I feel obliged to pay this tribute to Pa Ayo Odeku because his path did not just cross mine, but he left an indelible mark within the short time that we encountered him.
I met Baba Ayo Odeku about 13 years ago at the preaching station of Yaba Baptist Church at Ikosi-Ketu, Divine Mercy Baptist Church, Ikosi-Ketu, which began at Mercy Hall. He was the Sunday School Superintendent then. We began to relate in bits. However, with time, we became close gradually. A few weeks after joining the church was the launch of my first book, and upon return, I gave him a copy of the biography. I met Egbon Tosin separately, only for me to connect the dots at a later date!
Then, Baba drew us closer! Baba became our father, but he was many things to us simultaneously. As such, he called us friends. In June 2016, Baba gave me a book titled “Yoruba Oral Tradition: Poetry in Music, Dance and Drama” edited by Wande Abimbola, a book he bought in 1981. While signing off the book he wrote, the ownership of this book was transferred to my friend, Peter Olutayo Irantiola on Sunday, 26th June 2016. In 2017, he was one of those who wrote a blurb to my play, The Okeho Exodus, which was published last year. In 2023, he sent me a best seller on a Royal family, you may guess the title and told me to read it so that I would understand that the rich also cry. As the Yorubas will say, aaye la jogun ore, ojo aba ku, omo ni jogun eni.
He was our friend in words and deeds. Baba would tell us that we are his friends and children. He told us that he had lost many of his friends and contemporaries, but we were his friends in the twilight of his life.
The trio of us became Ayo Odeku Boys- Bro Patrick, Yemi Oyerinde, and I. Baba kept us abreast of many things around him- his life, career, contentment, and lots of good news. He equally shared in our pains and our little wins. Baba was at the christening of all my children. He was “Baba for the Girls” to our wives and many other ladies in the church. Our children had fun being around him! All their wishes got filled with him! You can imagine one of the gifts from his 85th birthday got to one of the children in the boarding house after Baba had passed.
Our Numero Uno Cheerleader motivating one to grow into greatness. When we changed our apartment, Baba was the first Elderly guest to visit us. That spurred him to tell us about his journey to and the birds that sang daily. From our Facebook posts to our WhatsApp statuses, Baba would always cheer us on!
Baba became our sage! Baba knew I loved history, and he also did. Whenever I lose touch with some facts and cannot conjure an answer, even through Google, I will go to Baba to ask for the answer. He would effortlessly give me the broken part of the narrative. Voila, all the mysteries will be over! Iriri lagba
Let me also tell you about the sage role played by Baba. If Baba postulates something, with time, it becomes vivid. You don’t need to travel miles before seeing the result. Ba ba n ge igi ni gbo, agba nii mo ibiti yoo wo si.
If Bro Yemi had an uncompleted task with Baba, Baba would not challenge him. He will report him to me. I am the one that will speak to him and plead on Baba’s behalf. If it is something on our families, Baba will manage the delicate balance so our family is not ruffled. Bro Yemi was the best bet if Baba wants to send anything across to me.
Let me say, this Baba can be very private and, at the same time, very open to you. It depends on who you are to him! To those that Baba was a private being, they will have very little information about him, and those that he is open to, you will know his home, his itinerary and, ultimately, gave you access to his children’s home, in case he was going to be on the Island for some days!
When there was a resurgence of the giant bow tie resurfaced, Baba wore it to church on a particular Sunday and I marvelled if he was still in touch with the fashion world. I call him the “King of Boys”, later when I knew he went to Kings College, I changed it to “Our King of Boys who went to Kings College”. At another time, I am sure he went through his archives, he saw one of his pictures when he was a younger man and shared it with me. Arugbo soge ri, Akisa a logba. Thereafter, Baba switched to wearing his agbada, dansiki with caps, especially abeti aja, for formal events.
Let me tell you the final balance; when his 85th birthday of Baba was approaching, I requested Baba’s pictures, and his response was, “My children have instructed that I should not release it until it was close to my birthday.” I also kept the images jealously until midnight of his birthday when the photos returned to him as a musical video! Baba, se otun, won se osi, won o si ba ibi kan kan je.
I had the opportunity to work with Baba Odeku as the Secretary of Divine Mercy Baptist Church. Baba was our foot soldier during the week. When I was at work, Baba would be the one doing all the secretariat work on the streets of Lagos. He would always say that he understood the challenges of our generation, and he was always willing to support us, and we shone!
At some point, many people wondered why we appear at Yaba Baptist Church at any time at the shortest notice! Baba kept us abreast of the good deeds of the Lord in and around the church. He also made us meet many great individuals and families from the church.
Trust me, if you do not know Baba has a good understanding of fine dining, you are yet to know Baba Ayo Odeku! Won mo iku to ba ounje, ounje to gbamuse!
Baba left the stage when the ovation was loudest! I can cite many instances of how Baba left the scene. His images were not on his social media handles. It was just his children and grandchildren. At DMBC, at some point, Baba left us, the young ones, to take over the helms of affairs of the church, and they were our guide so that we would not commit any grievous error. In fact, for his 85th birthday, he never posted his pictures directly on his wall, he just used them on his Facebook story.
Baba told me that he hails from Ile Asubieye in Aawe; I hail from Ile Ologbin, Okeho. But, when we got into one of our long cultural discussions, we discovered that we are from the same Yoruba clan, the same Ologbin clan. To cut a long story short, history says the internecine wars broke Ogbin Ile beside Ikoyi Ile centuries ago. Ara ile wa ja!
During the get-together for his 85th birthday that my family missed because it rained and some other unforeseen circumstances, as we add in Nigeria, beyond our control, Baba called and said, “We all would have gone to our respective houses before you arrive”. Truly, before my next visit to Ojodu, he had gone to the proverbial house he mentioned about a fortnight ago!
Pa Emmanuel Ayoola Ayinde Odeku was indeed one of a kind, and he lived an optimal life! I celebrate you, Baba, in life and in death!
I sign off just the way you called me earlier in the year,
Peter Olutayo Akanji-Ojo Irantiola, omo odo Agba!