Professor Tunji Dare at 70
I missed attending the lecture and the book presentation and the merriment surrounding Tunji Dare’s attainment of three score and ten years. Welcome to the group which I joined two years ago. Age sometimes creeps on one and one is sometimes amazed about how old one is. When I celebrated my 70th birthday, it was with mixed feelings. I was grateful to God for being with me all these years and I was also wondering how fast these years have moved. I did not feel old but now, I have to act my age, I am sure Tunji must be feeling the same way. Radicalism and old age do not seem to go very well together. A radical or a revolutionary old man would be a curious combination and perhaps a misuse of words. Those of us who felt we were radicals when we were young can no longer lay claim to radicalism of any sort at our age. But since we are not dead yet, we must continue to speak out like Tunji Dare. So my dear brother, do not relent in campaigning for a country that we can all be proud of. I recently bumped into Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, distinguished former Nigerian foreign minister and UN diplomat in Abuja. He jokingly said that he was nominated as a member of the on-going national conference under the category of elder statesmen. He said he told his wife that he is now an elder statesman in Nigeria and his wife asked him to behave as an elder from now on and no more fooling around! But this does not mean that if we see anything wrong in our country we should not point it out no matter whose ox is gored. I was particularly delighted when I read in the newspapers, the comment of Cardinal John Onaiyekan of the Roman Catholic Church asking those in government not to see criticism of their roles as amounting to lack of patriotism and that people in government and those in opposition do not have a monopoly of patriotism. In other words, all of us have a stake in this country and as long as we wobble on in spite of our age as a state, those of us who have opportunity to speak out must not shirk our responsibility. Our responsibility is to Nigeria and not to any particular regime. If people like Tunji Dare and the rest of us keep quiet in the face of tyranny and bad government, we would have died many times before our death. Sometimes the coarseness of our criticisms is directly proportionate to the bad governance prevailing in the land.
Tunji Dare has paid his dues as a journalist, a teacher, and a tribune of the people and the voice of the voiceless. In the satirical style with which he writes, he manages to send serious messages to those in power in hilarious ways without offence. Whenever I get my newspapers on the day he writes, I am usually anxious to see what he has written on and to sit back and enjoy the wisdom of his prose. Tunji Dare is certainly the best journalist employing satire to deliver his message and his punches. Even before meeting him physically, I already thought I knew him because of his writing.
I first met him at an intellectual level when the late Nelson Mandela came to Nigeria and the University of Lagos and the then Vice-Chancellor of Lagos, Professor Nurudeen Alao asked me to prepare a citation for the honorary degree the university was going to confer on Mandela. I did not know that he had also asked Tunji Dare to do the same thing. After both of us had submitted our drafts, he then asked Tunji Dare to come to me so that we could merge our two citations. Tunji Dare as self-abnegating as ever, said my draft was more than adequate and that there was no need to merge the two and that he would publish what he had written in The Guardian and this was precisely what we did. I did not train as a journalist and I make no pretence to literary ability. On a jocular note, I remember a professor of English reading my autobiography some years ago and telling me that he was surprised that I can write well. I laughed and told him that I thought as a professor of History, I ought to be able to write proper English. In fact most of the best writers of English language are people with my academic background.
Tunji Dare comes from Kogi State. He is a Yoruba man from that state and he is not ashamed to call himself a Yoruba man unlike some of his compatriots from that part of Nigeria who say they are Okun which I always find very funny because okun is a greeting in some parts of Ekiti, Kwara and Kogi and what it means is “Hello” or “How are you?” But apparently for political advantage of belonging to the north especially when belonging to the north carries huge advantage of jobs, political positions and power. On the other hand, associating with the Yoruba in the south was regarded as a disadvantage. It is like a Hausa man from Niger State, instead of saying he is a Hausa man he says he is Sannu which sometimes the Ijesha people derisively use to refer to the Hausa people. I hope that no group of people in Nigeria should feel so powerless to the point of having identity crisis; there is no need for the Yoruba in Kogi to call themselves Okun people. More grease to your elbow, Tunji. You are not an old man as far as I am concerned; you should continue to write with all the emphasis at your command and to make your views on the future of Nigeria known as you have done in the past. Who knows what the future will bring. And in the whirligig of time, some of your views may become prescription for this sick and doddering country. May God continue to be with you Tunji, may He continue to enlarge your coast. Speak out, and speak out loud. God did not create us for fear, rather He created us to dominate our environment. Your people are known for their intrepidity and you are a typical representative of the upright, courageous and truthful Yoruba in the periphery who have had to hold their own against all odds in order to survive and have survived very well.
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