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Solabi: The octogenarian sage

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Alhaji Gbolahon Adisa Solabi turned 80 precisely on November 4. This event was celebrated by himself, his family and well-wishers. In a country where life expectancy is 54.8 years, some extension of one’s life span beyond the national average becomes a reason for celebration. Pa Solabi is 80 and it is worth celebrating for surpassing the national average in good health. 

Before the intrusion of modernism into our social space, old age was very significant in Africa for a number of reasons. One, old age was the repository of wisdom accumulated in the course of social production and reproduction over the years. This was valued in societies with no comprehensive literate culture and where the past was wrapped up in speech acts, performances, art works and orature. Even when the ‘archive’ was not a discerning person, merely recalling events yields a pool of raw data for would-be researchers to mine and assign meaning to them. The African adage that says “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”, becomes apt. Indeed, we have lost many libraries in a continent run by warped political elites. It is to be noted that with the democratisation of information in the public space, a six-year old can acquire knowledge. The fourth revolution with a central focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to take knowledge acquisition further.

Nevertheless, the sages over the ages have cautioned that knowledge is different from understanding. This brings into focus a second reason. Understanding can be a gift of old age, strengthening thereby the rich resources that old age offers. This may have spawned the adage that says “If you refuse the elder’s advice you will walk the whole day”. Thirdly, there is a praxis to old age, particularly when the white-haired human becomes an active participant in the transformation of his society, in other words, rendering service to humanity. 

Over the last 80 years, Pa Solabi has substantiated these three aspects of the office of the aged. I made his acquaintance when I moved into Agbara Estate in December 2005. The Residents of the once attractive Estate, now a shadow of its former self due to a shylock management, has an association named Agbara Residents Association (AERA). GAS, as his friends call him in apparent abbreviation of his names, was instrumental along with others to its formation. In concert with others, he ensured that government’s presence was felt in Agbara Estate and the larger community. Along with others, he ensured the establishment of a police station in Agbara.

As Kwame Nkrumah used to say, organisation matters in social relations. To be sure, two things are important in an organisation and they include vision and commitment. GAS creatively work with others to ensure the continuity of the association through leadership recruitment. Without this important and strategic intervention, many of the estate residents including retirees would have been hounded out of the estate through indiscriminate and extortionate fee regimes. Indeed, the service charges over which the estate management agency claims monopoly, a sort of revised logic, payment without representation, would have been the order of the day. His commitment to our organisation combined with that displayed by the association’s executive committee has so far ensured stability and a sense of direction while hemming in the freebooters. 

As is well known, social systems have what Ernesto Laclau has called ‘logic of equivalence’ as well as subversive strains. GAS’s intervention in meetings, being the ‘historical archive’ of the estate’s history, has often brought stability to the social relations of residents. Appeal for peace and resilience, especially in the checkered relations the residents have had with the estate management that sees residents, property owners, as tenants. He does this like the famous Roman Cicero in ways that command instant attention. Some residents have occasionally hailed him as a senator, one that is distinct from the Abuja pack.

GAS’s private life is remarkable and points perhaps to the complexion of Nigeria’s future as a secular and multicultural society. He is a default Moslem and the wife a devout Christian. And they have co-habited for several decades without the intrusion of religious barrier. In fact, it is a huge lesson, the south-west and mid-western Nigeria have to teach the entire country currently in the hands of ethnicist and religious bigots. Our country will for once move forward, if state elite realise the essentiality of its secularity and the imperative of consigning religion to the private realm. His long-time friend and Emeritus Professor, Adio Ogunbona captures his peace credentials thus: “he is a peace-loving individual who readily devotes his time, energy and money to render selfless services to ensure that peace and happiness reign within his extended family and his community. He is a great asset to any organisation, society or community to which he belongs.”

Dr. Saheed Olurotimi who delivered his birthday lecture chose an important theme to address, namely, “becoming a man of Peace: Strategies for interfaith and intercultural Peace building”. In a breath of his lecture, he spoke to the essence of the celebrant. He noted that “a true peace-lover carries love in his heart for humanity. He is neither consumed with hatred for others nor vengeance against his detractors. He knows that in having a recourse to peaceful methods, there is a lot to gain and nothing to lose.”

It is important to add that Pa Solabi’s professional credential as a biochemist has also impacted the activities of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON). His contribution to SON’s operational principles is no less significant. Oscar Wilde once remarked that “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  Pa Solabi has lived and is living and may our creator prolong this human archive for generational harvest. 
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science.  


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