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Tunde Odesola

(Published in The PUNCH, on Friday, June 5, 2024)

The flamboyant Ojude Oba festival of flourish and colours is nothing but the cat’s pyjamas. The lavishness of the Ijebu and their thriftiness are bemusing contradictions. As a matter of fact, the Ijebu and their intimidating panache are just the cat’s meow.

Pomp, power, pleasure and pain, inscribe industry, grit and glamour in the Ijebu DNA. The Ijebu are different, so said their wise king, Awujale Sikiru Adetona, the Ogbagba Agbotewole II, when he traced Ijebu roots to Sudan, saying there was life before Ile-Ife. The Ijebu are just the bee’s knees, simple!

The làlà koko fèfè of the Ijebu headlined various Nigerian newspapers as the Ojude Oba festival climaxed in Ijebu-Ode last month. The Gen Z slang – steeze – an offspring of style and ease, became a national slogan. Some call it steaze or steez, either way, they aren’t wrong. The style and ease with which the Ijebu have steered the Ojude Oba festival to national consciousness is indeed steezy.

Yearly, many illustrious Ijebu sons, daughters and families come together in a display of love, unity, integration and sociability in Ijebu-Ode. One of such legendary sons of Ijebu is the honcho of Africa’s telecommunication giant, GLOBACOM, Chief Mike Adenuga, whose support for the Ojude Oba festival over the years is stupendous. Also, the popular Balogun Kuku family won the age-grade régbé régbé parade for the eighth time in a row.

From Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey to King Sunny Ade, to the late Chief Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, General Kollington Ayinla, and King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, there’s no big Yoruba musician, apart from Hip-Hop, Rap, R&B and Ragge artistes, that has not sung the panegyric of the Ijebu, with the latest being Buga sensation, Jesse King.

Horse riding at the festival is the historical preserve of the families of Ijebu war heroes known as the Balogun. For the Oreagba family, the 2024 edition of the Ojude Oba festival was another opportunity to display the tradition of horse riding to the admiration of the Awujale, indigenes and guests at the king’s forecourt. But little did their 58-year-old son, Farooq, who had been unnoticed riding his horse at the festival in the last 13 years, know that fate was scripting a celebratory chapter in his life. Note, for 13 unbroken years, Farook, the Ijebu cat with nine lives, was riding his horse and smoking his cigar without consequence. Ijebu and cats.

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Farooq chatted and partied with family and friends at the Ojude Oba grand finale. He needed not a single word but just the click of the camera to announce himself to the world. Farooq’s newfound celebrity status is the reward for his fidelity to family values demonstrated by his untiring punctuality and execution of the horse riding chore of the Oreagba lineage at the Ojude Oba. If Farooq hadn’t attended this year’s festival, the epitaph on his tombstone might only have read, “Here lies the remains of Farooq omo Oreagba: a great man who lived life to the fullest in the jaws of death.”

Farooq the mortal played his part in the incredible story, which his life journey symbolises, before the gods took over, rewriting and redirecting the script to fulfill his destiny. While preparing for this life-long journey, the young Oreagba armed himself with a Diploma in Business and Finance and a degree in Combined Engineering Studies. He’s also a UK authorised financial representative and a registered trader on the New York Stock Exchange.

Sad enough, the Tottenham Hotspur supporter suffers from an incurable strain of cancer called multiple myeloma. Speaking with me on the phone, Farook said, “Cancer made me realise nothing can be taken for granted. God will never give you a problem you can’t solve. My father died when I was four. My mother raised my sister and I, and she did a fantastic job. My sister went to Queens’ College and I went to Kings’ College, Lagos.”

Reflecting on the shifty nature of life’s sand, Farook said he experienced desertion when his life hit a rough patch. He revealed that discipline, focus and determination were life-saving tools needed for navigation on life’s weary road.

He said, “I was a director at the Nigerian Stock Exchange. When I left the Stock Exchange, the desertion began. When I was diagnosed with cancer, the desertion increased because many felt I would die. However, as some people were going out of my life, new ones were coming into my life in my hour of need; I got love from people I least expected just as I got ignored by some people I thought should give love.

“I’ll be 58 in a few days. My phone number has not changed in the last 18-20 years. I now get calls from people who have not said hi to me in the last 10 years. They’re now coming back in droves. To this kind of people, I greet them back by saying hi but I can’t rely on them; the door is closed.”

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I asked Farook if his sickness had affected his sex drive. “I don’t have prostate cancer. My sex drive is perfect,” he said. I also asked him about the reaction of the Awujale after this year’s Ojude Oba blew the internet. “We haven’t spoken yet,” he responded. Did you ever contemplate suicide or suffer depression? I fired. “No, why would I contemplate such? Would you? Neither have I had depression,” came his cool answer.

Cautioning men not to fight their ex-wives, Farook said his ex-wife, a medical doctor based in the UK, was the one who made him go for a routine MIR test which revealed his cancer status. “It was her birthday and I flew to England. At some point in England, my ex-wife advised me to go for a test. Hitherto, I had done a prostate test in South Africa, and I was given a clean bill of health. I did the MIR test in the UK and flew back to Nigeria.

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“After a few days, my ex-wife was on the phone crying. She asked if I was alone, I said yes, and she delivered the news. I said it wasn’t possible. I got a second and a third medical opinion. Then, reality set in. It’s good to have regular medical check-ups. Luckily, my cancer was discovered at stage one.”

Do you have a will, I asked Farook. “I did my will a week after I was diagnosed,” he replied.

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Asked if he saw the hand of God in the turn of events in his life, Farook said yes. “I never looked for this (new) role. I’ve been riding the horse and smoking my cigar at the Ojude Oba festival for 13 years. I’ve been with my tattoos. The photographer, Fola Stag, has long been participating in the festival. Some people said my horse was the biggest but I’ve been riding the same horse since. The difference is that this time, Fola Stag got a perfect shot from a great angle and the rest, like they say, is history. I see the hand of God in it all.”

The scion of Oreagba had special meals at a stage in his cancer battle, “but those days are over, I go to buka and eat anything now.”

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Surely, cancer has changed the view of Farook about life. “I now look at life differently. I appreciate life more now. Each day is a gift. So, I ensure I live my life to the fullest, live life as normally as possible. I drink whisky. Caution is the word: chemo is a problem and so is hangover. So, if you drink and have a hangover, the two are very painful. I smoke my cigar four days a week, no cigarettes, no pipe. I’ve been playing squash since I was 11. I run at least three times a week. I wake up by 5 a.m. Before I go to work, I run 10 kilometres.

“I run half marathon, that is, 21 kilometres on weekends. I use the money I raise for my charity work, we have built a school and done some interventions,” the two-time divorcee said.

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I called the Ojude Oba festival the cat’s pyjamas and described the Ijebu as the cat’s meow and bee’s knees. If you called me names for this, it’s likely you don’t know the adjectives mean exceptionally excellent, very appealing and highest quality. I forgive.

What’s your greatest wish, I inquired from Farooq. “My youngest child is 12 years old. My children are the centre point of my life. I want to be around for them. If I could live for another 20 years, I would say being diagnosed with cancer is the best thing that happened to me.”

Farook represents the resilient Nigerian spirit in the face of adversity. His is the telling tale of one lucky survivor who never thrust his fate to the dilapidated healthcare centres and infrastructure littering the Nigerian landscape. Instead of labelling Nigerians, especially the youths, as lazy, what governments at all levels should do is stop the crazy looting and make the commonwealth work for all.

Email: tundeodes2003@yahoo.com
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola
X: @Tunde_Odesola

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