Happy 90th Birthday WS, My Dad’s True Friend

“Some of Dad’s ‘political, fair weather friends’ soon after became turncoats and dined with the enemy”

By Funso Adegbola

I have known the Nobel Laureate, Prof Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, who we fondly call Uncle Wole, Kongi, Prof and WS, for almost as long as I have known myself. He and my dad, Bola Ige were very close friends. They must have met at University College Ibadan, UCI- now University of Ibadan. They acted plays together in UCI and later Orisun Theater with Uncle Femi Johnson and others. Uncle Wole has documented some of their dangerous political escapades in his memoir ‘Ibadan; the Penkelemes Years’.

I remember in 1967, when my youngest brother, Muyiwa was born, my dad insisted that Uncle Wole would be his godfather. My dad gave him the book of Common Prayer, so he could acquaint himself with the baptismal vows he would take on Muyiwa’s behalf till his Confirmation.

I remember during the after-baptism party, Uncle Wole, the godfather, thought it only fit and proper to introduce his godson, to his first communion, not the ‘holy’ type, but the finer taste of life- wine! He dropped a little drop of wine on his little lips! The humorous Uncle Wole!I remember distinctly, also when he was released from detention. He was given a heroic welcome in a mini-open-sided Jeep/ Landrover style, with members of the Pyrates Confraternity in their redhead/ neck scarves singing ‘Captain Blood is back, is back forever’.

Many kegs of palm wine were consumed that day. I remember that day clearly, in his house on Ebrohime Road in UI. Aunty Laide, his children and friends were there. My parents took me along.

I also remember the Summer of 1972, when I was on holiday with my parents and we stayed in a serviced flat in Kilburn. Uncle Wole and my dad had arranged to meet in London. I remember he took me and my late brother, Tunde to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and explained to me the origin of the Greenwich Mean Time which I had learnt by rote during Geography lessons at St. Anne’s School. He took us to see the Cutty Sark also in Greenwich. Such memorable moments! We took photos and I wish I could find them to show my ‘haters’ as documentary evidence that I know the Nobel Laureate from childhood! He even took us for a light lunch before dropping us off with our parents!

In 1986, when Prof was awarded the Nobel laureate in Sweden, my Dad, late Uncle Femi Johnson, Chief Joop Berkhout and many other friends were there. Whilst the non-Nobel laureates were dressed in dinner jackets, the Man of Letters and main celebrity was in his characteristic outfit- short aso oke ‘dashiki’ on trousers, no frills, no bells!

When he visited my parents at home, though not adept wine connoisseurs, they kept the best red wine- Chateau Neuf and the best cognac XO Courvoisier for him. He was happy when he learnt I studied French and Spanish for my first degree and he often spoke French to me in the best Parisian accent! My dad asked him if I spoke French well and he assured him his investment in my education wasn’t wasted. With a first degree in Modern Languages followed by Law- I was following in his and my dad’s polyglot footsteps! He was proud that I knew the right glassware for his favourite drinks and served them with his preferred accompaniments.

Gbenro, his former student and I got married in Esa-Oke in August 1988. For reasons of prior commitment, he was unable to be at my wedding but he did not omit to send presents to both of us accompanied by a personal note of apology.

While in school, in Nigeria and England, I got close to his children especially Olaokun, when he was in Medical School in the UK and Moremi in Queen’s School Ibadan, when my brother Tunde was at Government College. I knew the others, Yetade, Peyibomi and Makin.

Coincidentally, Yetade’s son, Adeoto is an alumnus of The Vale College. Makin has become my son Kayode’s big brother in Lagos.As we grew older, we the children got closer especially when Olaokun and Lola lived in Ibadan, as well as the time Moremi lived in Lagos.

It is amazing how our fathers’ friendship has spiralled to the 2nd and 3rd generations! It is a true testament and evidence of the special value and strength of their unconditional bond and authentic friendship.

When my Dad was assassinated that dark Sunday 23rd of December 2001 night, Uncle Wole stood solidly by my mum’s side. My daughter, Ayotunde cuddled up to him, calling him Grandpa Prof!

From the private lying-in-state to the funeral service at the Liberty Stadium right to the evening interment in our Esa-Oke home, Kongi stood firmly by my mum, like the Rock of Gibraltar- it was in his arms that my mum finally broke down in tears at the final rites of dust-to-dust and ashes to ashes. He stood by his friend and his family, right till the very end and even more so, after the dastardly act and after our mum passed on 16 months later, in April 2003.

Kongi spoke out at Dad’s funeral- he spoke truth to power in his funeral oration as he alluded to the fact that ‘the killers are among us’! No one could stop him. When the killers and ‘powers-that- were’, wanted to turn the facts and truth upside down, he warned them vehemently ‘to stop dancing on Bola Ige’s grave’. I feel so proud and protected to have Kongi in our corner.

Some of Dad’s ‘political, fair weather friends’ soon after became turncoats and dined with the enemy. But Kongi was the one true friend who kept Bola Ige’s murder on the front burner, even when others thought it politically expedient to sweep the matter under the carpet. Kongi defined for me what true friendship is and should be. I am glad that he and my Dad chose each other. I learn from you day by day. Thank you, Uncle. This means so much to me.My darling Uncle Wole, Happy 90th birthday!

I am so happy that you made it to the Nonagerian level, and still have your wits around you. You are still as fit as a fiddle and your mind is so sharp, despite the hardships you have been through as a literary and Human Rights activist in Nigeria. I am glad that you are alive to see the results of your good works- you are being celebrated in all the continents of the world! You deserve this and more, our wordsmith, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, from Ake to Ibadan and Ife on to the global stage!!!

I wish you many more happy years in excellent health. I thank Folake for looking after you and keeping up with your breathtaking itineraries. May your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren surround your table like olive branches, and great will be your peace forever, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

I know deep down, you don’t like to be the centre of attention, but indulge us all- your family, friends, fans and loved ones, this time. We love you very much and appreciate who you are to us, your children, especially your friend’s children. God bless and continue to keep you for us, in Jesus’ Name.


With lots of love and gratitude,Funso Adegbola.

For Bola and Tinuke Ige’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mrs Funso Adegbola is the founder of The Vale College, Ibadan

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