The day Baba Bayo Oguntunase and his wife visited me in February last year, I felt greatly honoured that the couple had to come all the way from the suburb of Ikorodu, which itself is another transforming part of Lagos.
That was the hallmark of our friendship over the years. It is of immense significance to me because there are colleagues and friends of mine of more than 30 years who I do not know their homes nor do they know mine! For me, such friendships are mere acquaintanceships-how can we be friends and we do not know one another’s home and family except when there is a crisis or an emergency or fatality? That is not my idea of friendship at all.
During that memorable visit, I ensured that they were given a special treat. Without being immodest, I am sure the couple never forgot it till this tragedy. I never knew that it would be my last interface with Baba! I weep as I write this. How I wish I knew it would be our last encounter! I would have done far greater things than I did. I am astonished that I could be writing this in the first place—were it not an honour I owe him, I would not have done it. Even when he was alive, Baba occasionally made me the celebratory subject of his column! Pa Oguntunase, your death has further diminished my attitudinal disposition to life, existentialism and humanism.
In spite of your age, you never appeared cadaverous. You were full of life, bubbling and always having fun as if you were half your age! You liked life and enjoyed it to the fullest amid illimitability. If not for the unfortunate slip that resulted in your sudden death, I have no doubt that you would have lived far longer than you did—this abridgement would not have occurred because you were always hale and hearty with so much mature-cum-boyish youthfulness and responsible exuberance.
If it were possible with the dead, Baba would know how pained I am with his “premature” exit. It is obvious that Baba’s translation would be irreparable, irredeemable and unforgettable—not just by his immediate family, but equally by all his innumerable students nationwide and overseas, most especially this writer. Do I need to add: Baba will end up teaching the students beyond the rudiments of the English language in line with his earthly inclinations not long ago!
“Oga mi”, rest in peace until we reunite to part no more in heavenly paradise where there would be no grammatical oddities necessitating lexical surgeries with your linguistic scalpel, by God’s grace!
Next Friday, May 25, 2018, Baba would have marked his 80th Birthday! It is well with you as well as those you left behind. Yes, it would have been another birthday milestone in the abridged life of renowned and celebrated English language therapist, Baba Solomon Adebayo Oguntunase, who slipped fatally at his Ikorodu, Lagos, Romanesque home on Sunday, April 23, 2017, and by Friday that same week, April 28, 2017, pitch darkness and the grim hands of death eclipsed our subject—a great lover of books and life in its fullness.
On that ill-fated day, Pa Oguntunase, a reputed journalism teacher, had gone to the newsstand, as usual, bought his choice newspapers and returned (not “returned back”) to his veranda from where he went to the sitting-room to take a jotter and a biro for routine dissection of the publications for his weekly column in this medium, Mind Your Language, published every Thursday. On his way back to the passage, this language activist slipped from immediate ghastliness to ultimate fatalistic descent!
The question mark on our health facilities still hangs perilously which explains why medical tourism has become a thriving and elitist pastime. Instead of our leaders and moneybags to address this challenge, they prefer to externalize their health management over the years. This summarily underscores why Pa Oguntunase, a septuagenarian, had to be lethargically moved all the way from the Ikorodu General Hospital to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, amid profuse loss of blood through nasal bleeding. And to compound issues, there was nobody in the house to assist him or remedy the emergency situation minimally before hospitalization.
The long distance between Ikorodu and Idi-Araba coupled with typical traffic bottlenecks in the city even with an ambulance must have aggravated, if not largely responsible for, the tragedy. Only those familiar with the terrain here will appreciate the fatalistic trip from Ikorodu to Idi-Araba.
Once I get my official copies of newspapers for Thursday, the first thing I do is to excitedly flip to Pa Oguntunase’s column, Mind Your Language, usually on Page 30 before even scanning the front-page headlines and stories and other sections of the daily. Dateline: Thursday, May 4—my teacher’s column was replaced with a half-page advertisement, signaling that the “owner” of that space had joined the saints! For the records, the last column appearance of Baba was on April 27, 2017, with a serial entry entitled “A Change Mantra: Correcting English Made in Nigeria”, by a man, who, amazingly, studied German!
For the first time, I went through that edition three times to reassure myself that yes, indeed, the language therapist (to lift the expression copyrighted by Otunba Femi Adesina for me) had really exited this existential architecture of uncertainties and serial tragedies!
How would this impeccable English engineer have known that he had signed off on his column?
Apparently the last bunch of newspapers he bought and eventually did not get to read would have provided the scripts for his next column of May 4, 2017, that never was! Baba—a man of amiability, gaiety, scholarship, friendship and purity of mind— died in pursuit of grammatical quintessence and language excellence.
If he had not gone to buy those usually error-ridden newspapers…perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, we would have been converging on his home in Ikorodu to dine and wine, merry and hug one another May 25. He would have insisted I go the next day after satiating me with palm wine and other gastronomical condiments! Can God bring Baba back just for one day and paradise him thereafter?
Friday, April 28, 2017, put a full-stop to the aborted birthday conviviality as the bibliomaniac joined his ancestors at LUTH after upscale, but unsuccessful, intervention by specialist medics. I have a very strong feeling that if Pa Oguntunase had received prompt, efficient and therapeutic medical attention, the story could have been different.
Next week: conclusion of this tribute in the month that held greatest significance for Baba.