THE tribute to literary giant Chief Tola Adeniyi by Chief Ebenezer Babatope in the Tribune of June 19, 2015 compelled me to add my voice to the many tributes already paid to this grossly under-reported, under-celebrated man of letters who recently turned 70.
Akogun Tola Adeniyi, as he is fondly called by his Ijebu title, has been so many things since he came out of his mother's blessed womb that Tuesday, May 29, 1945. But the most remarkable and most enduring thing about his eventful and highly productive life is his huge fertile brain. His brilliance is simply extra-ordinary and legendary.
At age 10, Tola Adeniyi already had the entire chapters of the Holy Quran crammed into his skull. Winning two double promotions in the Primary School and another double promotion in the Secondary School marked him out as a youth with eyes set on the sky.
At Ijebu Muslim College where he had his Higher School Certificate course, his then Principal, Mr Ambaliyu Sanni described him, in a Testimonial as "certainly the best in his class, a Youngman with a big brain ... a professorial material. He is intelligent, hardworking, highly dependable and thorough". What a Testimonial for a 20-year old! True enough, he won the 'most brilliant student award' at the year-end in the one-and-a-half years, instead of two years he spent at that college where he sharpened his literary, journalistic, dramatic and cultural teeth.
Tola Adeniyi was already a published author at 14, a reputable Yoruba poet as Akewi on Radio Nigeria at 16; and at 20, he became the first person to adapt Chinua Achebe's all-time classic, Things Fall Apart, for stage and television, a play he produced and directed and performed in all major cities of Nigeria in 1966.
Tola Adeniyi has been a star writer in journalism since his secondary school days when in 1959 he singularly erected a Press Club Board for a daily column and feature articles and news reporting. He was the editor of The Spartan, the school magazine. He repeated the same feat at the Muslim College with a bigger Press Board in addition to being the Editor-in-Chief of The Scientia, the official magazine of the college.
This was the background that prepared Tola Adeniyi for a very brilliant and extremely creative career at the University of Ibadan where he founded the Writer's Club, 1966, headed the University's Literary and Debating Society, the University's Dramatic Society, the University's Afro-Culture Society and co-edited Lipstick, the first female Magazine published by the Queens Hall executive in 1967. He was also the Editor/Secretary of the University's Campus Opinion.
He maintained columns in Uche Chuwumerije's Afriscope, Tunji Oseni's Sunday Sketch and contributed regularly to Sam Amuka's Sunday Times before joining the Daily Times Conglomerate with a blast.
In 1973, Tola Adeniyi was appointed West Regional Editor of the Daily Times and, as Chief Correspondent, he conducted several interviews and did a lot of investigative reporting. The following year, the Chairman/CEO of Daily Times Group, Alhaji Babatunde Jose appointed him Africa's first newspaper Ombudsman, a precursor of today's Public Complaints Commission. Adeniyi brought unalloyed zeal and passion into the execution of his beat.
Incredibly, Tola Adeniyi combined his busy schedule in this role with churning out two articles per day in the Evening Times where he maintained two columns: Ticha Bento and Tola Nee; a column in the Lagos Weekend with Nguyen Tol Nee as pen name; a weekly column, Tola Adeniyi, in the Sunday Times; weekly Aba Saheed column in the Daily Times in addition to regular literary reviews. In all, Tola Adeniyi was credited with 15 columns a week in Daily Times group, a feat that has not been equalled by any other writer in the history of journalism in the world.
It was the same in Tribune with Till Death Do us Part, 6 times a week; Tola Adeniyi in the daily newspaper and Aba Saheed on Sundays! He later maintained a column in The Punch [1983-1985] and, for 5 years, he maintained the Aba Saheed in Nigerian Compass. Today, he remains the longest running columnist in Nigeria with his weekly columns in both The City People and Sunday Sun.
So pungent, so incisive, so bold and daring were Tola Adeniyi's writings that many a time, his close friends and even his publisher, Babatunde Jose feared for his safety and his life.
Tola Adeniyi is not just a writer, there are many writers. However, the uniqueness of Tola Adeniyi is rooted in his exemplary boldness and fearlessness. And his style of writing, his extraordinary brilliance and intelligence, his ease of communication and the inimitable prolific outpouring are peculiarly his. That is what makes him a brand!
Two literary icons, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo and Yemi Farounbi attested to Tola Adeniyi's unusual courage and fearlessness in their Foreword and Preface respectively in ABA SAHEED: A Literary Biography of Tola Adeniyi by Eddie Ayo-Ojo.
Yemi Farounbi wrote: "Tola Adeniyi, using various names, such as Aba Saheed, Nee Tola, Nguyen Tol Nee, Ticha Bento, Busola Babat [as woman columns], was in the forefront of those anti-military writer-generals. This biography looks at the various facets of Tola Adeniyi, either in the use of satire, or the use of rage as a legitimate weapon, or the use of poetry.
"The more you read this biography" according to Farounbi, "the more you get attracted to this bundle of intellect, imagination, creativity, and raging soul fire. The more you explore the pages, the more you appreciate the selflessness, the patriotism, and the nationalist zeal that motivated those fiery columns. The more you study this complex character, the more you admire the power of his pen, and the flow of his language and thought. The more you x-ray his writings, the more you love his ability to engage in personal distancing."
Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, himself a great writer and columnist of high repute, wrote: "For the greater part of the era, Tola Adeniyi, through what I would describe as pugilist political commentary in his column in the Daily Times and the Tribune, left a great footprint on the sounds of Nigerian journalism.
"Tola Adeniyi did not just 'speak truth to power', he hurled literary grenades to power. In many ways he reflected, he articulated the frustrations, the painful disappointments of the generality of the masses of our people at the tragedy of misgovernance in Africa's most populous country.
"What stood him out [of all his contemporaries] was his unbelievable and solid courage. He went for the jugular of his 'political victims'. He took no prisoners. His style was that of head-on attack. Such was the fearsomeness of his political commentaries that many a time he left us his friends with serious concern as to his physical safety."
What has made Tola Adeniyi a brand is the fact that, running through pages of his life, he has proved to be unique in so many ways. He is a writer of repute. He grew up as an actor, playing lead roles in several plays from the Quran school, through primary school to secondary, higher secondary, university and post graduate education as well as with many plays written and directed by him to his credit. He also found time to adapt Cyprian Ekwensi's Iska, James Ngugi's Weep Not Child and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for stage and television.
He has written and published many biographies in addition to hundreds of speeches made to local and international audiences and short stories written.
An international journalist, Tola Adeniyi held senior positions in Lancashire Evening Post, Burnley's Express both in the UK; The Atlanta Enquirer in the US, and York Region Business World [which he established in Canada].
Tola Adeniyi was a two-term Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations as well as being a Commissioner with the National Population Commission.
Another quality that makes Tola Adeniyi a brand is the uniqueness of his leadership style and quality. Those who knew him at Ago-Iwoye Secondary School describe him as 'born to lead' because at that tender age of 16 or thereabout, he had many junior students numbering over fifty who chose him as their 'College father'. They saluted him with his nickname 'Lucky Star' wherever he went on campus to which he responded with a refrain, 'Success!' It was the same enchanting leadership quality that fetched him over 100 students who chose him as their 'College father' at Ijebu Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode. He was said to be extremely generous, kind, caring and very compassionate.
His exemplary leadership and organizational prowess must have been responsible for his being elected everywhere he schooled the President of all the organisations he belonged to. At age 19 at Ijebu Muslim College, he was President-General of the 19 Colleges' Literary and Debating Societies in Ijebuland in addition to being the President of about four other literary, dramatic and cultural Societies of the institution. He still had time, energy, and rare organizational ability to write, produce and direct plays at the college.
The third leg to his being a brand is his uncanny gift as a debater and public speech maker and speech writer. His eloquence, his mastery of logic and syllogism and his huge intellect make him a most engaging leader in communication. Chief Adeniyi is a totally-gifted and multi-talented giant who discusses every subject under the sun with relative ease.
Quite frankly, a 1000-page book cannot exhaust a discussion on the life and times of Tola Adeniyi's multi-faceted and multi-dimensional personality who also is the founder of Mareism, his new faith. The world is set to hear more about this phenomenal man.
A community leader with over 28 chieftaincy titles, Tola Adeniyi peaked his star-studded career with the posts of Federal Permanent Secretary in the presidency and Chairman/CEO of the Daily Times Conglomerate.
He was also a Visiting Lecturer in Theatre and English at the University of Lancaster.
A member of The Writers' Union of Canada; Fellow of Nigerian Union of Journalists; Fellow, Commonwealth Journalists Association, this rare brand and cultural impresario is also a proud Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.
It is a special toast to an icon, a role model, an inspirer and mentor and a great Brand as we who are learning from him share in the joy of his becoming a Septuagenarian.
Happy 70th Birthday to Irunmole!