By Niyi Osundare
I remember: when I got to Christ’s School in January 1967 for the Higher School Certificate course, his name was already riding the wind as a prominent member of that pantheon of exceptional old students who departed Agidimo Hill but left their lofty names behind. He was believed to be so versed in Latin that he could quote Cicero in his sleep. They said his genius followed him from Oyemekun Grammar School, his first alma mater, and that for years, he and this genius had been inalienable companions. Yes, Oyemekun, that first-rate school in Akure where he was the contemporary of stars such as Kole Omotoso, who would grow up to become one of Nigeria’s eminent writers and public intellectuals.
I remember: the following year, at the tail end of our HSC course, a brisk, smartly dressed young teacher strode into our literature class one mellow afternoon. He had been ‘commandeered’ to relieve a sparsely staffed literature staff by taking our class though the seething lanes of Down Second Avenue, the best known novel by Ezekiel Mphahlele, the famous South African writer and one of the most vociferous foes of that country’s inhuman apartheid system. Our class was abuzz with whispers: that was the Adamolekun we had heard so much about, the one who, years before, had sat in that same classroom to which he had now returned as a scholar of enviable repute. The myth had morphed into a man, and the man was right there in front of the class, his khaki-coloured trousers correct, down to its daintiest French cut. The news soon reached us that he was a fresh graduate of the University of Ibadan where he had made us all proud by earning a First Class in French. This new teacher had a way with languages, we all thought: after worsting Cicero in Latin at Christ’s School, he went on to vanquish Voltaire in his native French at the university. Once again, Adamolekun became the campus toast. Chief Ogunlade, the Principal, hailed his unrelenting genius; Chief Oloketuyi, unforgettable literature teacher, extoled his enviable brilliance. Both veteran educators saw Adamolekun’s sterling academic achievement and exceptional character as virtues to preach and practice. They never missed the opportunity. Adamolekun became an exemplum. A new entry in our diary of dreams.
I remember: Our teacher zoomed out of our classroom as fast as he had zoomed into it, but not without dropping some valuable lessons about the impact of history and socio-political realities on literature, its creators and its audience, and the grave demonstration of this fact in Down Second Avenue, its author, and the then ruling apartheid monstrosity. Thereafter, our teacher left for Oxford, one of the world’s most famous universities, not, as we had expected, to continue in the mighty lines of Cicero and Voltaire, but to carve out a niche in Public Administration, a high-sounding discipline that had yet to establish a noticeable foothold in Nigerian Academe. The Oxford doctoral programme over in record time, he was on his way to the relatively young but superbly run University of Ife where for the next many years, he would establish himself as one of Africa’s top scholars in public administration and experts in its protocol and practice.
I remember: that campus life was not just chalk-and-blackboard, committee-and-caucus humdrum for this political petrel and positive gadfly. From his student days, Adamolekun has always been a trouble maker (in the sense of John Lewis, America’s intrepid humanist and Civil Rights warrior) , troublemaker who never suffered fools gladly, whose blood boiled at the sight of injustice. Endowed with a sharp, interrogative mind and phenomenal memory and power of recall, he was/is a sayer and doer whose slight physical frame is house to thunderous resolve and courageous outspokenness. These traits played out handsomely in campus politics (at both Ibadan and Ife), and rose to unstoppable articulateness in his media interventions and stateman-like public admonitions. Prominent in these interventions are his anger at Nigeria’s ostensibly incurable underdevelopment, the often-neglected connection between chronic maladministration and bad leadership, avoidable capacity wastage, and judicious recommendations and suggestions for the way out of the pit. With Dipo Adamolekun, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. You always know where you are with him because you always know where HE stands.
I remember: the World Bank sniffed out his footsteps, followed his trail to his book-crowded campus office, and told him in a most irresistible way: let’s go now from theory to praxis; come benefit the world with the insight in your countless publications. Our scholar looked to the left, then the right; looked back, then forward. Okay, some sense in your bidding. My departure is no death. Serving the world has its own advantage as long as that gives you the chance to serve your people too. We must prevent Africa’s chair at the world’s table from standing empty………
I remember: those busy years at the World Bank. Jetting back and forth. Teaching the world the science of Organization. Getting it to recognize the know-how of Method. Trouble-shooting in those parts of our globe where chaos seems to have built a permanent tent. Looking deep inside the mind which commands and the one that obeys. Coming into useful service now, the sophisticated eloquence of Cicero, the stupendous witticism of Voltaire, and the universal figurations of Fagunwa in which all these virtues are so uniquely combined . Village Boy in the Global Village: the Adamolekuns are a Clan in which Iju is well pleased. Which is why when all is said and done, Iju is the world to which he always returns……
I remember: on the personal level (now with my narrative on to the second person singular), your sharp mind, your sharp voice; your ready, effortless smile, your willingness to help at all times. There is a genuineness to that smile because it issues forth from that powerful middle ground between the heart and the mind.
I remember: that day in September 2005 when my wife and I, having very narrowly survived the killing claws of Hurricane Katrina, were left penniless and weather-beaten evacuees. Most unexpectedly, the phone rang and your voice came across, clear and consoling. Less than a week later an envelope came with your name on it and your kind assistance inside it. You couldn’t have imagined how touched we were at your generosity. You were one of those who really made sure Katrina did not have the last word.
I remember: (how can I forget?!) the poem below which I wrote 10 years ago in celebration of your 70th birthday, and I am re-calling it to urgent service as I say 80 Hearty Cheers to our ageless Omoluabi. Aseyi-samodun o.**
FOR OLADIPUPO ADAMOLEKUN (
80 Hearty Songs for Omoluabi
Owa nii wa ni oye i kan?/Oniyan l’oyeee
Kindness comes naturally to you
Like songs to the bird
Fortified with a laughter
Which dances through the thornbush
Of life, still fresh and resonantly strong
Your firefly defies the tyranny of night
First Class in many ways,
You out-syntaxed Cicero in a jungle
Snared with ablative absolutes
Divined the excoriative wit of Voltaire
And reasoned sure-footedly through
The hallowed palisades of Cartesian cogito.
Your umbrella so wide it rivaled the sky
Yet so rooted the grass knows
The lines on your native sole
Seventy seasons ago
The journey began in that little village
Which out-peoples the mammoth town,
Land of the tender rain and muscular yam
Where the pestle’s ceaseless fight with the mortar
Defies the truce of wayward famines
The song raised by Ogbese
In the billowing plenitude of August
Finds fluent chorus in Osun’s majestic orchestra
Seventy seasons ago
Another Adam*** in that famous clan in Iju,
Where books grow on the family tree
Scholar, teacher, polyglot, Humanist
Seasoned eleto**** whose expert wisdom
Re-shapes the public realm/spheres
From Kiev to Kisangani
From Walla Walla to Waripundi
The world yearns for more of your shaping hand
*A joyful play upon I Remember, the title of Adamolekun’s exhilarating autobiography
**May you live to celebrate many more years
***Play on ‘Adamolekun’, the familu name.
July 17, 2022