Veteran broadcaster and elder statesman, Otunba Kunle Olasope, tells TOBI AWORINDE about his relationship with the late Segun Awolowo Snr., the son of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo
YOU celebrated your 80th birthday on May 8, 2017, and you wished that one of your childhood friends, the late Segun Awolowo Snr., was alive to witness it, according to your write-up recently. How close were you back in the days
To say that Segun and I were close is an understatement. We were like brothers. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and my father, the late Chief Julius Adeniran Olasope, were friends and class leaders at the Agbeni Methodist Church in Ibadan, even though at home, in Efon Alaye (Ekiti) here, and Ikenne (Ogun), they were Anglicans. My father was a Methodist through the late Superintendent A. S. Solarin, who also was an Ikenne man. Segun and I started school together. We were registered in 1943 and I was about 20 months older than him. Segun was born in January of 1939. Papa and Mama Awolowo got married the year I was born, in 1937. So, we were registered together but because he was young — he was just a little over four — he couldn’t touch his left ear with his right hand over his head, they said he was too young to be promoted; so, he repeated Primary One and I was promoted to Primary Two. That was how I became one year his senior. I finally finished in Agbeni in 1950 — he (Segun), 1951 — and as luck and fortune would have it, we both gained admission to Igbobi College, Yaba in Lagos, I in 1951, he in 1952. I finished in 1955, he finished in 1956.
From that time on, in January 1957, he and Tunji Fadayiro went to London to study. I didn’t have such money; so, I stayed back home in Nigeria and entered the Nigerian College after a stint with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (Nigerian Broadcasting Service at that time), Radio Nigeria. But by June of 1962, Radio Nigeria sent me to London for an attachment with the BBC African Service in Bush House. So, I reunited with Segun and we carried on like that. They were finishing their law studies at that time with some other notable Nigerians — Ernest Shonekan, Rasheed Shitta-Bey, Deroju Aderemi, and my younger brother, Folabi Olasope. I had a party for them to congratulate them and to send off Segun, who was hurrying back to Nigeria to come and join the father. They were various tribunals at that time; so, Segun travelled with his hand luggage and left a big bag with me and I brought it with me on the MV Apapa to Nigeria. We were all like that together until the eve of his death. In fact, on the night of July 9, 1963, we went to Osunmarina Restaurant, which is an annex of Obisesan Hall in Ibadan, not far from my office at Radio Nigeria to enjoy ourselves as usual. Then, he said, ‘Look, Kunle, I have to withdraw home early because I have a court session in Ikeja tomorrow morning’. I saw him downstairs to his car and we bade each other good night with the promise to meet again the following day. But unknown to both of us, that was never to be because by 8.30 to 9 the following morning, the accident had occurred and he had died.
Several telephone calls came to my office by people who knew us together and felt that I would know the truth. They wanted to confirm the story, which was spreading like wildfire all over Ibadan and the Western Region. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening; so, I put a call through to the Awolowos’ residence at Oke Bola — their number ended with 473 — and it rang for a long time. Nobody picked it up. Then I had my suspicion that something was wrong somewhere. Soon after that, another call came through by someone who knew us together and had, in fact, seen Segun’s body at Adeoyo Hospital in Ibadan. He said he had a gash on the forehead and that he was looking very fresh but lifeless. Segun was dead. I wept bitterly. My bosses in Radio Nigeria — Head of Programmes was Francis Ademola and Regional Controller was Christopher Kolade — kindly excused me from work for the rest of the day and one of my juniors, who was senior to me in age, Mr Charles Thomas, kindly drove me home in my car. That was it.
So, to say that Segun and I were close is an understatement. We were like brothers. His was the earliest friendship I had, the deepest friendship I had and the continuous one I had until death did us separate. Segun was like my brother and I am sure that if he had lived, we would have continued our friendship and togetherness. I remember the girls we were dating at that time. Two girls were competing for him. There was one, Bola, and there was one, Maureen. And I had one, Pat, and one, Ronke. My father’s house at Oke Itedo was our place of meeting. In the end, neither of us got married to either of the two girls we were dating at the time. I got married to another lady who came from Lagos, Olayiwola, who has been my wife since that time. We got married in 1963. He (Segun) never got married but he had two children, Funke in London by Deola Fasanya, who in fact died about 10 years ago, and back home in Nigeria, Segun Jr. by Abba Koku. When Segun Jr. was born, I suggested the name Omotunde that ‘the child has come back’. Later on, the name Segun Awolowo Jr. was adopted. So, this was the situation with Segun that time. Even though I have some friends I would not easily forget, Segun stood out of them all.
How did his death affect your friendship with others like Dele Fakorede, Femi Sangowawa, Dare Olatawura, Dokun Oni, Yomi Onabolu, Bankole Balogun, Deji Odunuga, Eddie Fadayiro and Deroju Aderemi?
They died at different times. In fact, Fakorede was the first to die. He died in the train disaster at Lalupon in 1957. Sangowawa attended Government College, Ibadan. He was studying Agriculture at the School of Agriculture (now Federal College of Agriculture), Moore Plantation, Ibadan, when I was doing broadcasting in town and we were very close. Balogun, Odunuga and I were contemporaries at the Nigerian College. They, with Raheem Oshodi, Yinka Oyemolade, Olu Falomo and Kunle Omorege — seven of us — formed a group we called Payroll Group and we were saving money from January to December and having annual parties that many people were looking forward to and attending. Deji and I, in fact, had the same house at Oke Ado in Ibadan — the face-me-I-face-you kind — but it was two flats on top that we were using as our base. So, I had them as friends at various times and they died at different times. But they were all my very good friends that I will always remember. Like I said, Segun was on top of them all because of the fact that his was the earliest, the most continuous, and the deepest until death separated us.
Can you remember some fond memories from childhood with Segun Awolowo?
Segun was on the quiet side, as a child. He wasn’t too boisterous, but he enjoyed his beer. He liked social life like me also, and, like I said, we dated some of the most beautiful and well-known ladies in town. We used to go to Paradise Club, where Femi Johnson’s Broking House is now in Ibadan. That club was owned and run by one Lebanese called Saliba and Eddy Okonta was the resident band. But at other times, bands like Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, IK Dairo, Dele Ojo and Ebenezer Obey used to perform in the place. I, being a very popular broadcaster, was always invited to be master of ceremony at some of these functions and Segun was always with me. We would sit together; the same with some other friends that I mentioned, like Omorege, who was from Edo State but one of my juniors in broadcasting. Onabolu was also my friend but my junior in broadcasting as well. We also had some three guys from the University of Ibadan, one S. A. Brown, who was popularly known as Sabada, S. O. Boboye, who was called Sobodo, and the youngest of them all, Kunle Olajide, pipe-smoking, who was called Expresso Bongo. He is now the Aare of Efon Alaye Kingdom. He is my townsman here. They used to come around to join us at Paradise Club and it was exciting and interesting times we had together.
With regard to sports and athletics, Segun was not too active. I was a footballer. I played the centre-forward position. I was also a sprinter. I did relay and 100 yards, (which we used to run at that time, not metres), for Agbeni Methodist School. I was also popular with the band. I used to beat the drums and one Wale Osiyemi, who was the son of the Ebumawe of Ago Iwoye, was using the side drum. Agbeni Methodist School had a very exciting and interesting band that each time we would go for the Empire Day, May 24, now what they call the Children’s Day (May 27), people would be dancing around with us as we would beat the drums right to the Race Course in Ibadan and then back to Agbeni Methodist.
Those were the happy times we had together and I remember that at some of the social functions at Paradise Club, some thugs in town always came around, wanting to tout money from Segun because they knew he was the son of the premier, and Segun was not always comfortable giving them money. I knew two of their leaders very well, one called Buffalo and the other one called Yellow. I would call them and say, ‘What is your business with politics? Segun and I have this for you’. We would give them money and they would let us go. Sometimes, Segun would take my car and say, ‘Kunle, I am afraid. Let me go away in your car’. We would take my car and, for the next few days, I would use his own car. Segun liked dancing to music. We gave him two nicknames. We called him Quickie and Lucky Lucky. As I said in my article, anybody who wants to know why would need to see me privately. (laughs)
But I am here with you in private….
Segun was very fast. He (was Quickie because he) didn’t waste time with his girlfriends. He was lucky because he was a ladies’ man. Many girls wanted to date him. That was the basis of Lucky Lucky and Quickie.
What was life like for you and Segun from your primary to secondary school days?
I remember when we were taken to Agbeni Methodist School to be registered for education and then the times at Igbobi College. At Igbobi College, we met one Tunji Fadayiro, who incidentally was my classmate, and one Prof. Dare Olatawura, but Segun, Tunji and I formed a trio. We were always coming back to Ibadan to spend our holidays together because Tunji’s father was the Minister of Information. Regional heads of government at the time were called ministers, not commissioners. So, we were all coming back to Ibadan to spend our holidays together. We also had Bruce Ovbiagele and Bandele Ogun. They too were my classmates but they too were always in Ibadan. Bruce’s father was working at the P&T and Dele Ogun’s family house was at Oke Itedo, near my father’s house. That was the group we were part of that used to go around together in Ibadan during the holidays. But the inner circle was the trio of myself, Tunji and Segun.
Please give us the true account of Segun Awolowo’s death?
I was told that there was a road construction going on. So, half of that road was used and the other half was blocked and I think it was a question of speeding or some careless driving.
Did he have any alcohol that night?
No. In fact, Segun was not driving. Segun had a humble habit. He would not sit at the back of the car. He would sit in front with the driver. Maybe, if he had sat at the back, he would have escaped death. But he was in front; so, he had a gash on his forehead. He didn’t even get to Ikeja before the accident occurred.
How did you get the news of his death?
Several telephone calls were made to my office by people who were trying to ask, but I wasn’t sure until somebody who knew us together and who had seen the body at Adeoyo (Hospital) said, ‘Kunle, it is true.’
How did you cope with the loss of your good friend?
Life was not really the same. I was shattered. But we all took courage from Chief Awolowo, who, at that time was detained in Broad Street prison, Lagos, on the trumped-up charge of treasonable felony before Yakubu Gowon released him on August 2, 1966. When they mentioned it (Segun’s death) to him, Papa Awolowo had a fantastic and uncanny courage in God almighty. He just said, “My friends and associates, look after Mama Segun.” Then he said, “The Lord gaveth and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be His holy name. But please, arrange and give Segun a decent burial,” which was exactly what we did at Our Saviour’s Anglican Church, Ikenne, and at the public cemetery there. I remember that on that occasion, Tunji Fadayiro had travelled for a case somewhere; he didn’t go with us to the church service. On our way back, we met him and I remember he said despondently, “Kunle, how can Segun die and you alone will go and bury him without waiting for me?” And people surrounded us and started crying that we were his two good friends. It was a very unhappy moment in my life and it really shook me, but what could we do? It was a situation we couldn’t help.
What was your social life like at Igbobi College?
I can never forget Segun. I remember one unfortunate incident we had at Igbobi. He and Tunji liked social life, drinking beer. In our final year, 1955, Tunji and I were school prefects, and he would take Segun out to go and drink at night, and I didn’t like that. So, I called Mama and said, “Mama, I am going to be very hard on Segun. He would be following Tunji out to go and drink. Tunji is a prefect. I can’t do anything about Tunji but I will discipline Segun because Segun must study and pass his examinations.” And Mama said, “Kunle, Segun is your friend and brother. Whatever you do to make him behave, you have my support.” In fact, I was so close to the Awolowo family that some people were asking me why I didn’t think of marrying one of the girls. There were three of them — Tola, Tokunbo and Ayo — I said it was unthinkable. The relationship was so close that they were like my sisters and I couldn’t have imagined proposing love to them. In fact, they would rather push their friends to us. We also encouraged our good friends to talk to them.
Can you share the moments you had with Segun Awolowo when you reconnected in London in 1962?
That was very interesting because the place where we used to meet was 15A Kensington Palace Gardens, which was the official residence of the Agent General, Western Nigeria. We were running a federal system of government and each state was autonomous and that is why some people are calling for restructuring because Nigeria had the best lease on political life at that time. That place was our base because Segun’s father was the head of government back home. Chief Toye Coker was an Abeokuta lawyer. He was in fact the Apena of Egba land and we met there. Interestingly, even though the Awolowo/Akintola palaver had started back home in Nigeria, Chief (Samuel) Akintola’s son, Yomi, who later became a senator, used to come around with us — Segun, myself and Deroju Aderemi, who was the son of the Ooni of Ife at that time, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, and the first governor of Western Nigeria. We used to move together with Ernest Shonekan, who was living in Sheffield.
I remember that at the end of their studies, the send-off I had for Segun and a congratulatory party for all of them was hosted at the flat of Shonekan in Sheffield. The tapes I took with me of the latest recordings of some of the top bands at the time provided some music for us. I remember an incident when we had the party that night. A police officer was passing by. He knocked the door and we opened it. Tunji Fadayiro said, “We are Nigerians. We are not ruffians. We are just happy. Some of us have finished studies and are going back home.” So, Tunji said, “Officer, why don’t you sit down and have a beer?” He said, “Okay, I will.” He sat down and we gave him a can of British lager. He had his beer and at the end of the day, he put on his bowler hat and said, “Please, keep the sound low so as not to disturb the neighbourhood.” He put his hands at his back and strolled down the road and that was very interesting.
Usually, the coloured man in London at that time was looked at with suspicion. Some, particularly from the West Indies, were involved in some criminal activities, but not the Nigerian. Nigerians were always known for socialising and I remember a particular case where a judge said, “From the reputation of Nigerians in London here, if you see a Nigerian standing in a corner, you just watch. Within 30 minutes, a young lady will appear to him. He is usually waiting for his girlfriend. The Nigerians are not into criminality. They are known for socialising and studying in London.” Segun and company were among those who gave such a reputation to Nigeria in London. We also had people like Dokun Oni, who was the son of Chief Oni of Okemesi (Ekiti) here. We had Yinka Rhodes and his brother, Sola Rhodes, who were also finishing their law studies; and we had some girls with us, Olusola, Nike, Deola Fasanya (now late), who was carrying Segun’s baby (Funke, who is still alive).
The pregnancy had been on before we arrived and she ultimately gave birth to Funke, Segun’s first daughter. In Nigeria, Segun had a girlfriend Abba Koku, who I took to Ikenne for a weekend in a social activity with Segun. But I didn’t stay that night because my own girlfriend in Ibadan had called to say Segun must not allow me to stay and that I should come to Ibadan as we had to go to the University of Ibadan for a drama performance. So, I left them and the girls were there — Abba and one Iyabo. I remember that it was that incident that led to the pregnancy of Segun Awolowo Jr. So, I was a party to that; that was why when the baby was born, I suggested the name Omotunde to start with. So, like I said, Segun and I had close association at various levels, from primary school, secondary school, post-secondary, in London, and home in Nigeria until his unfortunate death 55 years ago.
The information about the birth of Segun’s daughter, Funke, by Deola Fasanya came as a surprise to many Nigerians. Was there any attempt by the family to keep it a secret at any point in time?
There was no secret. Segun and Deola were friends and Deola became pregnant. Segun knew he was responsible. Deola knew that Segun was responsible for the pregnancy. We all knew. Deola was coming around with us until we came back home. But Funke was not born in London. There was no secrecy about it. Segun did not get married to any of them (girlfriends), but the two ladies had children for him, and those are the two children surviving Segun till today — Segun Jr. and the elder sister, Funke.
Where is Funke now?
She is in Nigeria. In fact, only this morning (Monday), Funke called me from Lagos. I didn’t know from where (she had my contact) and I asked, “Where did you get my number from, Funke?” And she said it was The Tribune she called and they gave the number. She said, “Ese o, e ku iranti (thank you for remembering). Not many people remember anymore, but that you remembered for 55 years and still wrote so nicely about him (Segun Snr.), I am very grateful.” I said, “Send me Segun’s (junior) number” and she sent me the two numbers and I will be in touch with them from now on. I am sure that by the time death will come calling for me too, Segun and Funke will be too willing to come around and join my own children to give me a befitting burial too.