By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I’m not sure how many of you know or remember the famous Yoruba novelist, Daniel Oroleye Fagunwa. If you’re Yoruba, and attended school when education was still well-rounded, you are likely to be quite familiar with that mystical author of epic literature and magical reality. Who has not read or heard of the rambunctious narration and gripping description in Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, translated many years later by the master prose-stylist and certainly the greatest brutaliser of English language on earth, Wole Soyinka, as the ‘Brave Hunter in the Forest of a Thousand Daemons’.
Though fictional, this forest actually exists in the imagination and full consciousness of Fagunwa’s kinsmen. Before the coming and arrival of Nollywood, Fagunwa had painted a vivid picture of the ubiquitous spirits that parade those movies we all love to watch. Igbo Irunmole or Oke Lamgbodo is truly situated somewhere in a border town between Ondo and Osun States, in the South West of Nigeria. If Nigeria was truly serious about tourism, Oke-Igbo would have become a destination of choice for tourists. The novels of Fagunwa would have been hyped even beyond the level of ‘100 Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and read globally with relish.
Anyway, the long and short of my preamble is that I drove through Ondo State yesterday and I could not but remember Fagunwa, whose personal life trajectory was as mysterious and superstitious as the characters he portrayed in his novels. At the time of his death, he was said to have disappeared while stretching his legs during a break from a long journey. His body has never been found.
Thus I’m endlessly fascinated by Ondo State. I researched and wrote one of my biggest covers on Fagunwa during my stint as staff writer at the then African Concord in 1988. I bought and read most of Fagunwa’s works mainly Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Aditu Olodumare, Igbo Eledumare, Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje and Ireke Onibudo. All these works flooded my memories as we drove through Ondo State yesterday on the way to our final destination.
I had landed in Lagos from London a few minutes past 5.00am yesterday morning in the company of two friends. Mercifully our luggage came out promptly and we were elated. That was just the beginning of our journey, Prince Damola Aderemi, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi and I drove towards Ikeja GRA. While Tokunbo excused himself, the Prince of Ile-Ife and I chose to travel on a long-winding journey to Kabba in the North Central Kogi State. What should have been a pleasurable adventure soon became a misadventure. Wow, my God, we started seeing samples of what to expect from Maryland Lagos where the queues for petrol had led to some horrendous traffic conundrum. The confusion and chaos brought to mind the great challenges faced by the Change agent, Minister for Petroleum Resources and President of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari and his able Minister of State and Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, in forging a new progressive path for our petroleum industry. We managed to navigate our way through that and drove towards Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which sadly was far from being the fast highway it was designed to be. We meandered through that frustrating traffic and snaked our way slowly trying to dodge gaping potholes and gullies.
Our journey past the Lagos Ibadan Expressway and into Oyo and Osun States was uneventful. We stopped by Oduduwa University Ile-Ife, founded by Dr Ramon Adedoyin to meet up briefly with our friend, Mr Yomi Adenuga.
We then had the choice of which direction to take to get to Kogi State. It turned out that we took the longer route but it was an eye opener for several reasons.
Our next challenge was how to refill our tanks intermittently. We saw mostly empty stations, over-congested ones and we came eyeball to eyeball with the cruelest of Shylocks who brazenly and boldly tuned and kept their meters at N200 per litre. It was so incredible. At a stage we decided enough was more than enough and I came down to engage some petrol attendants at a particularly notorious station near Akure. First I used my smartphone to take pictures. Thereafter, I sought out the manager who had become incommunicado by hiding after I couldn’t succeed in persuading his guys about reducing the atrocious pricing. The manager eventually appeared but denied himself the way Peter denied Jesus. I played a fast one on him by saying his folks had pointed him out to me and he then owned up. I told him I was ready to phone Abuja and get the place shut. Shaking like jelly, he quickly called the owner of the place.
Trust me, we were very patient. The director begged me to take it easy with him. He reeled out details of all the esoteric process he had to go through to get his allocation and I actually pitied him. I’m practical enough to know the Nigerian system can’t and won’t change overnight no matter the sermons being preached by APC operatives. We reached an agreement that he would reverse the meter to the normal price and we can then all pretend that all was well while negotiating individual rates subject to class and status. I was told some people were ready to pay N500 per litre. Well, well, well. That’s my wonderful country, a land of opportunities overflowing with milk and honey if you can squeeze or dig deep enough. Don’t ask me how much we paid eventually. I’m sure life continued as normal at this particular filling station as soon as we left.
We drove past Ilara Mokin, home town of business Titan, Chief Michael Ade Ojo, Chairman of Elizade Group and founder of the Elizade University described as one the best private tertiary institutions in Nigeria. We also saw the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) as we passed. We took the turning which bypassed the town of Akure. My mind raced back to the year 1983 and the conflagration that razed down many properties and killed some politicians and their supporters in old historical town. I wished I could drop by to say hello to the Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko and his hospitable wife Yeye Olukemi Mimiko, to chitchat about politics and the state of the nation. Despite our heated disagreement over his crossing over to PDP, we have remained friends and I actually love some of his progressive projects, especially his pet health project.
We moved on towards Owo and it brought back tears of nostalgia while remembering the number of times I visited my boss, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, at Owo Prison during the first coming of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Politicians were hauled into detention and it was a period total confusion. I was barely 23 then but gained immense experience and exposure. We drove towards the Akoko axis and noted Akungba, the hometown of late Ondo State Governor, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, that immortalized the name of Chief Adekunle Ajasin with a State University. We saw the picturesque hills of Ikare-Akoko but sadly the Federal roads were in sordid states of disrepair. Only if these roads were good, internal tourism would have been a regular pastime like it is in the United States. Shame!
Of course, we drove through Oyin Akoko and I remembered the former Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero and his younger brother, my mentor, Professor Sunday Ehindero and their niece Bose Ehindero who have ancestral links to the place. We soon crossed backed into Ekiti State via Omuo Here the road was beautiful and it was like Eldorado as we saw firsthand the salutary work on road rehabilitation and construction carried out by Dr Kayode Fayemi as Governor of Ondo State. However, our excitement was short-lived as we curved into Kogi State. The roads degenerated into more of the same bad stuff that we had witnessed earlier. What struck me though, was how people built beautiful mansions in run down towns and villages, what I love to call living in expensive ghettos.
The road towards Kabba nearly dismantled the bolts of my body. I even pitied the convoy of cars we rode in as they slapped their tummies on stony slabs after giant boulders. When the road seemed endless, we saw the first sign that we were entering Kabba. We had come all the way from Lagos for the funeral of our friend, Ralph Lewu’s mum, Deaconess Veronica Ebunoluwa Lewu. At the time we left Lagos, the Virgin Atlantic plane that brought us had not yet boarded its return passengers to London Heathrow. We had said Bon voyage to Princess Kemi Aderemi, my friend’s wife, who was on the flight to London. You won’t believe she landed long before we arrived Kabba was even already approaching their home in Milton Keynes before we got to Kabba. By the time we eventually got to Kabba at dusk, the whole formal event was over. Happily, it was not all labor lost as Raph had a night party afterwards in his country home where we were able to relax after such an arduous journey.
I want to just show you the suffering we have to endure as Nigerians and say I do not envy our President. Where will President Buhari and his team indeed start from? The cross is very heavy.