Awoyinfa and the parade of giants -By Dare Babarinsa


*Photo: Awoyinfa *


July is a special month in Nigeria. It is when the heavens open up to release the rain in torrents and expose the hidden shame of our cities. About 60 years ago, a young graduate of the University of Ibadan, John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, wrote a poem to celebrate the city. We were made to read the poem by our teachers at Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ile-Ife, (Igrams.) Who can forget Ibadan?
Running splash of rust
And gold flung and scattered
Among seven hills like broken
China in the sun.

I don’t know what kind of poem the Muse would inspire someone like Clark to write now when it rains in Lagos and citizens throw their waste into the drainage as if expecting angels to come and help them clear them. The citizens are busy dirtying their own environment, clogging the drains and they blame the government for not clearing the drainages on time.

When Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola was in charge of Lagos, he ordered that every bus and taxi in city must carry waste baskets. That did not stop the citizens from throwing plastic bottles on the streets. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is waging the war to keep Lagos clean and clear the drainages, but he is not doing enough to ensure that the citizens comply. We should not wait until one July morning when Lagos would be submerged, not by the rain of July, but by a mountain of plastic bottles and other waste. So far, the rain is fulfilling its promise.

So, tomorrow, when gaily dressed Lagosians and other Nigerians troop out to celebrate the 75th birthday with Princess Abiola Dosunmu, the newly crowned Yeye Oodua of the Source, their greatest worry would be the weather. Dosunmu is one of the giants of the month of July. She was educated in Kano, Lagos and the United Kingdom, got married to a soldier, Major Kunle Elegbede of the Third Marine Commandoes Division, at 21.

As a young wife, she visited her husband at the war front during the Nigerian Civil War. At 25, she became a widow when her husband, who survived the war, died in a tragic motor accident in 1972. She was devastated, wore mourning black attires for one year and then decided to re-invent herself. At 75, she has a lot to celebrate.

So is Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, winner of the National Merit Award and former professor of public administration at the old University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife. Adamolekun, polyglot, public intellectual, columnist, who retired as lead public sector management specialist of the World Bank, Washington DC, had served as the country representative of the Bank in several countries including Japan, Kenya and Togo. He is a well-sought advisor to many presidents around the world, but hardly gets a hearing in Nigeria.

On July 20, last week, he celebrated his 80th birthday in Akure, Ondo State. He used the occasion to offer his advice again to Nigeria:
“The three possible future scenarios that I envisaged for the country in Whither Nigeria? Directions for Future Development (the book he published in 2012) remain pertinent today.
A. Maintenance of the status quo, muddling through until the country settles for either B or C below.
B. Optimistic scenario, the country finds a viable path to achieving a federal democracy and economic prosperity.
C. Pessimistic scenario, the dreaded ‘D’ word – disintegration of the federation.’’

Adamolekun recommended for Nigeria a federation of only six regions. A word is enough for the wise. One wise man, who always speaks truth to power, is Professor Wole Soyinka, who celebrated his 88th birthday on July 13. Soyinka, poet, playwright, essayist, agent-provocateur and unbending advocate for social justice is a Nobel Prize winner in Literature. He is senior to Mr. Olu Jacobs, who celebrated his 80th birthday on July 11. Jacobs’ vast corpus of work is one of the richest among Nigerian Nollywood stars. He is married to the highly talented actress, Joke Silva.

Another contemporary of Jacobs is Jimi Solanke, the cerebral folklorist and actor. It is a good feeling that Solanke, who celebrated his 80th birthday on July 4, is now officially an old man. Solanke is one of our country’s most enduring living monuments of the arts. He is an enthralling folklorist, an engaging singer, a compelling dramatist and an icon of the arts.

He has seen life, both on a personal and professional level. Now, he can reflect on his achievements with little regrets and profound gratitude to God. For him, it has been a good life and the melodies continue.
Five years ago, I was one of the guests at the 70th birthday celebration of Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, the Chairman of Tanus Communications Limited, at his Ipara country home in Ogun State.

Ogunbiyi’s accidental foray into journalism – he had served as executive director of The Guardian and later the managing director of the old Daily Times, has been remarkable. To signpost the importance of that landmark celebration, Uncle Jimi was there to serenade guests with his evergreen songs. It was a star-studded occasion with many top Nigerians in attendance including the incomparable Professor Soyinka, marketing and advertising guru, Biodun Sobanjo and giant of the bar, Tunji Adelaja. Solanke was on his feet for more than one hour. His husky baritone and mellifluous rendition of Yoruba folk tales dominated the air. Who could forget an encounter with Jimi Solanke?

Solanke was part of my growing up years. What of the great experiences of our days at Igrams? We had the regular opportunity to go to Ori Olokun Cultural Center, where Professor Ola Rotimi, had his tent for the rehearsal of his great plays. It was there we had the opportunity of encountering Solanke and other leading actors, including Rotimi and Professor Adeyinka Adedeji.

That was when plays like The Gods Are not to Blame, Kurunmi and Ovonramwen Nogbaisi hit the stage. Solanke was the star actors in all those plays. I remember him in the lead role as Kurunmi, the great Ijaiye marshal who was challenged by the Ibadan soldiers for supremacy in Yorubaland.

All these landmark birthdays would have provided opportunities for Mike Awoyinfa, one of the builders of the Nigerian Press, to do great stories in his hey days as the editor of the rousingly successful Weekend Concord.

Awoyinfa, who marked his 70th on July 23, came into national limelight when he became the first editor of Weekend Concord. The paper was a more elaborate linear successor to the old Lagos Weekend, published by the old Daily Times. Under his leadership, the Weekend Concord became a roaring success and was regularly hitting the 500,000 copies weekly print run.

Awoyinfa re-invented himself when he collaborated with his old colleague, Dimgba Igwe, to establish the Sun group of newspapers financed by the flamboyant, but shrewd businessman, Orji Kalu. The Sun also became a roaring success.

It is a measure of Awoyinfa’s success that many of those who served under him, Femi Adesina, Dele Momodu, Eric Osagie, Tunji Bello, Shola Osunkeye, Funke Egbemode and many others, continue to make giant forays in the field of journalism and public life.

Congratulations Brother Mike. May God grant you the grace of better days ahead.


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