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Memories of WASU echo at book launch

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor, James Ezema & Chukwuma Nwakamma
LAGOS—Memories of the roles played by African students in the radical political consciousness of the colonial era was relived, Thursday, in Lagos. The occasion was the public presentation of a book titled “Mama WASU, A Village Girl Turned International Personality,” written by 99-year-old Chief (Mrs) Opeolu Solanke-Ogunbiyi, wife of the late Ladipo Solanke, Secretary General of the defunct West African Students Union (WASU), in London.

The forum also provided insight into why military officers of that era who went abroad for studies were barred from living in WASU hostel to shield them from radical political ideologies.

Eminent scholar and historian, Professor Gabriel Olusanya, who reviewed the book and Chief Tayo Akpata, who spoke at the event, agreed that WASU was known for its radicalism.

From left, Chief Olabode Emmanuel, chairman; Chief (Mrs) Opeolu Solanke-Ogunbiyi, the author; Professor  (Mrs) B. Ogedengbe and Professor Theo Ogunbiyi at the launch of the book: 'Mama WASU' by Chief (Mrs)Solanke-Ogunbiyi at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos. Photo: Diran Oshe.
From left, Chief Olabode Emmanuel, chairman; Chief (Mrs) Opeolu Solanke-Ogunbiyi, the author; Professor (Mrs) B. Ogedengbe and Professor Theo Ogunbiyi at the launch of the book: 'Mama WASU' by Chief (Mrs)Solanke-Ogunbiyi at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos. Photo: Diran Oshe.

Among the personalities in attendance were Lieutenant-General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Professor Samuel Onanuga, Major-General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd) and his wife; Chief (Mrs) Kofoworola  Akerele-Bucknor, Prof. Remi Ogedengbe, Dr F.R.A. Marinho, Chief Allison Ayida, Prof. E.A Elebute, and Chief (Mrs) Yetunde Francesca Emmanuel.

Others were Prof.A.B. Ejiwunmi,, Chief Leke Dino, Ambassador Gbenga Asiru, Chief John.Akin-George, represented by his wife; Prof Osato Giwa-Osagie and his wife; Otunba Jobi Fele and Pa Akintola Willians.

The chairman of the occasion, Chief Olabode Emmanuel, while extolling the virtues of the author in his opening speech, said: “Mama’s love for education encouraged most Africans in WASU at the time when it was almost a taboo for a black to be in a white university. I hope the coming generation of Nigerians will learn some lessons from ‘Mama WASU’ because many Nigerians and African leaders’ lives were touched by her.”

On why she is called ‘Mama WASU’, he said: “it is  because of  her role in the establishment of WASU hostel and her support for African students who were there.

“Most of us at WASU who through her counselling benefitted a lot from her,  so I cannot repay her. A lot of people benefitted from her numerous and generous endowment programme. Personally when I was in London, I spent most of my time in her house there and I always felt at home. She was providing African dishes at WASU hostel”.

Olusanya, who reviewed the book and Chief Tayo Akpata, who spoke at the event, agreed that WASU was known for its radicalism.

Among the personalities in attendance were Lieutenant-General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Professor Samuel Onanuga, Major-General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd) and his wife; Chief (Mrs) Kofoworola  Akerele-Bucknor, Prof. Remi Ogedengbe, Dr F.R.A. Marinho, Chief Allison Ayida, Prof. E.A Elebute, and Chief (Mrs) Yetunde Francesca Emmanuel.

Others were Prof. A. B. Ejiwunmi, Chief Leke Dino, Ambassador Gbenga Asiru, Chief John Akin-George, represented by his wife; Prof. Osato Giwa-Osagie and his wife; Otunba Jobi Fele and Pa Akintola Willians.

The chairman of the occasion, Chief Olabode Emmanuel, while extolling the virtues of the author in his opening speech, said: “Mama’s love for education encouraged most Africans in WASU at the time when it was almost a taboo for a black to be in a white university. I hope the coming generation of Nigerians will learn some lessons from ‘Mama WASU’ because many Nigerians and African leaders’ lives were touched by her.”

On why she is called ‘Mama WASU’, he said: “It is  because of  her role in the establishment of WASU hostel and her support for African students who were there.

“Most of us at WASU who through her counselling benefitted a lot from her,  so I cannot repay her. A lot of people benefitted from her numerous and generous endowment programme. Personally when I was in London, I spent most of my time in her house there and I always felt at home. She was providing African dishes at WASU hostel.

“I cannot give account of her here, I know that God will continue to keep her. Apart from that, let me be a bit personal here. Mama WASU and her late husband, the late Pa Ladipo Solanke, should be remembered in the history of this country, even in West Africa because of the role they played at WASU,” he said

The book reviewer, Prof. Olusanya, described the gathering as a family one. He described the author as an unusual person, recalling that Solanke was appointed the secretary general of WASU after it was formed.

He also said throughout his life, Solanke was committed to WASU and running a hostel established for Africam students from proceeds of his legal practice.

He mentioned Adetokumbo Ademola, FRA Williams, H. O. Davies, Kofo Abayomi, Fela’s father, Rev Israel Ransom-Kuti,  among the early African-Nigerian students at the hostel.

According to him, influence of WASU students in the hostel was a source of worry to colonial authorities, adding that WASU became a training ground for many African leaders, including Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Jomo Kenyetta, Kwame Nkuruma, Hasting Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, Kan-Kan Boadu of Ghana, Mrs Olive Johnson of Sierre-Leone among others.

He said the union defined Chief (Mrs) Salanke-Ogunbiyi’s role in WASU, hence she was called Mama WASU.
He observed that the book showed Mama’s love for education, noting that she remains a Nigerian and African patriot despite her seven decades in London.

Prof. Olusanya said the book also showed the role she played in WASU, noting further that it is sad that this country is yet to recognise her role and that of her late husband.

In his remark, the editor of the book, Prof. Samuel Onanuga Onakomaiya, said apart from her commitment to education, Mama WASU was also known for her selfless service to humanity.

He revealed that she had to run away from her village,  Ijeb-Itile at age 10 to Lagos when her father stopped her education in order to be educated.

He noted that Mama has left her footprints not only on the sand of time but on the rug of time where it cannot be obliterated.

Onakomaiya who said he first came in contact with Mama WASU in 1968 added that her commitment to good nutritional habits, her attitude to stressful situation and her quick adaptation to all environment had all contributed to her longevity.

He maintained that the life of the author had shown that if illiteracy, ignorance and ill-health  are obliterated from the country, the society would be better.
Chief (Mrs) Akin-George who performed the role of chief launcher on behalf of her husband whom she said was under the weather, pointed out that it was a pity that Mama WASU had not been given a national award.

“I pray for this country that things will be done right and we have to do it ourselves, God will not come down to do it fo us,” she prayed.

She lamented that only moneybags and politicians of little integrity were given national awards, adding that these days, people pay to be recognised and not because they merit such honour.

Prof. Osita Giwa-Osagie in his own comment said from what others have said, “it is obvious that Mama is a mothers to all.”

According to Chief Akpata, who described himself as a product of WASU:  “I’ve known WASU before I thought of going to London.”

He recalled his encounter with Solanke on telephone, saying  WASU was a familiar name in his family.

“I’m  in  many ways a WASU product and if we were to talk about WASU and its activities, WASU in our time was known for its radicalism, the inspiration we got from those who went before us. It was so much that in about 1956, the Nigerian government barred the Nigerian Army officers or students to be, who were then studying to become army officers in London from staying in WASU because of the radicalism,” Akpata said.

In her remark, Mama WASU thanked all those who were present, saying: “I haven’t got much to say today, we’ll wait until I’m 100 years next year.”

The royal father of the day, Alaiyeluwa Oba M. A. Kasali, the traditional ruker of  Ijebu-Itele, in his comment said as the presiding authority of her town, he was overwhelmed with joy because Mama had put the town in the world map.

In his closing remark,  chairman of the occasion, Chief  Emmanuel, said Mama should take solace in the fact that she is not the only one who deserved to be honoured and has not been recognised.

He maintained that the spirit of WASU lives on, noting that a part of West Africa died when WASU was closed in 1970 in England.

The author’s daughter, Prof. Bomi Ogedengbe, while giving the vote of thanks expressed the family’s gratitude to those who contributed to the successful publication of the book and for attending the book launch.

Others who attended the event included Prof. Dipo Akinkugbe, Chief (Mrs) Toyin Olakurin, Erelu  Abiola  Dosumu, Akin Adesikpe, Prof  Jide Ajayi, Mrs. Ajoke Taiwo Yemi Cole, Gab Olusosayi, among others.


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