Publisher: African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc
Author: Dr Wale Adebanwi
Reviewer: Kole Odutola
At Ikenne, where some went to reconnect
Her initials H.I.D hid not that which she is
“A jewel of inestimable value” her husband said
To others, HID is a lid that completed the leader
A feeder of minds in the quiet of her home
A bone of his side as he decided
A fine maker of homes where peace resided
and no political acolyte ever dis-regarded
her body language spoke in an age
of plenty words that filled no basket
She was no mother-hen
nor was she a hen without mothers
At Ikenne where some went to reconnect
Political boys went and returned as men
Men of politics went and came back as timbers.
Did military boys visit Ikenne in their days of disconnect?
(c) Kole Odutola 20th September
There is no need seeking for a response to the last line of an attempt at capturing the essence of a woman of many parts. The poem above has nothing to do with the outstanding biographical book by Dr. Wale Adebanwi. The poem is simply a work of imagination which follows the sounds of words in the construction of meaning. Whereas the biography of HID Awolowo as presented follows reality as it shapes a narrative in the meaning of a constructive life. Though Ikenne is home and in its soil is where the placenta of Miss Hannah Idowu Dideolu was buried and to that city her life, times, and eventual demise revolves; places like Ibadan, Ikeja, and Apapa also feature in this story of many hills.
The book of nine chapters (excluding the epilogue and prologue) opens when the subject is a grown woman and the following chapter presents her as a woman growing up in different cities. As you well know, most cities are confluences of history, politics, commerce, religion and other concerns of life that help (re)shape the lives of natives and residents who call the place home. To really know a person or a collective, a researcher must open the innards of the various spaces and places that gave birth to, and nurtured the person and the group she identifies with. This preposition is not too far from Dmitiri Kalugin’s injunction that “[a] particular challenge for the poetics of biography is the peculiar character of the constitution of the biographical subject. It evolves through the interaction between textual strategies and the realm of social facts such as the workings of institutions, models of behavior, notions of success and recognition, etc.” None of these elements as enunciated by Kalugin is absent in In the Radiance of the Sage.
Like a deft surgeon Dr. Adebanwi dissects HID’s life and stitches the parts together neatly. What a life in its many dimensions and manifestations. The reader should be patient and not ask where the genesis of the story is because the end is told in the beginning and the revelation of how the pieces became ‘one whole’ finds its rhythm eventually. This is a book into which other books are made to empty their content. To be sure that this is not the first attempt at capturing the contours and controversies that surround the lives of members of the Awolowo family, Adebanwi sought out Tola Adeniyi’s authorized biography and consulted biographies of other figures involved in HID’s life. The only book I am not sure the author consulted is Kole Omotosho’s Just Before Dawn; a book that throws a little light on the saga of Coca-Cola distributorship between Mrs. Awolowo and Mrs. Akintola. Adebanwi can be excused for not including this book, which the author termed “faction”.
As if to assist readers easily navigate the twists and turns of this book, Adebanwi includes epigrams (which are “brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statements”) as leads in all the chapters. The knowledge nationalist in Adebanwi makes his choice of sources of these epigrams so diversified he would remain the envy of most scholars based outside Nigeria. About eight are drawn from the works of Africans or of African descent of 15 epigrams. This may be a minor detail to most people but for me as a media studies scholar, it goes to show a great sensitivity to knowledge produced by people of color. It goes to say that voices encoded into texts can find space(s) in scholarly works. If you doubt that assertion, please content-analyze any book or article written by Africans in the diaspora.
The book takes a personal turn for me as the skillful narrator paddles to the fourth chapter. There is something in the chapter that tells a part of my story by its absence. As the name of Moses Awolesi makes a showing; I am reminded that injustice done to a certain Prince Odutola Ogunajo (my paternal grand-father) who I was told was announced as the Akarigbo in the morning but was denied the opportunity of ascending the throne of his forebears because he was not as well-read as Moses Awolesi. The truth of this story is yet to be fully documented and made a part of the history of Sagamu people. I have no documentary evidence but I can still see in my mind’s eye the day the Akarigbo visited our newly built family house in Suru-lere, Lagos, Nigeria for a sort of reconciliation. Till today, no one has fully explained what really happened. How would I have known that my story is part of HID’s story? The search for the truth about Baba Agba (alias Baba Majiyan) must grow forth from this review.
Let us leave the personal aside to allow the main protagonists in the story re-tell their version of what we know or think we know about the man Awo. In public, Pa Awo was perceived as an inflexible or ridged personality that would not bend to the wishes of others but if accounts in in Chapter 4 of this book is to be believed and I see why not, he is portrayed very differently. According to the narrative, one of the grand-children averred that “We often remarked that, contrary to the erroneous talk of Papa being unforgiving, he was in fact very forgiving; the only crime we thought he would find unforgiving was one committed against his wife!” (p. 76). Could this be a case of separation of the private from the public spheres?
Still on the matter of public sphere, where else can one encounter a vibrant public sphere if not on the pages of newspapers? In Nigeria, the life span of an average newspaper, especially those tied to owners who are interested in politics, is less than 20 years. The long-life of HID Awolowo appears to have also bestowed a measure of longevity on the Tribune newspapers. Should you be interested in the humble beginnings of the paper; chapter 4 is the place to go. Chapter 5 picks up from where the story of the life of travails in politics begins and gives a fuller treatment to the banishment, to the pains and miraculous victory of the couple.
Just as you expect a change in the tone of the narration, Chapter 6 dips into more tragedy. It is aptly titled “death in the dawn”. Here, Adebanwi tells a mother’s story through a harvest of deaths. The reader is not spared the unpleasant details or the gripping suspense of how the news grew feet and teeth to bite deep into the flesh of the living. Even a heart of stone would surely be moved if not to tears but definitely into empathy for these endless streams of mis-fortunes.
Efforts to get Awo out of prison, the set-up that never was (great piece for a Nollywood movie this one), his release from prison and the details of how he ended up in Gowon’s government are the nuggets in Chapter 7. The chapter did not end with wedding bells but those wielding cudgels that could divorce a man from earth. It would not be surprising if a reader mutters what a life under his or her breath?
As the ship of the story anchors on the eighth chapter, Awo’s new life in Gowon’s administration fills not a few pages but it is made to commingle with HID’s life as a big-time trader and owner of businesses. As you read about trading you also get to read about fending for grand-children and how their grand-mother’s strict “Ijẹbuness” shaped theirs. As it is usual in some of the chapters; accounts of tragedies or near fatalities seem to appear before a chapter ends. One may be forced to call these sprinkles of tragedies.
Chapter 8 had its own dose of such an account. Should you ever want a counter narrative to the text, please fix your gaze on the many pictures generously used in the book. The images do speak louder than words and in some; you will appreciate the social settings in which celebrations were held in those days or the modesty of the Awolowos. The only missing information is the identification of the photographers who froze such moments for posterity.
Life starts and life ends. The account of how Pa Awo arrived at his own end occupies a tiny part of the ninth chapter. The chapter did not spare an account of the tentative death of the ‘Dideolu Specialist Hospital’ dream. It appears this is one dream that the name “stand up Lord” (as in Dìde Oluwa) did not quiet live up to. How can a book about the Awolowos be written without generous pages devoted to Olusegun Obasanjo? Readers will not be disappointed because he is represented both in text and in images too.
As a Yoruba adage says “there is no way one can pound yam without it having lumps.” The lumps in this book are manifold; they come in the guise of typos that are avoidable. For instance, on page 58 instead of objectives the expression comes out as “aims and objected;” on page 168 the word laughs is omitted in the expression “For he who laughs last, laughs best.” Similarly on page 240, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, a non-profit medical practice is referred to as a non-profit media practice. These oversights did not in any way stand in the way of textual comprehension or its flow neither should it be counted as a low for the publishers.
In conclusion, Kalugin posits that “[t]he representation of human life as text and more particularly as a narrative can exist in at least two modalities. One is encomiastic or panegyrical…[the other] as a story about a member of the socially proximate group, which is only possible within a homogeneous social space.” I am still not sure in which of the categories I will like to locate Dr. Adebanwi’s adroitly-crafted biography of a woman who lived life with its many troubles and got double of fortunes and fame till the flame went out in the same city of her birth. Hers was a life filled with memories just like the narrative woven by the writer. There are memorable lines in the many inter-meshing lives the reader is presented with. If you have a critical mind please keep your questions at bay if you really want to ‘enjoy’ this book. Please do not ask if HID Awolowo had any faults in life, just take this book as raw data that will surely give birth to other analytical efforts in the nearest future.
As I dropped the e-version, the name John Lynn has not left my consciousness. Whatever happened to this white police officer who was used by the forces of darkness as the thorn in the lives of the Awolowo family, I may never know and you too may never know till someone presents a detailed or even lean copy of Officer Lynn.