Dancing with my father’s friend By Tatalo Alamu

Dancing with my father’s friend

It was the time of music and memorable melodies, of spellbinding lyrics from those earthy geniuses of the talking drum and percussionists of political palavers. There are certain images that are lodged in the consciousness forever, certain impressions that can never be erased from the human memory bank. Memories are made of this. When shall good times return to Nigeria?

It is an act of filial affection. Snooper takes a walk today away from the sclerotic deadliness of contemporary Nigerian politics to give a rare glimpse, a historic cameo, of one of Nigeria’s most charismatic politicians and his father’s bosom friend and fallen comrade in political arms, the late Gbadamosi Sanusi Adelabu Adegoke, a.k.a Penkelemesi.

Adelabu Adegoke died fifty years ago last week in a car crash around Ode Iremo aged forty two. For the gifted ironist and great Ibadan nationalist, it must have been the equivalent of an old Ibadan generalissimo falling in enemy terrain.  A scrawny kid barely a year in school, snooper recalls the day of memorable mayhem with graphic intensity. It is an even more pleasant surprise that one retains a vivid memory of the man with the cat-like features and an amazing feline grace.

Spare of build and middling of height, Adelabu Adegoke was nevertheless a titan among men. He was a giant in every other respect: in prodigal memory, in precocious intellect, in stubborn idealism, in visionary imagination and contempt for mediocrity, and in his prodigious appetite and affinity for the fairer sex. There was more than a hint of the ancient Ibadan warrior in Penkelemesi.

He was Nigeria’s first rock star politician. In his feckless courage and aptitude for stormy confrontations, Adelabu Adegoke often betrayed the nobility of the naïve genius. This freewheeling and swashbuckling devilry of the happy warrior was to serve him very poorly in the treacherous terrain of pre-independence politics.

Time after time, he was outgunned and out-foxed by more coolly calculating and Machiavellian scoundrels. But he retained his buoyancy of outlook; his vibrancy of intellect and optimism of granite will till the bitter end.

Had he lived, and given his contempt for the norms of the bread and butter politician, it would have been interesting to see how he would pitch his tent in the great Awolowo-Akintola tango, or how he would view the antics of A.M.A Akinloye, his old comrade, who was to make a one hundred and eighty degree somersault back to right wing base.  Adelabu Adegoke came upon the political scene like a meteor and expired with the dazzling brilliance of a meteor.

When beggars die, there are no comets seen but the heavens themselves blaze forth at the death of princes, observes the immortal William Shakespeare. The western Nigeria heavens did blaze forth on the death of Adelabu. Originating from beggarly and penurious circumstances, Adelabu was to overcome the straitened provenance of birth to become a shining star. Despite being born poor, he was a natural prince among men, combining an aristocratic hauteur with populist hell-raising.

A plutocrat of plural possibilities, what galled him most was unearned merit and distinction and as the colonialists were to find out this royal rebel could be rude and rowdy with superiors while being cosy and conciliatory with subordinates. Adelabu was one hell of a political Robin Hood.

But despite his outstanding qualities as a politician, despite his warmth, his humanity and spontaneous vitality, it is as a dancer of genius that snooper remembers the great man. Nothing can be more electrifying than the political dance. It is a carnival of the possessed, an orgiastic chaos brimming with elemental possibilities and permutations, redolent of collective orgasm. With his lean wiry frame, eel-like body dynamics and explosive foot-works, Adelabu was a star dancer. He was what the Yoruba will call “akuruyejo” or the small one who is a lovely dancer.

It was a dull overcast afternoon. The first rains of the year came during the night turning the afternoon into a cool, lethargic affair in the small sleepy town. It was Adelabu’s bosom friend who picked his distinct scent from the distant echo of light music.

Ah Adelabu ti nbo (Adelabu is coming)”, father announced to no one in particular as a grudging grin lit up his stern comely features. The entire household erupted in spontaneous celebration. The women began chanting Adelabu’s praise with their husband staring at his assorted collection as if they were specimen from the zoo freshly liberated. Unlike his bosom friend, snooper pere was a man of amazing self-restraint. The unlettered damsels saw this as a rare opportunity as they crooned:

Adelabu, Akande iji

     Igi jegede ti d’ana ru

      A nle bo lehin, o nl’ara iwaju

       Ekun oko Ayoka omo kumo.

This was Adelabu’s usual gambit, his signature tune and part of his huge repertoire of political tricks. He would pack his car at a distant and then proceed on foot in a carnivalesque procession. Famously, he once abandoned his official car at Molete and then headed home on foot asking the good people of Ibadan to take possession of their property. The people responded with joyous lyrics.

Adelabu ma kowo wa na

Igunnu loni tapa, tapa loni Igunnu

Ma kowo wa na.

By the time Adelabu’s entourage reached the vicinity of our household, it had been transformed into a huge crowd of dancers and drummers, a colourful assortment of rural merrymakers, an agrarian tapestry of colour and chaos. Snooper and his various mothers joined the suburban pageantry to the delight and approval of the crowd. The prince of charismatic confusion was swinging and digging with regal abandon even as he winked devilishly at the more unprintable of the lyrics.

Meanwhile Ayan, the lead drummer, a rogue musical genius of inventive profanity, had worked himself into a state of delirious frenzy, frothing at the corner of the mouth as he dished out tons of provocative malediction against political enemies. For the moment, he concentrated his attention on the palm tree, the symbol of the rival Action Group.

Inu Igbo l’ope ngbe

 A ki kole adete s’igboro

  Inu Igbo l’ope ngbe.

And later:

B’a o r’epo mo a of’ori s’obe

   Ope nikan ko laiye.

By the time the procession reached our doorsteps, Ayan had raised the stakes, taking a vicious swing at Awolowo himself. By now, he had about him the look of a deranged hyena even as his talking drum pulsated with malice and mischief.

Bowo ba ba Awolowo yi yan ni e yan

Kale ro njeba lola

Bowo ba ba Awolowo yi yan ni e yan

By this time, the procession had reached its destination which was our doorstep. The crowd puller had to be separated from the crowd. It was a rowdy separation. Adelabu disappeared  into the bowels of the house to strategise with his friend and comrade in arms. The curtains fell on a great man forever. Six months later, Adelabu died in a car crash. Nigeria had lost one of its most illustrious sons.

Till date, snooper has continued to ponder how Adelabu would have dealt with the Awolowo phenomenon, particularly when it reached its full crushing momentum of mass mobilisation. Perhaps the pragmatic and more politically astute Ibadan politician would have surprised the ponderous Ikenne lawyer on the homeward stretch, cutting a deal that Awolowo would never have contemplated and saving his people from the long scourge of misbegotten federalism.

It is unlikely that Adelabu would have cut a deal with Awo. While Awolowo viewed Adelabu with wary curiosity, Adelabu viewed Awolowo with brash intellectual contempt dismissing him as an upstart. Where was Awolowo when he Adelabu was performing those academic miracles at Government College, Ibadan, Adelabu would have rued to himself.

But while Awolowo was a great political artist, Adelabu was a great artist in politics. The great artist in politics weaves powerful tapestries in the collective memory and imagination leaving behind only glimpses of his tortured and alienated genius. It is the great political artist with great stamina and stability who builds enduring empires. Fifty years on, yours sincerely remembers dancing with his father’s friend.

NATION