Scraping by as a minstrel and surviving on the benevolence of others are not the sort of experiences that would normally presage a life of greatness. But providence often almost dwarfs everything else. And Rev. Oluwole Adetiran indeed had a bagful. He rose above all the hurdles he experienced in his early years to record a few milestones, among them becoming the composer of the NYSC anthem. Adetiran, 65, recounts the inspiring tale to Funke Olaode
Six wives besides my mother, but no discord
I was born over 65 years ago in Igbajo in Osun State in the then Western Region. By the time I was born my father just returned from the Gold Coast (Ghana) as a cocoa merchant. Having traversed the length of the Gold Coast then, he settled down in my home town as a cocoa famer. My mother, Madam Owojori was a seamstress, cloth seller, the first deaconess of the Baptist Church, Igbajo, a senior member of the choir in the church and leader of a cultural group.
I grew up in a polygamous setting of seven wives and many children. My mother was the last wife and she had four boys and I am in the third position. I was told that before my mother was born my father had married three wives and by the time he settled for my mother, she was like a daughter to him. He showered her with a lot of love. I didn’t experience much of the intrigues associated with polygamy because some of the wives had died, some were old and moved over to their children’s place. I grew up with the sixth wife and my mum. My siblings and my I were like grand children. The age disparities didn’t deny us parental love. My parents were very amiable and naturally musical. They were friendly, kind and generous. So I grew up in a lively environment. Apart from that, four of the missionaries were my mother’s friends. I was born at Baptist Medical Centre, Iree where Ms. Sanders was in charge. So each time my mother wanted to impress me she would say Akanbi Omo Sanders meaning (Akanbi the son of Sanders).
Late secondary education
I only had my primary education at Baptist Day School in my home town because my older brother moved to Ibadan after their education at Baptist College, Iwo, in Osun State and mother moved with them. So I grew up in Oopoyiosa Area of Ibadan. I joined my uncle in Oniyanrin in Inalende Area of Ibadan when my mother went back to my town to become a chief and deaconess in 1963. I stayed briefly with my uncle before moving to Mokola Area of Ibadan and started fending for myself. I had a late secondary education because my father was old and my mother was the only one catering for us.
We (me and my younger brother) were waiting for my older brothers to get job so they could put us through school. This period of delay forced me to learn so many trades. I learnt building construction, sometimes I stayed with an uncle working as a plank clerk, I also joined the choir at the First Baptist Church, Idi-Ikan in Ibadan. I was influenced by a senior member of the choir who could play the organ, guitar and so on. I had the opportunity and one of the children of Rev. Lawoyin taught me how to play the guitar. I later met a great friend, Demola Falade, who also taught me how to play the organ. During those trying periods of survival I had become a seasoned church musician. In looking for daily bread, I derailed and joined bands when they were looking for guitar players. It was juju highlife and I was making good money. I was shuttling between Lagos and Ibadan because I was a good guitarist. All along, I didn’t take my eyes off education, which I consider the only liberator from the shackles of poverty.
Living as a street musician
By nature I am a church boy; it was circumstance that pushed me into highlife music. I bought my first guitar with the whole of my salary - five pounds, five shilling in 1967. Of course, I was making good money but after sometime I said I couldn’t continue to live a life of street musicians. I met a friend who thought I could be somebody. He was about helping me when I was struck by small pox. Help was not forthcoming from my church and this man invited me to his church, Celestial Church of Christ, Mokola, Ibadan, which was just blossoming in the early ‘70s. The church embraced me when they found out that I could play the guitar. We established a very good choir. I went back home and brought my junior ones and cousins including the highlife Juju musician, Remi Olabanji. They all joined the choir and we made it lively.
During my life struggle, I was performing with the second Awada Group (comedy group) under Ajimajasan. I was the first Oko Iya Ijebu (Iya Ijebu’s husband) in Ajimajasan film. As I said earlier, I never took my eyes of education. I was studying music privately and enrolled for General Certificate in Education (GCE) at a private secondary school called Aresa. There were a few secondary schools then but the school wasn’t approved by the government but was later approved. I was introduced to GCE in this school which was very tough to pass those days. I was lucky I had three credits and three passes. Obviously, there was light in my dark tunnel as I prepared to conquer what had eluded me for the past 10 years. With these papers, I was admitted to Baptist Teacher Training College, Ede, in Osun State.
This was 1972. It was one of the best moments of my life. My school fee was being taken care of by the government and we even got a stipend every month. Again, my talent manifested as I was fished out as somebody who could play the organ in less than 48 hours in my new school. Immediately I became the chapel prefect, the leader of the choir and assistant organist. I established a school band called Baptraco International Baptist Training College Band which was competing with St. Gregory’s Band and Ofege. I was already going to my 30s when I finished from this school. It was a feat because it was difficult to go to school those days. I left Ede and I was invited to a school in Abeokuta in Ogun State to become a teacher. This was where I sat down properly and passed all my O’ Levels examinations. I passed through a lot until Celestial Church of Christ came to my aid. Along the line, I sat for correspondence courses and had a Grade Seven/Eight Certificate from Royal School of Music, London.
Acquiring a university degree
In 1978, I wrote an entrance examination to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. This was another feat in my life because I never thought I could attain it. I applied for music, my first love. I embraced it and applied myself to it. I liked two courses: medicine and music but couldn’t study medicine because I didn’t go to schools where sciences were taught. I was always consoling myself that it cannot be worse and can only get better. I was working to improve my life and people around me. I was already a married man and people rallied round me. My friends and my wife also contributed immensely to my success at Nsukka.
I remember the day I entered Nsukka, my friend, Demola Falade, who taught me how to play the guitar in 1965 was a final year student of estate management at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu Campus. He wrote me when he heard that I had gained admission. In his letter he wrote: “Wole, haaa! This God is great. You, an undergraduate? I have not seen this kind of man, God. I am coming to celebrate with you.” Demola Falade came to Nsukka the next week, embraced me and wept like a baby just to celebrate my admission and success. I also wept. It was a turbulent period but I didn’t allow those trying times to undermine my goals and aspirations. I weathered the storm and God put an end to tough times in my life. I soaked myself into my academics and God was with me. I lost a year at Nsukka because I had an accident that almost crippled me.
Composing the NYSC anthem
I eventually graduated in 1983 and came back to Ibadan. My church, First Baptist Church Idi-Ikan looked for me when they wanted to do their music festival and I performed. There was no age limit during my time. So when I wanted to go for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the choir master of the church then, Baba Ogunpitan influenced my posting to The Polytechnic, Ibadan, where I served and composed the NYSC anthem in 1984. After my youth service the management of the Polytechnic retained me as a lecturer.
What helped again was the accident because my treatment was transferred from Nsukka Health Centre to the University College, Ibadan. After my service, the NYSC didn’t want me to be taken away from The Polytechnic Ibadan because I had established a very good musical outfit that the then Governor of Oyo State, Oladayo Popoola used in all his entertainment. During that period, NYSC had an anthem group and we recorded it into records at Haruna Ishola Studio. I formed the Orchestra’s Corps and we performed at the Liberty Stadium during the graduation with the combined band of the police and the army. We also performed at the National Stadium in Lagos. Before the NYSC anthem I composed was picked, there were competitions but they couldn’t have beaten a musicologist. That was how it has been in use till today.
Attaining career success
I started lecturing at The Polytechnic, Ibadan in 1984. In 1987, I went back to university to acquire a master’s degree in musicology. God was with me and I was promoted. I had applied for my Ph.D but became the head of department of Music Technology of Polytechnic Ibadan in 1989. With my responsibility, I couldn’t go regularly for my Ph.D programme. For the record, I established the first department of music technology in Nigeria at The Polytechnic Ibadan and headed it for 11 years. Also, by that time, government wanted us to have music technology for accreditation sake. I was asked to go and write a syllabus. I called my co-lecturers (all professors of music in Nigeria). We gathered under the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) in Kaduna. My rector then, Prof. Oshobi helped a lot. He invited all of them and we moved to Kaduna where we drafted a fine syllabus for music technology in Nigeria in 1992. It was accredited and approved. That syllabus is still in use till today. God moved me up the ladder.
I became the first lecturer in music department to become a senior principal lecturer in musicology at The Polytechnic Ibadan, first lecturer in music department to become the dean of faculty of eight departments (music technology, mass communication, secretarial administration, general studies, business administration, public administration, marketing and purchasing and supply) and composer of NYSC anthem. In 1987, I became the director of music for the Celestial Church of Christ Worldwide. I retired from The Polytechnic in 2008 and established a music academy called CCC Academic of Music Technology. The first graduate will emerge this August. I have also occupied myself with one of the best 10 choirs in Nigeria called Celestial Church of Christ Central Choir that can perform all the music of the world’s churches. The purpose is to serve my God who has been good to me.
When you are free you get exposed to the opposite sex early. In my case, I was a street musician and there was this urge to copy what you see your colleagues doing. As a guitar man I was conscious of myself that I didn’t belong to this category. It was somehow controlled. That is why from a musical perspective, it is not good to play guitar in the church. Guitar is not an instrument for the church because there is no way you won’t stress yourself and you need something to step it down. Eventually I got married and I am blessed with children who all are all musicologists.
Grass to grace
Considering the journey through life I couldn’t have chosen a better profession. In spite of all challenges, God was with me and I became what I didn’t envisage in life. There was a time I was completely hopeless and didn’t know the next thing to do. I had nothing but there was this urge that I could become somebody. I was busy buying books for myself. There was a day I was humiliated in the church by my benefactor. I couldn’t argue with her because the garment I wore to church that day was provided by her husband and if I replied, there would not be food for me the next day. I wept that day and cried out to my maker and said “God, please deliver me from life predicaments and make me a better person”. God answered. From that day, fortune smiled on me as I met people who helped me all the way to the top. Honestly, the beginning was rough but at the end of the day, God crowned all my efforts and made me a better person. I was lucky I wasn’t a silver spoon child; I passed through the mud, poverty became my companion. So many musicologists have passed through me. I was manager of Evangelist Bola Aare for many years. By the grace of God, Rotimi Olaosebikan, Sola Alison who sang Eji Owuro, the late popular Baba Ara passed through me. So through life travails and tribulations, I overcame and have been impacting lives. When God has a special interest in your life things would work out in your favour. In my case, I am God’s chosen and that is why I will serve Him for the rest of my life.