No tears can be enough, so I have decided to stop shedding tears for my classmate, friend and brother, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan (April 3, 1959 – November 30, 2019).
It is cool by me reverting to the smiles and laughter I shared with Teju in his lionized life.
My very last encounter with Teju was the Twenty Thousand Naira he handed over to me unsolicited in a Lagos hotel for the treatment of my ailing wife.
Teju and I were all smiles with our classmates with whom we shared a most rollicking reunion.
Not many people out there know that Teju’s name is Jacob. I used to call him Jacobo! There was nothing he could do about it but laugh at my antics.
Teju came into our Drama class at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in our second year in 1979, having gained admission as a direct entry student with Awam Amkpa.
Even from the early days, Teju was even more professorial than our Head of Department, Prof Wole Soyinka. Soyinka was as ever full of joie de vivre while Teju was eager and serious.
I committed very mortal sins like being caught by Soyinka drinking beer in his class in his home while Teju took charge of always advising me as though he was my father!
Teju’s avuncular kindliness belied the fact that we were actually classmates. He always insisted on reminding me that I ought to understand that I was in the university to study, not to play with the panoply of high jinks.
He was fond of my nickname Borojah, and kept repeating that I really “fitted the part of Borojah with a cap on the head.” Because of Teju I wore a cap almost all the time I was in Great Ife.
You can from this gain an insight on why Teju took such an interest in studying cartoons as a field of study in his diverse fields of the academe.
We graduated in 1982 when the Nigerian economy sank into a deep hole, and Teju was full of lament that nations that came last to the table of world capitalism are only left with bones to masticate.
The pity is that our class has lost two professors in Professor Foluke Adesina and now Professor Tejumola Olaniyan.
It’s not for nothing that Professor Wole Soyinka had a party for our class after our graduation, mincing no words in stressing that we were the most challenging class he had ever encountered in his teaching career.
With his first class brain, Teju joined up with Soyinka upon graduation in giving the Ife Drama Department the nous that intimidated all others.
When he travelled abroad in pursuit of the fabled Golden Fleece you did not need any jumped-up evangelist to prophesy that Teju would make a success of scholarship.
Teju took the Masters degree he got at Ife to Cornel University in the USA and doubled up the Masters there before capping it all up with his PhD.
It was Akin Adesokan who gave me a copy of Teju’s treatise Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African American and Caribbean Drama to review, and I was riveted by Teju’s masterly dissection of Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, and Ntozake Shange, with Imamu Amiri Baraka thrown in for good measure.
Teju’s other book, Arrest the Music!: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics, made some of us who frequented Fela’s Shrine when Teju never went there look like laggards. We ought to have written our own books on Fela!
Maybe it was the thick hemp smoke in the Shrine that blinded us the devotees to the book possibilities that Fela’s music presaged, only for a non-devotee with the requisite aesthetic distance like Teju to beat us to the book.
Teju always gifted me with his American university T-shirts and suchlike whenever he visited Nigeria. He insisted on keeping in touch.
It was in this Teju vein of maintaining a community that the Great Ife Drama Class of 82 organized a reunion in Lagos. Teju had just done the Fagunwa Conference in Akure, and then met with us his old mates in a Lagos hotel.
Teju had an ongoing documentary shoot he was undertaking on our teacher Soyinka. He engaged all of us as talking heads in the documentary.
“We graduated in 1982 when the Nigerian economy sank into a deep hole, and Teju was full of lament that nations that came last to the table of world capitalism are only left with bones to masticate.”
Trust Teju to insist on the finer details, he directed us to go beyond Soyinka’s activism to delve more into the theories and inventions of his theatre and overall literary oeuvre. It was a very engaging session intervolving memories of the special time we spent with Soyinka before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, who was the teacher closest to us as students came to meet us in the hotel and volunteered to host our reunion in 2020 in a five-star hotel on the island.
Now this: Teju will not be there!