Olumide… The odd man out
The two books are being launched to commemorate the 80th birthday of the author – Professor ‘Folabi Olumide “a distinguished gastro-intestinal surgeon, a foremost educator, an enthusiastic musician and a poet.” He was the foundation Vice-Chancellor of Lagos State University [LASU] and his career in medicine spanned over 50 years with stints in several countries in Africa, Europe, North America and Asia (particularly in Saudi Arabia).
Let me make a confession straightaway. I was somewhat surprised when the author accosted me at the Metropolitan Club and informed me that he had a “dangerous assignment” for me on Monday, April 18, 2016. However, it was not until a few days ago at the Yoruba Tennis Club that he mischievously disclosed that he wanted me to review the two books he would be launching today – one a collection of his poems and the other his autobiography.
Alas, he gave me only three days to accomplish the monumental task. He then proceeded to send me a text which read like a doctor’s prescription – one day to read the poems and one day to read the other book. One book a day and the review would have to be ready on the third day!! When I protested that this was mission impossible, he had a ready riposte: “Are you not one of those King’s College Boys on my table (Table 4 at the Metropolitan Club) who are always bragging that no miracle is too small or too colossal for you to deliver?” I surrendered. Please forgive me for any flaws in my review. I was left with no choice but to write my review of “I Sing!” and “If I Had Wings” before I had read either of them.
I warn you all in advance, that there are quotations in my review which are attributed to the two books. I regret that you may search for them in vain. You should regard it as printer’s devil.
I have captioned my review:
“The Odd Man Out” because Professor Afolabi Olumide in spite of his phenomenal academic achievements combined with his outstanding prowess as a musician (classical and church music) as well as his exceptional international reputation as a surgeon, he never brags about his impeccable pedigree, his unblemished character and above all his well deserved place amongst the top echelon of our society. On the contrary, he is the epitome of humility, kindness, generosity of spirit and self-deprecating good humour. In a society redolent with perfidy, mendacity and duplicitousness, the author is a refreshing example of the perfect gentleman. His moral uprightness is unassailable. Not only is he cerebral, he is meticulous and exceptionally patient without any trace of conceit or arrogance.
He is indeed the Odd Man Out.
To further re-inforce his position as the Odd Man Out, he has been happily married to the same wife Folasade for close to a century!! In his autobiography he has stirred the hornet’s nest of our curiosity by revealing that unlike his contemporaries Femi Ashley-Dejo and Akin Aboderin throughout his sojourn at University of Ibadan Medical School, he had no serious girl friends. All he did was study, play classical music on the piano, sing (he was a soloist), eat and sleep. Even back then he was the Odd Man Out!!
I quote: “Yet, all three of us [Femi, Akin, and me] were close
enough to be recognised as the three musketeers.
While both of them had girl friends in Queen Elizabeth
Hall, I didn’t have any serious relationship.”
Both the author and his charming wife have conspired to embarrass us all by devoting their entire lives to the practice and propagation of solid family values – honesty, hard work, contentment and the steadfastness of their faith in the Almighty. They have insulated themselves from envy, ruthlessness, wickedness and selfishness. They are truly the Odd Couple.
To further worsen their case, they dote on their sons and daughters-in- law and have adorned them as gems. They leave us speechless. We shall wait till the end of today’s festivities with the full assurance and confidence that neither Yomi Badejo-Okusanya nor Tunde Oduwole, Dolapo Olumide or Tunji Fadahunsi will grab the microphone to denounce their wicked mother-in-law or fastidious, grouchy and grumpy (perhaps cantankerous) father-in-law. It is self-evident that the love and affection of Professor and Mrs. Afolabi Olumide towards their in-laws have been reciprocated in equal measure.
We live in a society in which everyone is busy chasing one title after another – High Chief, Professor (Chief); Senior Evangelist/Genera/ Overseer; Chief Commander; President-General; not to mention Asiwaju, Olorogun, Bashorun, Balogun, Aare etc or Yeye this or Yeye That. Our author and his wife are not interested in any of those appellations. How very odd. By the author’s admission, he is actually a prince:
“My mother was an Ajose, a prominent Lagos royal family. I just don’t believe in calling myself a prince. Many of my cousins call themselves princes and princesses. I have the Egba, Lagos and Sierra-Leonean blood in me.”
How very odd.
As for national honours, they are pretty cool about it. In his book which I am yet to read, Professor ‘Folabi declares that he is perfectly contented with the awards bestowed on him by both CMS Grammar School and Igbobi College. I gave up reading the book when I discovered that the respective school songs of those institutions are published among his collection of poems and in the autobiography.
How very odd!! Also, as confirmation that he was the archetypal odd man out, we have his own affidavit and confessional statement: “Other students were outgoing and popular. I was a totally different breed.”
Professor Olumide is a descendant of warriors but he is the embodiment of quiet dignity combined with self-effacing and clinical determination. He is certainly not at war with anybody. It only when he is confronted with social injustice, corruption, impunity or malice that he becomes a combatant. Rather odd.
He lost me entirely when on page 51 he says about C.M.S. Grammar School:“Lives are in the making here
Hearts are in the waking here
Mighty undertaking here
UP ! AND ON !”
and compounded matters further by lauding Igbobi College on pages 60 and 65 in glowing terms:
“Wherever there’s an Igbobian
There also is a noble Nigerian”
It will be very difficult today to find a rival for Igbobi College in the whole Federation of Nigeria.” Nevertheless, it was at Igbobi College that he experienced the vicissitudes of Mr. Esubiyi “the strict disciplinarian.” He was famous for frequently saying: “I canned your father and I will cane you too.” When he had taught father and son.
Fortunately, he remedied matters because in his testimonial and witness statement, he acknowledges the brilliance of his brother Olufolahan who was born in 1947.
“He is the one I call the genius of the family. He attended King’s College. He had passed the entrance examination into Igbobi College but dad made him stay to repeat the examination into King’s College the following year. Dad and the principal of King’s College then persuaded him to accept the offer and today, he has no regrets whatsoever.
He practises as an architect, engineer and builder (in the United States of America) and still has time for some painting. He is exceptionally talented” Floreat Collegium.
With considerable wit, the author teases us relentlessly. Here is a sample which you may nor may not find in the book:
“We did not live a sheltered life because there was nothing to shelter anyway.”
Virtually every table at the Metropolitan Club is represented at this book launch. May I seize this opportunity to publicly acknowledge my indebtedness to the President of the Club, Chief Emeka Anyaoku GCON for reminding us that:
“Every memoir (autobiography) has two-pronged layers of significance. The first layer is personal, while the second layer is public.”
Added to this is the vignette from Jeannette Walls’ book, “The Glass Castle” :
“Memoir is about handing over your life to someone and saying, this is what I went through, this is who I am, and maybe you can learn something from it.”
Chief Emeka has provided further illumination:
“At the second layer i.e. the public level of significance, the memorist (autobiographer) seeks to contribute to the building of institutional memory and legacy, the preservation of shared values and historical facts for the sake of continuity and enlightened posterity.”
Clearly, the author has accomplished both tasks with considerable elegance, seductive panache, and consummate style.
Perhaps I should add that Table 4 at the Metorpolitan Club is a “King’s College Colony” and we maintain a strict quota system which restricts Igbobi College and C.M.S. Grammar School to only HALF a member each. Both schools have trumped us by presenting Professor Olumide as their joint candidate!! Hence, he is entitled to sit amongst the iconoclasts and the irreverent.
Every Tuesday, he is ever ready for combat and jousting in the passionate and intense dissection of the ills, peculiarities and challenges of our beloved nation, Nigeria as well as the Black race. Being a surgeon, Professor Olumide is at his sublime best when it comes to dissection – even when bombarded by those who refer to Igbobi College boys as “Maths, Maths (Additional mathematics) and Physics”!! It is typical of the King’s College cult at our table to advertise their suspicion that such excellent books that are being launched (which have nothing to do with mathematics or physics) could not have been written by an Igbobian!! We suspect that the real author (just as has being the case with the lingering doubts over the books and plays attributed to William Shakespeare) is none other than Mrs. Folasade Olumide!!
Those who are looking for evidence of marital strife, filial alienation, sibling rivalry or acrimony in the Olumide family and the extended branches – Ajose, Agbe – Davies, etc are in for massive disappointment and life threatening heart attack. The shock that awaits them is the catalogue of peace, harmony, cordiality, tolerance, love as embodied by none other than Professor and Mrs. ‘Folabi Olumide radiating warmth and affection around their dining table and beyond.
Of course they are an odd couple. Nevertheless, they are soul mates or what the English would describe as two peas in a pod with plenty of room left for their children, in-laws, friends and well-wishers.
In “If I Had Wings”, the author has let it slip that he lived for quite a while at Igbosere Road, Lagos. Members of the Solarin clan who are here in large numbers would no doubt recollect that as a teenager Folasade (nee Solarin) lived with her aunt late Mrs. Adedoyin (wife of late Prince Adeleke-Adedoyin, Speaker of the Western House of Assembly) on the same Igbosere Road. Mrs. Adedoyin as a dutiful auntie continuously lectured and admonished Folasade to be wary of wolves (boys). Little did she know that there was a particular one lurking down the road!! The book contains a picture of the matchmaker Abiola Amure who I believe is married to Tunde Odugbesan.
However, my recollection is somewhat different. Mrs. Adedoyin marshalled her sons, late Adetokunbo and Adekoya to keep a watchful eye on their cousin Folasade.
The two brothers promptly drafted me to join the vigilante group to keep a 24-hour watch on Folasade. I guess we must have slept on duty because the resourceful Afolabi Olumide who was much older surreptitiously offered to coach Folasade in science subjects and assist her in preparing for her A-level examinations. All went well at the beginning but matters developed rapidly and veered off course when the intrepid teacher/predator offered to reward his student with a kiss for every question she got right. This was a classic case of what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (“The Abami Eda”) described as:
“Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.”
The author’s version of events is as follows:
“Between leaving University College Hospital [UCH] and leaving Nigeria for Canada something significant happened. I got engaged to Clara Folasade Abiodun Solarin. She was fondly called Fola Rose in those days.” I suspect we all agree that fifty-two years afterwards, she is still a rose. William Shakespeare was right:
“A rose by any other name is still a rose.”
Thankfully, Folasade’s dad did not need to pull out a shot gun to extort both confession and commitment from the young doctor.
“Sir, my intentions are honourable. I am going to do everything to ensure she gets a good education and she is properly settled in life.”
In order to decipher the genetic make up (DNA) of the author, we need not look beyond his tax return which is published in the book:
“Our parents were disciplinarians, who insisted on the importance of hard work. They used to say, “Hard work never kills anybody!” We were brought up to be disciplined people and to value the dignity of labour and hard work. We were made to understand that there is “No Free Lunch.” To gain anything in life, you have to work for it. If you work hard, you will get the reward for it. Nothing comes easy. The essence of hard work was always discussed around our dinner table. More so, they placed emphasis on honesty, respect for elders, diligence and consideration for others.”
Of their own volition both the author and his adorable wife have added contempt and disdain for the “new normal” where everything is upside down. Both of them are advertisements for trustworthiness (a rare commodity) and humility. As a Librarian, Folasade matches Folabi in the department of / or the section of the library devoted to being upstanding as well as being outstanding. In her own right, she was a superlative first female Registrar of the University of Lagos. They are NOT the odd couple. It is our own prism that is faulty. They prefer to swim against the tide even at the peril of battling against the odds. They have no interest whatever in private jets or magnificent Yachts. Instead, with an uncommon tenacity of purpose, they have clung to the time-tested virtues of tenacity of purpose with a fierce passion. They have jointly achieved perfection through practice.
In the case of Professor Olumide, responsibility came early:
“In my final year (1953), I was made school and chapel prefect at Igbobi College. I was at the same time, one of the school’s pianists.”
In due course, he reaped his bountiful reward as a newly graduated medical doctor:
“I showed my father what I was paid for the one week. He shook his head, saying that the amount was more than the largest he ever collected in his entire thirty-five years in the civil service!! It made him very happy and undeniably proud.”
•Bashorun J.K. Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the Chairman, JK Randle Professional Services