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Goodnight: Ambassador Segun Olusola

The entire nation will be deprived of his ever-present  and sagist words of wisdom, gentle admonition of national actors to keep to the path of integrity, honesty in leadership, simplicity in power, and above all, commitment to the cause of nation-building. The profile and bio-data of this distinguished elder statesman (distinguished both by physiognomy; his imposing trade-mark of whitish moustache, native Yoruba cap, constantly carried fly-whisk; and his ever-friendly disposition of soft-spoken-ness, frank eloquence, reassuring ever-ready smile and above all his cross-generational accessibility with amiable intimacy) is already commonplace and reeled out in numerous tributes, passionate commentaries and innumerable  lullabies. His pioneering professionalism as a first generation broadcaster in this country and Africa; his literary pre-eminence in the popular dramatic tradition through television and radio drama as symbolized by the nostalgia- compelling Village Headmaster, not forgetting his life as a robust culture practitioner, cultural activism and culture connoisseur, which ignited him to convert the gallery of his Ajibulu-Moniya family into one of Nigeria’s most invaluable commercial galleries; his memorably long service as diplomat and Ambassador of Nigeria in Ethiopia(1987-1993)  where His Excellency was truly excellent; his rights advocacy, humanitarianism and philanthropy, especially his deployment of his astounding knowledge  of refugee matters in Africa  to establish the African Refugees Foundation in 1993; his patronage of the arts, especially drama, as reflected in his  television drama productions beginning with his commissioning of Wole Soyinka’s ‘My Father’s Burden’ and his founding role in amateur theatre troupes, the ‘Players of the dawn’ which ‘dominated the theatre scene’ from the late fifties to the mid-sixties, and  the Theatre Express (1966-1969) and remained  the most influential theatre director in that region until Soyinka established ‘the 1960 Masks; the un-quantified but un-ignorable encyclopaedic nature of his cultural knowledge; all these and more have been eloquently recounted in the endless flow of tributes following his shocking demise. Any meaningful tribute to this great instruction in humility and disbursement of love with inimitable generosity of the spirit will not add much to our memory of Ambassador Segun Olusola.

I am sure, beyond this general acknowledgement of the great cultural icon and quintessential patriot, there are many Nigerians who have personal, concrete and direct experiences of the incredible humanism and inimitable compassion of Ambassador Olusola. I am one of those privileged to have witnessed, enjoyed and benefitted from his landscape of love—of sharing, of honouring and of mediation; attributes that are rare and hardly available in the leadership cadre of our country. I will just recapture one or two instances of these attributes as I experience them and let them serve as the demonstration of my cherished memory of the huge legacy of this great Nigerian hero.

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First, I must put on record the support and assistance that I received from him during my tenure as President of the Association of Nigerian Authors. By the way, and as an expedient digression, not many remember Ambassador Olusola’s foundational role in ANA—a role he cherished and functioned in throughout his life. Ambassador Olusola offered me, freely and without hesitation, advice, either directly solicited by me, which I did many times, and also without prompting any time he felt there was need to offer suggestions that could help advance the writers’ cause and the cause of literature generally. Many of his mentoring offerings were invaluable to me in the difficult task of leading the Nigerian body of creative writers; the largest of its kind in Africa. I remember, in particular, the inconvenient trip we made him to undertake during our visit to Aso Rock in July 2003 on a courtesy call to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. That trip became memorable in many respects and also exemplifies the covetable stature of Ambassador Olusola as a mediator, or as he himself acknowledged, as a ‘settler of quarrels’. It is important for me to give a little detail about the drama of that famous visit—a narrative I thought I’ll reserve for my memoir, when and if I write one. On his invitation, ANA Executive members and a few of our revered patrons and elders, went to Aso Rock to pay a courtesy visit to our President, whom we had previously visited and felicitated with as one of our own—he being a writer, of sorts.

As it turned out, and at the very last minute, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo excused himself, while we were already seated where he would personally receive guests. We were then received by my friend, Dr. Oshinowo, his political Adviser. It was a mission unaccomplished as we were unable to deliver our original message to the President. After the surrogate reception, I was invited to meet the Chief Obasanjo’s Chief of Staff, General Mohammed Abdullahi, alone. I, of course decline to see him alone as it was not ANA’s tradition for its leaders to meet people of power alone and privately. In the end, it was conceded that three other members of my ‘entourage’ could come with me—a delegation which included Ambassador Olusola, Profs Femi Osofisan and David Ker  and the Secretary of ANA, Nduka Otiono. It was the mature mediation and subtle but firm handling of the proceedings that saved the day and doused the rising tempers, on both sides. The rest of the story is saved for another day. The important issue the acknowledgment of Chief Olusola’s  selfless support and his unbridled mediatory role between the people of power and the people of letters in this circumstance, and on the one hand, between the powers that be and the massively dispossessed  people of Nigeria and Africa.

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Our paths crossed, with me as the recipient of his generous friendship, many times, when we had been invited him to serve in various cultural and intellectual platforms and during which we had drunk, most greedily, from his depth of knowledge, his refined, eloquent and simple deliveries of profound knowledge on culture, politics and society.

No doubt, the world of culture, to which he was a notable patriarch and patron, the urbane and traditional worlds (he served bureaucracy, diplomacy as well as being a treasured recipient of traditional honours and titles) will be greatly depleted and deprived by the passing of Chief Olusola unto the world beyond. He was a rare gift to this nation and to Africa, especially at these uncultured and rudderless times in the nation’s and continent’s annals.


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