By Kunle Olasope
Having celebrated my 80th birthday elaborately on May 8, 2017 (courtesy of my loving and appreciative children, Jumoke, Dapo, Dipo, Tayo, Dale and Deola), I decided to mark the date this year on a low key. After a period of devotion to thank God for His mercies, I went into a review of the past years, a look at the present and a peep into the future to make the rest of my life acceptable to God whenever it will please Him to call me back home. My mind naturally took a glance at my intimate friends who had passed on – Dele Fakorede, Femi Sangowawa, Dare Olatawura, Dokun Oni, Yomi Onabolu, Bankole Balogun, Deji Odunuga, Eddy Fadairo and Deroju Aderemi. But easily the most remarkable of them all is Segun Awolowo, the eldest child of Chief Obafemi and Yeye Oodua Hannah Awolowo, who died in a car accident at Abanla at Mile 15 on the old Ibadan – Lagos road, 55 years ago today at age 25 and would have been 80 this year.
Even though I was 15 to 18 months older, Segun and I were registered to start school together at Agbeni Methodist School, Ibadan in January 1943. Because Segun could not touch his left ear with his right hand stretched across his head, he was considered too young to be promoted, so he was made to repeat primary one. That accounted for my seniority of him by one year at Agbeni and Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos to which we both subsequently gained admission in 1951 and 1952 respectively. I was one of the pioneer 1950 standard six pupils at Agbeni Methodist School annex Oke-Ado, near the Odutola Tyres factory. Segun was in the second set in 1951. One of his classmates was Adekunle Aromolaran who was a ward of our notable teacher Z.A. Ariyibi of Osu near Ilesa. Adekunle is now the revered Owa Obokun Adimula of Ilesa and paramount ruler of Ijesaland.
It was at Igbobi that Segun and I met Tunji Fadayiro who was my classmate with Dare Olatawura. Tunji, Segun and I became a trio who spent our holidays together in Ibadan where Tunji’s father was Minister of Information in the Action Group government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier and Head of Government Business. By early 1957 Segun and Tunji had gone to UK for further studies. I got admission into the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan branch for my GCE A level preparatory to entry into the only university in Nigeria then, the University College, Ibadan, an affiliate of the University of London. That was in the academic year 1957/58. My contemporaries at the Nigerian College included Ayo Ogunlade, Ayodele Awojobi, Felix Ohiwerei, JK Tandoh, Torch Taire, Philip Emafo, Sam Iyang, Abiodun Falade, Eddy Anakwenze, Raheem Osodi, Yinka Orimalade, Tola Adebonojo, Tunde Oyesola, John Odigie Oyegun, Kate Kehinde and Charity Adadevoh, to mention a few.
Rather than accept my admission to the UCI to read Divinity in the mistaken belief that I had to later become a priest, I chose to join WNTV-First in Africa in October 1959 where with Anike Agbaje-Williams and Segun Olusola we became the pioneer TV personalities in Africa. WNTV went on air on October 31, 1959. By 1961 February 6, I had returned to Radio Nigeria, Ibadan where I had worked from June 1956 before I entered Nigerian College in 1957. As Head of Presentation, I was sent on attachment to the BBC African Service in Bush House, London on June 1, 1962. There I re-united with Segun Awolowo and Tunji Fadayiro who were that year successfully completing their law studies.
Other Nigerians who graduated and were called to the British Bar with them were my younger brother Folabi Olasope, Ernest Sonekan Rasheed Shita-Bey, Yinka and Sola Rhodes, Aderoju Aderemi.
Other prominent Nigerians with us who were also completing their studies even though they were not lawyers and who were our friends with whom we socialised included Dokun Oni, Yomi Akintola, Costa, and some ladies whose only first names I will mention, – Yinka, Turie Suwe, Dupe, Sola and Nike. One of them was expecting a baby. She was Deola Fasanya who is the mother of Funke, Segun’s first child born in London. Segun Awolowo Jnr, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Export Promotion Council was the other child born to my friend Segun in Nigeria by a popular lady by name Abba Koku. I first suggested the name Omotunde (the child has returned). We had such a jolly good time in London with 15A Kessington Palace Gardens, the official residence of the Agent-General of Western Nigeria in London who was then Chief Toye Coker of Abeokuta, as our base and place of rendezvous. I had taken with me to London recorded tapes of some of Nigerian leading musicians which provided us win the latest highlife and Juju music to add colour and pep to our gatherings, musicians like Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, Eddy Okonta, Ebenezer Obey, I.K. Dairo, Sunny Ade and Dele Ojo.
To cap it all, when Segun had to travel back to Nigeria to join the father at the Somolu Tribunal, I organised a party in the flat of Ernest Shonekan in Sheffield to send Segun off and to rejoice with them all for completing their studies in the UK. A police officer who knocked the door on hearing sounds from inside was asked to share in our joy. He sat down, helped himself to a can of British lager and then disappeared down the road after cautioning us to keep down the sound so as not to disturb the neighbouring residents.
Segun travelled back home by air with a hand luggage leaving his big baggage box with me to bring along on the MV Apapa on which I travelled back to Nigeria by sea in January of 1963. In Freetown, two Nigerian military officers who had gone on a course to Sierra Leone, Colonel Kur Mohamed and Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon joined us for the rest of the voyage home. Because it was Christmas/new year season, some of us passengers – a fellow staff of Radio Nigeria Vincent Nwokolo, the Erunmu lawyer Toriola Oyewo, Yakubu Gowon and myself marked the season by singing carols around the deck. Col. Mohamed later got killed in the January 1966 coup while Lt. Col. Gowon was later to become Nigeria’s second military Head of State following the counter coup of July of the same year.
Back home in Nigeria, Segun and I continued with our deep friendship and cordial relationship. We were frequently at parties and dances at Paradise Club which was on the site now occupied by Femi Johnson’s Broking House. The club was owned and managed by a Lebanese called Saliba while Eddy Okonta was the resident band. A few times, other bands like Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago and Ebenezer Obey used to perform. I was a popular Master of Ceremonies at the functions. Segun was always with me just like Yomi Onabolu, Kanle Omoregie, Eddy Fadairo and Tom Biga, a half brother of Chuckwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
We were also often joined by S.A. Brown (aka Sabada), S.O. Boboye (aka Sobodo) and pipe-smoking Kunle Olajide (aka Expresso Bongo), all three were students of the University of Ibadan. Some political thugs used to try to bother Segun who they knew was the son of the Sage Chief Awolowo. I knew two of their leaders very well called ‘Buffalo’ and ‘Yellow’. Segun and I would give them money to leave us alone. Sometimes Segun would ‘escape’ in my car and for the next few days, I would use his car while he would hold on to mine.
That was how we carried on till the night of July 9, 1963. We had gone to Osunmarina Restaurant, an annex of Obisesan Hall at Oba Adebimpe Road to socialise as usual. Segun and Tunji Fadayiro drank beer but I was a teetoteller. But we all enjoyed good music, dancing and talking to our friends. Segun was pleasant and was a jolly good fellow. We had our full share of fun and dated some of the most beautiful and well-known girls in town. We fondly called Segun “Quicky” and “Lucky, lucky”. Anybody wanting to know the reason for these would need to see me privately. At 9pm that day, Segun told me he wanted to go home as he had to attend court in Ikeja the following morning. I saw him off to his car downstairs, we said good night to earth other with a promise to meet again in the afternoon of the following day on his return from Ikeja.
Man proposes but God disposes.
Unknown to Segun and to me, that was the last time we would see each other. For by 9 o’clock morning of July 10, the accident had occurred and Segun was no more. Several telephone calls were made to me in the office by people who wanted to confirm from me the story that had been spreading like wild fire. I put a call through to the home of the Awolowos on a number ending with the figures 473 but there was no reply. Soon after another call came through to my office by someone who knew me with Segun and who confirmed the tragedy saying he had seen Segun’s body at Adeoyo Hospital, I wept bitterly and my Head of Programmes Frances Ademola and Regional Controller Christopher Kolade excused me from work for the rest of the day. Charles Thomas kindly drove me home in my car.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo who had been at Broad Street prison in Lagos put up his usual uncanny Christian courage and made three points about the unfortunate incident. First was that his associates should please look after “Mama Segun”. Second and with regard to Segun himself, he declared that God gave and God had taken away, blessed was His name. Thirdly and finally that Segun should be given a decent burial. That was exactly what we did at the public cemetery at Ikenne after a funeral service at Our Saviour’s Anglican Church in the town.
So that was the end of the earliest, deepest and longest friendship in my life at that time 1943 – 1963 which all added up to making Segun Awolowo, my most remarkable and unforgettable friend.
May God continue to rest his soul and those of Wole and Ayo, as I send warm feelings to his children Funke and Segun Jnr. and to his surviving siblings, Tola and Tokunbo.
• Chief Olasope (MON), a veteran broadcaster, lives in Efon-Alaaye, Ekiti State.