The demise of the renowned Professor of Yoruba Cultural studies and prolific writer, Baba Professor Israel Akinwunmi Bodunrin Orojide-Isola has exhumed many goodwill and tributes after he joined the ancestors. The sage who dedicated his life to the advancement of Yoruba studies did not just live for the culture; he passionately promoted the language and I am one of those who sapped from the knowledge of this great man.
In 2005, while I was concluding my undergraduate programme at the University of Ilorin, I discovered a new literary theory called “New Historicism” and I had the opportunity of reading Madam Tinubu by Baba Professor Akinwunmi Isola. I discovered a strong connection between the theory and the text. I traveled to Ibadan to engage my cultural and literary godfather, Baba Olusesan Ajewole, another bilingual writer, after our initial discussion, he willingly drove me to Baba Professor Akinwunmi Isola’s house at Akobo.
I was awestruck at the artistry of his house and the mortar-stool like furniture in his living room. In the similitude of a typical elderly Yoruba man, he listened to me carefully before responding. It was that day that I heard this saying, “Gbegigbegi ti gbegi, gbenagbena ti gbena, o ku gbenugbenu” meaning the sculptor has skillful carved an image, the carpenter has done his best, the critic’s assessment is next. However, in order not aid my knowledge and improve the quality of my research, he recommended a book written by Baba Oladipo Yemitan titled Madame Tinubu: Merchant and King-maker.
As a lad who loved to build relationship with elderly people, at the completion of my long essay, I went to give a copy of my work to Baba Professor Akinwunmi Isola. As a result of my physical contact with him and many other bilingual writers, I decided to join the clarion call to stand for Yoruba language and literature especially. Regardless of all the taunts by my contemporaries, I remained undeterred in promoting the language, literature and culture to the outer world. The gains of being a multilingual person is enormous.
In my own assessment, Akinwunmi Isola is a feminist because he took time to research the lives of two prominent women in the History of the Yoruba, Efunsetan Aniwura and Efunroye Tinubu. These were women who broke chauvinism and stood out in their generation. Such a writer is commendable and his contribution to historical literature cannot be overlooked. Other literary efforts of the sage include O le ku; Olu Omo; Koseegbe and some of these works has been transformed into movies.
On another side, Baba Akinwunmi Isola had a protégé in the University of Ibadan, Professor Duro Adeleke. Baba Isola was fair in complexion with grey beards while Professor Adeleke is black in complexion alongside his beards. It was a usual site seeing the duo around the Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan some years ago.
In June 2016, the staggering intellectualism of Baba Professor Akinwunmi Isola made the Lagos State House of Assembly invite him for a lecture on the theme; “Making the Teaching of Yoruba Compulsory in Public and Private Schools In Lagos State.” Baba was represented by Professor Duro Adeleke at the event. In my own opinion, there was nobody that had or has the record of delivering a convocation lecture in Yoruba language asides him. As such, his contribution to this discourse would support the good intentions of the assembly.
Highlights from the lecture included the need for native speakers of Yoruba language not to jettison the language; and other local languages were not abandoned because of the colonial masters; whenever people lose their language, they have lost their culture. The language of a people has to do with their culture, language, dresses, hairstyle and many other things. His final recommendation was that Yoruba language should be made compulsory in all primary and secondary schools in the state and that it should be included in the General Studies section of all tertiary institutions in the state. He also advocated for the translation of foreign books into Yoruba language like he did to the work of Professor Wole Soyinka’s The death of the King’s Horseman and Ake: The Childhood Years translated into Iku Olokun Esin and Ake: Nigba Ewe respectively.
I am sure that before his eventual demise, the passage of “A Bill for a Law to provide for the Preservation and Promotion of the use of Yoruba Language and for connected purposes.”, in October 2017, would be one of his greatest desires that came through in his lifetime based on his recommendations. In Lagos State, all the laws of the state would be translated into Yoruba and the use of Yoruba Language shall be an acceptable means of communication between individuals, establishment, corporate entities and government in the state if so desired by the concerned.
When the Governor of Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode finally assented the bill into law on the 8th of February 2018, he brought Baba Akinwunmi Isola’s dream into reality and it was a worthy parting gift. As a recipient of such a news; he quietly departed 9 days after and he took with him such a great news for departed Yoruba writers and scholars like his dearest friend, Baba Adebayo Faleti and others such as Professor Adeboye Babalola; D. O. Fagunwa; J. F. Odunjo; Herbert Ogunde; Duro Ladipo; Kola Ogunmola; Afolabi Olabimtan and a host of others. However, I am sure that his desire would be that other South Western States would do the same in remembrance of him!
Baba Professor Akinwunmi Isola, Orun ire o!