Sat Guru Maharaji’s spiritual village is located few metres to the Ibadan entrance. “The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth” is etched by the side of the camp. Maharaji, the Oyo State- born controversial mystic who had declared himself “Perfect Living Master” runs the encampment. His real name is Mohammed Ajirobatan Ibrahim. There were various sizes of billboard and impressions on them too. “Ekaabo si ilu Ibadan, K’ Oyo be daa – Ajumose Gbogbo Wani – Welcome to Ibadan”, “Welcome, APC – justice, peace and equality,” “Golden Experience – Goldberg,” “An Honourable Achievement 2013 Monode Gold Award Winner,” “Express Quarry, Welcomes you to Oyo.” There were many others.
There was mild traffic congestion at the main entrance to the city. Some road construction activities were going on. Chairman roamed through and emerged at a filling station he called Challenge. Challenge is such a bustling midpoint where several commercial vehicles stop or take off to either Lagos or other places. At the place, I saw several under-aged children hawking various goods. There were also kids and their parents from poor West African countries of Niger and Chad who spoke Yoruba to any person disembarking from a vehicle. They were begging for alms. Some disabled Nigerian children and adults as well, were there pleading for hand-outs too, like ether Nigerien and Chadian Kids and parents.
I felt some empathy for them. What a disparity? Few are wallowing in affluence in the likes of lavishly decorated Eko Hotels and Suites. And millions of our people are shrinking on the dusty Ibadan streets begging for alms. I brought out some small cash and some bread I took from the hotel during breakfast and shared amongst them.
From challenge to Mokola, is about twenty minutes away. I boarded a small black Hyundai car going to the Mokola axis. The Ring road leading to the area was hit with traffic, we enrouted through a small road, through the government quarters. A male passenger in the vehicle told me that, government used to own lots of those properties. He lamented that over the years, successive military and civilian rulers in the state had converted government properties into their personal properties. We entered the Iyaganku Road where there is a Police station. Later to Dugbe Road which was crammed too, near the famous Dugbe market.
Few minutes after, we were at Mokola. Mokola was just like Challenge, much noise coming from vehicles, motorcyclists and humans. Here, I jumped on a motorcycle. A young man in his mid-twenties was the rider. He wore a black T-shirt, written at the back and front, “Elelede Youth Carnival”. On the motorcycle fuel tank was a big sticker with the words, “God dey.”
“I am going to No.7, Odeku Street in Bodija” I told him.
“Do you know the place?”
“Yes” he replied.
His affirmation was not strong enough to convince me that he knows the place. He took off speedily like an aeroplane taxing out of a tarmac. He over-took other motorcyclists, cars and trucks. I was worried for our safety. I warned him to slow down. He refused, rather increased his speed and said in Yoruba”, don’t fear”. We travelled on the U1 Road and saw a flourishing forest reserve leading to the Bodija enclave. At a nearby junction away, the motorcyclist reduced his speed drastically. I was curious. He saw a large earthen pot; in it was fresh palm oil. On the neck a red piece of cloth tied around. By the side were pieces of unripe plantain, generously scattered around it in a circle. The young man was scared. I have to stop and observed it very well, taking pictures of the spectacle.
I noticed that other road users were equally scared and avoided the site. The motorcycle told me that if one touches it, such person will die. I laughed.
“Oga you nor belief? Even Christians, Muslims won’t try it, because the Bible says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”.
I won’t want to go into any religious argument at that point. I avoided it, same way I avoided the driver of the Adetokumbo Road – Lagos argument on Boko Haram. Practitioners of the African Traditional Religion (ATR) must have dropped their paraphernalia of worship there.
We continued our journey into Bodija. The motorcycle didn’t know the place as he claimed. We spent another ten minutes searching for the place. It was near Flavour, a fast food joint, at the entrance of the street, a tall, dark-skinned, good-looking lady in her spaghetti strap dress with her flowing weave-on hair. She showed us the compound. The lady was even more beautiful than those ever-smiling, light-skinned Pharmdern damsels on the posters along the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway. I said hello to the Flavour – Bodija amazon, but it didn’t go beyond that.
It was around 5:30 PM, the afternoon sun was fading to its shell. I paid the motorcyclist three hundred naira (N300) instead of two hundred naira (N200) and left him. I walked slowly into the Odeku Street. The ancient street is a cul-de-sac. The area is located on the north of Ibadan. I quickly recognized it and the late Comrade Ola Oni’s house. At the entrance to the street, I saw electric poles and naked wires failing on one another. And wires were powered, and if one touches any of those unprotected wires, such person certainly will be electrocuted.
Comrade Ola Oni’s compound is a small one with an old storey building. On his wooden door, leading to his sitting room were the commemorative words, “Iva Valley Villa. Dedicated to the memory of the 20 coal miners murdered by the British colonialists in Iva Valley coal pit (in Enugu State) in Iva Valley in 1949”. The side engraved tiny portraits of coal miners with their tools, resting on their shoulders.
I opened the door. Seventy-year-old blind Kehinde, the Late Comrade (Dr.) Ola Oni’s widow sat in a three-seater upholstery chair. By her side, in the same chair was her twin sister. Kehinde was covered with a stonewashed ankara. I was offered a single-seaters upholstery chair in front of theirs. One of her children and one of Oni’s relatives sat on my left hand side in single seaters. I explained to them that in a way, my trip was a condolence visit and that I couldn’t attend his funeral in 1999 when he died. The widow was happy to see me and received me nicely. She spoke about her husband’s life, struggles, their love life, death and her current condition. She recalled the arrests, tortures and detention the husband suffered in the hands of successive repressive regimes in Nigeria to bring about change in Nigeria.
She said she was a civil servant and was used to the bureaucracy associated with it, but her orientation changed when she got married to him.
“Even in the kitchen when I was cooking, he would just come and begin to teach me histories of popular struggles. He was too open to me. There was no secret. We travelled to meetings, seminars and conferences together. I grew up with him to appreciate the issues he was fighting against, and for. I ended up like him, ideologically speaking” Mrs. Oni remembered.
She also recounted how heavily armed policemen invaded her residence after her husband’s death and tear-gassed her and her children. During our discussion, she was full of praises for Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State. She mentioned Fashola’s name about eight times especially. She asked me to thank him. I would have done it, but don’t know how to go about that. I was inquisitive. She said when she fell ill in 2011 and taken to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, without money to pay the bills. She didn’t know how Fashola heard about it and came in, and paid all the bills. She can’t remember how much Fashola paid.
For Rauf, she said he supported the establishment of the Ola Oni Centre for Social Research in Osogbo, in his state capital. She is a kind women who appreciates little things people do for her or her family. That was my impression of the poor, ailing widow. She was full of thanks for me for visiting them. I was there until night enveloped the area completely and power went off, but didn’t feel like leaving her.
This writer’s first visit to the “Iva Valley Villa” was on 7th December, 1996, though I had met the late Comrade Ola Oni in the office of the campaign for Democracy (CD) around early 1993 in Lagos. Oni and other leaders of CD, the radical, anti-military, pro-democracy platform had convened a convention. I had travelled with Christian Akani, one of the leading activists of the in the south-south region then. Akani’s drawn-out goatee beard adorned his face. There was no transport fare refund or allowances for participating in the CD event. There was no grant from anywhere. Throughout the night we were awake in Oni’s sitting room. We discussed how to increase the temperature of the General Abacha’s despotism and quicken its demise through organised mass actions.
It was a serious convention; several determined, honest and patriotic Nigerians from all over the country were there. There was a general crackdown on activists, journalists and opposition politicians. It was not up to two months then, when I was just released from a nasty detention in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State for anti-regime activities. Olaitan Oyerinde, that dazzling Marxist, labour activist and CD Lagos branch chairman was there. Several years after, he left the labour movement and became Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomole’s principal private secretary. He was assassinated on Friday, 4th May 2012. The Police are still searching for his killers. Comrade Abiodun Kolawole, an ex- student leader and intellectual was also there. Abiodun died in a motor accident with his wife in December, same 2012 around Osun State. He was the executive director of the Ola Oni Centre for Social Research. What a house of threnody.
Ola Oni was a diminutive man, with a piercing voice. He served as a point person for pro-democracy struggles in the Ibadan-Lagos axis and beyond. His dusty sitting room stocked with radical and revolutionary literature from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was one of our centres, while his family used upstairs. He hailed from Ekiti State, in same south-western Nigeria, but found a home in Ibadan. Prof. Steve A. Okecha, in his book, The Nigerian University; An Ivory Tower with Neither Ivory Nor Tower (2008) argues that the Sir Walter Elliot Colonial Commission of 13th June, 1943 led to the establishment of the first university in Ibadan in January 1948. Rev. I.O. Ransome – Kuti was the only Nigerian in that Sir Elliot commission. He was the father of Fela Anikpulapo – Kuti. That explained why Ibadan became epicenter of intellectual activities and radical pro-people’s struggles.
The late Ola Oni was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan (UI). He was sacked with others like Omafume Onoge, Dr. Akin Ojo, Dr. Bade Onimode, Dr. Wale Adeniran, all of UI. At the same time, several teachers in universities and polytechnics through the country were fired too. The late Bassey Ekpo Bassey, a journalist who worked with the government owned Chronicle Newspaper was dismissed too. Dr. Edwin Madunagu at the University of Calabar and his wife were swept away by the Obasanjo’s scourge. Student leaders and activists were expelled.
In April of that 1979, students all over the country protested against increase in school fees. Though reported to have been peaceful they called for the sack of the then Federal Commissioner for Education, Colonel Amadu Ali. Because of the student’s “Ali Must Go” campaign, several students were shot dead by police and soldiers. Patriots like Oni and others who spoke against it were victimized. The late irrepressible Lagos Lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi and literary icon, Wole Soyinka took mass action against the unpopular policy and extra-judicial killings by the Obasanjo’s dictatorship.
The Oyo State-born Ebenezer Babatope (also called Ebino Topsy) is an ex-student leader, ex-newspaper editor and politician. He remained the greatest chronicler of history of student union in Nigeria until date He was equally a victim of the clampdown as a student leader. His book, Student Power in Nigeria (1956-1980)(1991) and others narrated in details the stories of Ola Oni and others.
Since the tragic University of Ibadan incident, Oni did not give up. He remained in the vanguard of the people’s struggle suffering torture, arrests and detentions. He died on 22nd December 1999 after returning from an Alliance for Democracy (AD) meeting. He was buried by the side of his house. These words were inscribed on his tombstone, “In Memory of Comrade Ola Oni (1933-1999). Eminent Marxist Scholar – activist, radical pan-Africanist, fearless defender of the masses and revolutionary leader for social liberation and justice.
Lived a self-sacrificing life motivated by loss for the masses, total commitment to truth, equity and justice. The hall marks of progressive humanity. A man defined by his depth, dignity, simplicity and humility with courage, faithfulness and perseverance. A worthy life in an ocean swirling with debased humanity”. Are these words enough for a man who actually lived and died for his people?
Naagbanton lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, Nigeria