The Village Headmaster

Chief Segun Olusola

By Simbo Olorunfemi
I was combing through the stretch of books on the shelf last week in search of a particular book when I caught sight of the slim title, “The Village Headmaster” by Ṣẹ́gun Olúṣọlá I pulled it out. ‘Long time’, I found myself saying, knowing I had not set eyes on the book in a long time. I could not even imagine how long until I opened it and realised it was autographed by Chief in 1996. Over 25 years ago. How time flies! I was as shocked upon realisation that it will soon be ten years since the Village Headmaster, Ṣẹ́gun Olúṣọlá, passed on.
The book brings back a bit, in terms of memory about the man, the giants past, the TV Series of same title and how times have changed between our recent past and now. Thinking about it now, I wonder about what might have been if we had not lost course, what ‘The Village Headmaster’ might have made of today and the zazuing, zeing, yahooing, killing and the upscaling of the phenomenon of iṣé kékeré, owó ńlá to that of ‘if you no get money, hide your face’. I wonder if we would have been here if we had kept to the narrow gauge and not give up on ours from that from abroad. I wonder about globalisation and how that might have helped the slide into nothingness, with souls frozen in desperate pursuit of the material.
Chief Ṣẹ́gun Olúṣọlá belongs to a completely different generation, in terms of values and outlook to life. Even among those of his generation, he stands out for a number of reasons, even as we agree it was a bit easier to stand out then and get by with placing greater value on culture and community than power and money. We live in different times now. No matter how accomplished you are in your field, you aren’t not deemed a success until you have been so certified by virtue of one political position or the other. We live in an age where a Professor or Journalist who had risen through the ranks to the top is deemed ‘made’ by appointment into a position of public service.
It was a different era. ‘The Village Headmaster’ was for a different era. But even that is up in the air. Is Ọ̀jà village, where everybody is a stranger, situated on no man’s land of the past, present or the future? Is Ọlọ́jà of Ọ̀jà of the past, present or the future? Does Bassey Okon belong to the past or present?  Does Àmẹ̀bọ belong to now or then? What do we make of Chief Odunuga, the sole Kingmaker, and his overbearing influence on Ọlọ́ja? Is he of the past, the present or the future?
The Village Headmaster was written in 1964 as a half-hour series by Chief Olúṣọlá, building on his radio feature of 1958 of the same subject. He would pitch the idea to his friend and Boss, Dr Christopher Kolade, who bought into it, but production did not commence until 1968, shortly after Mr Sanya Dosunmu (now Olówu of Òwu) was engaged as a Producer by then NBC-TV.  Chief Olúṣọlá handed over to him “the series description, the principal cast-list and a list of willing writers”. However, the script for the first episode, “Reception for an Alumnus” was written and produced by the then Mr Sanya Dosunmu.
I would meet Mr Dosunmu, getting to relate with him over a period, in the early 90s, before he became an Ọba and his recollection of events would lean more towards not having received ‘enough’ recognition for his role on “The Village Headmaster” as much he felt he deserved. But there was no dispute on the fact that the series was created by Chief Ṣẹ́gun Olúṣọlá. The original play, which was not produced was published in book form in 1977.
The list of those involved in the early production of the series was quite a rich one. It had Fela Davies, Nelson Olawaiye, Alex Akinyele and Demola James as Writers. Ted Mukoro, Elsie Olúṣọlá, Jab Adu, Jimmy Solanke, Albert Egbe, Rosaline Birch, Thompson Okorote, Comish Ekiye, Molara Marquis, and Yinka Oginni as Actors in the first episode. A long list of names would be made over the years, with some of the notable names becoming Kings in real life.
Chief Ṣẹ́gun Olúṣọlá was a truly wonderful man, so accommodating and incredibly generous. After his years in Broadcasting (He was the first Nigerian TV Producer), he was appointed Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, where he would distinguish himself. He retired to set up the African Refugees Foundation (AREF), same time serving as Patron or Board member of numerous charity organisations.
He was the go-to Daddy for many of us in the Arts community. He would, without hesitation, offer himself, space, time and sometimes, money to support all sorts of arts and charity-related initiatives. His home was open to all. He would serve as Chairman to all our events, arriving on time, holding the audience spellbound with his rich voice and command of  English, just as he would flawlessly deliver in Yoruba. He was a Pensioner and did not have money to throw around, but he gave much more than money. His name opened doors. That name he put to use for many, writing one recommendation letter or the other. When the Lagos State Government gave out a portion of the Old State Secretariat to his organisation, he opened the doors to other civil society organisations for their use, turning the place to a hub where some of the NGOs and/or practitioners today found their feet.
Such was the nature of the man. Selfless. Completely sold out to the good of all and that of the community. Such men are hard to come by. The Village Headmaster might have been written in 1964, but something tells me that the Ọ̀jà village of his imagination was not just of the past but of the future. We are all strangers in no man’s land. The Village Headmaster is about rediscovering the fact that we have more in common than we assume. We should be putting more in pulling together than pulling apart.