We arrived Abeokuta in the first ink of dusk, at about 5pm. We were visiting the city’s most iconic figure, the white-haired, white-bearded, tall, grand fellow of many battles and accolades.
Before we made the turn to the bush, a sign was unmistakable. Louis Odion, the writer in resting, who sat beside me in the car, read the sign. Roared Louis in a guttural register: “Any trespasser will be shot and eaten.”
The imprimatur of the poet. All around were trees. We drove on, and a sense of rural splendour fell over me. The serenity of trees. Birds. Leaves in lush colour. Earth Edenic. Modernity alienated. A shadow cast not by twilight but by the peculiar colouring of a forest. It was as though I was on my way to my mother’s home village in Delta State.
In a few moments, we saw what looked like a clearing. Looking farther, a big house, unpainted but tasteful, with a grandeur one would describe as quaint. Nothing ornate. Not the windows, not the stairwell. It was a house sitting in arboreal paradise.
The vehicles parked, and in a few moments, the guest of honour, the sprightly Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole and his elegant wife, Iara, materialised from a vehicle. We moved in and waiting was chief host, playwright, poet, writer extraordinaire Wole Soyinka. It was billed as a lunch but the vagaries of technology associated with his flight arrangement turned it into a dinner. Former governors, Babatunde Raji Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi, had visited earlier in the day.
As we sat, I delved into wordplay and described the setting as “Adamic.” The Edo Governor appreciated it and turned to his wife and they exchanged a joke about the Garden of Eden, and the wife quipped that if the Governor was the Adam, then she would be the Eve. At that moment I started to contemplate Adams, just as W.S. served wine and later asked us to the dinner table with his wife Folake.
I thought here was Adams, and the story of the man in the past few months revolved around women. The first was his wedding. He, a Nigerian, above 60, and the bride young and from Cape Verde. The news generated quite an attention. Those who attacked, especially young men, were probably envious it was not them. Those women who condemned the bride, mostly girls, were also envious she was not them. I wonder what W.S. thought about the couple during the bonhomie of conversation over wine and food. He, too, wedded Folake, but to less flurry of envious rage, maybe because we did not have Internet or Facebook then. But essentially he was a prophet of his own nuptials with his play, The Lion and the Jewel. I told myself, we had two lions and two jewels at the table. Nothing about this irony propped up in the conversation, and so I reined in my mischief. I took my time to watch, speak with and listen to a man I had admired all my life. That was enough peace for me eating his jolof rice, fried plantain and fish with the lubricating grace of red wine.
But what I also thought of were Oshiomhole’s other women. The one was former so-called coordinating minister of the economy, Okonjo-Iweala and, of course, the big-eyed oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke. When the Edo Governor started lashing out at the other women, attention swiftly turned from his beauty parlour to the beasts of the economy.
Adams had noted how the so-called World Bank, Harvard and all the phony accolades of western brilliance of the finance minister gave us nothing but poverty. Ngozi was a failure. She was a disaster. When the Edo governor reeled out her financial iniquities, I felt especially vindicated. Very early I was not moved by her resume. She was not trained for the Nigerian economy, just like her bow-tie colleague now roosting like hens in another African agricultural employment. She was trained about the dependency of African economies. I know because I attended quite a few of them and I inoculated myself against their paradigms. She did not and that explains why she met a buoyant purse and left a leaky one.
Then he visited the United States with President Muhammadu Buhari, and when he returned he unleashed a bombshell. One minister stole as much as six billion dollars from our purse. How much is that in naira? In my own calculation, it is at least N1.2 trillion. That money will pay all the salaries owed the state workers, build quite a respectable cancer centre in the country. He would not say who the minister is out of decency. But we cannot but know that the finger pointed at the oil minister. She was the only one who could have had that kind of access. The American officials cannot say such a grave thing without evidence. Diezani was the worst of the Jonathan era. She was a disgrace of a minister just as Jonathan was a scandal of a president.
We raked in the most money in that era, we are broke today because of them. Adams had to come out with the facts because he, too, was outraged. It was Adams the activist, the fulminating labour leader that squared off against Iweala and Madueke.
Was it not in the same era we had other women, like Mama Peace, and Stella Oduah. Mama peace, the first lady, with whom many Nigerians lost patience, spoke as though the nation was a Mammy Market and all Nigerians were subaltern, backwater denizens without culture.
The evening eventually came to an end after close to four hours of exchange of jokes, ideas, etc. I could not but also note the sheer number of carved masterpieces in W.S. home. I called back his recollections of his search for an African artifact to as far away as Brazil. He wonderfully delineated the adventure in his memoirs, You Must Set Forth At Dawn.
We left into the bush again, and then back into the urban jungle. But it was a gradual descent into modernity. We saw buildings here and there interspersed with bushes until it was bricks and tars and cars.