By Reuben Abati
Prince Julius Adewale Adelusi-Adeluyi who turns 80 this week, on Sunday August 2nd, was our guest on Arise TV flagship programme – The Morning Show – yesterday, and although I had made some comments about this national icon in the course of that engagement, the format of a television interview does not really provide me enough scope for an extended appreciation of a man who is one of the most impressive, kind-hearted and inspiring persons that I know. I met Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi in the early 90s. The university where I taught Sociology of Literature, General Studies, Shakespeare and His Contemporaries and Modern African Drama had been shut down for about a year. This forced me to pay more attention to journalism, which I had been doing part-time since 1985 writing for romance magazines (I was Contributing Editor with Hints and Channelle magazines, and later Hearts magazine). I also wrote copiously for the mainstream media. Bored with sitting on campus which had become ghost town, I relocated to Lagos while waiting for the seemingly endless strike to end. I got trapped.
From being Editorial Page Editor at The Hammer newspaper, I ended up on the Editorial Board of The Guardian. Life assumed a meaning of its own from that point. I would soon become a popular book reviewer, my very first being one of General Olusegun Obasanjo’s books, and that opened up so many opportunities. It was in the course of all that talk here, talk there that I met Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi. He gave me his card and asked me to come and see him. “I think we have got something special here. I can see your potential. I read your writings and I see you going up and down giving a lecture here, a talk there, you review books and you seem to do everything so well. But you know, in this country, you can burn yourself out, just running up and down and it may never amount to anything. You have to be focused, disciplined, organized. You need to brush things up. Come and see me, we will talk a lot more.”
I went to see him. His office then was at Oregun. A three-storey imposing building in a modest street. The ground floor was a warehouse. The staff occupied the first floor. If I recall correctly, the second floor was divided into conference halls and meeting rooms. Prince’s office was on the top floor. As I went up to his office, my attention was caught by one particular item, a small board on the wall which contained stick-on notes of quotations about life, success and leadership, all notes written in his handwriting and with proper acknowledgement of the original source. I found that quite impressive and his secretary then was definitely ultra-efficient. When I was ushered into his office, a very big office, stretching from one end of the building to the last wall, I thought I was back at a University Library. From top-down and all around, there were books on virtually every subject in the world, all neatly arranged.
I have met quite a number of persons who are literally obsessed with books and documentation – General Aliyu Gusau, Odia Ofeimun, Kunle Ajibade, late Professor Dapo Adelugba, Professor Pat Utomi… but when I saw Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi’s library at that time, I was shocked. I came to Lagos with the impression that most people in Lagos were just after money, and that the serious-minded persons could only be found at the schools of higher education and media houses. My impression changed after that initial encounter with Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi. The man knew something about everything. As we chatted, he would stand up, go to an exact spot in his library and produce a book to back up his point. I discovered that apart from the stick-on quotes on the board that I saw, he kept a special diary of quotes on virtually every subject. I asked him why? He said as someone who got invited to speak on various subjects regularly, he needed to read and do research on a permanent basis and if he read anything he loved or found useful, he would immediately keep a record of it.
It was dazzling. I was excited making his acquaintance. But as I got up to go, I was shocked when he commented on my dressing. “I see you like this your adire, revolutionary attires a lot.” As a graduate student/assistant and later university teacher, I acquired quite a handful of adire (batik) materials which were sewn in different designs. It was popular material on campus. Our own teachers wore the same material or opted for the popular Ankara. These materials were affordable, and the designs looked good. We were trained to promote African culture and scholarship, certainly not to become coxcombs. I didn’t in any way feel inferior to anyone dressed up like a mannequin on the pages of GQ. In fact, my friends and I used to laugh at such persons. When I left the campus (my salary then was N900) and I got my first salary of N3,000 at The Guardian, I went to Oshodi market and bought more materials and sewed a wardrobe-full of caftans. Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi didn’t think that was good enough.
“Look”, he said. “People are beginning to notice you. You appear on television. You write newspaper articles. You get invited as MC at big events. Everybody can see that you are smart. But you must be professional. Lagos is not about revolution. You are not here for a revolution. You are here to succeed, to make a mark. You must dress the part. You won’t get anywhere, I am sorry, in these revolutionary attires. If you are going to the village for a meeting, yes, or you are meeting with your scholarly friends, oh, very good, but if you are going to show up at the NIIA to review a book or give a lecture, then you must look professional. You can’t show up as if you are going for a cultural dance.”
We ended up sitting down again for a conversation. He told me about how as far back as 1967, he was Secretary General of the International Students Association. He was also Vice President (International Affairs) of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS). He studied Pharmacy at the then University of Ife and after graduation, he worked at Pfizer where by the age of 30, he was already a Director. But he gave all that up and decided to set up his own practice, Juli Pharmacy, which in 1986 became the first indigenously promoted Nigerian company to be quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. “So you see”, he told me, “I know all these things about aluta continua, changing the world and all that but if you want to be a professional, then be professional, don’t be part of the crowd. Stand out. Nobody will trust you if they think all you have is just raw intelligence, and no focus.” These days when Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi calls, he is likely to end our conversation with a joke; “By the way Reuben, I see the ties are looking sharper everyday and we now wear suits. If I may ask, what happened to those our famous the-struggle-continues-attires?” And we would have a hearty, prolonged father-and-son laughter. Of course, anyone who knows Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi knows that he is a man of style, always well turned out in his impeccably neat white attires. In his younger days, as an executive, he matched the style always to the occasion. He is the best life coach that I know.
He has had such a rich life experience, he offers advice not just on style and appearance but also diction and life issues. Every year he would invite me to his office in January: “Okay, what are your goals for this year? What do you intend to achieve?” I used to be a bit confused about that but I soon got used to it. “You have to set targets. Every year, you must set goals. Life is too short. No matter how brilliant you are, you can’t just drift through life. You must be purposeful” he would say. Before the end of every year, I will again be invited for a review: “What have you achieved this year? What value have you added?” These days, he is likely to ask more questions about the children: “How are my grandchildren? “I hear James is…and Elizabeth… you see you think that you are brilliant, but my grand-children are showing you that they are smarter. Iyawo has done a great job… e ba mi ki awon omo mi o ati iyawo pe o ku ise, o se mo dupe o.” And I am not alone. Over the decades, Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi has been a mentor to the younger generation in every community with which he is associated: students unionism, Pharmacy, law, Rotary International, the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) community, the Catholic Church (especially St Leo’s Cathedral, Toyin Street, Ikeja), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), his native Ado Ekiti community, and Nigeria. He served as a leader of the global students’ union. He has also been President and Life Patron of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN). He is President still, of the Pharmacy Academy of Nigeria. Pharmacy remains his first love. He went to read law and graduated from the Nigerian Law School as the best overall student in his set with First Class Honours.
He is also the doyen of the Rotary Club of Lagos. I got to know a lot about Rotary through him and Mr. Yemi Akeju who once nominated me for a Rotary Scholarship. Mr. Akeju later offered me a job at Ideas Communications. I remain closely associated with the club. I don’t turn down Rotary invitations except I cannot help it, because of the examples of Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi and Mr. Akeju. The Rotary ideal is Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi’s guiding philosophy. He enjoys giving. He likes to serve. I visited him earlier this year, before the COVID-19 challenge. The first thing I noticed as I stepped into his office, now in Ikeja, was the absence of the bookshelves. “Where are the books?”, I asked him. He told me to remove my jacket and drink tea or coffee. I couldn’t wait. “The books, where are they?” I asked because I know the old man loves his books so much, he doesn’t lend them out. He would tell me: “You are welcome to read any of these books you are interested in, but you can’t take them away. When you have the time, come here, take over the space, do your research and read as much as you want.” It turned out as I discovered that the man finally gave all his books and documents away. He donated all to his alma mater, Obafemi Awolowo University, where there is now a Juli Library, for the benefit of a larger community of knowledge-seekers.
He also introduced me to the world of the NGO. Long before environmental and population issues became the buzz words of a new century, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi founded the National Council for Population and Environmental Agency (NCPEA). I was one of his resource persons and looking back now, we did great work promoting the issues and collaborating with local and international stakeholders. When The Guardian and other newspapers were shut down maliciously by the Abacha Government in 1994, Prince came to my rescue. I ended up working as a Consultant at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for one year. I worked in about four Departments. I cannot disclose any further. When The Guardian was re-opened, I returned to the office even if the Consultancy brought in more money. Prince did not complain. He was okay with my choice. He never emphasizes money. It doesn’t mean much to him.
He was Secretary for Health during the 83-day interregnum in Nigerian history that was led by Chief Ernest Shonekan. It was quite a turning point in his career. Medical doctors did not want a Pharmacist or any medical worker as Minister of Health. They saw the position as their special preserve. The conflict and the controversy that this generated was perhaps the biggest moment in the rivalry of the experts in the history of the medical profession in Nigeria. It was Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi’s appointment that broke the jinx. A few years later, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed a health economist, Professor Lambo Eyitayo as Minister of Health.
Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi looks good at 80. If you were to ask him, what his most prized asset is, he will tell you: his wife. He is Julius. His wife is Julia, the woman of all seasons who has given us a great father and achiever. I enjoin us all to charge our glasses and hail 80 happy cheers to this in-coming octogenarian at the turn of the clock on August 2nd: “This world is so hard and so stony/That if a man is to get through/ He’d need have the courage of Nelson/And plenty of Job’s patience too/But a man who is kind to another and cheerfully helps him along/God help such a man and brother/And here’s to his health in a song/And here’s to his health, and here’s to his health/And here’s to his health in a song…!“ Live long sir.