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Abokede: The Interesting Narrative of a High Chief as a Renaissance Man

Title of Book: Abokede: The Man, the Hill, the City

Author: Steve Ayorinde

Publisher: ArtPillar Books, in association with the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan

Year of Publication: 2011

Pages: 180

Price: Not stated [ISBN 978-978-919-291-5]

Reviewer: Aderemi Raji-Oyelade

 

In the introduction to this book, Steve Ayorinde highlighted three reasons for his frequent return to Ibadan in the 1990s one of which was the need to bond with his grand-uncle at his Ekotedo residence. It was a filial tryst that paid off, the result being this finely wrought work of a seasoned storyteller.

Most biographies start on the premise that the author is doing the subject some favour in achieving immortality and preserving what would normally have gone with the volatile or transient wind of oral history. In some significant cases, the biographer stands to gain more in knowledge and experience writing about the personage especially when the subject is epical and influential. Life histories, especially the one plucked from the mouth of the subject in form of testimonies, confessions or reflections, have a way of teaching the author and the reader far more intimately and vicariously about the passing of an age, or the emergence of another. In Abokede: The Man, the Hill, the City, Steve Ayorinde, the biographer has served us well, and yet, I am sure, he also served himself considerably well by knowing more about the compound of his own progeny. 

Abokede: The Man, the Hill, the Cityis a journey around the life of High Chief (Dr.) John Adeyemi Ayorinde (August 11, 1907 – March 11, 1998), the late Ashipa Olubadan of Ibadanland, himself author, historian, agriculturist, orator, art collector and master storyteller, a roundly educated man of culture, a bulwark of Ibadan history, who clearly fits the description of a truly Renaissance man. The Renaissance man is one who is cultured, literate in his time, educated beyond his age, and who is knowledgeable and proficient in a wide range of fields.

The “Ayoinde” clan is doubly lucky, having at least three generations of men steeped in matters cultural and intellectual, two of whose histories are vicariously told in this book. The two remarkable minds in focus here are Chief J. A. Ayorinde, the Olori ebi of the Ayorinde-Kobiowu extended family, fecund in wisdom and experience, imbued with native, refined and acquired intelligence; and Mr. Steve Ayorinde, a scion of the family, umbilical alter-ego to the man of learning and good character.

A cursory reading of the book ushers us into the rigour, perseverance and challenges that attended the production of the book. It took the author over 15 years to complete the manuscript itself before the venture of publication. On the other, the book itself, through personal and authenticated narratives, reveals a series of significant episodes and experiences that coalesced to form the larger-than-life image of High Chief Ayorinde on the cultural map of Ibadanland. Going by his account, and through intense and intermittent periods of creativity, it is not difficult to conclude that Steve Ayorinde has wrought a good book about a good man.  

As a formalistic text, Abokede will be a different book to different readers. To the question of what manner of a book is this, the author himself practically answers early:  

I have deliberately decided to focus on a small aspect of his life – his devotion to things of the arts and culture – which is an aspect that was important to him as it was to me too as a young reporter covering the arts and culture beat. (xiv-xv)

Indeed, the book is a cultural biography of an Ibadan High Chief; the book is a memorial text in celebration of a great mind; the book is an interpersonal narrative around the subject of a man of culture laced with the objectifying recollections and testimonies of other no less remarkable personages; the book is a potential archival material for the yet-to-written magnushistory of Ibadan; and yes, the book is also a shadowy familial auto/biography of sorts, for although it is about Papa High Chief John Adeyemi Ayorinde, it is also intertextually the cultural history of Ibadanland from the days of Baale Opadere, the first Christian monarch of the city (1907) to the penultimate decade of the twentieth century, in the turbulent year of the end of military dictatorship in Nigeria (1998).

John Adeyemi Ayorinde was born in August 1907, the exact day of his birth might be unclear to us, but we know that he was born one glorious morning that coincided with the legendary Okebadanfestival day. The history and significance of Okebadanfestival has been told severally but it must be a great personal deal to be born precisely on that day when men and women are given to poetic licence, creativity and ritual of cleansing across the land. Ibadan is famed to have been sprung and spread originally across and around seven hills, in close mythical relations with the ancient city of Rome, but among the Ibadan, Okeis more than hill; it is imagined and personified as the Olympiad deity of protection, plenitude and fertility. 

Abokede: The Man, the Hill, the Cityis made up of eight narrative chapters, one chapter dedicated to testimonies and tributes to the High Chief, and nine appendices with memorable photographs. The painstaking reportorial skill of Steve Ayorinde is unmistakable all through. The first chapter contextualizes the details of John Adeyemi’s birth into the Babasanya-Kobiowu family, in the auspicious decade preceding the amalgamation of the Southern and the Northern protectorates which eventually led to the making of modern-day Nigeria. The second chapter is mainly a portrait of young Adeyemi as a sensitive schoolboy with a sense for good mischief under the watchful shadow of a strict disciplinarian and Christian convert of a father as well as the tutorship of Bishop Isaac Babalola Akinyele (1955-1964).

Subsequent chapters are dedicated to J. A. Ayorinde’s development as an adult, a poplar in search of sunlight, highlighting his foray into civil service, cultural activism, statesmanship and scholarship. He was a deliberate gatherer of the myths, history, legends, and folktales of his people; and although History was his favourite subject in school, and Culture was his passion out of school, it was to the field of Agriculture that he turned, which he made a career and from which he gained regional, national and international recognition. With only the secondary school certificate as formal qualification, out of industry, doggedness and unmitigated focus, J. A. Ayorinde rose from the junior position of a Crop (Cotton) Examiner in 1927 (June 6) to the grand position of Principal Cocoa Survey Officer until his retirement on November 10, 1965 at the age of 58. This was the same year that he was made the Mogaji of his Babasanya-Kobiowu clan. He was a die-hard progressive in the political terrain of the old Western Region, yet he was non-partisan enough to suffer no economy of truth in dealing with his fellow men. 

With good interpretive insight into archival documents, Steve Ayorinde helped in charting certain aspects of his grand-uncle’s contribution to the formation of certain institutions in the cultural revolution of Ibadanland. Ayorinde, the Mogaji of Babasanya-Kobiowu was a foundation member of Ibadan Progressive Union as well as the co-founder of the Ibadan Modern Farming Association Limited alongside the likes of Chief S. A. Oloko and Mr. D. A. O. Durosaro. Also, his contribution to the achievement of the republican nature of Obaship system in Ibadanland was noted. For those who lack the knowledge of the hierarchical but democratic kingship structure of Ibadan is well described in Chapter six of this book. Apart from his several public lectures and other essays on culture, religion and leadership, Chief J. A. Ayorinde published Igbesi-Aiye Oba Akinyele, Olubadan ti Ibadan and “Introduction to Cocoa in Nigeria”. He was also a consultant to the publishers of Africa Counts and Oral Tradition, Charles Sribners, the Editor of International Encyclopedia of Dances, and Billy Jackson, the project director of Afro-American Academy, among others. In recognition of his scholarly predilection, Chief Ayorinde was honoured with a Doctor of Letters degree (honoris causa) by the University of Ife in 1982, he was appointed as a member of the Nigerian Historical Society, and as a honorary Associate of the Board of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. Significantly, to highlight his monumental activity as a cultural ambassador of Yoruba and Nigerian culture, his work as a member of the Committee on Nigerian National Traditional Costumes for FESTAC ’77 was given ample space in the book (pp. 51-59). As a custodian of Ibadan history and Yoruba culture, he made a great impression of a number of Brazilian delegates who attended the Orisa World Congress which held in Ile-Ife about three decades ago.

Besides the main part of the narrative, that is the first eight chapters, we know through the ninth chapter entitled “A Toast to Heritage” that Papa Ayorinde contributed immensely to the development of Yoruba language and culture. We also gather that he was a great example of the grace and balance of religious harmony being a practising and devoted Christian for life and yet being a man who respected Yoruba religious philosophy and cherished the beauty of Yoruba culture. His kind of syncretism is what a nation like ours sorely need in order to transcend the cruel fate of religious hypocrisy and fundamentalism. We also know that his command of both the English language and Yoruba language was legendary; and we confirm that he was the quintessential character of Omoluabi, attributively kindhearted, considerate and cultured, which I have roughly translated as being a Renaissance figure. These points are garnered from the testaments of respectable elders, friends, associates and protégés including Prof. Wande Abimbola, Prof. Akinwumi Isola, Chief Tayo Akpata, Chief Segun Olusola, Chief Justice Emmanuel Fakayode, Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande, Ven. (Dr.) J. Olu Arulefela, Mr. Frank Aig-Imoukhuede and his Daodu, Elder Taiye Olubunmi Ayorinde.

From the second to the sixth appendix, the book provides a variety of the speeches and lectures of High Chief Ayorinde. Here, the reader cannot but be humbled by the rich display of the knowledge of Yoruba culture (and Ibadan history particularly) in this section. No doubt, these materials are worth more than the secondary function which they serve in this book. Yet they are adequate enough to bring back the intellect and depth of mind of this seasoned man of culture.

I will expect that in the reprinting of this book, the author will also attempt addressing one or a combination of the following suggestions: he would do well to provide a translation to the ancestral oriki of the Ayorindes – “omo Aleyo nikun” (see page 6) just as he has done creditably for those legendary burlesque compositions associated with Okebadanfestival; Mr. Ayorinde would also do well to cross-check the exact date of High Chief Ayorinde’s birthday because if as he noted (on page 4) that his subject was born on a Monday, the date of his birth – August 11, 1907 – would then  fall on Sunday, and not Monday. And besides some other minor typographical oversights, I will confirm here that this book is a collector’s item.

Books of this nature ask for launching and re-launching. If I had my way, I would want Abokedeto be commended to all Ibadan descendants and people on an Okebadanday, presented and delivered publicly in the precincts of Mapo Hall, in the very centre of where the history of twentieth century Ibadan began and ended.

This is the work notof a run-of-the-mill journalist, but the end-product of a fascinating, even if privileged, storyteller; privileged because the author is, as it were, writing from within, and with the lens of an insider, a filiative insider to wit, he has been able to capture the interesting narrative of an Ibadan Renaissance man with a seemingly effortless grandeur, in a language that is both limpid and engaging. In the hands of an untrained family relation, this narrative of a book would be rather lame, ordinary and sheer autolatry. The excellence of this book is therefore not because it is written by a grand-nephew, for blood is not enough for grasping the grammar of narration. The compelling excellence of the book invites the reader to read it because the author’s brilliance of mind and clarity of expression shine through the pages. 

“J. A. Ayorinde” is already a household name committed to memory and the lore of the people; Abokede ensures the permanence of its reverential and referential adequacies for generations to come. Mr. Steve Ayorinde, the journalist, offers us this dish of a cultural biography which every student of contemporary Nigerian and Ibadan history should buy, own and read. 

Aderemi Raji-Oyelade

Department of English

University of Ibadan

Ibadan, NIGERIA.