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Thespians, filmmakers others reflect on Professor Akínwùmí Ìsòlá

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Prof. Akinwumi Isola

While entertainers in the Nigerian entertainment space were still mourning the death of Adebayo Faleti and others in the industry that passed on last year, the news of Prof Akinwunmi Isola filtered in, last week, Saturday morning.

First, it came like a rumour and before noon, it was confirmed that the thespian had passed on.

Born in Ibadan in 1939, Prof. Isola was a multi-talented actor, playwright, broadcaster and a novelist, whose works can stand the taste of time.

With a first degree in French and a Masters in Yoruba literature, Prof Isola started writing early in life. He wrote his first stage play, Efunsetan Aniwura while still a student at the University of Ibadan and since then the sky has been his steppingstone, as more later followed. His creativity made him write and compose his college, Wesley College, Ibadan, anthem that is currently being sung.

The late novelist upon leaving school broke into broadcasting, creating a production company that has turned a number of his plays into television dramas and films in Yoruba language. Though, he had a grasp of the Yoruba culture, the playwright still have time to write in English. Tunde Kilani has adopted some of his works like, Oleku, Koseegbe, Saworoide, Agogo Eewo and Campus Queen into films.

In 2000, he was awarded the National Merit Award (NMA) and the Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters.
Prof Akinwumi Ishola began his career as a lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University where he delivered lectures in majorly Yoruba language. He became a Professor in 1991 and was a visiting professor at the University of Georgia.

Speaking on his death former Director, Drama, National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN), Josephine Igberaese, said: “Prof Akinwunmi Isola was one of the National Troupe of Nigeria board members during the tenure of Prof. Ahmed Yerima, while I was the secretary. He was very forthright, objective and impartial whenever its time to take decisions. He looked at issues objectively rather than take side with the person presenting them.”

Adding his voice to the plethora of voices eulogising the late academic cum stage icon, veteran filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugboma, noted that Prof Isola was a great Yoruba culture writer, whose skills are felt both on stage plays and in the movies.

“Professor Isola in no little left his marks in the Nigerian arts and culture. Isola in words and acts, including his writings promoted the Yoruba culture; in fact, he would be missed in the sector. Nigeria has lost a great culture ambassador.”

Tunji Sotimehin, actor, lecturer and the exponent of Konkere music disclosed that Prof Isola was one of the very highly respected masquerades; masqeruarade in the sense that he was someone who had the cultural understanding of the materials he turned out in his plays.

According to him, Isola describes situations in a manner that even if the blind would understand the environment he is talking about.

“His use of language either in English or Yoruba is profane. He was humble and accessible; he never created any barrier for people to get to him, either as a student or theatre practitioner. He was rooted in the Yoruba cultural art form, despite his western education. He believed in the creativity of young people. And even if one didn’t get it right, while he is teaching or on stage, he has a way of putting one right. He will be missed by all,” he said.

For Dr. Arnold Udoka, Africa’s foremost dance artist, playwright, choreographer and scholar the late academic was an icon, a rare one that would take a long time for Nigeria to have a person like him.

According to the dance director, Isola’s works in Yoruba language elevated the people, the stage and the movie industry.

“ Professor Akinwumi Isola took Yoruba language to an enviable level but in speech and in his works, which to date still remain are outstanding. He, indeed, tolled the part of greatness and would remain unforgettable among theatre practitioners and the academia,” he said.

Chairman, Lagos State chapter of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Makinde Adediran, in a sorrow laden voice said: “Prof. Isola was a teacher; he taught the ingenuity of human. He was the only person that was able to decode the works of Prof. Wole Soyinka. His translation of Death and the King’s Horseman from English language to Yoruba was fantastic: in fact, I was forced to read it because of the beauty in his use of language. And it is only a very competent writer that can force one do this. His use of language forced me to read his works. I will miss his teacher nature and humility.”

Recounting how he first met the late dramatist, Tade Ipadeola, an award-winning poet said, “ I first got to know Professor Akinwumi Isola on the campus of the University of Ife in the harmattan semester of 1986. He was a very charismatic presence, driving his Peugeot 505 on campus with panache and a slight dash of Mario Andretti. Older students in the humanities would say to the ‘freshers’ who didn’t know who from whom “Akinwumi Isola nìyen.” Then they’d add that he wrote Ó le kú, the classic Yoruba novel that was the rave at the time.

“He was one of a very select few on campus that students spoke about in this way. His students said he demanded the very best from them and wouldn’t let you just get by. You had to give his subject, Yoruba, your all. Or you applied for a change of course. Akinwumi Isola brought a huge dose of prestige to the study of Yoruba at the University of Ife, later Obafemi Awolowo University. Professor Isola was more than just a charismatic teacher. He was a scholar of significant scope, a playwright, a novelist, an orator, an actor, a translator and a great conversationalist. His translation of Professor Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman has been hailed by such scholars as Professor Femi Osofisan and Akin Adesokan as a triumph. His motion picture appearances, mostly in Mainframe (Opomulero) productions have helped in consolidating his versatility on the screen.

“His nickname among his friends was ‘Honest Man’, Professor Isola shunned materialism and resisted indignity in any form, especially when it concerns race. As a lawyer, I attest to the clinical manner in which Professor Isola took up an incident on an Air France flight once, forcing the French carrier to apologise for flippantly handling a delicate matter,” he said.

Throwing more light on his person, the 2013 winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature instituted by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG), disclosed that Professor Isola was a careful reader and assessor of texts and situations, profoundly traditional and profoundly modern at the same time, successfully negotiating the rapids between attitudes that many deem irreconcilable.

“I think that this is Professor Akinwumi Isola’s greatest legacy, this example of how to negotiate modernity while retaining the essence of a culture that is thousands of years old.

“A rootedness and confidence in his own culture characterized Professor Isola’s sojourn on this side of existence. Cosmopolitan by every standard and comfortable in diverse discourses from across Africa right to the heart of European thought, Professor Isola nevertheless prized original thought from Ìkèrèkú as highly as original thought from the Sorbonne. His food, his clothing, his marked fondness for the speech and dialects of his birth make him, especially prized now that he is one with the ancestors. He lived by example, his intellectual progeny will honour his choices as such,” he said.


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