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Adieu, Eddie Aderinokun, visioner in the light of the word – Part 1

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On January 4, this year, the news blasted its way through one’s cranium. Distinguished poet, literary patron and iconic journalist, Otunba Eddie Olayiwola Aderinokun had passed on.

In sobriety, the family disseminated it: “With great sadness, but with submission to the will of God, we announce the passing on of our beloved Father, Grandfather, Husband and Brother, Otunba Eddie Olayiwola Aderinokun on the 3rd of January, 2021 after a brief illness.” He was aged 80.

The news was chilling. It came like a blizzard. It seemed to congeal the blood in the veins of the receivers with its cold paws. At least, it was so with me. Brief, but benumbing. We all had expected a grand celebration of his 80th birthday anniversary last year. But owed, perhaps to the marauding COVID-19, the attendant strict regulations and its disincentive to the creative industry, the moderation of what could have been a big event in the arts circle seemed excusable.

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Nevertheless, as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), one was briefed by the executives— Toyin Akinoso and Jahman Anikulapo — that Uncle Eddie’s name was on the A-list of culture icons to be honoured for his outstanding role in the promotion of the literary arts and culture in the country during the annual Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF) 2020. But a pervasive stillness held down the dream; stillness that may now be interpreted as a presentiment, an augury of a dosage of life’s reality, very hard to swallow.

Uncle Eddie is gone?

The question was not so much about time and mortality, not so much about age. He was a very senior citizen of Nigeria. He had all the enviable credentials of nobility and as a distinguished professional. The question was rather about his large-looming image as a figure who was almost always there like a next-door-neighbour to the very hearts of his numerous admirers.

Beyond immediate interactions with him since 1990, one had heard of his exploits as an outstanding journalist. He rose to the pinnacle of the profession as the editor of the popular Daily Express in the early 1970s. Even as a journalist, he gave a good account of his flair as a literary artist. He published his poems in the newspaper with as much consistency as he garnered that selfsame attribute as a leading newsman.

He was also in the league of showbusiness promoters — like the late Chris Okolie, publisher of the defunct Newbreed Magazine —who used their vantage positions in the media to support emerging musical outfits in those days. One of the living legends of Nigerian pop music, Laolu Akins of the defunct BLO, would easily attest to this. It fully registers, therefore, that Uncle Eddie was an arts patron in his own right. And this reputation flows through his association with culture producers at all levels, old and young.

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My acquaintance with Uncle Eddie began in 1990. Not with him in person, but with his work. His first published collection of poems, Ebony On Snow, was brought to me as the Arts Editor of The Guardian by the famous cartoonist, Bisi Ogunbadejo, to be reviewed. I did my job, simply. I was fascinated by the poet’s use of the travelogue motif to capture, through his voyages across Europe, the enrapturing appeal of major cities in the great continent. His quaint lyricism and felicitous use of language were high points, in one’s humble estimation, of his literary proficiency. Even more arresting was his culturality, the depiction of an African from the warm tropics sojourning in the cold, temperate west with cosmopolitan zest.

The headline for the review was cast with a literary allusion to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses. I did not know that the review had been glazed and hung in a conspicuous part of Uncle Eddie’s office until he invited me for a visit, which I honoured almost instantly.

I met him amid a cerebral group of his fellow veteran journalists, literary artists, sporting personalities and businessmen. He was a lively conversationalist. He was informally moderating discussions on various subjects over a variety of drinks in a lighthearted air of hospitality and camaraderie.

One thing led to another. Of primary importance to me, for certain, were his writings. Within the year, he had published another collection of poems, Dance Of The Vulture (1990). I had the honour, in collaboration with my late bosom friend, Jide Ogungbade, of writing the foreword. With the second publication, it was obvious that Eddie Aderinokun would not be fixated critically as a poet. He ploughed all the ‘ploughables’ in terms of content and style, beaming forth a pleasant – indeed creative – departure from his first volume. Our commentary on the second collection showed that much.

We stated that whereas Ebony On Snow was a fare in the preoccupation of an aesthete, Dance Of The Vulture combined the religion of beauty with the sophistry of a philosopher and the benevolence of a humanist.

In the autograph signed for me in Dance Of The Vulture, Uncle Eddie in his usual flowery prose wrote: “Specially to my very own Ben Tomoloju – a composite adornment of diamond, gold and finest emerald on the crown of Nigerian journalism and literature. Dated 8-2-91.”

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I appreciate the portraiture with every sense of humility.

At that point, of course, the poet was no longer marvelling at the spectacular monuments and architectural finesse of western cities. His literary outputs were convincingly not a flash in the pan. He was now boldly preoccupied with human virtues, birth, death and the rites of living. The title poem, Dance of the Vulture indicates the progressive imagination of the poet where the carnivorous bird mocks in cannibalistic imagery human skirmishes in the gory theatres of war, a reversed providential supply of menu for its palate.

Uncle Eddie, as a motivating presence drew literary artists and enthusiasts in some kind of involuntary motion to his 9, Eric Moore Close office in Surulere, which was already assuming the status of a creative retreat of sorts.

Jahman Anikulapo, Sola Osofisan, Muritala Sule, Akin Adeoya, Sola Balogun, Chiedu Ezeanah and a host of other young pen-pushers were frequenters of the literary habitat made available by the elder writer, then in his 50s.

Without doubt, they found in him an affable, encouraging personality with unbridled inclination to inspire. His creative habitat was a fertile ground for freethinkers to express themselves, either in writing through discussions on topics ranging from literature to journalism, to politics, business and the economy.

It was at this point in time that one got the mandate as a national Ex-Officio of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) under the presidency of the late dramatist and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, to establish a chapter of the association in Lagos. We presented the matter before Uncle Eddie as a father figure. He immediately pledged his full support for the initiative and generously threw open the doors of 9, Eric Moore Close for the use of the fledgling chapter.

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He nurtured the chapter like a baby, ensured its smooth takeoff by providing not only the space, but food and drinks during meetings at the formative stages. In fact, 9, Eric Moore Close became the temporary secretariat of ANA Lagos where the Ad-hoc Committee successfully organised an election that put in place the pioneer executive comprising Dr. Tolu Ajayi (Chairman), Mrs. (now Dr.) Bunmi Oyinsan (Vice-Chairman), Mr. Muritala Sule (Secretary), Mr. Sola Osofisan (Assistant Secretary), among others.

Even years after the inauguration of the pioneer executive, Otunba Eddie Aderinokun was still there, a motivator and bulwark of literary activism, delivering all the deliverables for the realisation of ANA’s objectives and the sustenance of the professional body.

In due course, 9 Eric Moore Close became a beehive of cultural activities, hosting august visitors like the then ANA President, Ken Saro-Wiwa, his predecessor in office, Professor Femi Osofisan, Professor Stella Johnson and Maxwell Oditta. The then Minister of Information and PR guru, Chief Alex Akinyele and other members of the business community also made their presence felt as morale-booster to ANA Lagos. The League of Veteran Journalists ran their affairs from that same building. So also was the Nigerian Volleyball Association of which Otunba Eddie Aderinokun was Chairman. He revived the comatose association to become a major force in international competitions.

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Surprisingly and on a pleasant note, the chief was running his private companies — Service and Service (Nig.) Limited and Buildcraft (West Africa) from a wing of that facility amidst these other overwhelming engagements. It was to such an extent that members of his own family, especially his younger brothers, Chiefs Kayode and Tayo Aderinokun equally demonstrated their flair and commitment to the arts at various levels on an appreciably elaborate scale.

Kayode, a businessman and an investor in the mining sector, is also a merchant banker. Tayo was of the Guaranty Trust where he later rose to the top as the Managing Director. No sooner had Uncle Eddie’s Milestones been published in 1995 than Kayode also rolled out his own collection of poems, Inferno In The Rain. Tayo’s major interest, among others, was in the area of the visual arts. He sponsored exhibitions, gave Nigeria a formidable presence in international expos. Furthermore, Tayo is reputed to be one of Nigeria’s major collectors. As added feather to Kayode’s cap, at about the time Uncle Eddie was the National Vice-President of ANA, the younger Aderinokun, popularly known as ‘Sailor’, was the Chairman of the Lagos Chapter. Indeed, the arts run in the blood of the family, right to the grandchildren.

Milestones was published after Ebony On Snow, Dance Of The Vulture, Indigo Tears and Dark Days Are Here. Characteristically, Eddie Aderinokun breaks a new ground typologically with every collection. For instance, he calls MILESTONES ‘ an autobiography in verse’, dedicated to his father, Pa Solomon Aderinokun, his mother, Madam Rebecca Adebisi Aderinokun and siblings – Stella, Kayode, Tayo and Gbemisola.

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