By Japhet Alakam
One of the stanzas of the Nigerian National Anthem reads, the labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain, and it was in realisation of that popular message that eminent Nigerians, scholars and students or what could be described as the crème de la crème of the Yorubas gathered at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, UI, to once again celebrate a prolific Yoruba writer, Daniel Oluwafemi Fagunwa.
The occasion, put together by Fagunwa Study Group, FSG, in conjunction with Bookcraft, was a public presentation of a book titled, “Celebrating D.O. Fagunwa: Aspects of African and World Literary History”, edited by Professors Adeleke Adeeko and Akin Adesokan.
Though it was a book presentation, the event turned into an intellectual discourse as many issues pertaining to development—aesthetic, cultural, social, political, and economic were discussed.
In their contributions, most of the speakers eulogised the sterling qualities of a man who made a career of creating fiction that examines the universal theme of human progress through the local motif of transition to modernity, and wrote in a language that was pronounced a vernacular by the principal agents of transition. They also commended the FSG for channeling a path to society’s redemption and recovery.
In his welcome address, Ondo State Governor, Akeredeolu, said that there was a sense in which the significance of the event defined the challenge of nationhood, stressing, “It is quite so in the sense that a functionalist review of Fagunwa epistemology shows the ABC of nation building, particularly the individual responsibilities and collective mentality required of all the key institutions of a nation-state”.
For Arakunrin Akeredolu, “Fagunwa’s books are metaphors for the catalepsy suffered by our nation and the context of its possible remediation. The pastoral Fagunwa represents the originality, discretion and cultural conservatism of Ondo state people while the narrative artistry and metaphysical settings of his works are imageries conjured from the very heart of the physical expression of Fagunwa’s Oke Igbo in our Ondo state,” he added.
The Chair of the occasion, Professor Ropo Sekoni who stood in for Chief Ade Ojo, who started his speech with quotations from the book, from Femi Osofisan’s paper, Kehinde Olupona’s paper and from the Arts Council of England: lamented that the government is not doing enough to arrest alienation of citizens from arts and culture.
Sekoni who called on the government of South West to invest in culture, noted that there is nothing in the present system that prevents Yoruba governments from supporting the promotion of arts and culture and making sure that the students in primary schools learn Yoruba, and called for the resurrection of the infrastructure that existed during the government of Action Group to support excellence in the arts and improve access of citizens to creative products.
Also speaking, Tejumola Olaniyan who represented the Chair of Fagunwa Study Group, FSG, Professor Femi Taiwo, dsiclosed that the group is a collection of scholars and professionals with an abiding interest in the works of Fagunwa, stressing that Fagunwa and his works are the anchors of the organisation. Stating that the group aspires to offer a platform for the expansion of the study, creation and dissemination of knowledge about Yorùbá civilisation at the highest intellectual level.
On his part, Professor Adeleke Adeeko narrated the genesis of the day’s programme which dates back, specifically to six years ago around two simultaneous discussions among scholars who all cut their reading teeth on the novels of Fágúnwà.
Dr. Ayo Adeduntan of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, reviewed the book. While Prof. Soyinka, who presented the book to the public commended the FSG and described the book as “a marvelous testimony to the Yoruba pioneer and literary genius, D.O. Fagunwa.”
In her remarks, Fagunwa’s wife, Chief Elizabeth Fagunwa, who debunked some of the erroneous stories about Fagunwa, said, “Fagunwa was a human being, he was not a spirit. I married a man not a spirit. Against the notion that Fagunwa’s body was not found, I want to tell you that his body was found and buried in Oke Igbo.”
The event was spiced with cultural performance by members of Ondo State Cultural Troupe and reading of short excerpts from one of Fagunwa’s novels by Iwalewa Olorunyomi, of the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan.
Among those in attendance were: Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, Ondo State Governor (represented by his Special Adviser, Research and Documentation, Kunle Adebayo); his immediate predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko; Professor Wole Soyinka; Professor Femi Osofisan; Professor Taoheed Adedoja; Col. Rowland Omowa retd; Professor Dan Izevbaye; Professor Tunde Babawale ; , Kunle Ajibade; delegates from Adekunle Ajasin University, AAU, Akungba, led by its Vice Chancellor, Professor Igbekele Amos Ajibefun, Professor Tola Badejo; Professor Gbemisola Adeoti; Professor Dele Layiwola; Professor Arinpe Adejumo and many others.