack’ the qualities of Stockholm, I requested, through Uncle ’Bola, that the Nobel Laureate come forward to receive three items from me – the letter, a dubbed copy of my 1982 television interview (Speak Out) for NTA, Ibadan with him while he was a lecturer in Ile-Ife and the manuscript of my book, “Thrice Upon a Time,” which I wanted him to edit.
“Rising like a lion, and with a firm ‘I shall respond to your letter’ comment, Professor Soyinka went behind the microphone to applaud Dr. Osundare (Commonwealth poetry award winner) and Odia Ofeimun as two of the best up and coming poets.
“And if Sir Mobolaji Bank – Anthony wonders what Prof. Soyinka intends to do with the cash gift he gave to the Nobel Laureate in London recently, Dr. Osundare has been given the carte-blanche to spend it the way he (Osundare) thinks fit! According to Prof. Soyinka, “the sum is to supplement whatever is the value of Dr. Osundare’s commonwealth prize for Literature.
“The Esa-Oke show did not end without Mrs. Emmanuel doing a solo (command performance for her long-time acquaintance in the form of ‘Meta, meta l’ore o’) Mr. Johnson’s turn to sing (another command performance) was skipped because, according to him, he had lost his voice – thanks to a Christmas party the night before!
“By the way, some newspapers report last week that Prof. Soyinka returned home wearing a black pair of shoes was false. Hear him, “I wore these brown shoes bought specially for the Nobel award ceremony.
“Prof. Soyinka thanked his hosts, Chief Ige and his high court judge wife, Auntie Atinuke, and those of us who honoured the invitation to the ceremony. I pray the Professor was being euphemistic when he said the collection on him by critics and friends in ‘Before Our Very Eyes’ “is not a factual account of me, but of the writers’. Now, you know what Esa-Oke has got to do with the Nobel.”
“As promised by the host, there was a lucky dip of copies of the book, “Before Our Very Eyes,” after which sweet was served.
“The celebration in Esa-Oke that Sunday in December 1986 of the Nobel award to Prof. Soyinka ended on a convivial note with the host, Uncle ’Bola and his family wishing us, their guests, a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 1987.
“What from or colour the celebration of the ‘Soyinka Festival’ by the ‘Cicero” would have taken? Conjectures, conjectures. Continue to rest in perfect peace, Uncle ’Bola.
Above is a recall of my 1986 article titled “The Esa-Oke connection with the Nobel Prize” as published in the Sunday Sketch newspaper issue of December 23, 1986 “How Bola Ige ‘Washed’, Soyinka’s Nobel Award,” in the Sunday Sun newspaper issue of 12th September 2004.
* ’Lekan Alabi is Ekefa Olubadan of Ibadanland.