INTERVIEWED BY KEMI OLAOGUN
I was told that I was born on September 22, 1939 in Iwo, Osun State. My father, Baba Oseni Morakinyo Atanda of Ile-Afa’s Compound, was known as Baba Eleran (Butcher). My father’s compound is predominantly a Muslim domain and was located on Water Works Road in Iwo. He was a butcher of no mean repute and he rose to be the head of butcher in Iwo, which was the genesis of butchery in Nigeria and all over Africa. When he became the head of butchers in his locality, he was equally head of butcher in Nigeria because Iwo is known for butchery. And my father extended the trade to Ivory Coast and other West African countries.
Growing up in Iwo was fun because it wasn’t a rural setting as such. In fact, Iwo Local Government has the largest population in Osun State according to the last census. My growing up was very dramatic, very fulfilling, very entertaining and I wish I knew what was happening to me; what God has endowed me with at that particular time, I would have loved to relish that time. Iwo is predominantly a Muslim setting and 95 percent of its inhabitants were Muslim then. My father wasn’t a cleric as such but he was an adherent of Islam. I went to Ile Kewu (Quranic School). Ironically, I finished that school in two years, which ordinarily took others seven years to do. Secondly, I had to go to a school because my late brother, the late Eniola Atanda, insisted that I should because I finished Quranic School early. And because I was enrolled early, other children from other women benefitted from it because my father believed there should be equity. I also got to school and effortlessly I was leading the class. And in all the classes I was the Class Monitor and was only topped in one term by Supo Ladipo who later became a professor. Again, I left primary school in Standard Five instead of six and went to secondary school on a scholarship because I was first in all the grammar school I took entrance into. And at the end of the day, I chose Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo because of a teacher, Pa Oshotimehin, the father to Professor Oshotimehin, former Provost College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Director-General NACA and now with United Nations Population Fund. Prof. Oshotimehin was born in Iwo when his father was a teacher at Baptist Day School, Iwo. He was a great sportsman and he identified me as a sports person. I went to Molusi College on Western Regional government’s scholarship. That period was also significant in my life because after the result of that examination was released, my name was not there. The school was turned upside down because of the fact that my name was omitted. Four days after, a telegraph containing my name came, showing that I came first in the examinations and was given western regional government’s scholarship to Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo. That was when the late educationist Dr. Tai Solarin was principal. So growing up in Iwo was eventful in the sense that my generation turned a sleepy, conservative and closed environment into an open one by the little things we were doing in primary school. Our generation opened the society socially and academically. For instance, at every end of the year party, all the parents would converge at the school premises to watch us.
Friends I Grew Up With…
I had many of them but one stood out, the late Rasheed Rahman of Ile Olumoye’s Compound in Iwo. In fact, I knew him inside out and we were classmates in primary school. He was such an outstanding student right from school. He had a flair for writing right from Standard Five. And when we went to college he didn’t go with us. He was the best English student in our class and had a beautiful handwriting. He waited a bit but in between he was a correspondent for many newspaper organisations. His work was to write about what was happening in our locality. He was freelancing for West African Pilot, Nigerian Tribune and another radical paper in the North. One of my friends also is Prof. Supo Ladipo. H
e was known as Yekini Lasisi in those days. He was my greatest rival in primary school. If for any reason I lagged behind a little he would be ahead of me and he succeeded only once. He was such a brilliant chap. Another person was the late Ganiyu Kolawole
Iromini. His father was a cocoa magnate and had a fleet of cars, which he used for transport. Ganiyu also went to Molusi College and later became Chairman of Iwo Local Government.
He also worked with Guinness and retired as General Manager, Purchasing. Another one was the late Kayode Aderibigbe, a qualified quantity surveyor. My brothers-Ganiyu Funso Atanda and Olufemi Kamilu Atanda-, Ruth Onyeakano, Esther Dakoru whose uncles worked with the missionaries were all my friends as well.
It has to do with family and cultural ties. In Iwo, at the time I was growing up everybody knew everyone. If you were celebrating, every person in town would come on the basis of the relationship. The whole place would be jam-packed with people and everybody was in a way related to you. I remember when I was in grammar school, if I was toasting somebody or I was attracted to a lady; my mother would readily come in and would say the girl was a no-go area if she was a relation. And almost every time my mother would always have something to say so much that I concluded that I wasn’t going to marry an Iwo woman. It wasn’t exactly true but the tie was very tight. Also, in Iwo in those days, the highest assets an individual could have are credibility, transparency and integrity. They respect IQ. This is also the case about the town till now. In other words, our people place high premium on quality, and not wealth.
Unique Things about the Town…
Iwo Omo Odo-Oba. Ma Gbe Omo Oba F’osun. Ironically, we found ourselves in Osun. The first thing is that big river you encounter when you are approaching Iwo. The river has its origin from somewhere in Ogbomoso. Another unique thing about Iwo is religion, which has more or less becomes the town’s culture. But things have changed dramatically and I didn’t know I would witness such changes in my lifetime.
Iwo: Then and Now…
In the early 40s, Iwo used to be an uninformed society, a society that was not living with time. The people were not exposed except those who lived abroad. It was an egoistic thing; people believed that they knew everything. But the only things they were exposed to were farming, butchery and Islam. It was my generation that started organising our people, ourselves into an association, what we called Iwo and District Union of Students. I was in Form Three when I was appointed General-Secretary. Iwo was founded in the 18th century. You won’t believe that I was the fourth university graduate to be produced by the town. The first graduate was Pa S.G. Laosebikan who is still alive; he is almost 90 at present. The second person was I. A. Adisa. He was trained in Ireland. My late brother, Lawyer Eniola Atanda trained in London and was the third and I emerged the fourth. And today, hardily can you find a home in Iwo that has not produced a graduate. I am happy about that transformation.
Again, in those days, the town was predominantly Muslim. Baptist Convention came in later. In fact, Baptist Church deliberately left Ogbomoso to bring Christianity to Iwo. We had some parents that were liberal like my father, yet he was a great adherent of Islam. In fact, he brought Ansar-Ur-Deen Society to Iwo. But he was liberal and didn’t push any of us into Islam and a few parents followed suit. We all went to mission school where you had to obey the rules. I learnt everything about Christian religious knowledge from primary school and didn’t have to learn anything extra at Molusi College. We were made to recite Bible verses. Those who were staunch Muslims still went back to Islam anyway. Things have changed as several people in Iwo have now embraced Christianity and again with the influx of Pentecostalism, things changed about religion in Iwo.
Iwo and its Right of Place
With all modesty, I was the first Iwo indigene to get a doctorate degree in Iwoland. I was the first person to reach that height as Chief Executive Officer in the Federal Department of Agricultural Research Institute, the apex of all research institutes in Nigeria. By virtue of that position, I have been to everywhere in the world. And anywhere I went to I always indicated that I hailed from Iwo city. And that’s not peculiar to me alone, many of our boys and girls from Iwo are scattered all over the world. And individually, they are doing well. In the old Western Region, Iwo was recognized even as the fourth largest town in the whole of Nigeria (that was in the 1960s). And in those days when politics really started, Iwo was the center place for campaigns. And in this present administration in Osun State, it is the government where we have the largest concentration of Iwo indigenes. We have never had it so good. About four commissioners and Secretary to the State Government and several special assistants are all from Iwo. Iwo is well known as a progressive enclave. So far so good, Iwo indigenes are recording giant strides both at home and abroad.
How Can This Be Brought about?
A lot is still to be done. By virtue of our advantageous position, our location, by virtue of our potential, I discovered that Iwo indigenes are very brilliant people, give them the opportunity and they will excel. Some of the people that were once written off are now professors and holding big positions. One more thing, though: we are yet come out of the tight corner of conservatism and religion fanaticism. But as fanatics, they can be tolerant. In one family, you see adherents of both Christianity and Islam and they are tolerant of one another. So we have not opened up enough yet, although education has liberalised us. Again, there is this pull-him-down syndrome and we need to get out of all that for us to move forward.