Monday, January 20, 2020 12:38 pm
By Nehru Odeh
Jonathan Olusesan Dipeolu was a man who wore many distinguished caps. Aside from being a librarian extraordinaire who built the Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library at the University of Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to world class standard, he was also at various times a journalist, publisher, teacher, academic, clerk and Marxist. He appreciated the arts, loved music and was at home with literature and all kinds of intellectual discourse.
But he was also a family man who had an unflinching capacity for making friends across boundaries and an uncanny knack for engaging in intellectual arguments and conversations. Some of his friends included Professor Wole Soyinka, who he once published; Professor J.P. Clark, Dr. Segun Osoba, Ambassador, B.A. Clark, and the late Chief Demas Akpore. It is instructive to note that all his children have all distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavours. Thanks to his exemplary life and conduct and the training he gave them.
Still, the intriguing thing about Dipeolu is that though of humble origins, he was destined to be great and pursued his dreams with steely determination, which he achieved with the precision of a marksman. Yet in his career pursuit, he never toyed with his family, extended or not, and friends.
Small wonder as he was about to turn 90, they all rose up to the occasion and planned a befitting birthday celebration for a man who had not only touched lives but has lived life to the fullest.
But that was not to be. Because that was the time the man popularly known as Mr. Dip and legendary for the Spartan and disciplined life he led, having completed his life’s work, decided to exit the stage.
This is the story of an inimitable genius, of a man known for his strength of character, courage of conviction and audacity of commitment. And it was for these reasons that family and friends converged on Akita Hall in Ilupeju, Lagos on Thursday, 16 January 2020 to celebrate a life not just well lived but also an enigma. Tagged Celebration of Life, it was an evening of overflowing tributes, songs, music dance, memories and nostalgia.
F.B. A. Coker set the ball rolling when he went down memory lane narrating how he and the celebrants were classmates and had between two of them alternated who took the first and second positions in class. He also said Dipeolu was very persistent to achieve what he wanted and practiced what he preached. “Sesan said he was a socialist at every turn. When you talked he would not listen. He would say ‘The state must provide. You are a capitalist.’ He also said Dipeolu would have cashed in on the fact that Mobolaji Johnson who was allocating land at the time in Lagos was his student and acquired a large expanse of land. “He could have got a big expanse of land from him but Baba didn’t care about such things,” he said.“ He is an embodiment of integrity. He is humble, understanding, reliable. He is an embodiment of all that is good. We came from very poor families but we held on to each other. Interestingly his birthday was the same as my wife’s so I never got to be with him on his birthday. But we both don’t believe in celebrating birthdays,” Coker said.
Dr. Segun Osoba (the historian and well known socialist of the Minority Report fame), described Dipeolu as a tireless worker and a walking archive who worked under very difficult situations to transform the library at Ife. “We are honouring Sesan not just for the emoluments of concrete books, journals and other materials which he has erected in the last 21 years, emoluments which can be looted vandalized by philistines. We are indeed honoring him for the gigantic and indestructible spiritual edifice which he has erected by virtue of his intellectual and moral leadership that he has efficiently and unwaveringly rendered to the entire university of Ife community. Characteristically, he saw this position of leadership as a unique challenge and privilege to serve the university community to the best of his ability,” Osoba maintained.
J.P. Clark’s tribute came in form of a poem he entitled The Best (for Sesan). “Sesan Dipeolu, one person who knows of me at Ibadan than I did of myself. When setting out, I wish I knew too that much about him. Sixty- five years exactly, going on our journey, with all its bumps and craters, now coming to an end I found I had for company a man of such deep dye,” the poem reads.
Soyinka’s also paid a glowing tribute to the late librarian. In what was excepted from his book, You Must Set Forth At Dawn, he said: “My pugnacious friend, Sesan Dipeolu, SES as he is known to close associates, was a retired librarian from the University of Ife who of the leftist disputation or even then a maverick ready to associate with progressive groups strictly on his own not doctrinaire terms … SES appears to lend his face to a permanently puzzled look as i trying to recollect the last resting place of a yet uncatalogued acquisition,” the Nobel laureate said.
Professor Kemi Rotimi, on his part, narrated the assistance Dipeolu had given him while he was writing his doctoral thesis, which, based on the celebrant’s advice, he later published as a book entitled, The Police in a Federal State: The Nigerian Experience. “I owe the fame I have today as a serious scholar of the police and policing in Nigeria to the publication of that book. Thanks to Pa Sesan Dipeolu. I did maintain a robust intellectual relationship with him over the years till he passed on,” he averred.
Unmulayo Tamuno, former librarian at the University of Ibadan also extolled Dipeolu’s exemplary yet unassuming life as well as his contribution to the life of others among whom she has been a beneficiary. “Dipeolu was among the first generation of librarians professionally trained in the best of British tradition … from the early 1970s to the 1980s he became one of the quartet that bestrode the university library world like a colossus,” she submitted.
Tamuno also extolled the librarian’s uncanny ability to discover elusive books, an ability which stood him out. “He travelled the length and breadth of Nigeria to procure much needed but difficult to find Nigerian boos and pamphlet for many libraries at home and abroad. How he was able to fish out these rare and difficult materials which even repository libraries could not get beat the imagination of many of us,” she said.
Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, the Vice Chancelllor of the Obaemi Awolowo Univeristy Ile- Ife, who was represented by the university librarian, Femi Oguntuase said Dipeolu’ track record as the university librarian still remain unsurpassed. According to him, the celebrant became a librarian at Ife within 10 years, a feat nobody has achieved till date. “Dipeolu retired from the university, having laid a solid foundation for the university library and for other committees which he shared,” he explained, adding that he was a mentor to many who were under him.
Femi Ogunnusi, a family friend, was also full of praise for Dipeolu. He said the celebrant was a stern disciplinarian. “People generally hushed talk when he was around. No one dared sit in his chair. I suspect because a librarian demand silence in the workplace and somehow that extended to his personal space. Strong boys came down when he was around. All it took was a loo, and that look was wicked,” he reminisced.
Ogunnusi also extolled Dipeolu’s passion for books. “He struck me as a deeply introspective intellectual. His passion for books and reading were just as intense as our passion for play. He tried to no end to stimulate us to intellectual activity. He even tried to make me Marxist. I gave up. We would budge only as much he allowed us to have access to the key of his car and his system for our numerous exploits. He hated waste as much as he hated garrulous talk. You were to dish only what you could finish and there was no talking at the table,” he noted.
B. A. Clark, who was deeply shocked to great extremes by the celebrant’s demise said he remained one of his best friends for over 60 years, adding that they never exchanged any crosswords o misunderstandings. “When I last saw him in the house a few weeks ago I never expected that he would not make it into the new year to celebrate the landmark birthday. Please accept my deepest condolence and sympathy,” he said.
Olabode George, who also expressed his sadness over Dipeolu’s demise, however was full of praise for him. “He distinguished himself as a librarian and as a man of profound intellect. At the University of Ibadan and the University of Ife for almost half a century of dedicated, disciplined scholarship. His excellence traversed far beyond the Nigerian space … I am proud to know him as a great uncle, as a guide, as a sincere counselor, as an humble man of letters and as a true Christian, he maintained.
Adeyemi Dipeolu, who has yet to recover from the shock of his father’s demise described him as his hero and friend. “My dad was a man of many parts. He was not just a university librarian. Those he taught know that he was also a teacher. He was also a journalist. He worked briefly with Bisi Onabanjo . He was also a clerk. In fact he started his job working as a clerk and after three weeks he ran away when he discovered that that kind of lie wasn’t for him. He was a publisher. He was an academic. He was a yogi. He was a columnist,” he said.
He also said his dad never shied away from an argument. “Papa never shied away from an argument, resolving the clash of ideas was his main hobby in life. He did this because of his genuine love of knowledge but also to help people or anyone advancing an argument to clarify their thoughts. He saw Google as a modern day wonder,”
Adeyemi also spoke about the Spartan life his dad led because of Marxism, how his dad never believed in the acquisition of wealth, how he never allowed them to wear lace clothes or wear gold jewelries or listen to Owambe music. He also said the only time they started watching television at home was when J.P. Clark, as he was about leaving for the United States, left his television in their house. “His attitude to life itself probably explained why all his children chose public service careers. He was a man of integrity that was attested by all who know him and worked with him. In spite of his seriousness of purpose, JOD was a very friendly man. His friends cut across all classes, age ethnicities, religion and nationalities. This way we met great people. We met famous people. And we met strange people,” he explained.
Adewale Dipeolu also spoke tersely about how close he and his dad were. “Every expression he had I always had. So when I talked to him and he was tired I knew that he was tired,“ he reminisced.
However the service of songs ended on a high note when Adewale introduced members of the family and gave a vote of thanks. What a glorious exit for a man who not only distinguished himself in his chosen career but also in other areas of life and touched many lives.