If the above name does not ring a bell to you, it is either you were not an avid reader of Nigerian newspapers in the past four decades or you were not bothered by the horrendous ungrammaticality of such publications.
This man was the most consummate, popular and authoritative English language surgeon in his time. So, my mentor, teacher (and my own student, too!), language activist/therapist and consultant up till last year is now written about in the past tense? Life is becoming increasingly meaningless to me.
I do not know how and where to begin this lachrymal tribute to a man who had inestimable and unparalleled love for me despite the gulf between our ages and ethnic configurations. Our amity was such that he ranked second in my rating of friends from the South West—the first, of course, being my greatest benefactor, Dr Mike Adenuga, Jr., GCON, an Adonis of philanthropic incomparability and compassion profundity, a unique testament to his being one of the 300 richest men in the world according to Forbes magazine.
Baba Oguntunase and I got to know each other in the late-80s. While he wrote his column entitled “Mind Your Language” in the defunct National Concord, Daily Times, in its heyday, served as my own platform for the racy language series known as “Wordsworth”.
The first time we met on the premises of the Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd. (later PLC) at Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, he said he thought I was “an old man” like himself! I was very boyish then and full of youthful exuberance in appearance, but deep and mature in communicative style that you would have thought I was an emeritus septuagenarian teacher. Alas, I was just a teenager about to enter the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba, Lagos, under the distinguished directorship of an erudite scholar, the late Dr. Tony Nnaemeka.
On copious occasions, we agreed, disagreed and exchanged robust and intellectually-stimulating ideas and thoughts on the dynamism of the English language. Baba’s mastery of this tool of global communication was exceptional. As his mentee, I never stopped marveling at his optimal grasp of this foreign language.
Baba was old enough to have fathered me, yet he had enormous respect for me. His humility was exceedingly great. He used to call me “Oga mi” (my master) notwithstanding that he was my teacher and far older than me. It was just demonstrative of his fondness of me—he was far ahead of me in virtually all departments of life. My command of the English language pales into insignificance as Baba was on a summit pedestal. Who is going to civilize me on the usage of the English language with the exit of my chummy of almost thirty years or thereabouts? Who will fill the vacuum he has created? Is it Prof. Adidi Uyo, Ndaeyo Uko, Phrank Shuaibu, Sunday Dare or one of his numerous students in the person of this columnist? Nobody can meet my grammatical expectations that were superlatively addressed by Baba with boundless passion, overwhelming candour and overflowing joy! Even doctorate degree holders in English language cannot do what Baba did with enthusiasm, flair and authoritativeness.
Pa Oguntunase was quite old but very agile and youthful. A voracious reader who stocked books of multifarious disciplines with emphatic interest in the English language, he knew almost something about everything. His exposure overseas, particularly Germany, exposed him to a goldmine of knowledge and broadened his views about issues.
The day I visited Baba at his Ikorodu modest home late last year with my personal assistant, Pelumi, the red carpet was rolled out for us. It was like a governor was visiting! After exchange of pleasantries, he took me to his one-room library where I saw a sea of books of different dimensions.
The only space left in the room was for navigation. Every other space was taken over by an assortment of books. I joked with him that I would like to transplant the room to my own home. We laughed over the utopian idea. Such was the camaraderie that characterized our relationship.
From the library section, we returned to the sitting-room for a sumptuous lunch of amala and ewedu soup filled with fish and assorted cow parts. After the gastronomical assignment, bottles of fresh palm wine were assembled for us to “wash down” the near-constipation exercise that early afternoon. Now the icing on the cake: as we were about to leave for Surulere, Baba arranged more take-away bottles of palm wine and 15 brand new classical books as my gifts for “coming to his village from the city.”
Anytime—which is every time—I see those books atop my table in my own mini-library, I marvel at the love of this man for me despite my poverty of reciprocation.
If Baba had a Will or had an uncanny opportunity to write one shortly before his death assuming we know when the final bell will toll for us all, he would have assigned at least 25 per cent of his English language textbooks and reference materials to me. I have the conviction on this considering the way we related and the deep affection he had for me which surpassed feminine love.
I do not know how the other side of the divide is, but I am sure that wherever Baba is he would be reflecting on the moments we had together and other relational prospects, his visit to my place late last year with his wife and our last discussion last month which I was still ruminating over before my latest heart-brokenness occasioned by his untimely death. Baba deserved to live for multitudinous reasons. He was a good man who regarded me as his cousin. I am utterly devastated by his demise. The only time I felt this bad was when my father died 30 years ago.
…Exit Kola Danisa
JUST last week, I read about the death of one of the few English language purists in Nigeria and a friend of mine, Mr. Kola Danisa.
The first and last time we met was at the biennial conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in Katsina not too long ago. Before that meeting, we were in constant touch through telephony and email.
An emeritus of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), egbon Kola was always vivacious despite the excruciating challenges of protracted ill-health.
May his soul rest in peace. While here, you and Baba routinely disagreed on major lexical issues! How I wish you could reconcile in death! Both of you live on in my mind. Your grammatical interventions remain referential till eternity.