Ambassador Segun Olusola (1935 - 2012)


By Chike Ofili

Chief Segun Olusola
For Ambassador Segun Olusola, the world is a village square; the centrifugal centre of life and living. And for him, a failure or refusal to root ones ways in one’s own culture will ultimately lead one’s every action back to square one; the beginning.

So steeped is he in the classic ways of his Yoruba people of Nigeria that, he has always learnt to row backward in order to advance forward on their territorial waters and preferably, in their canoe to other waters.
All of his many outstanding works, ways and thoughts are rooted and traceable to this recognition and sometimes, to this fixation.

Born a well-bred village boy in Iperu-Remo, Ogun State on March 18, 1935, Olusola never left his birthplace until he was well-rooted in the traditions of the classic ways of the Yoruba. Not even his devout Christian-Methodist father would let him be taken abroad by either a Catholic reverend father, or the beckoning call of admission into Government College, Ibadan – the capital city of the then Western Nigeria. It took a search for a white collar job to transplant 17 year old Olusola away from Iperu and Sagamu to the city of Ibadan where he fully found art and lived for it; beginning at Oxford House, the previous habitation of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation where his artistic bent found solace in a filial workplace. And for broadcasting, he became a tevee devotee.

But before the city of Ibadan, was the village of Iperu. To be an artist, Segun had first to be an artisan in his father’s workshop, learning woodwork in the fashion of carpenters. It was at this workshop that he met a certain Baba Shittu; the man who put young Segun’s imagination to flight with folk stories that border on magical wonders; about man on a conquering quest, sojourning among spirits. These stories commenced his initiation rite into the power and place of stories and how they could be told and put to a telling effect.

As he grew in Shagamu, a neighboring town to Iperu, his audience appreciation of masquerades deepened; having lived with his uncle Mr. Bantefa, a leader of a masquerade cult. The sheer theatricality of the masquerade outings, the elegance of their costumes, the guttural depth of their speech deliveries, their acrobatic and spectacular displays, and the constant mock chase of their spectators, began to seep into the sub- conscious mind of young Segun.

It was therefore to he expected that he became an active member of the Literary and Debating Society of Remo Secondary School, Shagamu. As an organizing secretary of the club, the challenges of making things happen and ensuring they happen well, prepared him as a manager of artistic endeavours and ventures.

So, Segun the teenager naturally gravitated towards Oxford House to help read stories at its radio studios. Five years into radio broadcasting, and at the count down to Nigeria’s independence, television came calling. It was a novelty which the initiators and its pioneer staffers knew very little or nothing about. But Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the then Western region knew one thing, that television would be the new teacher. Young Segun Olusola made it to the list of pioneers after several interviews; and more than most, helped to realise Awolowo’s purpose for television.

The city of Ibadan that has offered Segun a new home and opportunities, also posed a strange challenge to this well-bred village boy. Five years into television broadcasting, having had a previous five years in radio, Segun confessed twenty-nine years later to the dilemma of a village boy in a city at a 1964 lecture entitled: Village Audience and Community Development. ” Most of us who were born in the village and grew up there, and who have had to come to the big cities like Lagos and Ibadan to make a living”, Segun recounted, “can very easily recall the months of loneliness that accompanied the process of breaking into a new and more sophisticated society. The problems are many sided. Suddenly you don’t understand them, and you don’t belong again.”  Noting the changes in the new subjects of discussion in the cities, Segun says “You want to talk to them [on returning to the village] about insurance, [about] the man who killed the man who killed

Kennedy. You know so much what you want to communicate to them, but you don’t know how”. All of these Segun Olusola attributes to “a breakdown in communication between the village and the urban centre.”

Segun did not however solve this problem by betraying his background. Neither did he solve it by trying to belong to the new city experience in the manner of the Joneses. Very early, he recognised that “The knowledge of the city dweller is not tempered and matured by the wisdom and experience of the village elder”. That powers changed hands upon the role reversal from the “by gone days when societies transformed and relationships became structured and legalized, the oral tradition gave way to the written word; those who were versed in the elements of this new culture became the new power centres and thus began a tension which was accentuated by the callous inhumanity of the slave owners, the raiders and their new machine,’’ did not amount to a total loss.

It is from these facts of history rooted in experience that Olusola recognised the points of fracture and made bold to take the bull by the horn. “We owe it a duty to ourselves and the next generation to bridge this gap”, he challenged his audience at the lecture. Ever since, his entire life has taken this direction; bridging gaps.

From the programming department of television broadcasting, he sought to reprogramme the minds influencing the village and the city; as he sought to make the past and the present meet in mutual agreement. Since television thrives on voice and picture, and is so potent for the transmission of ideas and re-direction of the mind, Olusola worked very assiduously to bridge the misunderstanding across these divides. From the first television play he commissioned, “My Father’s Burden’’ written by Wole Soyinka about the disconnected and misbehaving Nigerian elite, to Olusola’s creation of “The Village Headmaster – a drama serial in which a village headmaster and the village traditional government as represented in the metaphysical market, Oja village, seek to understand their different, yet, mutually complimentary roles amidst their different orientation, education and changing times. This very successful drama was to help Nigeria as a nation to understand

herself in a vast diversity through the appropriate characterization of the actors and actresses who represented and played out the people Nigerians are, and should be.

What Olusola did with television is best appreciated also from his profound understanding of its possible uses as enshrined in his writings, his created programmes and the compliments paid him by his colleagues.

He avers that “any television organisation makes its reputation nationally and internationally not by the height of its transmitters, size of studio or assemblage of equipment, but by the programmes that viewers receive from it,” in his 1975 lecture at Goethe Institute on “Film, Television and the Arts, The African Experience.’’ He reckoned that “Television programme makers are not dictators of public taste in the arts; they are arbiters, being victims of the tastes and preferences of the public they serve.” In recognising the incursions and invasion of the African mind by foreign media and conditionings, Olusola posit that: “In the African context, television must be used not simply as a mirror of present day African society, but as a motivator towards the goal of (the) survival of our cultures, ” (Telescape 1999:92).

Yet, he forewarns, “I do not preach cultural isolationism, for no culture can survive if permanently isolated. I preach a Nigerian cultural pre-eminence”, (NBC and Nigerian Culture, 1973). As “The appreciation Nigerian is a prima facie admission that our broadcasting organization has not been mentally divested of the prevailing spirit of the early fifties (1950) when we were made to feel grateful for anything foreign.” Here is the puzzle that is Olusola; how a man can seem so rustic yet he is so amazingly and effortlessly cultured in a non-imitative way; a real civilised man of culture at home in all its varying plurality.

It was with such missionary spirit and urgency that Olusola practised and propagated ideas in local content pre-eminence that caused his friend and former boss in broadcasting, Dr. Christopher Kolade to pay him a timeless tribute. “There is nobody in this country who is remotely as much an authority on the subject of television as Segun Olusola.”

Mr. Segun Sofowote his younger contemporary in broadcasting was to say at Olusola’s 50th birthday celebration in the Daily Times newspaper of March 30, 1985: ‘’To Segun Olusola, television is everything. Everything is television. Television is the one god he has served with doting devotion of a masquerade acolyte.’’ And at Olusola’s 70th birthday in March 2005, Ms. Julie Coker one of Nigeria’s most memorable national newscaster and younger contemporary of Olusola reminded all on the premises of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) what not to forget. “Segun Olusola did not only create the village headmaster, he created people, he also created Julie Coker”.

But Segun Olusola did more than bridge divides through television, he also used other platforms. One of which was intra-continental mediation across the African continent as Nigeria’s ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti. The choice of Ethiopia over Italy when the opportunity came calling at the ebb of his broadcasting career; when he wouldn’t be made a Director General even when his works were incomparable, says so much about his life-chosen cause for his own Africa and Black race.

He shrunk the distance between Ethiopia and Nigeria by the way he allowed himself into that society. In giving all of himself to the people and government of Ethiopia in a way they were not used to, he betrothed Nigeria to her. Facilitating deep social interactions and cultural exchanges with Ethiopia and other embassies, the Nigeria House that he also dared to build, became the melting pot for all serving ambassadors of his time and the Ethiopian community. Thus, from being distant neighbours and friends, he caused them to be close brothers.

He was also politically active in Ethiopia. Whilst representing Nigeria at the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U) now African Union (A.U), Olusola got intimately exposed to her conflicts and consequences and their retardation of Africa in the global scheme of things.

It was in serving on Committees of the then O.A.U, that Olusola came to see for himself the plights and plundering of refugees; and the queer circumstances that could make anybody, however big, a holder of that title. No condition is permanent is the title of one of the books he wrote whilst in Ethiopia. A title that tells it all. At the end of his tenure, and after all he saw and experienced, the Ethiopian and O.A.U memorabilia drove him back to the same calling his father had helped him evade in refusing to go abroad with Catholic reverend Father John; a return to a spiritual service to humanity. But this time, to the special care of refugees. He has never relented in communicating to all what has come to be his slogan: “Refugees do not drop from the skies” since returning to untiring retirement.

Even as Segun Olusola greys, his roots, his arts, his humanity accompany him everywhere. On this tripod, he relaunched himself back into reckoning in Nigeria after his many years of sojourning in Ethiopia. Giving his humanitarian cause artistic expression, Segun has become something of a sage to the younger generations. He now acts as a father figure, physically representing the arts at cultural occasions, and all that is bright and beautiful in the Nigerian life. And here and there, he keeps telling very readily the stories of our exemplary pasts to the younger ones.

His availability and resourcefulness has also triggered a high demand for him. Though at great cost to his health, at great danger to his ever daring to live a very active life, these many functions have come to be a major part of his retirement response in crusade for the nobleand for the African essence; and also  a deft strategy for surviving irrelevance. Very few Nigerians are as intimate with the social life of Lagos in its cerebral and ceremonial dimensions as Segun Olusola. And none that i know can boast of having offered an immeasurable quantity of physical presence, and listening ears to the plights and challenges of the young and mid-aged as him; with his door ever ajar to need seekers.

By relating very intimately with the youths and chairing and guesting at their occasions and partaking in their programmes, Olusola rejuvenates, updates and endears himself to them, thereby becoming a bridge across generations.

This bridge also gave him mass media link and a large following to reporters and artists across the broader media-mix to the pleasure of the young who did not only lapped him up, but also leached onto him to the chagrin and displeasure of his own contemporaries who came to privately resent him for trying to embody and approximate all they represent after all he unusually got from being an ambassador. Though some of the resenters were to later embrace public limelight, but not his genuine spirit of availableness. What they seldom admit privately and publicly is that they had to wait for him to show them how.

So, with his generation of artists, activists and media men, the bridge broke without collapsing;it also somewhat broke from differing methods of engaging the Other: governments and dividing positions. But he often chooses to stand in the gap, attempting to bridge the divide that sometimes leaves him in the cold; as also with some implacable members of his blood and extended family of scattered roots and social ties whose huge expectations of the use of this their bridge to scale personal limitations, could not be met.

Ambassador Segun Olusola took leave of us at this side of the divide at 6.30pm on June 21, 2012 at 77; a day after the global marking of the World Refugee day on June20. I mourn the salt-like subject of a six year old biography, A Bridge Across Divides, Nigeria’s greatest giver of himself, his ear and time to others known to me, and known in this clime for the advancement of humanity as the bridge across divides; deploring human, humane, the arts, events, media and public relations with language and storytelling skills of a modern griot; bringing gems and artefacts from the past to map the present to a better end.

Chike Ofili  author of The Weight of Waiting, 2009 wrote this preface to Segun Olusola’s unpublished biography, ‘’ A Bridge Across Divides”

Source: Flash Point News Online


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