•Hon. FEMI KEHINDE Reveals His Story
Sometime in 1986, during the military jackboot and Gestapo style of governance in Nigeria, Adebayo Williams, then a teacher of Literature-in-English, at the University of Ife, was invited to Lagos, to deliver a public lecture at a seminar, purposely convoked, to discuss Democracy. Mindful of the possibility of arrest after his delivery, which may be acerbic and unpleasant to the men of power, he ably, titled his lecture at this seminar- A seminar to end all seminars.
This lecture was published in major newspapers of the day. Despite this premonition of a possible arrest, Adebayo has gone ahead to deliver so many seminal works and intellectual papers at various fora across the globe, and has lived to be 70 years; the seminars have not ended.
First and foremost, I am eminently qualified to write Adebayo’s story. Adebayo’s mother, Maria Oyedun Williams was my maternal grandfather’s (Kasumu Oyekanmi) immediate younger sister. Kasumu begat my mother, Elizabeth Wulemotu Boladale Aduke Kehinde – the late Iyalode of Gbonganland . From this vantage position, I have known, and lived under the guidance and mentorship of Adebayo- a much older brother, like a father, for six decades.
Adebayo Biala Alamu Williams was born on the 9th of September, 1951, to late Pa Johnson Bolarinwa Williams and late Mama Maria Oyedun Williams, of Ile Keti Compound, Gbongan in Osun State. He was named Biala, because Oyedun had him as her first fruit of the womb when she was slightly above 40 years. Adebayo’s arrival, to her and the family, was like a dream – Bi Ala! In the trajectory of his life, he has lived that name. Adebayo’s chequered life cannot certainly be different from life’s alloy’s fundamental principles.
A brief chronicle of his life tells the story.
Adebayo’s father, Johnson Bolarinwa of the Gbongan/Modakeke stock, was one of Gbongan’s early political elites. In his early days, he was a UAC factor in Gbongan, in charge of Cocoa produce in the big conglomerate. He later ventured into politics, and became Gbongan’s first elected Councillor, after the advent of the Macpherson constitution of 1951, which brought fresh elites into political relevance.
He was elected on the platform of the NCNC of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and later became a big stalwart of Samuel Ladoke Akintola’s NNDP government of the Western Region. He was a key participant in the UPGA/DEMO Saga in Gbongan, which erupted as a result of the uproars of the 1965 Western Regional elections.
In the NCNC/NNDP, he was very friendly, with the likes of Adegoke Adelabu, Fani Kayode (Fani Power) Richard Akinjide, Adeoye Adisa, and his political comrades in Gbongan – Atanda and Ogunyele. J.B Williams, popularly known as “Willy” in Gbongan, had his house razed to the ground, in the ‘operation Wetie’, that erupted upon the overthrow of the first civilian government and the advent of military interregnum, on the 15th of January, 1966. Kasumu (Oyedun’s senior brother), did not live too long. He was a victim of dreaded smallpox (sanponna) epidemic of 1947.
As a result of the death of Kasumu in 1947, Wulemotu was in the early care and mentorship of Kasumu’s younger sister – Oyedun, who begat Professor Adebayo Williams, and Evangelist. Taiwo Williams. Interestingly, on the opposite side of the divide, Chief (Mrs.) Wulemotu Aduke Kehinde, the late Iyalode of Gbongan land, who was also an active participant of the Akintola/Awolowo Saga of the first republic, led the women vanguards of UPGA, and was clamped into police detention on spurious charges, not unconnected to Political Vendetta.
Gbongan was founded by a man named Olufiade (short form, Olufi.) Olufiade was a direct descendant of Alaafin Abiodun Adegoriolu, who reigned in Oyo, between 1750 and 1789. Olufi contested for the throne of the Alaafin of Oyo after the demise of his father but lost to another prince. He had to leave Oyo as tradition demanded, and was followed by many Oyo Citizens, that were sympathetic to his struggle for the throne of Alaafin. Olufi and his entourage left Oyo via Igbori route, stayed there for some time, and then moved to Soungbe, from where they finally got to Gbongan-Ile. The Olufi carried along from Oyo, a beaded crown, which made his followers recognise him, not only as an Oyo Prince but an Oba in his own right.
The unrest that wrecked the stability of Oyo, also affected many Oyo towns, and this allowed marauders to penetrate several Oyo towns, including Gbangan-Ile. Olufi and his followers had to migrate to a more forested location, which was more secure, than the former location. The present Gbongan is situated in the forest belt of Osun State. This is why at the present location, we have such settlements like Eke-Egan, Oke Apata, Ile-Opo, Aiyepe, Ile Keti, and Owo-Ope. Gbongan town, is watered by a network of streams like Oyunlola, Akinjole, Alaanu, Oleyo, Yemoja and Elu.
Her Eastern boundary with Ile-Ife is the big Sasa River. This present Gbongan was founded around 1825. The fact that Gbongan was headed by an Oba attracted many people to settle there and the thick forest location provided security for the population from the invaders. By the middle of the 19th century, the community, which started as a small settlement at Gbongan Ile by 1790, had grown to become one of the largest towns in her area.
Intriguingly, Adebayo bears a surname, that has hidden his “Ara Oke” stock and identity – a Gbangan/Modakeke man to the core. As a local breed of that environment, Adebayo attended St. Luke’s Anglican Primary School, Gbongan, with the likes of Wale Adenuga of the Ikebe Fame, whose father, was then though of Ijebu stock, a prominent businessman in Gbongan. He later relocated his business to Ile-Ife, but his Adenuga Street in Gbongan is still a beautiful reminder of his long sojourn in the Gbongan community.
After Adebayo’s Primary education, he was admitted to the Gbongan-Odeomu Anglican Grammar School, Gbongan, for the early part of his Secondary Education, under the principalship of Mr. G.A Adeyemo – an Ibadan man. He had a brief stint in Gbongan-Odeomu Anglican Grammar School as a result of the relocation of his father, J.B Williams (Willy), to Modakeke, after the destruction of his house in Gbongan, due to the violence of 1966. In Modakeke, where he had now relocated to with his father, he also had a brief stint at the Oranmiyan Memorial Grammar School, Ile-Ife, from where he then moved into the world, to chart and navigate a destined course of life.
Briefly, he was a Primary school teacher at Telemu, near Iwo, in present-day Ola Oluwa Local Government Area of Osun State. As a precocious young man, he certainly did not enjoy the life of holding the chalk in front of infants, and also perhaps, a disdain for the rural life of Telemu. He bolted out from Telemu and got a job as a sub-editor with late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Nigerian Tribune against his father’s wish. J.B Williams had a nauseating disdain for the Action Group. Adebayo was now engaged in the profession of journalism, which was described as “only that belonging to the flotsam and jetsam of the society,” by Ernest Ikoli- a doyen of Journalism practice in Nigeria and former President of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM).
He left the Nigerian Tribune in 1971 and was admitted to the University of Ife, to study English Language. The University of Ife, established by an Act of Parliament of the Western Region in 1961, under the premiership of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, admitted its first set of 244 students in September 1962, with 5 faculties, of which the Faculty of Arts was one of them. The University took off at the current site of the North Campus of the Ibadan Polytechnic, which was then known as the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, with Professor Oladele Ajose as its first Vice-Chancellor. In 1967, the University moved to its permanent site in Ile-Ife on the 130, 000 Acres of land donated by the people of Ile-Ife and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Titus Martins Tadeniawo Adesoji Aderemi, then Governor of the Western Region. The Ife Campus, adjudged as the most beautiful campus in Africa, was designed by the Israeli Architect, Arieh Sharon, together with a team of Nigerian Architects, including Lagos based Architect, A. A. Egbor, in the 1960s. They gave Ife the beauty, the elegance and the picturesque sceneries, that made the university a great haven for learning and culture. This was the university that trained Adebayo Williams, from where he graduated, and which later employed him, as a Lecturer of English Literature.
After successful completion of his university education at the Great Ife, he went for his National Youth Service in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria, specifically in Enugu, and thereafter, secured a teaching appointment with the Federal Ministry of Education, and was posted to the Federal Government College, Kaduna as a classroom teacher, where he also mentored so many students, who are now distinguished in various fields of human endeavours. It was in Kaduna that he met his heartthrob. Bolanle, an Ogbomosho lady, and a nursing sister, working in a Government hospital in Zaria, and whom he later married, and had three children – Bisola, Adeola and Oladipupo.
The classroom in Kaduna could not guarantee and secure the future that Adebayo dreamt of and envisaged. He had been granted a car loan, and bought a brand new Volkswagen Passat car, but nonetheless, his dream was expansive. He dreamt of a world that would bring out the intellectual profundity in him. He secured employment with the University of Ife, and was admitted to pursue his Master’s Degree course, and also teach English Literature as a graduate assistant, and then the meteoric rise. In the 1981/82 session, while still a Visiting Graduate Student Lecturer, Adebayo was appointed Honorary Visiting Lecturer, Department of English, University of Sheffield, England.
In that capacity, he gave lectures and seminars in the new areas of Theories of African Literature. In 1983, Adebayo was awarded a Doctorate Degree in Theory of African Literature. In 1986, he became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, from where he began the journey again, to traverse the world. Adebayo was popularly known as Larry B or Tatolo Alamu – a pen name, by his friends and admirers. Tatalo Alamu was a pioneer of Sekere, a type of Yoruba traditional music. A native of Ibadan, he was popular in Yorubaland, throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Adebayo, returned to Nigeria in 2006, after serving as a Professor in various universities in America and Europe.
Aside from his various intellectual engagements, Adebayo had also served, as Chairman, Lagos State Electoral Reform Panel, between 2008 and 2010, member, Board of Trustees, Obafemi Awolowo Institute for Governance and Public Policy 2009 till date, and chairman, Lagos State Gubernatorial Advisory Committee, 2010 to 2018, under Governors Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode.
In 1995, Professor Williams was appointed the Director-General of Africa Policy Group – a London based Think-tank, which addresses issues of governance crucial to Africa. Earlier in 1991, while still teaching at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Professor Williams, was made a director of the USAID-sponsored project on Governance and Democratization in Africa.
In 1997, he returned to the Centre of African Studies, University of Birmingham, as a Visiting lecturer and Honourary Research fellow, a position he held till 2006. He had earlier served in the same department as Leverhulme Fellow, between 1988 to 1990.
In November 1998, Professor Williams became a Fellow of African Studies Centre, University of Leiden, Holland and Professor of Liberal Arts, Savannah, College of Arts and Design, Georgia, USA. In January 2004, Professor Williams assumed duty as the Amy Freeman Lee Distinguished Chair of Humanities and Fine Arts, University of The Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas USA. He has also served as jury/professor at the Ecole Normale Superieure in France.
In the course of a distinguished career, spanning almost 50 years. Professor Williams has won many Laurels, in Scholarship, journalism and Creative writing, including winning, twice both The Association of Nigerian Authors Prize in 1988 and 1995 and the Alade Odunewu prize for Informed Commentary in 1993 and 2000.
In addition, he has served as a mentor and iconic source of inspiration for many generations of Nigerians, who look up to him as a source of guidance and political compass. Adebayo, a man of profound wit, fecund mind and intellect, was once asked a nagging question – “Would you agree that Tinubu’s role in the Afenifere crisis contributed to the death of Pa Adesanya?”
He responded rather brusquely: “I am yet to see the death certificate of Pa Adesanya, so I wouldn’t know. But I know that he died of age-related infirmity. He might have been heartbroken about development in the organisation particularly on how things ought to have been done.”
He was one of the brains behind the first-ever Nigerian Political Summit, chaired by Pa Adekunle Ajasin at Eko Hotel, Lagos. Adebayo yearns and clamours for a restructured Nigeria, and he said in an interview session –
“We have been saying that Nigerians need to sit down and talk. I have been saying for the past 20 years that elections will not resolve national questions. In fact, it worsens it. We have seen situations, where elections led directly to civil war in many African countries. When you think that democracy is solely synonymous to an election, that is what they call electoral. The election is just one aspect of democracy, so the way we are going, if we are not careful, Nigeria is heading for a terminal crisis. If we cannot talk among ourselves, eventually, the United Nations (UN) may be forced to come and supervise a talk in this country. That is my prediction, and I have no apology for saying this.”
He added: “The masses are so important, so are the elites. My fear is that if we go to this election with this kind of mindset, particularly in the current ruling class, a winner may emerge but the contending contradiction may make the country ungovernable for such a winner and then we just begin to slide towards Mogadishu.”
In other words, victory without success. It was a prophetic interview. This interview session was in 2019, before the 2019 elections.
As a crowning glory, Adebayo Williams is one of Nigeria’s best-known scholars and globally recognised academics, with over a thousand publications, with over six books to his credit. He is a polyvalent intellectual scholar. He had been columnist to NewsWatch Magazine between 1985 and 1990, African Concord, between 1990 and 1992, Tempo/The News – 1993 to 1995, The Nation, 2007 till date, and African Today as columnist and editor at large – 1995 till date.
Adebayo Williams, a man of sartorial taste and elegance, loves good cars, wine and an intellectual environment.
When Obafemi Awolowo was 70 years on the 6th of March, 1979, and at a campaign rally at the Mapo Hall, Ibadan, the enthusiastic crowd of UPN party faithful and stalwarts, thronged to the Mapo Hall Rally, to welcome Chief Awolowo to the Presidential Campaign rally, and thenceforth, was referred to as Papa Obafemi Awolowo, with deafening shouts of Papa Awo!!! Awo!!! Awo!!! So as a fresh mint 70-year-old man, do we now call Adebayo, Papa Adebayo Williams? He certainly does not possess the gait and look of a 70-year-old man.
I have known Adebayo Williams, as my mother’s younger brother, and I grew to know him as a mentor, role model and pathfinder, who has certainly added value to my life of 6 decades. He ensured my transition or relocation from the Department of History in Ile-Ife to the Faculty of Law, through the able supports of Mr. Itsey Sagay, now Professor of Law, then Dean of the Faculty of Law; Dr. Kehinde Olupona, now Professor of Religions; Professor Sola Ehindero, now Harvard University Professor of Religions, and Professor Fajana as Dean of the Faculty of Education.
Through these innumerable efforts, I now eat with two spoons – Historical and Biographical writings as a passion, Law as a profession of almost four decades, and perhaps the third spoon-Politics as a vocation, being a former member of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly, all from a single plate, courtesy of the mentorship of Adebayo Williams.
In this enchanting drama of a life being lived well, let the music and the lyrics go on because Adebayo Williams is the song and the melody. In a society that places scant values on its egg heads – Adebayo Biala Alamu Williams – may you continue to live well, even now as a statesman and Septuagenarian.
Hon (Barr) Femi Kehinde is a legal practitioner and former member of the House of Representatives,
representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency, Osun State (1999-2003).