Thursday, 17 April 2014
Baba Omojola, 1938 - 2013…For Love of Country By Dipo H. Aka-Bashorun
"…there is need for conferences of the people - of workers, farmers, women, youth and students, professional etc - preparatory to a National Peoples Constituent Assembly..."
"…the people must, at all stages, be involved in the process of drafting the new constitution which must also be subjected to their final approval." - Baba Omojola, coordinating Secretary, 1st Symposium on Major National Issues, April, 1973
It was raining and chilly. Not an ideal day for a tourist visit to the Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. But the group of four men and a woman in two cars driving along the falls were not in Niagara Falls for vacation, at least not yet. I was part of the group on a reconnaissance trip to the falls to plan our secondary school reunion for June 2014. It was on that drive on October 19, 2013, that I received the news of Baba Omojola's passing. The impending reunion was for our Alma Mata, Federal Government College Kano, the school that Baba convinced my father to make me attend in 1976. Upon announcing to the group that I just got grave news from home, I just lost my uncle, Baba Omojola. Tunji Bello, who was driving replied, the trade unionist? I said yes despite the fact that I never thought of Baba as a trade unionist, but that was the essence of the man. A unique man that was something different to all sectors of society. Even at that moment of immense sorrow at such a great personal loss, a smile of equally immense pride came to my face, that thousands of miles from home, along the great falls of Niagara, Baba's name rang a bell of solidarity.
Our Early Years
Growing up in Nigeria, Baba was a constant presence throughout my childhood. The old man and Baba, with their seemingly endless planning, meetings and travels, also managed to drag me along. For the old man, Baba was a sidekick, companion, comrade and younger brother all rolled into one. For people who have been fortunate to make his acquaintance in the post Kuje 5 era, they got plenty. But Baba was more than that. A cousin of mine once told me that he used to admire my dad's French suits in the 70s and 80s. The old man had nothing on Baba when it came to fashion I told him. The 70s Baba, the socialist Baba, was the most stylish man I ever met. He was our Avant-garde, a socio-political man of art and culture. He brought the fashions of London and Paris to Lagos, Kano and the socialist movement. He cut a dashing figure in his 2-door BMW, driving through the streets of 70's Lagos and Kano.
I couldn't take a ride in the car for a long time because according to Baba, BMW stood for Be My Wife and I wasn't his wife. It was the near-fatal crash in that car that led to the incident that underscored my old man’s love for Baba’s welfare. The doctors said the next 48hrs were critical for Baba and he was in danger of loosing a limb if Baba didn’t get a particular medication, unavailable at that time in Nigeria. After frantic phone calls to London, the old man made a bee-line for the airport and was in London and back in Lagos within the 48hrs. We all knew then Baba was special.
He was among the revolutionary intellectuals of the 1970s that evolved into the activists of the late 1980s and into the 21st century Nigeria. One could argue he was, as my brother Segun put it, "the last of the Mohicans". The last of that group of young Nigerians that agitated for independence and evolved into the post-independence pro-democracy movement. Baba was the ultimate “unseen hand” the behind the scenes organizer and facilitator. Our unsung hero of the socialist and workers’ labor movement. Because of his physical stature and boyish looks, it was easy to think Baba was much younger than he was. It wasn't until secondary school in Kano that I had a chance to really know his then wife Sally and their young son Akin.
…from the Bohemia Quarters
A few years ago, I saw old photos of parties held at the Bohemia Quarters at Baba's Ibeju-Lekki retreat. At my fond recollection of some of the parties, Baba said "you were too young for those parties". I reminded him that while, I was too young to attend, I wasn't too young to run errands for the attendees. The Bohemia Quarters was the name Baba gave his 2nd floor Kano residence. As my legal guardian, it was the place I went not only to replenish my provisions' and allowance supply but also to eat home cooked food. On weekends, the bohemia quarters came alive. Friday evening was for the literary arts; poetry, classics, spoken word and general throw down discussions. Saturday nights were for relaxed socializing with wine, cognac and music of Davis and Coltrane in the background.
And Baba, ever the culture host, would take guests, through discussion, on a culture and fashion trip from Paris to Belgrade, Havana to Panama and Accra to Nairobi. Looking through his passport in those days was like leafing through international post-cards. He seemed to have travelled everywhere. On Sunday, Sally and Akin would drop me off at school in the BMW, my stomach full, tips from the errands in my pocket and my school mates looking on with envy. I left Kano in 1980 not knowing, at that time, I would never see the Bohemia Quarters or Sally, again. I hope someone someday would be able to shed light on the role the late Sally played in the Nigeria Socialist movement. May her soul continue to Rest in Peace. An additional 25years shall speed by before I would get a chance to spend another quality time with Baba and see Akin, all grown up, again.
…to the Sundowner Court
I had called Baba, upon receiving the email invite for his 75th birthday celebration, that regrettably, I would not be present. I promised to see him on my next visit and we can go to the Sundowner Court for our own private 75th anniversary celebration with fish, palm wine and fresh baked bread and some Miles Davis. Through the years prior to the old man’s passing in 2005, I had seen Baba briefly in London and the United States. The Baba I met in the year 2005 gave me a brief shock and took some getting used to. The Baba of my youth was debonair personified. Now Baba was attired in Ankara and eating kolanut and orogbo to boot! When he handed me the calendar pamphlet he had written in Yoruba, containing different Yoruba festivals, I almost fell off my chair. Baba, you’ve changed I exclaimed! He said no, I just got older.
He was right. Baba didn’t change; it was the same cultured man who had now dug deeper into his roots to enlighten all around him as he did in the days of my youth in Kano. I had now come to know Baba’s wife, Dr. Mrs. Ajibola, who quietly has stood with Baba supporting him and knowing full well how giving he was of his time. I was last at Sundowner Court 4years ago with Baba. That was his sanctuary, his opportunity to recharge and also his get-a-way from the struggles, the symposiums, the protests, the agitations for this work-in-progress named Nigeria. He was the Economist, the Socialist, the Progressive, the Organizer, Author, Biographer, Orator, Culturalist and yes, Trade Unionist and much more. Through it all ran a common thread of style and humility. All who knew him shall miss him greatly, it has been a wonderful journey and may his soul rest in peace. Amen. Baba Omojola, my uncle, the Prince of The Bohemia Quarters and the Chief of The Sundowner Court, I see you when I see you…
Dipo H. Aka-Bashorun
Mr. Aka-Bashorun is an Environmental consultant at People’s Environmental, Inc., based in New York City, USA. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters