By Bola Bolawole
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Every trip I make to my home town of Owo brings bitter-sweet memories. Time heals wounds but some broken hearts never mend, like Don Williams crooned. “Some broken hearts never mend/Some memories never end/Some tears will never dry..”. Time may heal wounds – or temper its pains but it never completely erases them; memories may fade but they never completely go away; outward tears may cease but what of the ones that keep gushing out in the inner recesses which ordinary eyes cannot see? In the life of every man or woman, there is one love that never dies. How many married couples share this love amongst themselves? Check it out! The person you see as your best friend most likely has another person – and not you! – as his own best friend and vice versa! Life is a mystery! May it not also be a misery! Many persons’ Hell begins right here on earth as a result of the choices they make; as a result of the life partner or “help meet” they end up with.
Each time I drove along Idimisasa (what does the name mean?), one of the major streets and commercial nerve centres of Owo, I tried to figure out where my father’s shop used to stand at No. 13; the petrol station next door has given way for another building. In those days, there was a row of shops opposite my Dad’s, owned mostly by Ijesa traders who were the itinerant Yoruba traders of those days. They were mostly traders in ankara and other clothing materials, mattresses and household utensils. The names under which they traded, which were boldly inscribed on the signboards that demarcated their space, were as funny as they were didactic. Araba; Ewe Nla; T’eni B’egi L’o Ju, Nipa Ife Olugbala, Mo B’eru Agba, etc. My father’s shop was the cocoa farmer’s port of call where they procured all sorts of insecticides, pumps, wires, carbides, cocoa jute bags, etc. Farmers could buy on credit and pay back, after harvesting their crops, with bags of cocoa. Today, all of these are no more! The commerce of Owo, as is the case with other Yoruba towns and villages, has been taken over by the Igbo.
The pauperisation of the Yoruba on a benumbing scale formed the topic of a recent rubbing of minds I had with the erstwhile governor of Ogun state, Otunba Gbenga Daniel (OGD), who is contesting the Ogun East senatorial seat on the platform of the APC. Yoruba political leaders like OGD with clarity of thought and an impeccable understanding of the self-inflicted marginalization that the Yoruba suffer on the economic front in the Nigeria of today will, in my view, be better positioned to serve the Yoruba interest in the current dispensation. Who bells the cat? Can Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu redeem the day for his own people if he wins next year’s presidential election? Will he stem the tide of Yoruba economic decline into obscurity and irrelevance?
What role, in fact, has Tinubu himself played in that decline? Does he deserve the blame some are apportioning to him? The answer, if I may say, blows in the wind! The Yoruba appear as the only dogmatic ethnic group in Nigeria that still talks of merit, fairness and fair play even when they are at the receiving end of the blind nepotism of others. Each time Yoruba leaders mount the saddle at the Centre; their people hardly know the difference; even when the marginalization and pauperization of the Yoruba have become glaring for all to behold and marvel at. Who will tell Yoruba leaders, like Lucky Dube crooned, that poverty and decline whack the entire Yoruba nation and the people groan under the weight of marginalization worse than the one the Igbo have made a swan-song?
It is in this respect that we must give kudos to the few Yoruba sons like Dr. Bode Ayorinde, the founder and pro-chancellor of Achievers University; Chief Afe Babalola of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, which, like the Achievers University in Ondo state, is the largest private sector employer of labour in Ekiti state. This year’s Achievers University convocation kicked off on Monday, 5th December with a press conference addressed by the vice-chancellor, Prof. Samuel Olabanji Aje, followed by a plethora of events which include the foundation laying ceremony of the Faculty of Medical Laboratory Science, the 12th Induction/Oath-taking ceremony of Qualified Medical Laboratory Scientists (2021/2022 session), the 3rd Induction of Graduate Nurses (2021/2022 session), and the commissioning of projects, namely the New Auditorium, CBT Centre; College of Social and Management Sciences; and a Bakery. In these harsh times when “common” bread has attained the status of luxury item, maybe the Achievers University bakery will help to make bread affordable to ordinary Nigerians who have been pushed to the wall by the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and services everywhere! The convocation lecture was delivered by Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, while former Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chancellor of Achievers University, Yakubu Dogara, inducted the new graduates, ably assisted by the Registrar/Secretary to Council, Rev. Canon Samuel Bayode Oladimeji; and the Vice-Chancellor. Three distinguished Nigerians who were awarded honorary doctorate degrees were the Olowo of Owo, His Imperial Majesty Oba Ajibade Gbadegeshin Ogunoye 111; retired Justice Isa Ayo Salami, and Pantami himself.
On Sunday, Achievers University thanksgiving at the iconic St. Andrews Anglican Church, Imola, Owo brought memories of my Owo High School days flooding back my mind. Every Sunday, we would march in our impeccable white uniforms from our own end of town along the Owo-Ikare road to St. Andrews Church, in the heart of town, for church service. Across the road was the storey-building of Pa Cornelius Imolehin (shortened into “Koni” by my Grandma), who was married to Mama Comfort Oluwakemi, my own mother’s elder sister (of the same parents). I was also here on Saturday, November 15, 1997 when Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the late governor of old Ondo State and principal/founder of my alma mater, Owo High School, was being buried. It was on that occasion that Gen. Oladipo Diya, the then Number Two to Gen. Sani Abacha, displayed the arrogance of power when the microphone was snatched from the Afenifere leader, Pa Abraham Adesanya, and handed over to Diya to make his speech!
After the Achievers University’s thanksgiving service, I drove to the nearby Oludasa Street and approached the two women I met in front of a house I still had fond memories of. I told them I came to ask after Ibrahim, who was my senior at Owo High School. “Oh, Bro. Ibrahim has not been seen here since he left secondary school and went to Lagos” Then I asked about Tubosun; the two women stared at each other before one of them said “But this is Tubosun seated right in front of you!” I knew she was. The features were still there but the dashing, vivacious Tubosun was now aged and appeared a relic of her old self. She couldn’t even give a damn about her looks. She told me some stories of her life and I remembered Kofi Awoonor’s “Songs of Sorrow” “Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus. It has led me among the sharps of the forest. Returning is not possible. And going forward is a great difficulty. The affairs of this world are like the chameleon feces. Into which I have stepped. When I clean it cannot go” How has life treated her or, better still, how has she lived her life? Tried as I did to prod her memory, she said she could neither recognise me nor remember our yesterday but my memory of her, her mother, father, Ibrahim, etc were as fresh as if the events were just happening. She, however, remembered my Dad who would stop by at her mother’s shop for bouts of palm wine. Truly, life deals a different stroke on different folks. Tubosun here is real; it is also metaphorical.
Next day I was with Lanrewaju Adepoju (Laresco), my classmate at Owo High School and a member of the “Danger Five” group or gang made up of himself, Akintayo Tewe (Batakoto, from Ondo), Victor Akinlose (Vicky Moro, from Idanre), Adodo Monday (from Ijagba, who translated a few months ago), and my humble self (aka Black Avenger). At Laresco’s, I had a well-prepared meal of amala. Laresco’s wife is a first-class cook and professional caterer. Usually, Laresco and I would spend hours discussing and filling each other in. I learnt that Alabadan (my classmate at Ife and a friend of Laresco whom he got me to employ while I was the PUNCH editor), has translated; and that Eniola Aderinboye (Shapella), a mutual friend of ours who died a few weeks ago, had been interred at Ilaro. May the soul of the departed rest in peace!
The discussion also touched on the living: Bunmi, Ibirin, Iyabo, Mabel, Onize; what would have been; and what was not. The decisions we make! The mistakes we make – or we think we make! Hallucinations! Suppositions! Is this destiny? Is it the hand of God moving us according to His manifest plans for our life? Have we made the best choices or taken the right decisions? Supposing this? Assuming that? What, then, would have been? Life is a puzzle; and living, a riddle! As Iyabo posited, maybe marriage should have been a contract renewable after, say, four or five years – like an electoral cycle! If okay, you renew; otherwise, you terminate and move on, without the present social stigma and religious dogma that chains down many in hell here on earth! Maybe many more people will live a happier life than they do!
*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.