This article was published in the Vanguard when Gen Alabi-Isama hit 70. Very little has changed since then except that he finally published his book, which was a block-buster that sold out so fast. Alabi-Isama had to autograph its pirated version for his friends and admirers after the first edition sold out! He is the chairman of the Amala Group, a bunch of professionals who meet once a month to savour bowls of hot Amala with choice pieces of meat washed down with the best of drinks!
Gen. Isama recently turned 80 and this reprint is a celebration of the legendary soldier!!!
I have often wondered who General Godson Alabi-Isama would have turned out to be if he hadn’t made that spur-of-the-moment decision to enrol into the Nigerian Armed Forces a few months shy of his taking his West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE). He wasn’t scared of the exams – he’d taken quite a few after that and came up tops. According to him, he had watched a few military parades in Ibadan where he lived with his late mother, fancied being part of it and if he didn’t take that chance of joining fresh recruits then, he might never have the opportunity again. He passed the test and that was it! Alhaja, his poor mum, was almost apoplectic. An only son of her two children joining the Armed Forces? And, this at a time when joining the Forces was like sounding your own death knell. After a lot of efforts to pull her son ut failed, the poor woman had to resign herself to her fate.
Well, Alabi-Isama thankfully lived to tell the tale of his exploits in the Army, and he is still telling tales of his mesmerising adventure in the war-front to anyone who cared to listen. You must have recently read of his military exploits in the various newspapers that have carried his stories – so I’ll spare you all that – again! All I’m convinced of is that if he hadn’t been a soldier, he would have excelled in any other profession of his choice. At 37, he suddenly found himself in the midst of us ‘bloody civilians’, hung around for a while, then relocated to the USA to cool his heels before restrategising. And, so began a chain of events that eventually moulded him into the man he is today – a Brigadier-General and a highly-successful businessman carving his niche in the telecoms business.
Yet, the man is not as cut and dried as he seems. A socialite in his own right, it is amazing how he could make friends with the low and mighty and make all of them feel like his bosom buddy. You step into his house – and the revel begins! He virtually pours booze down your throat – you name your poison, he has it – from champagne to the best of brandies down to lager and exotic wines and soft drinks. But scarcely would you find him touching the stuff. Once a member of the ‘Champagne Charlie’ gang, he said he once drove for house through a nerve-wracking traffic from Ikeja to his Surulere residence. He was naturally in his soldier-temper when he got home. Still seething, he popped open a bottle of champagne and glug the lot straight from the bottle! “It knocked me for six,” he confessed. “Why I reacted so badly to a drink I’d enjoyed for years really frightened me. There and then, I resolved not to touch the stuff and I haven’t really looked back. Apart from a few celebratory drinks, I’ve stuck to my gun. I guess I’d had more than my share of the stuff. My exploits as a member of the ‘Elbow Raisers’ Club attested to that. But, there are a lot of things to enjoy in life than steeping in booze…”
Like what, for instance? I asked him. “Like charting the course of all my children some of who, thank goodness, are in some of world’s best professions.” He is also very passionate about his business – and there is his resolve to write a book about the civil war. Interesting how his life always revolve round his stint in the Army. Several books have been written about the war and a lot of Generals have given different accounts of their dare-devil adventures that another book would be a sort of so-what? To the reading public. “Not this one I’m writing,” he assured. “It’s so easy to distort facts when you’re not smack in the middle of action. My book is guaranteed to fill in the gaps.”
Alabi-Isama is a perfectionist and that is preventing his book from going to press. He has refused to use a ghost-writer and he is writing the book long hand and with his computer. He is painstakingly going through the mountain of photographs he has of his war days. A sort of collector’s item, he muttered he might just make a separate book of those! A glance at him on his desk with that determined scowl on his face had often made me want to turn back and run, as more often than not, I’d be used as his sounding board. In time I realised that he often asked your advice, you gave it, he sighed and promptly did exactly what he set out to do!
And, he had got into a lot of trouble for that too! I had shown my indignance when I had to intervene in some of his skirmishes but he wasn’t having none of it. “My sister,” he often patronised, “you know I seldom go out. Most of the time you find me here at home in my corner, minding my business. So, how could I be guilty of all those things people accuse me of?” Then, the argument would start. The soldier in him never allows him to cede. “I don’t suffer fools,” he snaps. So, he cuts those he sees as traitors off without a backward glance. I have often reminded him he is no longer a soldier, that he now has to deal with mere mortals and make allowances for their shortcomings. Once in a while, he listens. Other times, he gives me the look he must have given some of his preys in the war-front before he pounced!
In spite of all that, he has a large and generous heart. Why he decided to have his 70th birthday bash at his late mother’s city of Ilorin beats a lot of us who had been warming up for the big event. He did have a good party, a lot of people whose hearts he had touched over the years managed to make their way to the venue in spite of the fact that it was a day to Christmas.
Alabi-Isama is still expanding on details he wants in his soon-to-be-published three-part book. “Why don’t you turn it into a sort of Encyclopaedia of the Nigerian Civil War?” At least I tried to! Alabi-Isama has remained a good friend. His children relate well to him. So, do his wives. He is a people’s man who made a lot of lasting friendship during the war. People whose lives he had saved still show him a lot of gratitude. Even now, he seems humbled by the fact that he pops into establishments looking for one favour or the other and up pops someone, eager to help and extol his help when they stared despair in the face.
He boats of a stack of awards; and letters of commendation mostly from his business associates abroad. But his best moments are when he is amongst friends and family, dolling out hospitality and making as much noise as most of his tipsy guests whilst he remained as sober as a judge. Izam! This is wishing you the best of the rest of your years. As for the twins you have on your wish-list, may they materialise in your children and not in you!!!