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For Curtis Olujimi Adeniyi-Jones, 1947-2019

Published by The Nation on Sun, 13 Oct 2019

Adebayo WilliamsTHERE are some people who go through life without allowing it to get through to them. With charming insouciance they take everything in their stride, completely indifferent to sudden fame or swift misfortune and its furious arrows. Jimi Adeniyi-Jones, aka Jimi-Jah, who passed to eternal glory in the second week of August, was undoubtedly one of this special breed.He was a natural rebel and iconoclast; a man of the people to boot. A scion of the illustrious and highly regarded Adeniyi-Jones clan of Sierra Leone and Nigeria, Jimi had a total disdain for upper class pretensions and elitist chicaneries. He would always be found drinking and making merry with the lowliest of the low or raising hell with the wretched of the earth. This rowdy populism and contempt for the norms of high society made him immensely popular both as a student and as a student union leader at the old University of Ife.It was at this university that we first met in October 1971. We were fresh undergraduates and concessional entrants with Jimi provisionally admitted to read Law while I was granted admission to the Faculty of Arts. The preliminary Law students and the Arts undergraduates did practically the same courses. Beside these, there was also the omnibus Use of English course which pulled everybody together.You have to give this to the Ife university authorities of that glorious epoch. With high-minded altruism and a touching nobility of spirit, they admitted the best and brightest to the university from every corner of the country and abroad without any concession to tribe, creed, region or religion. The result was a pan-Nigerian platform for elite-bonding and visioning which survives till date and which remains the most vital ingredient of the unusual political dynamism to be found among students of that fabled institution.If Nigeria is to be rescued from political infamy, this template of elite absorption and grooming for higher responsibility ought to be revisited in the light of the current culture of berserk self-recruitment among the political elite which can only lead to social disaster particularly in a country already close to combustion.Even within the context of the survival of the fittest, it has been proved beyond reasonable doubts that in the evolution of human society, institutions, organizations, guilds and nations, the selfless genes always prevail against the forces of brute necessity and utter selfishness no matter the initial odds.Yet in a galaxy of stars, there will always be superstars. It was hard for any observant person not to notice Jimi Adeniyi-Jones in those early days at Ife. He was a Nigerian cultural and linguistic conundrum: A Yoruba boy who spoke only English and Ibo languages. His smattering of Yoruba language when uttered was always a cause for much hilarity among speaker and listeners alike. It turned out that although born of a Yoruba/Saro father, Adeniyi-Jones was raised in the east by his Ibo mother.Looking closely at Adeniyi- Jones, he appeared older and far more mature than the average undergraduate of the time. It turned out that he had finished secondary school much earlier, in 1965 at the highly elitist Government College, Umuahia only to find himself embroiled in the civil disturbances following military intervention and the subsequent civil war.It was easy to understand and appreciate why Jimi decided to come back home and to the land of his forefathers. He was deeply fascinated by Yoruba culture, its intricate nuances and remarkable subtlety. Within a year, the fellow from Aba was speaking passable Yoruba. Often this lingo would be interspersed with Pidgin English or domesticated phrases from Igbo language.His mode of linguistic acquisition was not for the fainthearted or the squeamish. He would sometimes proceed by robustly mimicking native speakers of the language, particularly Ogbomosho and Ekiti dialects or by wickedly mispronouncing the names of towns and villages he had encountered on his way to Lagos: Ajebandele, Akiriboto, Odeomu, Majeroku, Ikire and Ogunmakin suffered grievously.At some other instances, he would compel yours sincerely to regale him with the impossible sounding names of some secondary schools in Yorubaland: Atakumosa, Iganmode, Gboluji, Akinorun, Igbo-Elerin, Ladigbolu etc. He had picked up this elitist pastime from fellow aristos who dismissed local secondary schools as the haven of provincial yokels. Until they got thoroughly beaten in class, that is.Even in the scholarly anonymity of university life, particularly in a university like old Ife which was beginning to attract global attention as a citadel of excellence, it was impossible not to notice a man with such a mesmerizing and arresting personality. Always stylishly and elegantly turned out, there was a raffish streak about him and a hint of the gamey elan of the rogue boy who had done time among far older women and had mastered the ways and wiles of the fairer sex.By some stroke of providence and in an unexpected turn of events, Adeniyi-Jones was to leverage on his growing popularity among the students populace in a dramatic and unexpected manner. In retrospect, it is hard to imagine if the Aba fellow ever thought of himself for one second as a student politician or imagined himself as a president of a volatile and dynamic student populace. He was just too carefree and guileless for that.But opportunity beckoned. The Oluwasanmi administration began on a note of high admiration and mutual affection. Never in the history of Nigeria had a university administrator endeared himself to the students in such a profound and paradigm-shifting manner. But nothing lasts in the tropics. At a point, a restless segment of the student population felt that the Oluwasanmi administration had become intolerant and authoritarian in its ways.Who else to lead this assault on the bastion of tyranny and vengeful intolerance but the hell-raising, Aba-raised scion of Yoruba aristocracy and joyous non-conformist' What began as a plot from the pit of hell and a political joke taken too far began to take firm root in the imagination of the students populace. But by the time the authorities knew what has hit them, it was too late.The election that brought Adeniyi-Jones to the portals of the presidency of the Ife Students Union in 1973 was a paradigm-shifting event in the annals of Student Unionism at the university. It led to a drastic realignment of political forces having broken the back of the traditional powerbrokers, shadowy godfathers, the religious lobby and the SACOBA cabal otherwise known as the Fajuyi Hall mafia. (SACOBA is the acronym for St Andrews College Old Boys Association)In a dress rehearsal of tumultuous events to come, the Adeniyi-Jones victory parade on election night turned into a rowdy carnival which unilaterally invaded Moremi Hall, the female hostel, with the girls either joining the ground-breaking carousal or quickly shutting their doors. Yet later that same night, yours sincerely was already drafting the presidential inaugural speech with the completely unhinged president elect lapsing into a drunken reverie while screaming imprecations at ones ancestors.The presidential inaugural address climaxed with the rousing statement. We are now leaving an era of cooperation for an era of confrontation. The Vice Chancellor, Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, obviously could not believe his ears. Hitherto used to a crowd of fawning and adulating students, this was a bridge too far. He had vowed to nip the rebellion in the bud.Thereafter, a tense cat and mouse game subsisted with the union leaders baiting the authorities while the administration responded with threats and hints of expulsion. A typical student union release usually ended by copying a mysterious JBJ who was described as the Chairman of the Joint Action Committee . With Jimi Adeniyi-Jones now departed, only Ayo Olukotun who was then the Secretary of the Union and yours sincerely know who was JBJ.The raging tension on campus culminated in a university inquiry. Among its terms of reference was that it should examine the tone and tenor of the Presidential Speech of February 1st, 1974. It was an attempt to kill off the students rebellion. But it backfired spectacularly. On the first day of the inquiry, a swaggering Adeniyi-Jones arrived at the venue with yours sincerely and many others in tow. Outside a crowd of irate students lay in wait.Rather than addressing the issues at stake, Adeniyi-Jones simply went after a member of the panel, the university Bursar and a man of Lebanese extraction, putting him to task about his locus standi in a matter concerning Nigerians.Mister man, are you a Nigerian' Adeniyi-Jones screamed at the poor fellow.Pandemonium erupted. Professor Adeagbo Akinjogbin quickly packed his papers openly regretting the threatening atmosphere. It was the first and last time the panel sat. Thereafter, the authorities decided to back off, hoping and praying that Adeniyi-Jones would conclude his term without any further fracas. A year and a few months after as Adeniyi-Jones was bidding the university goodbye so was the Oluwasanmi administration.Olujimi Adeniyi-Jones remained a political enigma till the very end. Many must wonder why a man who put up such a sterling and heroic performance as a student union leader would subsequently disappear from the political radar never to be heard of again. But this was precisely what happened. After being called to the bar in 1976 and subsequent Youth Service in Kaduna, Adeniyi-Jones went back to quiet Law Practice in Aba, shunning politics and the lure of office. It was from there that he answered the final call on the 12th of August. May his great and noble soul rest in perfect peace.
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