By Anote Ajeluorou
NTA Acting Director-General, Mayaki Musa arrived from Abuja a clear two hours behind schedule. It was his show all right. But he more than made up for his late-coming by admitting to one criticism he got lately from the late culture icon, Ambassador (Chief) Olusegun Olusola, before he passed on. As Ambassador (Dr.) Christopher Kolade recalled, producing local or indigenous content was Olusola’s driving passion as he navigated his way on radio to television, which ultimately led to the production of the famous TV serial, Village Headmaster.
The veteran TV manager had admonished Musa for the station’s inability to produce and put Nigerian drama on NTA, the nation’s network TV station. Indeed, he accused the Director-General and his team of having too many talk shows and interview programmes on the station, which he described as a boring way to TV programming. This inclination, Olusola summed up, amounted to a lazy style of broadcasting. He brushed aside Musa’s response that lack of funds was the reason why NTA fails to produce TV dramas to entertain and educate Nigerians, as was the case years ago.
“After over 25 years, the man was still calling his constituency, asking us to do things right,” Musa summed up. “He was like my biological father; he took us like his children. Shortly before he passed on, he sent me his Africa Refugee Foundation (AREF) card. In fact, what many people don’t know about Chief Olusola is his administrative capacity, which he showed while he was at Enugu, where I met him.”
Musa also recalled how Olusola predicted that the sky would be his limit if he worked as hard as one of his colleagues at the Enugu station. It was a satisfied Musa, who reported how the old man’s prediction on his career had come to fulfillment.
Anchor of the Night of Tributes and comedian, Gbenga Adeyinka had set the celebratory mood going when he revved up past TV exploits in those days when TV viewing seemed such a luxury only a few could afford. First, he traced the types of televisions available – those that looked like wardrobes or curtain you could open or draw aside; those that stood on four legs, then the knobs to tune them; the black and white TVs, how a Lucozade wrapper transformed your black and white TV to colour TV; how TV opened only at 4pm, usually with snowy, blank screen and the screeching noise that turned to whistle sound before the black and white stripes appeared and the continuity announcer that told you, much like the aeroplane cabin crew hostess, how many altitude or megawatts the station was being transmitted on and so forth…
Adeyinka also went on to sing all the cartoon songs and signature tunes of all the foreign and local soaps, commercials, and musicals of those days on TV. The audience, made up essentially of adults, kept tune with Adeyinka in all these recollections. Indeed, he turned the Shell Hall of MUSON Centre into a celebrative mood with his ingenuous opening that threw the audience in nostalgic mood, as they remembered the man that played a great role in the formative years of TV broadcasting in Nigeria. He had opened with poems from a Canadian poet, Josiah Gilbert Holland that talked about the need for a man to leave behind a legacy that lasts, some thing he would be remembered by when he passed on.
OLUSOA’S niece, Yetunde Kehinde read his oriki that traced Olusola’s family lineage in Remo, Ogun State before Dogumba Theatre Troupe filled the hall with drumming and dancing. Demola Olota’s choir also added spice to the event with their superb performance of classical works and other hymnals that truly rocked.
Omoba Bambo Ademuluyi was first to pay his tribute. He recalled meeting Olusola four years ago when he organised a concert with 12 musicians to celebrate Tunji Oyelana’s return home from London. He said Olusola had been impressed and enjoined him to start the Highlife All Stars Band, which he did after several telephone promptings from the old man. “It took Olusola to bring all highlife stars together,” he recalled. “I wished I worked closely and longer with him”.
Association of Movie Producers’ president, Zik Zulu Okafor, said time often threw up men called generational inspiration, and that Chief Olusola was one such man for his generation. He noted, “I saw in him confounding humility; he was always advising, admonishing. He wasn’t the typical Nigerian man; he would come to the lowest of events, speak with eloquence. He was first to arrive at events. He was a man to look up to; he was an exemplary character, and it showed in his creative mind. No greater tribute to Olusola than to exemplify what he lived for in the totality of the arts”.
One of the men he mentored and kabiesi in Village Headmaster, Dejumo Lewis lent a measure of drama to his tribute when he started with a dirge rendered in Yoruba. He said, “Never say, ‘die’; say, ‘live on’. Say, ‘immortality’; Olusola was immortality itself in his lifetime and work. He lives on like life itself, with outstanding name and reputation. He became a very big elephant, towering above all his companions in everything. He was a literary star, first Nigerian, African TV producer, putting indelible mark on his Village Headmaster.
“He was not a career diplomat, but he took inter-cultural diplomacy to heights not known before. He lives on like an exemplary African elder; his philanthropic activities live on. His nationalistic and patriotic zeal are unequalled! Culture constituted his life and art defined his life; he lived a thoroughly traditional life. He lived as ogbeni of culture. He made me, my mentor on TV broadcasting. He made me an instant celebrity at the age of 25”.
Dramatically going down on his knees, Lewis closed his long eulogy with another moving dirge that stirred the audience to heights of reverence for the late culture sage.
A former NTA director, Mrs. Gold Oruh, also praised the rare qualities of Olusola, describing him as a fine gentleman and somebody to be around with, and noted that he was a very patient man, who was at home at both ends of society – sophisticated and rustic. She noted, “He knew how to bring the best out of people; he had no annoyance with anyone; he was too sophisticated. He was the ideal of a true human person. On the African refugee crises, he spoke with such passion on how to contribute to mitigating the sufferings of refugees. He was always broad-minded, a pure heart, plain; he’s one of a kind, unforgettable, focused, sincere; he truly loved people deeply. We can never forget him”.
Bayo Awala, whom he brought from radio to television stated, “Olusola dwarfed or dominated his environment because he started early. He was a man who knew what he wanted and went for it. He was a good-natured person, a man with a very large heart, a very rare Nigerian”.
For Alhaji Adegboyega Arologun, who used to produce ‘Public Opinion’ on NTA, the leadership qualities of Olusola were unrivalled, as he showed uncommon courage in dealing with issues and defending those under him event at personal risk.
Former NTA Director-Director, Vincent Maduka, said Olusola was a man of two parts – rural and great man of the city – who spoke Queen’s English and depicted rural civilization. He stated, “Historically, he was the first to make a Nigerian programme at Ibadan. Village Headmaster was when Nigerian TV really took off, and Olusola was a master. He trained many people. He was a man of many parts who stole the hearts of many people.
“The growth of television started at his time when he was directing those directing programmes. Adults of those days didn’t like foreign programmes, and so they put pressure on Olusola to do local ones, and he performed well. In Village Headmaster, Olusola had foreseen the collapse of education and indigenous culture. I hope we will repair the damage already done. He remains a symbol of the power of TV”.
Perhaps his closest associate on the art scene from earliest of times, Segun Sofowote, traced Olusola’s artistic and broadcasting journey right from their Remo background and days at Ibadan in Players of the Dawn theatre group, then to Lagos, the Wole Soyinka angle in 1960 Masks group, how Olusola got him into Western Nigerian Broadcast Service (WNBS). Having known the culture icon almost all his life, Sofowote could only say, “We had enjoyable relationship; we talked a lot about Nigeria and his passion for this country”.
Former Nigerian Ambassador to Britain and NTA Director-General, Kolade also traced Olusoal’s sterling path in broadcasting and arts and his passion to see local content on Nigerian television. He recalled, “I’ve found in my time that friendship consists in the things willingly done together. He’s broadcasting gift to me. We met in 1958 in Ibadan Broadcasting House. He was a kindred spirit. This is the broadcasting community honouring its own, a man distinguished in every respect. A lot of people think crafting Village Headmaster was his biggest thing; no!
“I knew his passion for cultural things from the theatre group he formed, Players of the Dawn, where we produced plays. We lost money together, too”.
The turning point came for the two, when Kolade was sent to Lagos to under study the Americans running the TV station and filled it with American programmes. So, in 1963, he approached Olusola in Ibadan and conspired to dislodge him from Ibadan. He recalled the Americans’ incredulity when they broached the subject of producing a Nigerian drama.
He recalled, “Our main objective was to NIgerianise Nigerian television. We did a play in Ibadan, My Father’s Burden, written by Wole Soyinka on commission, and had to act it live on television. Then electricity light went out while we were in the thick of it. Of course, no one else had light in town. So, we waited for some 45 minutes before electricity was restored. Then we started again.
“The Nigerianisation of Nigerian TV was Olusola’s main passion. If others are doing things that are Nigerian, things cultural, they should remember Olusola laid the foundation!”
On his part, son of Olusola, Jimi, thanked NTA and everyone that came to honour his father. He said he hoped doors of his father’s friends who had eulohised him would be opened to him whenever he came knocking for assistance to continue his father’s programmes like the African Refugee Foundation and many others.