A princess, a professor and the missing key
This has still not been resolved among behavioral scientists. Which is more dominant in forming our character, nurture or nature? The great Ghanaian teacher and philosopher, James Kwagyir Aggrey once told a story about a young eagle that lost its parents and was brought home to be raised among chickens. It took time for it to know it was different from the rest. This happened when, as it was growing up among its supposed brothers and sisters, it realised its body was feeling differently. The chicken, even when they tried, cannot fly. An eagle, reared among chickens, must discover its eagleness or live the rest of its life believing it is a chicken bound for the ground. One day, it tried its wings and realised it could fly. It embraced its destiny. An eagle is an eagle and it is meant to ride on top of the storm.
What is the source of the staying power of the Osuntokun clan of Okemesi, Ekiti State? The Osuntokuns are reared to embrace public service. The patriarch, Osunwenu, who died more than 60 years ago was a trader who dwelled for many years in Ilawe Ekiti. His ancestors were warriors from the present Kwara State who sought fame and fortunes during the wars of the 19th Century that convulsed Yorubaland in the aftermath of the collapse of Oyo Empire. Osunwenu senior wife, Ootola, was to give him five sons and a girl. The youngest and the only surviving son, Akinjide, now 75, recently retired from his vocation of teaching.
Akinjide Osuntokun, historian and polyglot, was Nigerian ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. His eldest brother was Oduola, was a Minister in the defunct Western Region from 1955 until the coup of 1966. The second son, Abiodun, was a captain in the Nigerian Army before he died in mid 1960s. The third was Oluwakayode, world renowned professor of neurology. The fourth son was Taiye, a chartered accountant who retired from the Ekiti State public service as the Auditor-General of local government. His twin sister, Kehinde, was the wife of Prince Anthony Bamigbade, the first post-master from Okemesi.
Since he was appointed a professor of history at the University of Maiduguri in 1986, Akinjide Osuntokun had occupied several professorial chairs in Nigeria, Canada and Barbados in the West Indies. Now he is done with teaching. He has written many books, including S.L.A, the Life and Times of Ladoke Akintola and Abidakun, his memoir. Ordinarily being a professor would have been an attainment of considerable magnitude, but in a family of great achievers, he found himself walking under the shadows of his great brothers, especially Professor Kayode Osuntokun, one of the best quoted world authorities on tropical medicine. In collaboration with Olaboopo, his wife and a professor of ophthalmology, Professor Kayode Osuntokun did many original researches that gave him a legendary status among his peers.
His brother’s shadow was looming large when in 1991 Akinjide Osuntokun was appointed Nigerian ambassador to Bonn by President Ibrahim Babangida. When he presented his Letter of Credence to the German President, the event was well reported by the German press. One day he was in his office when he was told that a German couple was around looking for him. Husband and wife were professors in a German university about 300 kilometers away from Bonn. They were ushered into the ambassador’s office.
“We want to see Professor Osuntokun,” they said.
“I am Professor Osuntokun,” the ambassador replied. “What can I do for you.”
The two visiting professors looked at each other in confusion. Then the wife said with certainty: “We know Professor Osuntokun. You are not Professor Osuntokun!”
Apparently they had thought they were going to meet Professor Kayode Osuntokun, the famous physician. It took several minutes of lively discussion before they realised that the ambassador was the equally famous professor of history, Akinjide Osuntokun. In those days, to be a professor was the highest attainment in Ekitiland, not like this day when we are no even sure of the educational qualifications of some of those who are ruling us.
Gone were the days when the imaginations of young people were dominated by the exploits of great men and women in the Ivory Tower. In Okemesi, the Osuntokun brothers were shinning in the sky with the likes of the Durotoye brothers led by Professor Olayiwola Durotoye (he became a professor at 37) and the Adedeji brothers, both of whom were professors at the University of Ibadan. Today the successor generations are not doing badly. One of them, Adebiyi Daramola, professor of agricultural economics, has just finished his tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure. As vice-chancellor, he oversaw the transformation of FUTA into a university of catholic relevance.
During the Second Republic, among those representing the old Ondo State in the National Assembly were three professors and all three were Ekiti men. These were Professors David Oke, Opeyemi Ola and Banji Akintoye. Today, Nigeria has been overtaken by reaction especially in the Yoruba heartland of the South-West. During the Second Republic, Ikenne, which is the home town of Obafemi Awolowo, was represented by the redoubtable Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya, a lawyer of great repute. Today that constituency is being represented in the Senate by a suspected drug baron who is fighting tooth and nail not to take that one-way trip to the United States.
We have entered into an era when elitism is being defined and purchased mainly with money and power. Yet we cannot define Princess Abiola Dosumu, the Erelu Kuti of Lagos by those two currencies. She would have made a great subject for the historian Professor Osuntokun. She has attained prominence, not by holding any political office or accumulating stupendous wealth, but by creating an un-ignorable personality. She is the face of old Lagos; its allure and power and its occasional serenity and beautiful turbulence in the face of serious challenges.
Dusumu is indeed part of the contemporary Lagos story. She was born 70 years ago when Lagos was the center of Nigerian nationalism and great men like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Olorunnimbe, Chief H.O Davies were the toast of Lagos society. Dosumu is a descendant of the famous Erelu Kuti, a powerful princess, who succeeded in installing her son Ologun Kutere as the Oba of Lagos in 1780. Since then her descendants have dominated the royal house of Lagos. Dosumu was introduced to public life early by her uncle, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, also a descendant of Erelu Kuti, who brought her under his wings. After the coup of July 1966 which brought then Colonel Yakubu Gowon to power, Dosumu was involved with the flurry of activities that culminated in the creation of Lagos State following the re-arrangement of the Nigerian Federation into a 12 states structure.
She married Major Kunle Elegbede who was to spend almost 30 months at the front during the Civil War. She became a widow early when her young husband died after he returned from the war. Many years later, she entered into another marriage with the legendary billionaire, Chief Dehinde Fernandez, but the marriage collapsed. Throughout the twist and turns of fortune, she had remained a princess with poise, elegance and presence. In her beautiful white attire, she is the face of Lagos.
The Lagos of Dosumu’s childhood had virtually disappeared. The descendants of those who gave Nigeria a Federal Capital for almost a century and whose forefathers once owned farmlands in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Apapa, Iddo and other choice areas are now looking out into a bleak future. Nigerians owned Lagos, the land of dreams and good fortunes, but the Lagosians, the denizens of Lagos Island, Ido and Apapa, what do they own? Where are the schools, hospitals and recreational centres built for them? What do they have in return for what they have given to Nigeria? These are questions that beg for answers.
The lives of Osuntokun and Dosumu illustrate for us that our country, to embrace its destiny of greatness, has to return to the path of old values, old morality and old ideas of industry and merit. Our country cannot be great if its idea of elitism is defined mainly by money and political office. Though both Osuntokun and Dosumu have attained prominence in our national life, we know where they are coming from. They have paid their dues. They did not just happened on the national stage like ghosts from another realm.
So which kind of families is producing those men and women who could enter a church and fire off their automatic guns into the bodies of defenseless worshippers? I hope the police would unravel this massacre at the Saint Phillip’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu, Anambra State, and prove to us that this sovereign state called Nigeria, is still capable of protecting its citizens. Every part of Nigeria is now showing that it is capable of evil: the Boko Haram of the North East, the rampaging herdsmen of the Middle-Belt, the Badoo boys of Ikorodu in Lagos State, the kidnappers and militants of the South-South. This is federal character on a sinister scale.
Our problem may be that we are neglecting to pass down the right values to the next generation. Someone sent me this message yesterday: “Best graduating student of UNN (University of Nigeria, Nsukka) cash prize of N10,000. Efe of BBN (Big Brother Nigeria) cash prize, N25,000000. How do you tell the youths that education is the key?”
We have to retrieve the missing key of the future. It would open the door to good education, good breeding and good fortune for the Nigerian Commonwealth. We deserve a future free from wickedness.