Akomolede and a professor in search of Nigeria
Books are the keepers of eternal secrets. I remember my first encounter with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart when I was a student at Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ile-Ife. Who could have predicted that the book, looking so benign and even disdainful, contains so much fire and action? You have to race through it to encounter the unforgettable wrestler and warrior, Okonkwo, the champion of the village of Umofia who on behalf of a vanishing world confronted the phenomenon of the white man and paid dearly for it. How could we forget Sam Aluko’s One Man One Wife or Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero?
For the young, books offer the ultimate magic beyond the gnomes of Daniel Fagunwa’s Igbo Irunmole and Ireke Onibudo. In our school’s library in Ile-Ife, we had daily encounters with the world. Our principal, Prince Israel Adenrele Ibuoye, loved books and he spared no effort to ensure that our library was first class. He often came to the library, a place that was treated like Holy Ground where noise making and eating were forbidden. Papa Ibuoye, who would be 90 in October, would often tackle us about books we had read beyond the demands of the curriculum. Thus we became ensnared into the worlds of Camara Laye’s The African Child. Ngugi Wa Thinogo’s Weep Not Child, Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, Kenneth Kaunda’s Zambia Shall Be Free, Cyprian Ekwensi’s Burning Grass and many other books.
One often wonders now what has happened to the books. In public places, buses, planes and other places, you rarely find anyone reading books. The youths of today are in love with the ultimate Pied Piper, the mobile phone. There is no youth who does not have a mobile phone. He is in love with it and you can see him frowning when, on boarding an aircraft, he is ordered to switch off his phone for the duration of the flight. Once the aircraft touches the ground, his phone is on again and you can see him beaming with smiles. That is the magic of the mobile phone.
Some months ago, I had an encounter with a Constituted Authority, trying to persuade him to buy books for public libraries and the libraries of public schools. His Excellency explained that the state government was interested now in e-books and e-libraries. He claimed that most of the state secondary schools now have e-libraries. I visited some of the secondary schools. Most of them have neither e nor any other library. Most of the public secondary school students in that state have never seen a newspaper or a magazine before. They don’t know what a library looks like.
In the Ife Anglican Grammar School of Baba Ibuoye’s days, our libraries subscribed to most of the newspapers in Nigeria: Daily Times, Sketch, Tribune, Observer, Chronicle, Standard, New Nigerian, Herald and Tide. We had access to international magazines like Times, Newsweek, Ebony, Life, Readers Digest, US And World Report and Nigerian and African magazines like West Africa, Africa, Flamingo, Drum, Trust, Sadness and Joy, African Films, Spear and New Africans. Which member of our generation could forget Rabon Zollo, Captain Victor and Lance Spearman the three musketeers of the inimitable African Film series?
It is difficult now to pin-point where the problem is domiciled. Our leaders, instead of building libraries and sponsoring the writing of good books, prefer to build statues. Yes, statues are good, but they don’t tell too many stories. When the Christian missionaries came, they were armed with the Bible and not the statue or figurine of Christ. Imagine if Saint Paul, instead of writing all those evocative works in the Bible, had built the statues of Christ, what would be the fate of Christianity? Statues are good, but they never reveal their secrets.
So leaders who have something to teach and reveal to their people do so often in published books. Or they get books written about them. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, lawyer, journalist, trade unionist, nationalist and statesman, wrote many books about his involvement in the Nigerian project and his thoughts about the structure of our commonwealth. While in Calabar Prison where he was serving his term for alleged treasonable felony, he wrote his book, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, where he restated his belief that states or regions should be created according to ethnic affinity. He did not see any reason why the Yoruba people of South-West Nigeria, should have more than one state. As far as he was concerned, Kwara, the Yoruba part of Kogi, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ogun and Lagos should be only one state. The power-that-be ignored his advice and we have since been harvesting the consequences.
One prophet we dare not ignore now is Kola Akomolede who on the occasion of his 70th birthday presented his 40 Years of Housing Discourse. The book, which is a compilation of Akomolede’s articles in different newspapers and magazines for the past 40 years, put a searchlight on the issue of land and housing in Nigeria. The book covers 70 topics published in 70 articles spanning 40 years. The author is the Asiwaju of Ilawe-Ekiti and one of the leading authorities on housing and land matters in Nigeria. He holds degrees in Estate Management from the Obafemi Awolowo University, (then University of Ife) and the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. He is a fellow of the Nigeria Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers and a member of the International Real Estate Federation.
I hope those in authority would not ignore the dire warning in Akomolede’s book on the uncontrolled development on the Lekki Axis of Lagos State. He says the traffic situation there now can be really bad these days but he warned that the worst is yet to come unless the government takes proper steps. Says he in this interesting book: “One can imagine what the situation will be when the several landmark developments that are earmarked for the axis take off. These include a refinery, an airport, a sea port, an export processing zone, a golf course and many housing estates as well as shopping plazas. Imagine several trailers and trucks bringing in and taking goods from the port. Imagine petrol tankers lifting oil from the refinery. It may be worse than what we see along the Apapa-Oshodi road today.” A timely warning, I dare say.
Of immediate concern however, now that another general election is around the corner, is Remi Sonaiya’s One Woman’s Race, reminiscences of her spectacular bid for power when she ran for President in 2015 on the platform of the Kowa Party. Sonaiya, a polyglot and professor of French language and Applied Linguistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is the first Nigerian presidential contender, apart from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to put his or her campaign experience into writing.
For Sonaiya, the race for the President allowed her to discover Nigeria anew beyond the hazy spectacle from the Ivory Tower. She recalled a story told by Fola Adeola, co-founder of the iconic GTBank who is one of founders of the Kowa Party: “An Italian painter, an old man, became seriously ill. His fellow painters, fearing he might die, went to ask him for the secret of a particular hue of red which he often used in his paintings, but which none of them had succeeded in recreating. He hesitated for a while and asked them to return in a few days time. On the appointed day, they all returned, glad to find the old man still alive. Then slowly, he rolled up his shirt sleeve and showed them the marks on his arm – the man had been painting with his own blood!”
At the end of the story, Adeola remarked: “If we aren’t ready to give our blood for this cause, then it is not worth it!”Sonaiya’s spectacular bid for power as told in her fascinating book, shows that we are not really as helpless as we imagine. We need to take back the Nigerian project from the hands of normal politicians and invest in it the genius of our collective will.
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