I Have Never Been to a Classroom

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Interviewed by Funke Olaode

Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in a village called Oke Pupa in Akuffo area of Ido Local Government Area of Oyo State. My late father, Pa Gbadamosi Olajide Adepoju was a farmer. I grew up learning the names of various creation of God like plants, trees, animals, rivers, mountains and so on.

Did you have formal education as a poet?
I have never experienced classroom education and have no certificate from any institution.One thing that may sound incredible about my life is that I never went to school. I braved the odds to learn when my cousins came for holidays to our village. While they were talking, they would suddenly switch to English language, and it pained me a lot that I did not understand the language. So I started saving money from firewood sales. One of my cousins Muyideen Oyedele (now deceased) started teaching me. I had already passed school age when I started learning Yoruba alphabets and it took me one week or two to finish the entire contents and started learning to read and write effectively in Yoruba Language. It was when I moved to Ibadan that I started learning English.

What inspires your poetry?
My family is the greatest school, where I was first taught the use of language. I can say I got my poetic inspirations came from my father, my grandfather and other knowledgeable members of my family, whose usage of deep Yoruba words shaped my early exposure. I also invested in several books that cover politics, religion and other disciplines. You know as a poet, I needed to research to keep abreast of happenings. I belong to top associations like Egbe Olukotan Yoruba, an association that parades professors. At a time, I was an executive member.

You were once a thorn in the flesh of the military, were you not afraid for your life?
You take life as it comes. As a powerless citizen, in my days in broadcasting, I never tolerated any bad leadership. During the military era, especially during the Babangida era, I waxed some records, which did not go down well with the administration. I was arrested and prosecuted over an album I released. I was in detention for a while before being arraigned at a High Court in Ibadan, where they made a lot of unfounded allegations.

I was discharged and acquitted because they couldn’t prove their allegations. On another occasion, I released another Ewi hit and the then Commissioner of Police invited me for questioning. I told him that the album had nothing to do with the government and they eventually let me go. I had so many nasty experiences like that in the course of performing my profession as a talking poet.

Where did you get your penchant for advocacy?
I am a product of my society. I have all along been living among indigenous people, but the abnormality of the Nigerian situation makes me unhappy. It is natural for anybody that had the kind of orientation I have to take the path I have taken if the platform is available.

But you veered into journalism/broadcasting at a stage…
Back then it provided a platform for me to ask questions on accountability from leaders. I was once a proof-reader in a newspaper organization called People’s Star Press Limited, founded by the late Ladoke Akintola. I also played other roles in that newspaper organisation which shaped me until I became a broadcaster in the late 60s, 70s. In my broadcasting days, I introduced a programme called ‘Ijinji Akewi’. I used to comment on happenings in the country, which did not go down well with my bosses at WNTV and WNBS; but because of my poetic effusions, I became the darling of every Yoruba listener and my talent began to show.

Why did you suddenly disappear from television?
My organization (WNTV and WNBS) wanted to publish my works. The copyright issues arising from that proposed venture generated controversies which led to my sudden disappearance from television. At a point, I was producing ‘Gbele Gbo’ and ‘Tiwa Nti Wa,’ Yoruba programmes, I was also manning the continuity as an announcer. Suddenly, my organization gave me an ultimatum to submit the scripts of my past Ewi broadcast on radio and television or face the consequences. When it was getting out of hand, I handed in my resignation letter.

Which of your albums Shot You to fame?
There was an album I did after the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed; it was a bilingual record waxed in Yoruba and Hausa. However, I think my most popular album is ‘Obafemi Awolowo’ which was released in 1979. It was accepted everywhere and it brought me to limelight. Thereafter, I followed with several other records that also received widespread acceptance everywhere in Nigeria. After the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I waxed another record ‘Iku Obafemi Awolowo’; the flip side was ‘Nibo La Nlo.’

When was your best moment?
I was excited when I had my first child. My happiest moment was when I visited Saudi Arabia and saw the Holy Mosque. I wept at its architectural; same with when I saw the Holy Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. Another occasion was my first visit to London in 1985.

Why the sudden change in your lifestyle?
My total acceptability of Islam affected my music and my world view on religion. I bought a biography of Prophet Muhammed at a bookshop in London written by one Muhammed Hyka. I took it to my hotel and started reading it and was touched. I have always been a Muslim but I didn’t have a clear understanding of Islam until I got the book. It changed a lot of things. I had to remove some things from my music.