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The Last Moments of Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa (1903-1963): In Memoriam



By Hon Femi Kehinde

Every town or community has its shining stars, that would etch the name of the community or town in the heart of the people-Awolowo’s Ikenne, Samuel Ladoke Akintola’s Ogbomosho, Tafawa Balewa’s Bauchi, Buhari’s Daura, William shakespare’s stratford-upon Avon, United Kingdom and Fagunwa’s Oke Igbo.

Daniel Orowole, later (Olorunfemi) Fagunwa, was born to a family of Christian pioneers in Oke Igbo, in present day Ondo State, in 1903. Aderinsoye Ologbenla, an Ooni elect who had reigned in Ile-Ife for eight years and continued in this capacity until his death in 1893, was a scion of the Giesi ruling house, lle-Ife. His name was Aderinsoye, but popularly called Derin. The short form of his name, “Ologbenla” is one of his praise names, meaning- “a person who inflicts heavy wounds”. After Derin Ologbenla’s army, in his war expedition, had conquered the Ondos, he left Ondo to pitch his army in Olori-Igbo, seven miles to Ondo. Later, his army decided to found a town, in memory of their conquest and chose the present Oke Igbo site, where they first passed their fateful night; “let’s move to this hill in the bush.” (Oke Igbo).

Oke Igbo is a hilly and thickly forested environment in Ondo State. It was in this environment that he was born, and it was in an unbridged River Wuya Bida, Bida Emirate in present day Niger State that he drowned in the early morning of the 7th of December 1963; Doors eroding the 60 years of the passage of the great Yoruba mythical writerg, pathfinder, memorable and evergreen author of Yoruba Literature. A brief chronicle of his life of 60 years tells the story of this great icon.

Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, attended St. Luke’s Primary School, Oke Igbo, from 1916 to 1924 and then taught there afterward, as a pupil teacher for a year. He then trained as a teacher at St. Andrew’s College Oyo, from 1926 to 1929. He was the foundation Headmaster at St Andrew’s Practising Primary School, Oyo from 1930 to 1939. Fagunwa lived in Oyo for 13 years (1926 -1939). It was in Oyo that his writing skill blossomed, most especially in folk philosophy, which draws heavily on folk tale traditions, including supernatural elements, gnomes, witches, wizards and Yoruba hunters who were usually his heroes. He was married to two wives, Racheal and Elizabeth.

He pioneered Yoruba Language novels and remains the most widely read Yoruba language author and had major influence on other writers like Amos Tutuola, author of “The Palm Wine Drinkard”

In 1938, he entered a literary contest with his first major work- “Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale” which was widely considered to be the first novel written in any African language. The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, translated this book into English Language in 1968 as “The Forest of a Thousand Daemons.” His later work includes “Igbo Olodumare” (Forest of God) in 1949, “Ireke Onibudo”. (The Sugar Cane of the Guardian) in 1949, “Irinkerindo ninu Igbo Elegbeje” (Expedition to the mount of thoughts) in 1954 and “Aditu Olodumare (The Secrets of the Almighty) in 1961. He was also writing Part 2 of “Adiitu Olodumare” which he called “Eronla Olodumare” (Experience the Land of the Almighty), before his demise. Unfortunately, nobody could trace the manuscript, after his passage.

Writers are usually strange people. William Shakespeare married at the age of 18, to 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. Due to the haste in the marriage, the marriage bann was read once, instead of the usual three times, perhaps as part of episcopal conspiracy. He died within a month of signing his will, on the 3rd of May 1515 at the age of 52 years. While William Shakespeare, as an English Poet, Playwright and Actor could be regarded as the greatest writer of English Literature, in the same way, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa could also be accorded recognition, as the greatest writer of the Yoruba Language Literature.

Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa wrote “Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale”, while serving as the headmaster of St. Andrew’s Practicing School, Oyo, from 1930 and 1939.
In the course of writing the book, Fagunwa like a mystic, had to look for a bush path. He left Oyo town and moved towards Ibadan Road. Somewhere along the road, he created a path, through a bush, to a very big tree, which was so huge, that one could not see sunrays under the tree. He brought a small table, a chair and books underneath the tree, to begin writing his first novel- “Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale”. He did not know, that opposite the bush path he created, there was a woman selling yam and other things in a kiosk. He did not know that the woman was suspecting that he was not a human being. He used to come out of the bush to buy yam and returned there. The bush path did not lead to anywhere. The woman then contacted some hunters and villagers to search the bush. God saved him, the period they came was when he had gone to buy yam, otherwise they would have searched the place and could have killed him. He was returning to the bush after buying yam when those men stopped him.
They asked him where he was going and where he came from, he said he told them story about himself. They asked- “you say you are writing a book, is it in the bush that writers work?” They followed him inside the bush and behold, they saw a chair and table and books on the table. They asked him where he originated from, he told them that he was the Headmaster of St. Andrew’s Practicing School, Oyo, that was how they spared him.

After he had finished writing the book, the problem of printing and publishing then arose. Being his first outing, he could not make headway, until someone told him to go to CMS in Lagos. CMS Bookshop was then into book selling and publishing. When he was on holidays, he went to Lagos. He met with the General Manager of CMS and told him about his book. The General Manager asked a Yoruba staff to study the book. The Yoruba man, after assessing the book for about 30 minutes reported to his boss, that “Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale” was a masterpiece. CMS accepted the manuscript and Fagunwa was shocked when they asked him how much they should pay for it. After a little bargain, they offered him €20 which he declined and later settled for £25, which he accepted. They asked him- “do you want cash or cheque?” he said cash, because cheque was not popular then. Infact in Ibadan, there were only two banks- Barclays bank and Bank of British West Africa, which has now metamorphosed into Union Bank Plc and First Bank Plc respectively. From those £25, he prepared for the wedding to his first wife. He bought a brand-new Riding bicycle, gramo phone with some records, iron bed, mattress and so many other things. He was sufficiently buoyant enough from those 25 pounds, to hire a vehicle from Lagos, to bring him to Oyo with his treasured luggage. When he got to Oyo, his dumb founded fiancée, asked him where he got money to buy these treasured items; and that was how the encouragement and inspiration to write further books started. “Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irunmale”, an epic folktale novel, dealt mainly with the adventures of Akara Ogun (the hunter’s saga) about witches, monsters, gnomes, magics and witchcrafts. His language was vivid- “a sad man a liar” and also pungent- aje po n bele ni iya mi (my mother is a first-class witch)

Fagunwa in his writing saga had very little time to himself, even though he was married to two wives. He used to get up in the night and drive out. He went to cemeteries and other places, most especially, St James Anglican church now cathedral Oke Bola Ibadan cemetery which was not too far from his Ajanla Oke Ado Street home. He sat there and thought of what to write with an expectation, that perhaps a spirit would come up and say something to him. His Personal Assistant/ Confidant, Anthony Olajide Fayemi- an indigene of Ile-Ife, recalled that if you travelled with Fagunwa from Ibadan to Lagos, when there was not much traffic gridlocks, you wouldn’t arrive there until about 3pm or 4pm… Why?
He never went straight to his destination. If a rabbit ran across the road, he would ask his driver James to stop, he would check where it passed and ask what it meant if a rabbit came from the left side of the road to the right side. He would query himself. If it was a bird, he would stop and if the bird flew or ran somehow, he would have something to put down.

Fagunwa was always constantly researching, and writing. He was always with a pen and paper in his car, while sitting comfortably at the back of his car while being driven. As an iconoclastic Yoruba writer, he was chief interpreter (from English to Yoruba), to the Premiers/Governor of the Western Region, while in government service. He had close relationship with the late premiers Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola. One of his books was infact dedicated to the late sage Obafemi Awolowo and another one dedicated to the Olowo of Owo Oba Olateru Olagbegi II whom he knew and related with when he was headmaster of a primary school in Owo, Ondo State. When you read his book, you would think that the book was written by a demon. He left government service in December 1961, to work as the first Nigerian Manager and Representative, to establish the Nigerian Office of Heinemann Publishers and he started Heinemann Publishers from his House in Ajanla Street, Oke Ado Ibadan.

Anthony Fayemi, his Personal Assistant/Confidant an indigene of Ile Ife also, had to retire from the government service to join Fagunwa in Heinemann Publishers. Unfortunately, Fagunwa died at the end of the second year and was succeeded by Aigboje Higo, whom he had employed as the first university graduate to work in Heinemann publishers.

Fagunwa’s last voyage was equally interesting and mystical. His boss in Heinemann London had sent him a cablegram, that Allan Hill and Chris Ambrose were coming to Nigeria and that he should fly from Ibadan to Kano, to meet them at the Kano Airport. The driver James who is an indigene of Ibadan took the car and left in advance to Kano from Ibadan. He trusted his driver. Fagunwa flew to Kano from Samonda Ibadan airport and met them. Interestingly again, the Nigerian airways had direct flight from Ibadan airport, Samonda Ibadan near the University of Ibadan to kano which is now a rarity. Funnily the airport is now a spooling housing estate and Amusement Park. After meeting the Heinemann duo, of Allan Hill and Chris Ambrose, they discussed the growth of the Publishing House and how to source for good writers in Nigeria. Allan and Chris returned back to London and Fagunwa had to come back to Ibadan by road. Fagunwa was stopping on his way back to Ibadan to visit schools, Ministries of Education in Zaria, Kaduna and some other major towns in the Northern Nigeria on his way back home until he got to Bida.”

It was late, so he stayed at the Bida guest house. In the guest house he met Late Chief Bashorun Adesanya who was then a staff of John Holt who immediately recognized Fagunwa. The man still remembered that Fagunwa bought him a bottle of beer on the 6th day of December 1963, and they discussed extensively. He told the man he would be setting out very early the next morning to catch up with the early morning ferry because there was a river Wuya on the way that had no bridge. There, they had to take a ferry, conveying people and vehicles across the river. He woke up early, because he thought he was going to queue at the river, but when he got to the bank of the river, they were disappointed, because there was no one there at all. He told his driver, James, to wait, while he followed one path by the bank of the river. Writers enjoys soliloquy. The driver shortly after Fagunwa left him, started hearing splashes of water, only to realize that Fagunwa had slipped by the riverbank into the river.

The canoe by the riverside had also unfortunately tumbled on Fagunwa, thus the efforts to swim across the river and also rescue him, failed, because it was dawn and harmattan was also at its peak. Fagunwa’s body was discovered three days after. According to the villagers, if an elephant fell into the river, after one night, it would not be found again. But there was no scratch on Fagunwa’s body when he was discovered the third day. He was found fresh, erect and was also still holding his eyeglasses. His wristwatch and other accessories were intact. He still had his cap on his head. He still had his shoes on and also his complete agbada. Another mystery.

Fagunwa’s body was accompanied to Oke Igbo enroute Ibadan by officials of the Bida Emirate, his younger sister and her husband Mr Gabriel Oyeyimika and Mrs Abigail Ojuolape Ojo who had earlier rushed to Bida to identify Fagunwa’s body. The Bida Emirate had since erected a cenotaph at the bank of the river Wuya in memory of Fagunwa’s passage through the river on the 7th of December 1963. Fagunwa came into the world through the Yoruba land in Oke Igbo in 1903 and departed through the Nupe land on the 7th of December 1963. The Nupe people historically are cousins to the Yoruba people. They share similarities in culture, traditional and history.

The corpse first landed in Fagunwa’s Ajanla Oke Ado home in Ibadan and was further identified by Fagunwa’s 31-year-old wife Elizabeth Adebanke Fagunwa also an indigene of Oke Igbo who had begat Kofoworola, Oladipo, Yejide and Adediwura and now suddenly a widow. Fagunwa’s first marriage had produced Olufemi Fagunwa and Ibukunoluwa now Mrs Sijuwola. Kofoworola, Yejide, and Diwura are now Mrs Okuroumu, Ogundipe and Adebayo respectively. Fagunwa’s remains were buried at the cemetery of the St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Oke Igbo – his hometown on the 10th of December 1963. Fagunwa left a will. His will was written by the then young Barrister Richard Osuolale Akinjide. His nextdoor neighbour then at Ekotedo Ibadan in the 50s. Richard Akinjide who qualified as a lawyer on the 4th of March 1956, came back home to join the grass root politics of Adelabu. Adelabu had found Akinjide,s legal prowess amazing, in the celebrated case of Slapping a (Customary Court) Judge D.T Akinbiyi (later Olubadan). Akinjide was the younger counsel, to Dingle Foot QC- the British Lawyer, hired by Adelabu for his defense. As a payback, Akinjide was elected into the Federal Parliament at the age of 27, in 1959.

Fagunwa’s body did not disappear as was being speculated. He was from a Christian home. His father was the Baba ljo (Church Patriarch) of St Luke’s Church in Oke Igbo and his mother at a later date also, became the lya Ijo (Church Matriarch) of the same church. He was a regular member of the St James Anglican Church, Oke-bola Ibadan (now cathedral) and also his home church at Oke Igbo.

It is interesting to know that at the time of this incident Fagunwa’s wife Elizabeth Adebanke had just returned from further studies from London sponsored by Fagunwa and same privilege had earlier been extended to Fagunwa’s first wife Racheal. Fagunwa himself had also studied in England at some point in time.

Fagunwa’s body in the morning of the 10th of December 1963 was then accompanied to Oke Igbo by Fagunwa’s widow Elizabeth Adebanke, her children, Fagunwa’s two sisters: Mrs Adeyemi Onikoro and Mrs Omotunde Babajide and other family members, friends and relations. It was a sad and sober moment. Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa had traversed the world with his pen and imaginative writings in the moulds of the likes of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress. John Bunyan’s pilgrim’s progress was regarded as the most significant work of theological fiction in English literature published in 1678. He was an English imaginative writer. Fagunwa’s books has been translated to over 200 languages worldwide.

Fagunwa’s first wife was from Modakeke/Ode Omu in present day Osun state, whilst his second wife was from Oke Igbo, in present day Ondo State. Fagunwa’s widow Elizabeth Adebanke, also now late, at a later time became Otun iyalode of Oke Igbo, Ondo state and Fagunwa’s daughter- Yejide also at a later time became the chairperson of Oke Igbo/Ile Oluji local government of Ondo state.

Despite being an imaginative writer, writing bizarre and fairy tales, about “iwin” and demons, he was certainly not one. Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, the first Yoruba writer, perhaps after Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1809 – 31st December 1891) was a Yoruba linguist and the first Africa Bishop who had translated the English bible to Yoruba language in 1843. And this invention and translation had popularized the Yoruba language in the written world. Fagunwa was a holder of the M.B.E (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1959 and was also awarded the Margaret young Price in 1955. The contemporary world should, apart from just naming a high school in his honour, Fagunwa Memorial High School, Oke Igbo, extend his recognition, beyond the frontiers of his hometown. Fagunwa should be nationally and regionally applauded.

It is interesting to note and applaud the giant strides of the Igbo nation and more particularly the Anambra State Governor Prof. Chukwuma Soludo who had recently renamed the Anambra International airport in Umueri, Anambra state to ‘Chinua Achebe International Airport’, Umueri. Prof. Chinua Achebe was born on the 16th of November 1930 in Ogidi, Anambra state and died 21st March 2013; traversed the English literary world like a colossus in his lifetime.
May the soul of Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa continually find peaceful repose with the lord.

Hon. (Barr.) Femi Kehinde is a former member House of Representatives, National Assembly, Abuja 1999 – 2003, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Olaoluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State. He is also a Member, Governing Board of the Fagunwa Foundation.

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High Society Present As Rotimi Akeredolu’s Laid to Rest in Owo




By Eric Elezuo

The ancient town of Owo, Ondo State on Friday was a beehive of activities as it played host to dignitaries and citizens from all walks of life who stormed the town to grace the final burial ceremony of the late former governor of the state, Alakunri Rotimi Akeredolu.

The funeral service held at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral Anglican Church, Imola, Owo, Ondo State.

Akeredolu died on Wednesday December 27, 2023 during a protracted illness in German hospital.

The Vice President, Kashim Shettima, was among the dignitaries, who attended the funeral service at the church, and thereafter.

Other dignitaries whose presence were noted are the Ondo State Governor, Mr Lucky Aiyedatiwa; Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde; Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki; Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Ganduje among others.

Others were former governor of Ondo State, Segun Mimiko; governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun and members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, federal law makers among others.

The late former governor was interred at a burial ground in the town, at a brief ceremony that was strictly attended only by the immediate members of the Akeredolu family before a grand reception was held.

In his speech at the burial, the state Governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who was Akeredolu’s deputy, said his former boss always stood for good governance and the rule of law.

“You are all here because he stood for something: good governance and the rule of law. He means a lot to different people, and that is why he has been described in different words. He was a courageous leader, a fighter, and a warrior. How can we forget him so soon? It is not possible because he lives on.

“He used the instrument of governance to intervene in different sectors of the state, including education, health services, and infrastructural development and security, among others,” he said.

Photos: Koya Adegbite

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Osun Gov, Adeleke, Loses Brother-in-Law




A brother-in-law of the governor of Osun State, Senator Ademola Adeleke, Alhaji Tohir Aderemi Sanni, has died.

Alhaji Sanni is the husband of Governor Adeleke’s sister, Chief (Mrs.) Modupeola Adeleke Sanni.

Meanwhile, the Osun Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has commiserated with the bereaved, Mrs Sanni over the loss of her husband.

In statement signed by the state party chairman, Hon. Sunday Bisi, the party  described the news of the death as extremely sad and shocking, adding that the late business mogul was too good to depart at this time.

The statement reads:

“Osun PDP is really in short of words over the loss of a loving father and friend of our great party, Alhaji Aderemi Sanni, whose carriage exuded love beyond borders. He was a friendly father, so accommodating to a fault!”

“Alhaji Sanni would not hold back words of advice to anyone, no matter the societal disparity in class or status. Baba lived like a friend to all. He was an embodiment of humility in greatness”

“While we continue to grasp with the reality of the demise of Alhaji Sanni, our thoughts are with his wife, Chief Mrs Modupeola Adeleke, the children and members of the immediate family the great icon left behind”

“May Almighty Allah repose his gentle soul and grant him jannatul firdaus.”

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Lagos Country Club Appeals to Members for Calm




The Lagos Country Club has appealed to its members and well wishers to remain calm and exercise restraints in the face of the current developments at the Club.

The appeal is coming on the heels of the illegal moves by the Registered Trustees of the Club to suspend the Management Council and constitute an Interim Management Board.

The Management Council made the appeal in a Special Statement to members and staff urging them to go about their activities in the Club without fear.

The Statement assured them of their commitment to upholding the Constitution of the Club, resolving the issues as soon as possible, and providing a safe and enabling environment.

The Chairmen of eight out of the ten sections of the Club have rejected the Interim Management Board arrangement and called on well meaning members of the Club and elders to wade in and explore avenue for peaceful resolution and allow peace to reign.

Meanwhile, His Lordship, Hon Justice Lewis Allagoa of Federal High Court of Nigeria in the Lagos Judicial Division has granted an Interim Injunction restraining the Trustees of Lagos Country Club from dissolving the Management Council of the Lagos Country Club and constituting a Caretaker Committee howsoever called or described.

In line with the order of Court for the status quo to remain, the Management Council remains in charge of the day to day running of the Club.

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