Oloye Lekan Alabi: Unbelievable life of a culture icon

November 25, 2020
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HOW can the narrative of a robust life like that of Oloye Lekan Alabi be written in just 206 pages? Professor OBC Nwolise of the University of Ibadan, in Oloye Lekan Alabi, An Unbelievable Life: Biography of a Quintessential Veteran Journalist and Culture Ambassador, attempted to do the unthinkable by packaging the journey of the life of a peripatetic veteran journalist, Press Secretary to four governors of old Oyo State, within that short space of intellectual work.

An Unbelievable Life is a package of 18 chapters, fluid and well written odyssey of the life of a man whose middle name should have been Culture. It lifts the lid off the roots of Oloye Alabi, opens a window into the life he lives and situates the foundation of that life.

In this age and time in Africa and I daresay Nigeria, where we witness the collapse of virtually all laudable things bright and beautiful in traditional African society, nature’s abhorrence of a vacuum places some nuggets at our beck and call. Those nuggets come in the form of human beings among us who go against the grain of society’s amnesia. They stand out as magnets that reconnect us with our roots and bring back to us memories of life lived when our world was without the impurities of modernity. One of such nuggets and magnets, An Unbelievable Life tells us, is Oloye Lekan Alabi.

In the book, the reader will encounter the man Oloye Lekan Alabi, the Ekefa Olubadan of Ibadan, as a one-man projector of the essence of the Yoruba man. In a way, the reader will come to the conclusion that this man of culture is one person who personifies the argument against the absolutism of a total collapse of age-old morals, values, culture and language in today’s Nigeria. In an age when we have literally discarded our language, culture and values, An Unbelievable Life takes us on a voyage of how Oloye stands out of this crowd. His tenacity of purpose, underscore of the purity of traditional African essence reinforce the arguments against the absolutism school of philosophy. Absolutists say that reality, truth, or morality is absolute and the same for everybody, everywhere and that truths are always true. Lekan Alabi is one man, so tells us this book, who stands out from that absolutism.

In plotting the graph of his 70 years existence, An Unbelievable Life tells us how Oloye wears on his lapel his identity as a Yoruba man and one who is unapologetic about the profundity of Yoruba culture and language. He speaks his impeccable Yoruba without minding whose ox is gored and garnishes his utterances and public appearances with dips into deep, rich history, culture and rich axioms. Blessed with an elephant-like power of recall, Oloye Alabi personifies the wealth of Yoruba nation that was mindlessly burgled by the advent of colonial intervention.

As An Unbelievable Life proceeds with a foreword from the iconic former governor of Oyo State, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, the reader will, from here, start to see the true picture of the subject from this short Foreword. As a teaser, Olunloyo refers to Oloye as “a sanitary recrudescence of patriotism,” and I add, a refreshing gush of patriotism for a Nigeria from which many are taking a flight. The mathematics icon and man, who reviewers of French philosopher, Voltaire, seem to be referring to when they said Voltaire carries on his head the brain of an age, appears to be saying that in Alabi, there is a refreshing redefinition of patriotism.

Like a builder who first begins building with an excavation of the ground surface structure before erecting an eventual edifice, An Unbelievable Life excavates the components of Oloye’s geographical roots at SW2/486 Isale Ijebu, Ile-Oloye in the South West Local Government of Oyo State. It also locates his maternal roots in Emure-Ekiti, in the process explaining Oloye’s often nostalgic reference to his dual roots with a gush of pride. The book then went into Oloye’s biological roots, clinically constructing the picture of the quintessential Lekan Alabi that we have today.

If you didn’t know why Oloye Alabi consistently and constantly venerates his mother in virtually every discourse, flaunting pictures of them together on the social media, then you need to read An Unbelievable Life. Spicing the story of his birth with garnishes from culture, prophecies, predictions and the pride of nobility, Professor Nwolise, in the book, seems to be telling the reader that Oloye’s birth was not a happenstance and his assignment on earth choreographed from heaven, an affirmation of those prophecies.

In Oloye’s journalistic journey does the reader come to appreciate the subject the most. Nwolise takes us on a walk into how Oloye Alabi chose this profession which Chief Obafemi Awolowo once lamented was the preoccupation of “the flotsam and jetsam of society,” how Oloye’s obsessive interest in it sprouted and how he made up his mind to make a difference in its practice. Not minding his first foray into teaching at St. John’s Anglican Primary School, Akinajo, near Arulogun in today’s Akinyele Local Government, it was a determined Alabi who reworked his journey towards his first love of journalism.

An Unbelievable Life digs deep into Oloye Alabi the broadcaster. From a broadcasting career which began from the Western Nigeria Television Service (WNTV) and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) as well as his stint with the Daily Sketch, we have more than a glimpse of and indeed a historical account of journalism operations of recent history. Journalists of today would sure pick some lessons of how that journalistic temple of worship has today become a den of charlatans and impostors. This particular part of the book also gives a graphic account of Oloye’s philosophy of life and his perception of the place of journalism in society.

If anyone wonders how Oloye Alabi manages to navigate the seismic process of working with four governors as Press Secretary, in a world where survival of the fittest and elimination of the weakest was and is the creed, Chapter Eight of the book takes them on a voyage. This chapter, while narrating Oloye’s work timelines and tempestuous moments in those offices, also serves as a great lesson for current occupiers of such positions and the ones aspiring towards it on how Oloye managed the media portfolios of these four governors without blemish. One of the governors he served, Chief Bola Ige’s testimony of his person, written in a Referee Form he filled for him while aspiring for a postgraduate programme at the University of Ibadan, encapsulates this journey. Chief Ige had written:

“I have known the candidate for about four years… He is a young man that I admire for his intellectual ability; he does his work easily, punctually and satisfactorily, with or without supervision; he is innovative and always full of ideas… he has a uniquely good sense of humour… he is a very likeable and trustworthy young man… honest and frank, at the same time loyal.”

In the An Unbelievable Life, the reader would also encounter other memorable events that had the imprints of Oloye Alabi in them. One is the memorialisation of the military governor of the Old Western Region, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, a member of the League of Veteran Journalists and the anniversary lecture organized in Fajuyi’s memory. Today, when anyone wants to cast aspersion on the Yoruba in terms of valour and character, Fajuyi stands tall as an example and exemplar of how the Yoruba man represents the height of valour and standing up for the rights of their fellow man. I reckon that in narrativising Oloye’s involvement in this process of memorialising Fajuyi, the biographer was covertly telling the reader that his subject shares Fajuyi’s Omoluabi – the good man’s essence.

At the risk of being accused of imprecision, I am not aware of any journalist who has lifted the activities and name of the Oyo State branch of the Nigerian Union of Journalists to a worthy level like Oloye Alabi. He is not like the climber of a tree who, upon getting to the top, abandons the ladder. His recognition of journalism and veneration of journalists, as well as his strides in that regard, are amply documented in Chapter 12 of An Unbelievable Life, as well as Oloye’s delve into civil rights activism. This latter part of him, encapsulated in his involvement in the food crisis matter of his alma mater, African Church Grammar School, Apata Ibadan in 1964, protest to General Yakubu Gowon on the incarceration of Professor Wole Soyinka, the June 12 struggle, among many others, also stand tall in the book.

Oloye Alabi’s foray into culture is also well articulated in Chapter Fourteen where the biographer shares Oloye Alabi’s views on how culture is the totality of a man and his way of life. As I said earlier, anyone who encounters Oloye would admit that his life is woven around culture. His appointment as the first Culture Ambassador of the National Museum and Monument, Ile Ife in 2017, properly documented in An Unbelievable Life, is a fitting icing on the cake of a man who had always personified the history and beliefs of his people.

An Unbelievable Life is further spiced with testimonies of eminent persons about their perception of Oloye Lekan Alabi on his 70th birthday, as well as a dip into his home front, wife and children. It is also made live by pictorials of his life odyssey and appendices of very essential correspondence which will interest any reader of the book.

This 206-page book, which Dr Olunloyo, in his Foreword, recommends to anyone who wants to read the narrative of any Nigerian patriot, is however spatially lean to tell the full story of Chief Lekan Alabi. In other words, 206 pages are too far between to properly situate this man of many parts. Perhaps it was due to the fact that, as the biographer volunteered at the beginning of the book, it was put together within a very short space of time. This however does not in any way detract from the great essence of An Unbelievable Life.

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