Opinion

Chief Tola Adeniyi: The icon turns 79

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Talk about Nigeria’s iconic figures in the Fourth Estate, there’s arguably none with richer pedigree than High Chief Tola Adeniyi, celebrated columnist, author and President of Tola Adeniyi Foundation for Theatre and the Arts who yesterday, May 29, 2024, turned 79.

Many probably know Akogun Adeniyi as a veteran columnist who in his day held the military regimes of the 70s, the 80s and 90s by the jogular with fire-spitting, no-holds barred takes on governance matters, but that’s just one side of the literary collosus that is the Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State born former Managing Director of the Daily Times of Nigeria.

An actor, dramatist, playwright, choreographer, producer and director, the Jagun Oodua has for decades loomed large on Nigeria’s journalism space, and even as he dances on the brink of octogenarianism, he remains ever active, ever brave a warrior and ever upright; never bending, never shying away from calling a spade by its name, and ever unflinching in his firm stand for justice.

Not one to cower to any mortal, even if you are a military dictator with a reputation for deploying state apparatchik to make critics disappear, Akogun Adeniyi employed his pen to tear down the country’s despotic military rulers of the recent past, and although his writings earned him more than a few days in the dungeon on more than a few occasions, he was never deterred. He kept firing, only having to use a moniker, Aba Saheed, when the constant harassment he faced from the men in khaki began to come in the way of his work as a journalist.

High Chief Tola Adeniyi

Much of his articles in that era, and his more recent interventions, have since been compiled in one of his 2018 book, ‘In the Belly of Vultures,’ a fitting title for a compilation that captures much of the missteps that have brought Nigeria to its present failed or failing state status.

Akogun Adeniyi is bravery personified; a real warrior who says things the way they are. When, during the administration of Muhammadu Buhari, herdsmen went on rampage, massacring farming communities in much of the Middle Belt and parts of the Southern Nigeria, he granted an interview to Business Hallmark in which he called it what it was, not farmers-herders clashes as many politically correct are wont to do, but a vicious attempt at land grabbing.

Many years ago, precisely in 1983, when many with political exposure were only contented with getting a piece of the national cake that was oil wealth, Chief Adeniyi, always thinking ahead, could already tell that the country was heading nowhere unless key structural issues were addressed. He called a press conference in Ibadan and demanded that the national question be addressed before the Shehu Shagari, the then president, goes ahead to conduct the election for second term, as according to him, if he did, the government would not last for three months, as the country was sitting on a keg of gun powder, and the political structure was skewed in favour of the North as it was then.

Typical of Nigerian government which has historically preferred to play the ostrich, Adeniyi was arrested, detained, and the election went ahead. The rest, they say, is history. The government collapsed in three months by December 31. Today, more than 40 years on, the same national question remains on the front burner.

It is a fitting coincidence that Akogun’s birthday falls on May 29, just a day before May 30, the day the Igbo have unofficially chosen to remember the millions killed during the unfortunate Biafra war. He happens to be one of the few brave voices that staunched opposed the war, and history remembers him as one man who did his best to save as many many Igbo as he could. For this, the Igbo nation and all lovers of fairness and justice are eternally grateful.

Akogun Adeniyi is a father figure, a beautiful soul and elder statesman who has earned his stripes.

He authored several impactful works, including “Teenagers Must Repent” (1964), “Aye Ode Oni” (1964), “Soul Fire” (1974), “The Lunatic” (1976), “Nigerian Professionals” (1985), “The Jewel” (a biography of Chief Mrs. HID Awolowo), “Theatre On Wheels” (1997), “Deaths in the Thighs” (2001), and “IN THE BELLY OF VULTURES” (2018).

High Chief Tola Adeniyi

These works showcased his ability to address critical societal issues. Beyond his literary contributions, Akogun’s thought-provoking papers and speeches delved into pressing societal matters.

Born on May 29 1945, into a devout Muslim family in Ago-Iwoye, Akogun’s exposure to Quranic education laid the foundation for his lifelong passion for mass communication, influencing his career path and fuelling his interest in oral poetry.

 

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