By: Akinsoji Adeleye
My earliest memory of my father is a bit foggy: rather like a camera trying to focus on its subject. I can barely make out a guy that was always trying to tell me something by mouth when we are alone or through his eyes when there were other people. However, I have a vivid, cinematic picture of locations, of people and my father who was always watching me.
In the years gone by, the message was constant, the teaching repeatedly drilled to avoid any chance of being lost. My father’s teaching was a whole life motion picture that continued to the very last day of his life on earth. His teaching was at first in those early days a monologue to a little boy, later a dialogue, a conversation that was so unique that I am particularly privileged to have been part of.
At about the turn of the nineteenth century, a powerful (very powerful) exiled Prince from the Benin Kingdom ended up at Igbo Ajagun an outpost not far from present day Iju and Itaogbolu with his battle weary entourage after a protracted and monumental journey through the woods of Akoko-Edo and beyond. The settlement made up of arriving groups in the area was a form of a military camp from where the nucleus of early settlers of Iju and Itaogbolu eventually migrated. At this unsettled war period in Yoruba land, affiliations were made and groups emerged making decisions on choice of place of permanent settlement.
The Benin Prince, Prince Obutu Akenzua took his entourage to Itaogbolu which along with Iju were the two main evolving settlements at the time. Consequentially, the elders of Itaogbolu invited him to ascend to the throne. But, he declined stating he was there to rest after a long and difficult journey. In the local parlance, he was there to Simi with a proviso that his offspring should reserve this right in the future. The elders immediately made Imi a traditional title with Obutu as the first and the family a ruling house in Itaogbolu. The revered Prince had nine wives as was the practice of nobility at the time.
One of the nine wives was a maiden chosen from the prominent Isaoye family of Iju- Ifasote Olofinsusi. She arrived as the eight and one of the two junior wives. This union yielded four male children of which Papa Joseph Adeleye was the third born in the year 1927. His early years were in the royal household under a close watch of his father who took a special interest in him.
Unfortunately, this early romance that Papa used to talk fondly of, ended in his early teen with the death of the patriarch of the family. This momentous event in the early life of the young Adeleye led to his mother taking her four boys back to her paternal household of Isaoye in Iju where Papa continued his early childhood.
Papa taught himself to read and write and used this knowledge to travel extensively engaging in various merchandising; he traded in clothing materials and Agro chemical products. In 1951, he came back to Iju, settled down, took up extensive cocoa cultivation in addition to his commodity trading business. In 1953 he married a beautiful Princess – Juliana Ademolahan from the royal household of Oloofe of Oke-Iju a union that produced Papa’s greatest treasure of all-his children who he brought up as Princes and Princess. Till his later years, papa remained a very active and successful cocoa buyer and exporter.
For someone who did not have the benefit of formal education, Papa understood the imperative of it. He realized very early that the only way his Princes and Princess would not be labourers and messengers to others was for them to have good education.
Papa thrived in knowing his children were educated. He saw this as his own education and his window to the world.
Papa was a man of extraordinary faith. Till his last days on earth, he conducted his early morning family prayer. His prayer was really a command. Papa always asked that we speak with our Eleda. One particular instance has stuck with me over the years; I was sent home for my school fees during my secondary school days: it was one of those years when cocoa was under-priced and the market was bad. In the morning, Papa prayed, commanded his Eleda to provide so that his Prince can return to school. Daily prayers time was six o’ clock in the morning.
This particular morning, as Papa opened the outside door, there was a man waiting. He came to buy Agro chemical. Strangely, this was old stock that had been there for years. Like it was a normal, regular day, he bought his stuff in cash and went. I looked at Papa and said so “your Eleda heard you.” He said yes with a big smile. “You must learn to communicate with your Eleda,” he said. He gave me my school fees and I went back to school.
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
When I was preparing to leave home for the first time to the boarding school, Papa and I had the first in the many series of admonition never to forget who I am and where I am came from. “Life can never really be a happy place for anyone that forgets his root”. Again we had this conversation when I was travelling over seas. I found this particularly profound as I discovered that man is just a number the moment he is detached from his root. There is something abouta man’s root that cannot be replaced. “You are special” Papa would say.
NEVER LOOK AT SOMEONE ELSE’S PLATE
I earlier intimated how unique it was being my father’s son; this is without any chance of exaggeration. How do you bring up a child that would literarily never look at someone else’s plate? “What is in your plate is the sweetest and the best there is, what is in the other person’s plate is of no concern to you” Papa always thought us to envy no one, to be confident of who we are and be content with that which is ours.
For a man to thoroughly enjoy life, he must love himself, be able to smile at the face in the mirror. Papa loved, he cherished the company of the man in the mirror, enjoyed life, his smile, his unhindered laughter and the acknowledgment of his self.
Papa thrived on giving to people. “Through giving you might appear to help someone else but in fact you are helping yourself”. The joy of giving is an intrinsic pleasure that cannot be measured.
THINK NO EVIL
This of Papa’s teaching is rooted in his faith and believes that no evil can come his way for he wished no one evil. By extension Papa was convinced that no evil would ever befall his children since all he wish everyone was good-will.
The capacity to forgive is an immeasurable strength. What it means is that you, the forgiver know something the other party is incapable of. Papa never had someone he would call an enemy. Throughout his life challenges and tribulations, he never had anyone he called his enemy. I was always surprised as a kid when people that I thought had wronged him would come back to the house to eat and drink with him.
HAVE NO FEAR
Fear is a conscious recognition of a superior force, an unconscious acceptance of a faith and belief that might not be. As a kid growing up with Papa in an environment where witches and juju were prevalent, fear of something or certain people was the norm. But, Papa had no fear and thought us to have no fear. I know he had no fear because he thought me very early in life that the darkness at night is only the other side of the sun.
If you know your place in the world, you would feel strong. Papa was strong in his spirit and as a physical specimen. As a kid I thought he was strong, as an adult I know he was immensely strong. “Food you must only eat to live but never live to eat” Papa taught me how to live and stay hungry.
Papa’s life and teaching is about the age old riddle of man and the process of his journey on earth. If you know who you are, you would have genuine faith, be strong, have confidence, imbibe the capacity to forgive your fellow being, help, give, have no fear and draw strength from being who you are.
Thank you Papa. I know you are smiling.
Rest in peace.
* Akinsoji Adeleye, CEO, Infex HC is the eldest son of Late Pa Joseph Adeleye Obutu.