By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me confess that one of my addictions is reading books. I just love the feel and thrill that books can give to you. I simply cannot resist great covers. And the subject matter is irrelevant. From prose to poetry, fiction to science fiction and even faction, autobiographies, biographies or what have you, I read them all. I’m therefore just greedy and voracious about books and bury my head into whatever I find near me. Our generation was raised on books. We loved to make shakara with books and the bravado even attracted ladies to us as undergraduates. Girls of those days respected your intellect. They were particularly titillated by your ability to discuss varying topics and of course we did not have recourse to google at that time.
But for books, it would have been impossible for paupers like me to interact with certain classes or levels of boys and girls. However, education is the biggest leveller in the world and the basic tool of any sound education can be found in books. Books also had their special place for poor kids like me. They provided an avenue for escape into the world of make-believe and the realms of fantasy. I could live another much richer life through the experiences I gained from the books I read and I don’t just mean riches in terms of money but in terms off an all-round experience of life.
I’m eternally grateful to my dear beloved mum, Gladys Arike Momodu, nee Fatoye, who despite being unlettered knew and appreciated the power of knowledge and struggled to send me to school despite her meagre means. Incidentally, she passed away on May 18, 2007, nearly ten years ago. I continue to marvel about how she slaved and starved herself to send us to school. May her beautiful soul continue to rest in the Lord. Amin.
I was talking about books. I love authors and saw them as the greatest humans on planet earth. Just imagine for a minute the sheer pleasure of meeting Wole Soyinka as a teenager and even having the opportunity of becoming close to him at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. I fell in love with his luxurious beard which made him look like one of those famous Greek playwrights and philosophers. I vividly remember the stern look of his picture on his controversial book, The Man Died and the one on the cover of The Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis. I often wondered why writers loved to keep beards, Ayi Kwei Armah, the author of The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born; Kofi Awoonor of This Earth, My Brother fame; Sembene Ousmane, the Senegalese author and film director who wrote God’s Bits of Wood; Kole Omotoso, author of The Edifice; and others. How can I ever forget the great Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn? I just loved his looks. Beards added some mystique to the awe-inspiring looks and persona of writers.
However, the main man I want to write about today is far from being a bearded author. Apart from being tall and probably gangling, he looks too smooth to be easily recognised as one of those controversial writers. His style is also clearly not their style but in another sense he possess their unique attribute of being different from the norm.
His name is Segun Adeniyi, one of Nigeria’s most popular columnists with stupendous readership. Segun has done what most of us have not been able to do; he is an author of very important books and historical documents about our country. His authoritative and commanding interactions at different stages of our national crises is what has endeared him to many of us. He wastes no time in coming up with fresh ideas and churning out book after book that would ultimately affect the Nigerian trajectory, sooner or later. Say what you will, Segun helps to fill a void in our lives. It is not in our character to produce books on historic landmarks in our country. Events come and go and we all move on pronto, as if nothing happened. But, mercifully, we have a Segun Adeniyi who grabs our head and necks and forces us to sit up to read and revisit many of our vicissitudes of life. He tries so hard to ensure that we don’t forget so quickly or relapse into the collective amnesia that we seem to be notorious for.
Segun’s latest book is a very smart move on his part because the subject matter was guaranteed to attract a debate and popularise the book, thus soaring the sales in little or no time. Nothing sells like controversy as we have seen all over the world.
Titled ‘Against The Run of Play (How an incumbent President was defeated in Nigeria)’, Olusegun Adeniyi took his readers on a racy journey by capturing the narratives of the principal actors, otherwise known as dramatis personae. I was fortunate to get an autographed copy from the author ahead of release and could not wait to open and devour it. I’m reasonably convinced that Segun has done a fantastic job. I belong to the sociological school of literature and knowing Segun’s background well enough, I believe he did not concoct what he wrote. He made adequate effort to reach out to the relevant characters, the deluge of denials notwithstanding. It must always be appreciated that most autobiographical authors genuinely record what they saw and heard. That does not mean that what they saw or heard is accurate, especially when one is dealing with politicians. The autobiography is merely the experience and perception of the author and must be viewed with some caution for the reason I have given. In my view, no document can be clinically precise but it is possible that some of those casting aspersions on Segun’s effort are doing so as an afterthought. There are times people suddenly remember the import of a statement and regret what has already become part of public discourse. Political books generally suffer from this unfortunate notoriety. Awolowo, Obasanjo, El-Rufai and others never got away with the wrath of some readers for stepping on sore toes in their books. Segun should be proud to walk in their great company.
In fact, Segun has challenged me personally. I’ve been too lazy and reticent about writing or completing my books in progress. My first manuscript was ready as far back as 1997 in London. It was titled ‘PENDULUM: Writings of an Angry Man’ and was edited by Dr Reuben Abati. It never saw the light of day for reasons I can never explain or justify. I worked on the biography of Chief Moshood Abiola, titled ‘The Pillar of Joy’ but never completed it once Nigeria was thrown into total confusion and commotion. I dreamt of writing an informative account on the June 12, 1993 Presidential election in Nigeria but it evaporated when I dialogued with my feet and fled into exile. It was practically impossible to gather the actors from that distance and at a time the main protagonist Abiola was in solitary confinement. The next book was written by my National Campaign Manager, Ohimai Godwin Amaize, after I contested the Presidential election in 2011. It was titled ‘Fighting Lions’.
I have written hundreds of essays in Pendulum since 1997 and would easily have up to three or more compilations but the many troubles of Nigeria would not let me rest or concentrate on publishing these books. I must confess that Segun has really fired me up and I wish to publicly thank him for inspiring a few of us. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Dr Reuben Abati are expected to release their explosive books as soon as possible. I cannot wait to read how Dr Goodluck Jonathan would explain and defend the unprecedented and atrocious malfeasance that rocked and ravaged his government. Who knows, he might know and divulge what ordinary mortals like us didn’t know. There are so many books in waiting from several potential authors. On my part, I have decided to break the jinx and I have fixed some strict deadlines.
We owe it a duty to our country and fellow citizens to educate and entertain them with our robust knowledge of Nigeria. I think we’ve deprived our people of good information about how we arrived where we are and where we are likely to head from here. The time has come to get serious and sit down to produce eternal works. This is particularly so when one considers that a lot of revisionist history now dots our literary landscape. We must not let our children suffer the ignominy of not knowing their background and heritage.
Prof A.B.O.O. Oyediran – He Leadeth Me
My birthday comes up on May 16 and I am privileged to share it with an erudite scholar, brilliant teacher, seasoned Administrator, astute political observer, great family man and above all a quintessential gentleman, Professor Allen Bankole Olukayode Oladunmoye Oyediran. He is the father-in-law of my best friend, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, and his daughter, Mrs Olukemi Aderemi and I have been good friends since she was a student at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Professor Oyediran will be 78 on May 16 and in keeping with the nature of the man he has decided to celebrate by launching an autobiography titled ‘He Leadeth Me: Autobiographical Testimonies of Olukayode Oyediran. The title of the book itself epitomises the simplicity and humility of the man. There is no mention of the well known fact that he is a renowned Professor of Preventive and Social Medicine. Not for him in this work, which is in one sense, not a work in his discipline of Medicine, but a story of his childhood and work as a Professor of Medicine and University Administrator.
The book traces Prof. Oyediran’s childhood days to his secondary education at CMS Grammar School Lagos and King’s College Lagos. He then proceeded to his university education sponsored on a UAC Scholarship for Medicine at the University of London (Guy’s Medical School) where he graduated and then went on to the University of Edinburgh where he obtained his postgraduate degree with distinction.
His distinct sense of humour marked with his candour and candidness is typified by his recollection of how he eventually ended up completing medical school. In effect he professes to have been guilty of some prevarication and hesitancy in the choice of his career. He says in the book “Shortly after I got to Guy’s I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted to do was to read politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) at Oxford and then law and international relations …. My dilemma was that I was on a UAC scholarship for medicine. It seemed most unlikely that UAC could be persuaded to allow me to change my course of study. Also it seemed unreasonable to expect my father (who wanted me to become a doctor) to agree that I could jettison the UAC scholarship and that find money to support my proposed studies at Oxford. In the event, I decided that I should pray that I should win the football pools so that I could present my father with a fait accompli. My prayers were not answered, even though I was a very active member of the Christian Union!”
Upon his return to Nigeria, Professor Oyediran joined the University College Hospital Ibadan and eventually became a Professor of Preventive and Socual Medicine in 1975. He went on to become the Executive Secretary and head of the West African College of Physicians and the WAPMC responsible for the postgraduate training of doctors in West Africa.
He was appointed the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan where he was faced with all sorts of political intrigues that he did not expect from academics in the Ivory Tower. It was a baptism of fire for him. His keenness of mind and willingness to cut to the chase did not endear him to the Unions in the University but he stuck to his guns because he knew it was for the good of the institution.
When he left his post as the Vice-Chancellor he was appointed the Director of the Malarone Donation Progamme which wss geared at donating malaria tablets fr free in East Africa. He was successful with this project and returned to Nigeria after completing his stint to great adulation and accolade.
Prof Oyediran is married to his wife of more than 50 Years, Chief Mrs Omotola Oyediran, daughter of the late Sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Professor Oyediran was a keen observer of the political developments in Nigeria by virtue of this fact.
Professor Oyediran’s account of his life is a refreshing one laced with anecdotes, unique experiences and vision that one can learn from. It is a compelling read which I will commend to all those interested in University administration and some political developments in Nigeria from the viewpoint of a close family member.