Friday, November 29, 2019 6:17 am
By Dare Babarinsa
I love Ile-Ife. Its dusty streets and ancient monuments are the enduring totems to some of the most memorable years of my youths. My set in Ife Anglican Grammar School, Ile-Ife, was the first to spend only four and half-years in secondary school. Our school was at Arubidi on the old Ondo Road, in Ile-Ife. I was a boarding house student and often in the evening we would sneak out to watch rehearsals of plays by Professor Ola Rotimi at the Ori Olokun Cultural Centre, Arubidi. That was when I first came into contact with the unforgettable Jimi Solanke who played the leading roles in several of Rotimi’s plays including Kurumi and The Gods Are Not To Blame, an adaptation of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
Today, the Ori Olokun Cultural Centre is a monument to decay. The bata drums are silent like the echo of muffled poets. Its silent central court make you think of ghosts and the vacuum of old space. What has happened to us that we remember the past and it fills us with a pang? You think of the lamentations of Kurumi, when he was confronted with imminent disaster. He had gone to the shrine of Ogun, the Yoruba deity of war and creativity, asking for divine help. You recall the helpless majesty of Overanwen Nagbaisi, the Oba of Benin, undermined with betrayal and overwhelmed by the might of imperial Britain. Both Kurumi and Overawen were played by the incomparable Jimi Solanke. Now Solanke has mellowed and Ola Rotimi is dead.
Ile-Ife was an open school. There were too many things to learn by simply living in Ife. There were the festivals, especially Edi and Olojo. There was the Olojo festival of 1972. Ife had been awashed with rumour that the old king, Kabiyesi, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni, was feeble and at death’s door and therefore he would be unable to perform his sacerdotal function at the Ogun shrine. The Olojo festival is the only one set aside in Yorubaland to celebrate the day of Creation when Olodumare decreed everything into existence. Ogun, the deity of creativity and war, was central to the festival. Yoruba people believe that Olodumare has no shrine or temple and he can only be approached through any of his
messengers, the deities. One of the leading one is Ogun who has his temple at Oke-Mogun not far from the palace.
Baba Aderemi had not been seen in public for several weeks prior to the Olojo festival of 1972. But lo and behold, on Olojo Day, he emerged from the palace with the ancient Are crown on his head, leading the procession to the ancient shrine of at Oke-mogun. His movement was brisk and the crowd was ecstatic. It was an electrifying experience especially for those of us who were secondary school children then.
Once you had been in Ife, the ancient city becomes a part of you. Such was the situation of my late boss, Dele Giwa, the first Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch. Giwa was born in Ile-Ife, though his parents were from Ugbepe-Ekperi in the present Edo State. His father was a washer man to Oba Aderemi, a man of great sartorial taste. Soon we had many Ife people being attracted to Giwa and Newswatch. There was Soji Akinrinade, an American-trained journalist who became our General Editor. His deputy, Dele Omotunde, has his roots in Otan-Aiyegbaju, but grew up in Ife. There was Kola Ilori, an indigene of Ife and Dele Olojede, an indigene of Modakeke, Ife. There was also Dele Agekameh whose father too was a domestic staff of Ooni Aderemi.
Dele Agekameh was one of the several Deles of Newswatch: Dele Giwa, Dele Omotunde and Dele Olojede. He was first employed as a reader. He was a quiet and meticulous sub-editor. In the roaring eighties when journalism was brisk and full of uncertainties, Dele Agekameh did not want to seat and spend his life poring over grammar and syntax. He wanted to be at the centre of action. I was the head of the Nation Desk at that time and Dele pestered me that he would prefer to be in the newsroom. In the end, I was able to convince our superiors that Dele would make a good reporter. He had found his destiny. Dele was soon to prove his mettle as one of the Newswatch’s leading investigative reporter. He was to flower greatly when he moved over with us when TELL magazine debuted in 1991.
Dele proved to be a great asset to TELL especially during our struggle against military rule during the Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha regimes. He was one of the young people who gave life to our vision of creating a leading investigative magazine. The TELL newsroom bristles with talents and energy that shook our country and rocked the foundation of the military junta. He soon became one of the top shots in the newsroom whom we can rely upon to carry out sensitive assignments.
I remember one of his stories. In 1997, the Abacha junta claimed it had uncovered a coup plot in which many top generals were allegedly involved including the Chief of General Staff, Lt. General Oladipo Diya who was the number two man in the regime. Soon traditional rulers, clergymen of various faiths, political wayfarers, power mongers and sundry merchants were summoned to Abuja to watch a video where the so-called coup-platters were said to have made statements confessing their alleged crimes. Nigerians believed that if any media house can tell the true story of this secret video, it had to be TELL. In the TELL editorial board too we decided that if there was any reporter who could get us the full story of the coup video, it has to be Dele. The junta was dumbfounded that the true story of the coup-video got into the possession of TELL.
It was reporters like Dele that gave TELL its capacity to get the news from the most difficult places. He had sources, both high and low, and he cultivated them with assiduousness. His talent was multifarious and so was his capacity and knowledge of the world. In his post-TELL years, he moved into media consultancy and specialized magazine. He became a businessman. However, he could never leave journalism, the profession that he loved and which ultimately defined his life. He became a columnist with The Nation newspaper, writing with incisive wit and knowledge of the Nigerian scene.
Dele was a vigourous man and his death came as a shock to many of his old colleagues. His son, Dele Jr, complained that maybe he died at 60 because he did not receive appropriate medical care. He may be right. However, Dele, because of his long illness, must have known that death was always seated at his bedside ready to take him home. The final call came on October 11.
When we visited the family, the widow, bowed down by grief, announced plaintively that Dele would be taken to his ancestral homeland in Iviukhua, Agenebode, Edo-State. That was where his father, after his years in Ile-Ife, was buried. Now it was Dele’s turn and he was not in a position to offer an opinion. And Dele always has an opinion! That Dele was taken home finally indicate the importance of home to Nigerians. We regard the land of our forebears as the real home. We may live in Lagos, Abuja or London, but home is where the ancestors are sleeping.
Dele lived his early life in Ile-Ife where he attended both primary and secondary schools. He was a thorough Ife lad and spoke the Yoruba language with felicity. Yet in the end, he was gathered to his ancestors in the land where he never really lived. Such is the power of tradition.
Now that his body is resting in its final abode, would Dele’s spirit visit Ile-Ife, the land of all beginnings, before crossing the river into the vast expanse of eternity? It was a journey he never fully prepared for nor knew it would come so early, but now that it has come, I am certain he would have embrace his only option with alacrity. Such is life. It is the certainty of death that makes us to value life and the limited time we spend here. Adieu Dele! So long a journey! So short a life!