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Celebrating Fagunwa, pioneer, literary genius

The late literary genius, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, was loudly acclaimed at the presentation of a book in his honour in Ibadan, Oyo State.

THOUGH dead, he is not forgotten. In fact, he continues to be venerated as evident  from  what transpired Thursday last week at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, when the book Celebrating D.O. Fagunwa: Aspects of African and World Literary History’ was presented.

The presentation of the book edited by Professors Adeleke Adeeko and Akin Adesokan, and published by Book Craft, was the closure of a process that began in 2013. That year, the Fagunwa Study Group (FSG), had with the backing of the Ondo and Ekiti state governments and the then Tunde Babawale-led Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization, organised a landmark conference to mark the 50th anniversary of Fagunwa’s passage.

Celebrating D.O. Fagunwa: Aspects of African and World Literary History’, with a foreword written by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka – who himself graced Thursday’s ceremony – contains 16 essays presented by eminent scholars at the Akure conference.

And it was a befitting closure with eminent Nigerians highlighting Fagunwa’s significant contributions to literature, sociology, religion, education and scholarship generally. Though chair of the FSG, Professor Olufemi Taiwo was not present to appraise the gathering of what it was about, Tejumola Olaniyan, another US-based professor, did that competently for him. The group, he said, “is a collection of scholars and professionals with an abiding interest in the works of Fagunwa. Fagunwa and his works are the anchors of our organisation but we aspire to offer a platform for the expansion of the study, creation, and dissemination of knowledge about Yorùbá civilization at the highest intellectual level.”

Olaniyan, who recalled what led to the Akure conference, assured that the book will not be the last effort from the group: “The Fagunwa Study Group’s agenda to make Fagunwa the springboard for scholarly explorations in Yoruba literature, religion, philosophy, culture, and politics is just the beginning. We will, in the near future, be asking you to be a part of an exciting programming in conferences, workshops, public lectures and book presentations on many aspects of Yorùbá intellectual heritage and its global reach.”

Chair of the occasion, Professor Ropo Sekoni, prefaced his address with three quotes – two taken from the book and the last from the Arts Council of Britain¬ – and harped on the significance of cultural education and why governments at all levels must support the arts. He said: “It does not require restructuring or a new constitution for governments in our region to get their acts together in respect of proper cultural education that can stimulate production and patronage of art and culture. There is nothing in the present system that prevents Yoruba governments from supporting promotion of arts and culture and making sure students in primary schools learn Yoruba.

“The infrastructure to support excellence in the arts and improve access of citizens to creative products that existed during the government of Action Group can be resurrected. Yoruba Historical Schemes and the initiative on Yoruba language and culture under the Awolowo government supported creativity while it also provided citizens access to works of art in many ways.”

Sekoni, who reiterated that culture is an engine of development and that it requires investment from all tiers of government,   charged the Ondo State government to build the Fagunwa Museum Ex-Governor Olusegun Mimiko – also an attendee – promised at the 2013 conference.

Co-editor, Adeeko of The Ohio State University, US also gave an insight into the history of the publication, disclosing that it started six years ago in the US when himself, Akin Adesokan and Femi Taiwo got talking about Fagunwa. Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor of TheNews, who was visiting the US back then got drawn into the group and it was he and Babawale who coordinated activities that birthed the 2013 conference. He expressed gratitude to all the contributors, noting that they wrote out of genuine love and affection for Fagunwa.

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo Statewho was represented by his Senior Special Adviser on Research and Documentation, Kunle Adebayo, assured of support for the FSG whilst also praising Fagunwa’s works. His books, he said, “are metaphors for the cataclysm suffered by our nation as well as the context of its possible remediation.”

Iwalewa, daughter of the activist and academic, Sola Olorunyomi, who had read an excerpt from Fagunwa’s ‘Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole’ in flawless at the Akure conference did same again on Thursday with rapt attention from the audience.  Fittingly, they rewarded the young lady now studying Classics at the University of Ibadan with generous applause after her task was accomplished.

The Ondo State Cultural Troupe that took the floor after her, highlighted nuggets from Fagunwa’s works in a skit before treating the audience to good music and dance. Mimiko, whose praises they also sang, joined in the dancing.

Professor Soyinka, who spoke after a review of the book by Dr Ayo Adeduntan, of the Institute of African Studies, UI, returned to the issue of Fagunwa’s demise. As the book reviewer had earlier noted, there are other narratives on Fagunwa’s death apart from that of his widow, Mama Elizabeth Fagunwa, who said that Fagunwa drowned in a river in Niger State and that his corpse was retrieved and brought to Ibadan before it was finally interred in his native Oke -Igbo.

Returning to this, Professor Soyinka said that sometimes, one clings to fantasy because it appears more real; “sometimes, you begin to substitute such fantasy for the truth.” He disclosed that when he was translating the first Fagunwa book he did, he subscribed “to the fact that he just vanished. It was as if he had written about his own passing in a fictive way; as if one of his own creatures came to lead him away into the water. I still prefer my own version of the story of how he left us, the fantasy.”

Ex-Governor Mimiko admitted his delight at being at the occasion.  He commended Iwalewa Olorunyomi’s reading of the excerpt from ‘Ogboju Ode’, adding that he didn’t really understand the novel until he “read the Soyinka translation and the values of perseverance, hard work and altruism that are in short supply in our country today.”

Mrs Ibukun Sijuwola, one of the daughters of the deceased present at the presentation alongside her sister, ‘Diwura, relived memories of their father, saying that he was a jovial man with a great sense of humour.

There was also good news for live theatre lovers, especially those pained at the stoppage of the Chams Theatre Series, a grand initiative by Chams Plc to turn all of Fagunwa’s five works into stage plays. Though two of the works, ‘Ogboju Ode’ and ‘Ireke Onibudo’ had been done before it was stopped, founder of Chams Plc and one of the book’s chief presenters, Sir Ademola Aladekomo assured that it would be revived. He spoke through eminent dramatist, Professor Femi Osofisan, who was heavily involved in the theatre project.

Another speaker at the event was poet Odia Ofeimun, who confessed that “I have attended conferences across the world but the Fagunwa conference was the best I attended.” He further highlighted the importance of domesticating the knowledge with which were conquered and told Mimiko, “you owe us a responsibility to ensure that the Fagunwa Museum is built in Oke-Igbo.”

Aside the academics, literati and public office holders, traditional rulers from Oke-Igbo and undergraduate students of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko led by their VC, Prof. Ajisefun Igbekele, were also at the event.

The post Celebrating Fagunwa, pioneer, literary genius appeared first on Tribune.

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