For Oloye Lekan Alabi… Promoting culture, cultivating partnership bring fulfilment in retirement
The recent elevation (on May 13, 2016 precisely) of Oloye Lekan Alabi to the traditional and chieftaincy rank of Agba-Akin Olubadan of Ibadan land has a narrative that is rich in an ancestral legend.
The progenitor of the Ekerin Ajengbe compound, SWI/131 Ibadan, Molaja Ajengbe I was among the founders of the great city known as Ibadan today. Brave soldier he was and rose to the rank of Ekerin Balogun before he passed on at war front, Kiriji war, the longest expedition in the history of the Yoruba that lasted between 1877 and 1893. Two of his children – Zuberu and Oyinlola – also rose to become Ekerin Balogun, and another grandchild reigned as Agba-Akin Balogun of Ibadan land.
So, last Sunday, the great Mapo Hall in Ibadan hosted unusual guests as Ekerin Ajengbe family marked the promotion of their son, Lekan Alabi with a cultural carnival-like procession that congregated sons and daughters of the family who have dispersed to various towns and cities outside Ibadan.
In their ‘owambe’ attire, they came from Ilero (the original root of Ajengbes), Tede and Saki for what Oloye Alabi described later as “Celebration of our Ancestors.” Even, the early hour shower that Sunday morning couldn’t diminish the colour and glitz of the event that had two segments: awareness train from Mapo Hall to the family compound as well as reception at Ajosun club house in Agodi area of the city.
Entertainment in forms of music, dance and drumming was supplied by the itinerant drummer group, Ayanyemi Atokowagbowonle led by the son of the famous Atokowagbowonle ensemble, the official drummer of the late Adegoke Adelabu Penkelemesi in the 50s.
To chief Alabi, the occasion is a reunion of sort. “Since time immemorial, our family members in Ilero where we migrated from usually exchange visits. So, today’s programme (June 5, 2016) is more or less a reunion to celebrate ancestors; those four great progenitors who had contributed greatly to the growth of this city, and we are also dedicating my latest promotion through them, with the prayer that by the grace of God, I should rise to their position and even pass the last one held by them.”
He chronicled how the family became one of the powerful houses in Ibadan.“The founding and evolution of Ibadan land is similar to that of the United States of America (USA). So, what America is to the world is what Ibadan is to Nigeria, Africa and the black world. Ibadan is a potpourri of various Yoruba stocks. This is because when Lagelu left Ile-Ife in the 18th century, he was an Ife Prince and a General of the Army who set out to found a new city under the direction of God Almighty. Eventually, he got to Ibadan at a place called Awoton, where he settled with his followers and other people who joined him.
But for the breaking of a taboo, which was and still is held sacrosanct in Yoruba land in tradition and culture, particularly during Egungun festival, the veil of an Egungun was unveiled in the market; it caused a lot of furry in Ibadan. Therefore, Lagelu and his people had to climb Awoton village for safety. After the dust settled, they moved down and they were joined by other people and settled, because this is the third Ibadan. The present Ibadan, which stretches from the boundary between us and the Egba people at Bakatare village to the Asejire dam, and spreads eastward, westward is the third Ibadan, which was founded around 1820.
“With the decline of old Oyo Empire and the many internecine wars in Yoruba land, people emigrated to the new found settlement which primarily was a military camp for the valiant, brave called Eba Odan, meaning a place near the Savannah. Like all other Ibadan indigenes, we all have our roots from where our great great ancestors migrated from to found Ibadan. Our own progenitor, Molaja Ajengbe 1 was among the founders of this great city. He was a brave soldier and General and he rose to the rank of Ekerin Balogun. He died in the famous Kiriji War at Okemesi, the longest war in Yoruba land and black Africa. It lasted from 1877 to 1893. It was the British who intervened, appealed to the Ibadans to leave Imesile because they had surrounded the Ekitis. Ibadan conquered so many territories.
“Our progenitor died in that war, his son, Subair Ajengbe II succeeded him. Ajengbe is a combination of two words: Aje (a wizard) and Ngbe (at wars). We are so called because our progenitor had the fame of appearing and disappearing during wars, he was a valiant, a great Army General of Ibadan. His son (Zuberu) also rose to become Ekerin Balogun during the reign of Olubadan Fijabi 1 in 1890. Our third progenitor, Oyinlola Ajengbe III also rose to become Ekerin Balogun of Ibadan land during the reign of Olubadan Akintayo Elenpe Awanibaku in 1910. Our fourth ancestor, Sanni Ajengbe IV was Agbakin Balogun, but he didn’t get to the top rank, but from time memorial is also a senior chief. His three predecessors were high chiefs, because they were among the members of the Olubadan-in-Council and kingmakers. He was Agbakin Balogun during the reign of Olubadan Shittu Omo Aare Latosa in 1914.
“I was promoted on May 13 this year by Kabiyesi, the Olubadun of Ibadan land, Oba Salihu Adetunji Ajeogungunniso 1. By this promotion, that is, my current position as Agba Akin Olubadan of Ibadan land, I have now reached the least of the orbit of my ancestors in this town.”
Famous now as culture ambassador, Oloye Alabi said journalism built his consciousness as lover of creative expression. “I had a column in the Yoruba paper of Sketch called Gboungboun, and the title of the column was Mori firi lati owo Lekan Alabi, meaning ‘I saw it briefly’. I had another column through the grace of God, and the benevolence of the then editor of Sunday Sketch, the late Mr Philips Bamidele Adedeji, he designed the concept and called it ‘What’s happening’ by Lekan Alabi. It was the review of the arts. So anybody who needed to review books, plays, music and shows must come to my table at Sunday Sketch between 1974 and 1975 before I travelled to London to the famous school of journalism training.”
But to him, journalism is more or less a heritage. “My father, the late AbdulRaheem Alabi (alias Right Time) was a staff of Daily Times of old, in the 50s. He served under Babatunde Jose in Ibadan, the then capital city of the Western Region when our late Baba of Journalism, Alhaji Ismail Babatunde Jose, the doyen of African journalism, was regional editor of the western region. When he was transferred and Chief Laban Namme, a Cameroonian who naturalised as a Nigerian took over, my father also served under him. So I grew up reading Daily Times, hearing about journalism and great writers.
As soon as I started to mature, I told my father I wanted to become a journalist. When I was in class 2, in 1960, I started taking correspondence courses from the UK, and eventually, I got employed by Sketch Publishing Limited in 1973, and I became the company’s and Nigeria’s first dual columnist in English and Yoruba.”
As a culture promoter reflected in being patron to several artistic and cultural enterprises in the city and beyond, Oloye Alabi preaches strong attachment to our indigenous values system.
“ God Almighty created all the races and tribes of the world, and he gave each tribe their culture; the Scot, German, Arabs, Yorubas, Ijaws, Hausa, Igbo and so on. The culture of a tribe is an umbrella under which you have the language, food, dresses, music, names and philosophy. With all modesty, the Yorubas have an edge of a mode called Omoluwabi, which encompasses everything spiritually, administratively, socially and politically, because the Omoluabi concept says you must believe in a creator; you must obey and respect your parents and their peers or anybody who is senior to you. You must find work to do, you must relax within reasonable limits; you must practice charity and many other things. So that when they see a person who complies, they will say, ‘Omoluwabi leni yi’.
That is the culture of the Yoruba people, and all other tribes have theirs. Our own culture, due to what I will say with modesty and respect, inferiority complex on the part of those who want to subrogate their culture to foreign ones, will always triumph, because take very good note of former colonies of the British and the French, particularly the French, they took away all the cultures of their former territories in Africa, whereby they practiced assimilation. And the black man/woman in the so-called Francophone states sees him/herself as a black Parisian – in dresses, in phonetics, elocution, food and so on. But the Yoruba people, our great ancestors did not submit our great culture to any white imperialism.
Therefore, it behoves on us, their successors, to continue the legacies, to continue to maintain the standard and raise the banner, by ensuring that our great culture, which ironically is now being studied at our universities by the whites, especially, the Americans should and will never be dusted by the grace of God.”
But how can this campaign be sustained when History as a subject is no longer being taught as well as civic education and stuff like that…?
“You will blame it on the leadership of any country or tribe that allows the subjugation of their culture. The former Minister of Education, the late Prof Babs Fafunwa when he was a lecturer at the former University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, he experimented with some of his colleagues, picking pupils of various primary schools of Ile-Ife, and taught them in Yoruba language; they also selected some pupils from some of the special schools and taught them in English language.
At the end of the day, when they wrote the first leaving school examinations, students who were taught in the mother tongue excelled more than the so called Ajebotas (the pampered ones) who received their lessons in English and other foreign languages. The selected indigenous and native coached pupils beat the Ajebotas again at the second leg of the experiment involving secondary school students. The experiment proved that any student or group of people taught in their mother tongue would find it easy to study to pass any examination at any level than students who offered their subject in foreign languages. This point would later be corroborated by the late Prof. Chinua Achebe in an interview saying he also thought of ideas in his native language before translating it to English language including those thoughts espoused in his famous book, Things Fall Apart. He said used to first and foremost reasoned in Igbo, his native language before translating to English language. So, it has been proved that mother tongue should be spoken to babies if possible from pregnancy, from youth to adulthood.
As a trustee of D.O. Fagunwa Foundation and one of the objectives of the foundation is to propagate Yoruba language. We appeal to Yoruba state houses of assembly to conduct some of their sessions in Yoruba language. Lagos State House of Assembly holds the credit of being the first legislative chamber to hearken to this call. An appeal has also gone to the Ministry of Education to reintroduce the old system of teaching pupils in Yoruba at the early stage of their elementary education. For instance, I was taught in Yoruba from primary one to three, English language was introduced during the second term in primary three. Today, I can speak both English and Yoruba fluently. Our leaders should return History to school curriculum. They should let pupils whether in private or public schools speak in mother tongue.”
The childhood memory that is dear to his heart and loves to recount always is how his maternal grandmother, Mama Asmawu Odunola Alabi nee Ekerin Ajengbe over pampered him. “I was her first grandson and according to prediction before I was born she was told that her grandfather was going to reincarnate.
So, it was her belief that I was her grandfather reincarnate. She waited until I was born; she died in 1966, I was then 16 years old. She taught me many things that I am applying today to whatever little knowledge I have acquired. I was brought up in a pure Yoruba aristocratic family. I was schooled in pure Ibadan value system. And by virtue of my education and vocation – journalism – that takes me all over the world, I have been able to add all the lessons to live. But I cherish my youth so much. It was glorious. I was pampered to the extent that all my uncles and aunts were warning my grandmother that ‘you will spoil this child!’”
Did Oloye Alabi ever think he would become a great journalist? “We had a great standard at primary level; our teachers treated us as their children. The foundation was very solid, I enjoyed my study under the Seventh Day Adventist mission, they had a system called Camp meeting usually held in December, whereby, all seventh day schools in the old western region would attend. Then, our parents would pay for the two weeks stay and supply all that we needed at the camp. I was just eight years old when I attended the first one at Ede, and we went by train from Ibadan, we were taught endurance; it was just like the NYSC programme of today, we made friends with people who were not from our school. It was a great training. And because I was very ferocious with reading, and with my father’s career as journalist, I knew I would also end up as a journalist.
The challenge of practicing journalism in Nigeria today, according to him is the fact that technology has made many journalists so lazy. “They sit and gather information at the touch of the button. In those days, you would have to go to library and do extensive reading, do research to gather information. But I hate the practice whereby they syndicate stories, so readers now have a slang for newspapers, ‘buy one and read all’ because some of the major stories are similar in content and package. What separate the boys from the men in the Nigerian newspaper industry today is, perhaps, the special columns. Otherwise, it is the same intro to every story and headline, the same photographs. I think our present day journalism practitioners should use technology as an added advantage. They should be creative, innovative, daring to make a mark in the newsroom.”
With the freedom of information law, allowing journalists’ access to information, he counselled, “they should use it to their advantage; they should read more and maintain that position, to be ahead of the interviewee and the readership. In those days, people use newspapers to teach grammar, today, the standard is falling.”
Are you an introvert or extrovert? “By nature, The fear of people is that when they retire, they become idle or even die. So, as a journalist, people were anxious asking, ‘what will you be doing in retirement?’ But I thank God, I am now more active than when I was in practice, because now I combine my traditional functions with many social functions with ease.”
As a socialite, how does he respond to gossip? “I laugh over it. What you see is that when you eventually meet with the rumour-monger, it is done out of envy, misinformation, pure fallacy.”
Oloye Alabi cherishes the cultural diversity of Nigeria. “If only our government and lawmakers would let us go back to true federation, that will allow settlement of every Nigerian at a place of their choice as it was in the beginning. I love Nigeria because of its vast human and mineral resources, beautiful and creative people.” Nigeria, he asserts, is a beautiful country, but he only dislikes, “some of the operators who are greedy, selfish, rude, wicked and intolerant.”w I am a dapper.”
As an Ibadan indegene, his favourite meal is “Oka, which the elite call Amala.
Born on October 27, 1950 to late Pa AbdulRaheem Alabi and Mopelola Alabi who is still alive, he attended Primary school in Ibadan, from 1958 to 1963; was class captain from primary two to four, and the school head boy in 1963. He attended African Church Grammar School in Ibadan.
Thereafter, started his career as a village teacher at Saint Paul Primary School near Akinajo, Arologun, left in 1972 to become Onibonoje’s first editorial assistant, later moved to Sketch Publishing Limited in 1973. He travelled to United Kingdom to study at the College of Journalism, Fleet Street, London in 1976; returned to Sketch and later joined the Nigerian Television Authority from where Chief Bola Ige head-hunted him as press secretary in 1983. He was out of job briefly from September to December 31, 1983. Later, he served three Military Governors of Oyo State – Oladayo Popoola; Adetunji Olurin; and the late Sasaenia Oresanya as press secretary from 1984 to 1989. In August 1989, he was appointed Public Affairs Manager of Odu’a Investment Company Limited, and after 17 glorious years of service, he retired voluntarily 10 years ago as General Manager, Corporate Affairs of the investment group.
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