Lanre Arogundade at 60: Untold Affection

Lanre Arogundade at 60: Untold Affection

By Mike Awoyinfa

I know that this column will come as a surprise to you, Lanre Arogundade, my younger brother. Brother from the same town: Ijebu-Jesha. Brother from the same country. The same country where life expectancy is put around 54. Brother in the same profession of journalism. Brother in the struggle for human rights, justice and equity. Brothers who attended the same secondary school: Ijebu-Jesha Grammar School.

I have just started reading your interesting memoir with a funny title: “BREAKING COCONUT WITH YOUR HEAD (Akowe’s Journey in Student Unionism)” in which you wrote that you came to Ijebu-Jesha Grammar School (IJGS) “where I repeated my school certificate examination while simultaneously working as Laboratory attendant” under the “magisterial principal, Samuel Adewole who would not settle for less, be it in academics, sports or extra curricula activities.” I came to Ijesha Grammar School earlier before you to do my Higher School Certificate in the early ‘70s. I came from Ghana where Nigerians and other “aliens” had been sent packing. I agree with you that IJGS was a “university of high standards” which prepared us for the real university. While I went to University of Lagos to study Mass Communication in 1973, you went to University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in the early ’80s to study Psychology.

From the university, we both plunged into journalism because of our love for reading and writing, the love of adventure, freedom of expression and the mission to use journalism to fight for justice, oppression of the masses and to right wrongs in the society. Like me, you became the Features Editor at the National Concord, a position I occupied before I went to start the Weekend Concord as pioneer editor. At Weekend Concord, I know you gave me exclusive interviews on Fela Anikulapo-Kuti which hit the front page.

Such is your love for Fela’s music and ideology that I am tempted to call you “Felanre.” Your memoir is filled with some Fela stories. There was an incident where Fela was to play at Unife but got angry that a luxury bus was not provided, so he refused to play. Then you intervened. You wrote in your memoir: “I arrived amidst the stalemate and had to intervene since I was partly instrumental to Fela’s coming in the first instance. With worried Adegbite and Odumakin tagging behind me, I went to Fela’s room. He seethed with rage as he said: ‘Arogundade, dis ones no be students’ union ooo, dem be useless union.’ I assured him that we would find some solution and appealed that whatever it was, he should just go for the show. It was good that Dotun Ransome-Kuti, Prof. Olikoye Kuti’s son who occasionally played the keyboard during Fela’s shows, was around with his Volkswagen bus. What was needed was another vehicle to compliment his.

“We racked our brain for solution until someone informed that Dr. Folabo Ajayi has a Mitsubishi bus. She was one of the radical lecturers in the Department of Dramatic Arts and incidentally Prof. Soyinka’s younger sister. I woke her up close to midnight and she willingly handed the keys to me. From about midnight I started rounds of driving from the hotel near the campus gate to the amphitheatre conveying Fela’s band members, dancers, queens etc. Fela rode in Dotun’s combi-bus and finally arrived the venue at about 1am. He again lambasted the students’ leaders and, ignoring the students’ shout to immediately commence the show, he went through the customary ritual of sound-check. When the show finally commenced, the students forgot their anger and danced to the rendition of not less than five numbers.”

Such is your love for Fela that you even marked your 60th birthday at an event centre directly opposite Fela’s shrine. It was an event that brought together all the comrades, all the activists, all the unionists, all the radicals to your book launch cum 60th birthday celebration. Comrade Rauf Aregbesola was present. So was Femi Falana (SAN) who acted as the chairman of the occasion. So was our Oba, His Royal Majesty, Oba (Engr.) Moses Oluwafemi Agunsoye II, Elegboro of Ijebu-Jesha who came majestically with his lovely queen.

In his speech, Falana said: “Lanre, now that you have become a Senior Citizen, to whom much is given much is expected…I am happy I met many of our comrades, colleagues and people with whom we were at the university. And I thank you Lanre for bringing them together on this occasion. It’s a thing of joy, particularly in an underdeveloped country like our own to mark one’s 60th birthday. It’s out of luck because the lifespan of men is 52 while that of women is 49. So it’s extra that you are here. We congratulate you. Please, can we give him a round of applause? And on this occasion, I must congratulate and thank his wife. Without a diligent wife, without a dedicated companion and without a loving sister and friend, Lanre could not have succeeded.”

One of the surprises of the day was when Falana began a powerful prayer for Lanre in Yoruba. So powerful was the prayer that you are bound to ask: Is Falana also among the prophets?”

I wish you my brother Lanre Arogundade more years on earth and more books to write. Already, you have two books to your credit. In that sense, I can say, you are following my footsteps as your big brother. God bless you.

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