By Friday Olokor
For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Jeremiah 29: 10 – 11
History has a way of making its heroes. Like the biblical journey of the magi, mine career commenced at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife. And in the Ife, Ibadan and Lagos axis of Nigeria’s literary triangle, one great personality that has continued to stand tallest among others is Prof. Adebayo Williams, a mentor, beacon of hope, inspiration and voice of courage who activated my writing skills and journalism renaissance in 1992.
Today, Williams remains an enigma, academic scholar, journalist, University teacher, literary critic, novelist, writer, satirist and journalism mentor. I have read his essays in the then “The Guardian Literary Series” (1990s).
Although the expression among members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that ‘My take-home-pay can’t take me home’ had long become a negative refrain among lecturers, Williams had then inadvertently punctured such because of his foppishly fanciful outlook, good cars and quality of cigarettes which, we believed, can’t be Gold Leaf. Even female folks would like to wink at him because of his personality, handsomeness and decency. He had long rewritten the negative expression that, ‘Teachers’ Reward is in Heaven.’
Williams had been a regular columnist with famous Newspapers and Magazines, including Newswatch (right from Dele Giwa’s days), TELL, Dateline, TheNEWS/TEMPO Magazines and several Newspapers like The Guardian. And some years later, when Kayode Soyinka ‘s glossy Africa Today Magazine made its debut, he was Editor-At Large, while his column from exile was a must because of its electrifying currency and intrinsic contents laced with satires. Like Socrates, Adebayo Williams was a political gadfly to the military authorities and fought for the oppressed.
As a young JAMBITE then in 1992, he and late Bamidele Aturu (popularly known as B. F. Aturu, Bamidele Francis Aturu, of blessed memory encouraged) me a lot. Through my brother, Mike Kebonkwu and Prof. Chijioke Uwasomba
I was a regular visitor to Block 1 Room 52, Fajuyi Hall for B. F. to go through my writings.
One day, I summoned courage and decided to pay a surprise visit to Williams in Humanities Block 1 but never knew he was having tutorials with Part 3 students. He opened the door and behold I was a Lilliputian among giants in a class of over 30 students. It was obvious they had expected to see a Gulliver in Brobdingnag.
Instead of getting admonitory rebuke for straying into an unwanted zone and disrupting the early morning class, I got a red carpet royal reception and was treated like a King in the class, some are now already Professors. That’s Professor Williams for you! He has been the delight of his students but you must work hard to earn his marks.
His keen interest in me started after the brief introduction and whenever he sees any article in any Newspaper written by me, he would encourage me to “keep it up.” Few months after teaching us a Rain (2nd) Semester Course, “Modern Literary Theories” in Year 3 (1995), he was chased into exile by General Sani Abacha, after actively partaking in sacking IBB from the political landscape through the NADECO revolution.
There are teachers and there are teachers. Another teacher who’s closest to him in the proficiency of teaching and literary scholarship is a friend I knew around 2018 and for obvious may not want to be unveiled. Prof. Williams’ lectures are NEVER dull and he would hold you for three hours citing over 30 literary scholars and critics on one theory.
Through him, the word – “Kafkaisque”, a neologism from Frank Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, became a refrain among students. Through his satires on Nigerian leaders, Williams predicted, “The Year of The Locust”, “Remains of the Last Emperor” and “Bulletin From Land of The Living Ghosts.” And all these came to pass.
Adebayo Williams share some qualities with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o; they are both scholars in Literature, novelists and also Journalists. Ngugi in “Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-colonial Kenya”, writes: “Our pen should be used to increase the anxieties of the oppressive regimes. At the very least, the pen should be used to murder their sleep by constantly reminding them of their crimes against the people and making them know that they are being seen. The pen might not always be mightier than the sword; but used in the service of the truth, it can be a mighty force.”
Like Ngugi said, bad leaders, especially the military were always in the bad columns of Williams, who once wrote that “a democratic culture can never be laid on an autocratic foundation.”
There is one popular quote for which Williams will always be remembered by me, even if I’m asleep: “A properly educated mind will not accept crude tyranny; for to accept tyranny will be an act of intellectual self-dispossession. Long after the guns have been silenced, the supersonic boom of ideas and thunderous artillery of thinking will continue to echo.” This has been a famous quote which I got from an essay and tribute entitled: “An old man in a Hurry”, published in TEMPO in 1996, written by him to celebrate the late elder statesman and nationalist who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence n 1960, Anthony Enahoro.
According to CHRIS ANYOKWU, a Professor of Literature in the Department of English, University of Lagos (UNILAG) and one of the many disciples he mentored, “Adebayo Williams is the best essayist in Africa. He’s the greatest and most intellectually fertile lecturer we ever had. And for me, he’s the finest and best columnists Africa fast ever produced.”
As he clocks 70 year today, Thursday September 9 2021, I celebrate one of the few who inspired me in Journalism; a son of Gbongan, Osun State, and a force to be reckoned in the Lagos- Ibadan and in fact, all the axis of Nigerian press. He’s a member of the ‘kitchen cabinet’ of the National Leader, ABT and one of the pillars of his political empire and member of his inner circle but who doesn’t make noise about it. He’s Prof. Adebayo Williams. Sir, Congratulations and Happy Birthday. May God grant you many more years on earth 🌏 🌍 🌏 IJMN Amen.
*Friday Olokor is an Abuja-based Journalist