Chief Emiola Adesina: The Passing of a Social Landscape Architect, By Adewale Ajadi
For me I celebrate Baale and his influences… He was a bridging leader long before the polarisation of today made that term a necessity. A social landscape architect who wove the tapestry of national culture seamlessly into communities and institutions alike, yet who was forever a committed and disciplined Ibadan man and chief. A true rarity in a country that today chooses sides by whose humanity can be reduced…
Very recently, a great man passed who the world should know and honour. Chief Emiola Adesina was a founding educator, incredible sports administrator and unusual authority who represented some of the best times in my life, along with my parents.
Chief Adesina was a most disciplined hero for a young, disruptive and rebellious individual like me, who is totally at odds with all traditional and authority figures. He died at the ripe age of 90, and represents for me and possibly others the passing of an epoch. I was delighted that the now late Chief Lekan Are was mourned by President Buhari. Chief Adesina deserves no less, both for services to Nigeria, as well as for his representation of Ìbàdàn. That was the Ìbàdàn that represented a Nigerian ideal that is now far from all our memories, as we scramble to don our ethnic badges at every opportunity. A Nigeria of social mobility, value addition, middle-class restraint and mores, legacy creation and national evolution. Chief Adesina’s Ibadan was a place Nigeria had to pass through, devoid of material excess and strong as a home of national diversity.
Chief Adesina would be known for many places but not Òkè Òffà, where his ìdílé was (family compound). Every Ìbàdàn child, till date, is identified by his/her ìdílé (often founded by a lead warrior) and oko, the farm, and in some cases their abà (the rural retreat and cash crop farm). Not unlike the Roman Empire, the Ìbàdàn Republic was shaped by farming warriors whose calendar was guided by war and farming. Chief Adesina was the child of the union of an Ìbàdàn man and an Ìjẹ̀ṣà princess. This parentage captures the contradiction and paradox that is Ìbàdàn, as her people can be from many different places, especially since Ìbàdàn’s third settlement by warriors from across the Yoruba world. Interestingly, both the Ìjẹ̀ṣà and Ìbàdàn had been direct enemies a few decades before Chief Adesina’s birth, in the Kiriji War.
Chief Adesina was like my father’s older brother when I was a child. The two men, in their late 20s and early 30s, were pioneers of the large community behind what was then called the American Quarters, as well as Yidi (Muslim prayer ground), both in Agodi. Chief Adesina, or Baale, as he was called by my father, had built the first house in the Yidi side of American Quarters. Aside my father, he was the next person with unquestioned authority over me. A man who lost his mother at the age of three and whose own father seemed absent became a parental figure to me, as soon as I was born to the man who Chief Adesina called Balogun. Chief Adesina certainly was and is blessed with his own children, who are mostly older than I am. That did not stop him from showing me affection, always calling me by his own special sobriquet (Walestic or Walesco) and being ever ready with a conspirator’s wink. Not that he had time for what his demeanour promised. Chief Adesina was already the administrator of Liberty Stadium then, arguably the primary sports and cultural centre in Nigeria, and director of Western Nigeria Sports Council.
Chief Adesina’s journey took him through primary school in Aremo, through Government College Ibadan, where his character was shaped, and through the University College, Ibadan. By the time I was born, he had already been a teacher at Egbado College in the 1950s and founding Principal of Ayedaade School. The Chief Adesina or Baale I was born to know, was already a respected leader who practiced authority.
Chief Adesina built the institutions of sports, as well as well as that of the Boy Scouts, with this same eclectic deliberation, patience and discipline. He helped to turn Liberty Stadium into a continental, if not global, symbol. One of my earliest memories is of attending a James Brown concert in that stadium, in my freshly minted conductor suit.
No commentary on this ever unique individual can be complete without a word on his style: the ever-present hair parting on the right of his head set off, finely, his tribal marks, both authentic representations of his mix of European and African taste. He carried himself with confident, slow steps, all offset with impeccable bow ties and well-crafted suits.
Chief Adesina built the institutions of sports, as well as well as that of the Boy Scouts, with this same eclectic deliberation, patience and discipline. He helped to turn Liberty Stadium into a continental, if not global, symbol. One of my earliest memories is of attending a James Brown concert in that stadium, in my freshly minted conductor suit. That was a major, major event. James Brown was the biggest star in the world then. Liberty Stadium was a magnet for spectaculars under Chief Adesina. I was there to see Pele, too, wanting badly to be one of the ball boys but glad I got a handshake. Chief Adesina also oversaw the greatest Ibadan sporting escapade ever, the rise and triumph of Shooting Stars Football Club, for which our neighbour on the other side of the local Osun shrine, Chief Lekan Salami, was the patron.
Chief Adesina was a disciplinarian who kept his emotions under heavy lock, but he was also one the most open Ìbàdàn persons I’ve ever known. I was surrounded by Ìbàdàn people, both Muslim and Christian, who opened their city to the waves of new residents from other places and many of whom were people who they had fought at the turn of the 20th century. Many, till date, afforded themselves the opportunity to deride Ìbàdàn and her people, even as they made their homes amongst us. Many tried and failed to respond in kind by creating exclusive Ìbàdàn indigene networks but not Chief Emiola Adesina. He opened his world and city to the best he could find from everywhere. He was governor of District 911 of Rotary International. I never understood what he and my father saw in Rotary, but it was something he did with unqualified passion. He seemed to have a personal vision of making Ìbàdàn home to a cosmopolitan energy. It did not matter whether you were Syrian, Lebanese, Ìjèbú, English, Igbo, he made time for you in a world he thought was desired.
He certainly helped to create our community next to a grove of cocoa farms and villages on the other side of Ìdé Àpé; a place often overcome in the dry season by the pungent smell of cocoa seeds and pods drying in the open air. On the Agodi side, our community was bounded at one end by the Gascoigne Bakery and a homestead of people whose pot of moin-moin was an ever present sculpture. At the other end was another bakery, owned by the Olowokeres. Between those two ends were his and our families, as well as others with newly built houses. There were no fences, just shrubs and flowers. Between our two houses, a majestic almond tree stood, where children ran around to catch and even climb for ripe fruits. We mostly schooled at Maryhill Convent School, passing up through the cocoa farms to and from school. Our mornings were often punctuated by milk delivery at our doorstep from the dairy farm on the way to Iwo. Another marker of our community were Christmas celebrations when the road to the neighbourhood would be blocked so that the community could sing Christmas Carols, share presents and the children act in plays. We all joined in the celebrations: Adesinas, Ajadis, Fagbemis, Adekolas, Ipayes, Olowookeres, Fawehinmis, Ajomales, to name just a few residents of Olabode Oloro Street in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
Chief Adesina, for me, seemed to be the last in the line of a small group of people who lived through times when ethnic identity was dominant but who recognised that they should create a bridge for future generations to thrive. He was, by choice, a national player, and he embraced that rather than be reduced to tribalistic and provincial focus.
Chief Adesina also led institutions that extended modern middle-class life to others. He was co-founder and co-proprietor, with his wife, of Subuola Nursery and Primary School, Ibadan. They educated and developed generations of children into resilient adulthood. One of them is the Oni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi. I distinctly remember when my father died and Chief Adesina offered to pay the school fees of my siblings who were still in school. Even though we never accepted his offer, it was a most touching offer to the children of his ‘Balogun’.
Chief Adesina retired from the Sports Council and Liberty Stadium in his mid-40s. His country honoured him with the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) award. His rebirth as an entrepreneur was with swift and focused energy. He was founder of Ewe Ina stationery and a major poultry farmer, amongst many other enterprises. He was also on the Ibadan chieftaincy line. His last title was the Abèsé Olúbàdàn. He switched codes without ever betraying any of the institutions he belonged to. He seemed to hold himself outside those roles, keeping their object independent of himself as subject. I suppose that was the key to performing multiple roles with integrity and authenticity.
Chief Adesina, for me, seemed to be the last in the line of a small group of people who lived through times when ethnic identity was dominant but who recognised that they should create a bridge for future generations to thrive. He was, by choice, a national player, and he embraced that rather than be reduced to tribalistic and provincial focus. He carried his tribal marks with what we now call swag but never at the cost of opening spaces for engagement with others different from him.
Chief Adesina was emblematic of the society destroyed by the materialism of the Ibrahim Babangida era, when all that mattered was how much you had amassed. His world and people like him were about building legacies, shaping institutions and improving the human capacity for generations to come. It was just like him to hold, as he said, two heroes: Adegoke Adelabu (his GCI old boy) and Obafemi Awolowo. He exemplified what today would be called bridging leadership. I hope his legacy continues through his children, all of who have platforms and spaces of leadership. For me I celebrate Baale and his influences, not just on my life and Ibadan but on the many families in Nigeria and internationally that he touched with authenticity and passion. He was a bridging leader long before the polarisation of today made that term a necessity. A social landscape architect who wove the tapestry of national culture seamlessly into communities and institutions alike, yet who was forever a committed and disciplined Ibadan man and chief. A true rarity in a country that today chooses sides by whose humanity can be reduced, not for the content of character but for the identities that they are assigned. As we lose people like Chief Adesina, we must wonder where those who will elevate us from country to nation will come from. For now, it seems enough to wallow in the loss of what Chief Adesina represented. He rests as a reborn believer in the Sun of Righteousness that is Christ Jesus.
Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.