By Akin Adeṣọkan
Ah, the good things that nightmares bring! Who would have thought that the combined tyrannical diligences of General Sani Abacha and Alhaji Aminu Saleh would provide the occasion for the discovery of a talent a man has carefully concealed behind easy smiles? You must be scratching your head, wondering who the heck is Aminu Saleh? I, too, have nearly forgotten, because it is the sort of name you don’t wish to remember, the way you don’t wish to remember a nightmare.
Let me remind you of Aminu Saleh, Secretary to the Federal Military Government of Nigeria circa 1994, at the beginning of the Abacha terror. I found out that this powerful man was responsible for administering the terms of the proscription of The Guardian newspapers later that year, although the publisher, Mr Alex Ibru, was a minister in the same government. The story of how I found out will be told another day, but you should know that the closure of Rutam House unleashed a wonderful talent, hidden behind an easy-going, smiling façade, and through an unusual pen-name.
I was a devout reader of “Moses Akin Arẹmu On the Prowl,” that salacious diary of a randy, high-spirited, but perpetually bungling sexual adventurer, which had begun on the pages of Guardian Express in the late 1980s, but had migrated to Festac News by 1994. During a visit to Mars House in Festac, in October of that year, I picked up an issue of the community newspaper and noticed the column, titled “Olly Boy My Friend!”
If you have ever read Moses Akin Arẹmu, you will remember the pattern of his adventure. He sees or meets an attractive lady in a social setting and starts a normal conversation. Before long, everything comes down to how and when to wind up in bed. The lady must be stacked, like Serena or Beyoncé. Better still if she can hold her own in a converse about politics, art or culture, but what Arẹmu really needs is a good lay at the end of the encounter.
In the column titled “Olly Boy My Friend,” Arẹmu ponders the genius of his friend. Unlike Arẹmu, Olly Boy doesn’t chase women. He does not seem to have the Lagosian smarts. He doesn’t put on a fake accent to impress a lady. He doesn’t have a car. He is not decked out in dress shirts. He is all adirẹ and noisy shoes. He goes about his business. He is a very shy workaholic, the sort of person who, in Arẹmu’s estimation, will easily bore the hell out of a lady. Yet he is very successful in that department. While Arẹmu returns home lonesome, broke and heartbroken at the end of a misadventure, wondering what to do with himself, Olly Boy is downstairs in his room, in intimate company.
So, how does he do it? What can Arẹmu learn from him? For me, the question is different: Who is Olly Boy?
It takes a bit of contextual analysis to figure that out. He is an artist, holding a day job reporting art and culture for a recently proscribed newspaper, and has had to fashion a pen-name in order to be able to write and publish because, proscription or not, even artists have to eat.
I know this reporter by another name, and am surprised to know this side of him as well. But I also know that beautiful minds have talents for outwitting bullies like Abacha and Saleh, and among these is the nurturing of identities that defy routine categories, the ability to make the most herculean tasks appear easy, the aptitude for love, loyalty, and liberty. No wonder he thrives where others founder.
Happy birthday, Ọlaiya Ṣubomi! Many happy returns. And watch out: the longer you live, the higher your risks of being the subject of tributes of this nature!
Akin Adesokan is a Nigerian writer, scholar and novelist with research interests into twentieth and twenty-first century African and African American/African Diaspora literature and cultures. He is currently the associate professor of comparative literature at Indiana University Bloomington, United States of America.
One thought on “Who is Olly Boy?”
Akin Adesokan, thank for the beautiful memories and reminding us that name, “Ọlaiya Ṣubomi”.
Femi Ipaye, a.k.a GM!