Lagos @ 50: Rasheed Gbadamosi and a relationship ever-cherished
Mr. Isichei was the senior housemaster who was the de facto chief enforcer of hostel rules in Ika Grams of the early 70s. He later became the principal of Okpalani Grammar School, Okpanam, in the present Delta State. He would be taken aback by the revelation that Thomas – the otherwise genial, dutiful and well-comported school prefect – rather used this period for literary self-indulgence.
Well, I was taking advantage of my privileged entitlement, as a prefect, to a cubicle. That was when I resumed my practice of literary expression and elementary journalism that started two years back at Iyekeorhionmwon Community (later renamed Orhionmwon, and then Urhonigbe) Grammar School, where I had been a front-running contestant in short story competitions organized by the defunct district council then headquartered at Ugo. Indeed, some time in 1969, I had gotten a letter published in the Benin-based Nigerian Observer explicitly titled “I want to be a real journalist.”
I was also editor of The Mermaid, a student magazine inspired and mentored by Obi Anene, who had just graduated from the University of Lagos with a degree in political science and joined the teaching staff of Ika Grammar School. It was Obi, a political science major who was initially fondly called by the first name Joe, who introduced Government as a subject to Ika Grammar School and prepared a handful of us to perform exceedingly well in the WASCE within one year. He became a features writer at The Nigerian Observer. He and my English tutor Felix Emeka Okeke-Ezigbo, then already a published poet in Nsukka Harvest, nurtured my literary skills, the latter becoming a professor of English and Affiliated Professor of African and Afro-American studies at the University of Rhode Island, until he died in Providence on June 25, 2012.
How far have I gone trying to realize the dreams? If you will permit an uncharacteristic act of immodesty, I went on to enjoy brief spell as radio producer and commentator in the outside broadcast unit of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria under the tutelage of Ishola Folorunso (late), Kunle Olasope, Ben Elugbe (emeritus professor of linguistics), and sports commentator/newscaster Tolu Fatoyinbo (late). At FRCN, I was colleagues with Sam Okolo (late), and the current helmsman of the Federal Radio Road Safety Commission (FRSC) Boboye Oyeyemi. I shared microphone with Ernest Okonkwo (late), Sebastian Oforum (late), Kevin Ejiofor, Khalifa Baba-Ahmed (late) and with former minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Edem Duke; Emma Egharevba and Dan Esiekpe at the National Sports Festival “Oluyole ‘79” in Ibadan. Somehow, I never managed to do so with the one-and-only Bisi Lawrence, whose image loomed large in the Outside Broadcast establishment of FRCN in those days, but who was on the verge of retirement at this period.
Two years later, at “Bendel ‘81”, I was, on television, I was in the company of old Unife friend Tayo Balogun; current acting Managing Director of Bank of Industry Waheed Olagunju; Tunde Orebiyi; and a host of brilliant professionals at NTA Benin, including Tonnie Iredia; Dele and (late) Ayo Ojeisekhoba.
However, it was in print journalism that my journalism dream really came true, when, finding myself in the company of some of the best professionals, I became, in 1984, the features editor of The Guardian, arguably the most respectable newspaper in the country at a time. Another journalistic milestone was a reflection on the close affinity between man and bird that won me a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Fellowship in 2010.
Known only to a few of my childhood friends, Rasheed Gbadamosi was the big impetus for my affinity for literary efforts, such that this tribute might as well have been titled “Rasheed Gbadamosi in My Journey to the Writers’ World.”
1971 was the year of the “Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, an episode that profoundly gripped me for the global interest that it generated. But, in intensity, my engagement in the event was rivaled by the degree of my mental involvement in a small event – the then annual Sunday Times short story competition.
Rasheed Gbadamosi won the contest that year. Among the hundreds of competitors that he beat to the first prize was yours truly, a fourth-form pupil who, on account of having “successfully” tried his hands at short stories, essays, recitations, school drama and other literary forms, thought he could try his luck on a wider stage.
The journey to meeting Rasheed Gbadamosi started with a letter congratulating him on his achievement and requesting a copy of the winning entry. In no time, a copy of the story titled “Sunset Over Nairobi”, typed double-spaced and cyclostyled into about four pages, was delivered to me by post a few days before its publication in the weekly newspaper. Need I confess that I was overawed by the mastery of the English language displayed by Gbadamosi in the story!
Aspiring to be like him, I then continued to bombard him with my efforts. He never failed to either acknowledge or comment on any script I shared with him. I remember one short story that explored a theme in inter-communal strife that elicited a comment from him that I was aping Achebe. Couldn’t I find more everyday experiences to derive themes from? It was like asking: “Hasn’t Achebe told the story of the past so eloquently already for you to continue rehashing his narrative?” While I brandished all other letters from the man in the manner of bragging to my friends that I was friends with Rasheed Gbadamosi, this particular one was not something to share.However, I took the advice to heart and, while my spirit was dampened, my literary aspiration was not annihilated.
During my NYSC orientation at Olivet Hugh School, Oyo in the 1978/1979 year, I formed the Oyo State NYSC Theatre Group that put up a memorable show, including a drama presentation in which Pat Bala, until very recently the director-general of the National Film and Video Censor Board (NFVCB), was the lead actor.
When I gained admission to both Ife and Nsukka in 1974 to read English, I harboured the anxiety that the chances of a career in journalism, that was always my first love, were in jeopardy. However, Gbadamosi wrote to me to dispel my concern. He then revealed that he, who was one of the best short story writers in the country, was, in fact, an economist!
Late in December of 1974 Mr. Gbadamosi drove to the University of Lagos, were I was spending time with my childhood friend Gabriel Egharevba, now a professor of chemistry at Ife, to meet his young admirer. He then took me to visit with him at his Biaduo Street, Off Keffi Street, Ikoyi, residence and back to Akoka.
Later on when I had come of age in journalism, he did not fail to say in a few words – as he was wont to do – “You’re doing really well.” Really? My head never failed to swell – especially when he once said this in the hearing of Ladbone (Lade Bonuola, who was my editor). In addition, he was of tremendous support of my career. He made the job of getting him to analyze the annual federal budget quite easy for me as the features editor at The Guardian by coming all the way to Rutam House in Isolo from his Ikoyi residence to turn in his scripts. On a couple of occasions, he actually wrote the scripts in my office amid the din associated with newsroom!
Gbadamosi was, over the years, up there with the Segun Olusolas and Newton Jibunohs in the top league of promoters of art in Nigeria. The titles of his works even had as much potential to win prizes as their contents – Tree Grow in the Desert, Behold My Redeemer, Sunset Over Nairobi, etc.
He inspired successive generations spanning art promotion and business. These include two of them of my friends, Waheed Olagunju (current acting Managing Director of the Bank of Industry) and Toyin Akinoso, the well-known geologist, journalist and publisher (who is better known as what I should call an art and culture militant) and one of the prime movers of the Committee for Realistic Arts (CORA).
Gbadamosi was instrumental, as Minister of National Planning during the administration of Abdulsalami Abubakar, to the construction of the UN House in Abuja.
Odemwingie is a former features editor of The Guardian.