I am not rich but contented -Pa Okediji
Pa Oladejo Okediji, a popular Yoruba Crime Writer and Novelist would have marked his 90th birthday come October, but died on Wednesday. He has since been buried in Oyo town. Among his published works are: Aja Lo leru (1969), Agbalagba Akan (1972), Rere Run (1973), Atoto Arere (1981), Oga Ni Bukola, Ka rin Ka Po, Sango, Opa Agbeleka, Iroyin Ayo, Binu Ti ri, Aajo Aje, Running after riches. Some of his books were used in some universities and secondary schools in 1970s till now. This is the last interview with the late Okediji in Oyo town where he lived before he died last Wednesday. Taiwo Abiodun met him in Oyo where he lived before his demise.
His living room
His living room is well furnished and decorated with all kinds of art works hanging loosely in the air in the living room are cardboard papers where he boldly wrote Biblical verses, Poems, Psalms and memorable thought-provoking words written both in English and Yoruba languages like: ‘ MA SORO IBINU’, ‘ BI O BA BERU OLORUN ‘, GOD IS GOOD’, ‘SMILE’, ‘GOD WILL GIVE’ , ‘JESUS LOVES YOU’, ‘JESU NI AGBARA’ ,’PRAY’, ‘MA SIKA’, ‘U 2 WILL PROSPER’, ‘BE A GOOD MAN’, ‘BE A METHODIST’ among others and toys hanging loosely in his living room.
Welcome to one of the most popular Yoruba Crime writers and novelists who took after Agatha Christie, an English novelist and crime writer. Pa Oladejo Okediji who is one of the best Yoruba writers lived here.
For this Octogenarian, there is no dull moment. If he is not in the living room writing stories he would be reading in his bedroom .The book shelves in his living room are filled with books and artworks as well as his bedroom. He stocked over 5,000 books on his bookshelves.
At his age he still retains his complete dentition not only that, the old man has his head full of grey which showed his age with wisdom. Pa Okediji’s brain is sharp while some at his age would have become senile but not this erudite scholar and story writer who is witty and unassuming with good sense of humour and memory. When this reporter met him he was sitting in his living room jotting down some notes with his cell phones by his side and using a hand-woven fan to blow air on himself.
Why I have only two names
The old man said he does not add English name to his name as he bears only two names: Oladejo Okediji , and had jettisoned the third name because it is no longer fashionable to have three names, he said “I don’t answer my third name, and moreover it is no longer fashionable. It’s being long I dropped it and glued to only two names especially as a writer .I don’t even remember the third name ( bursts into laughter). At my age no companion calls me the name”.
How I started writing
Pa Okediji said all his stories are about life and it’s challenges especially in crime stories which was rampant in those days (1960s and 1970s) .He went down memory lane to tell how he got or muted the idea of writing, his words ” I have read so many books that I cannot remember now on ordinary life and about life generally.
I have read so many English novels and as time went on , I thought I should write something myself .Somehow in 1954 the Western Regional Literature Committee advertised in Daily Times in two or three of the most popular newspapers then that the committee wanted Yoruba writers who could write but which should be different from that of Daniel O. Fagunwa., a Yoruba novelist whose story is full of mystery , it then occurred to me I could try.
That was how I started with a story in the thrilling section like I was reading in Agatha Christie. I just started writing. So I wrote something that I thought could be acceptable to the advertiser with free hand and sent it by post to the advertiser, they acknowledged reading the script but I had no copy. It was only the original copy that I sent – no duplicate! .Well, it had gone away forever no copy, at that time and then I heard no more about it for six years”.
He continued “At another time, an advertisement was placed in the papers to mark the Nigeria independence as the country was looking forward to independence in 1960. I read another advertisement in the same Daily Times asking where Okediji was. The advertisement was signed S.A. Babalola, Then I wrote back to ask whether it was on account of the script I had sent but they said it was for competition, I sent my address to them (S.A Babalola) I was expecting them to reply but it also ended there.
Then another six years, 1966 this same Babalola wrote another asking where I was and I said ‘leave me alone, I sent you a script nothing is heard about it’, then he said the script had lost, he said it was probably the last member of a committee holding it at that time was Fagunwa and had died nobody could trace it. Fagunwa was holding it by then and that he had died. He said he would implore me to write again, that was how I started writing ‘ Aja Lo leru’ and it was published in 1969″.
According to Okediji, he did not want to give any chance again as he did before as he now kept a copy for himself, “I started writing Aja Lo leru , and I typed it and kept a copy , then sent a copy to Babalola who in turn sent it to Longman Publishers. That was how writing became part of me. I was very much enthused to see my book published so then I began to write .After Aja Lo leru followed by Agbalagba Akan, the two are crime stories.
Later, the late Professor Ola Rotimi who was then at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) asked me to write plays ,but I asked him the difference between plays and novels , however , he encouraged me, that was what motivated me to write Rere Run. All the books I wrote were published by different publishers” .
Oladejo said the latest he wrote ‘ Ka rin ka po’ which is the third part to Agbalagba Akan is not as popular as it should be because it took about 38 years before he could publish it, ” in fact, I was compelled to write the story to follow Agbalagba Akan and Aja Lo leru.
Oyenusi the notorious armed robber
What of ‘Atoto Arere’ ? Another crime book he wrote, the old man shook his head and exclaimed ‘ Oh!, you know that book? I patiently watched the notorious Oyenusi who was publicly executed at the Bar beach , it was popular then as Bar beach ‘show’ when armed robbers were being executed, that was exactly that point (execution ground) where I started the story. Although ‘Atoto Arere’ is not as popular as the former ones like Aja Lo Leru and Agbalagba Akan where Lapade acted. But the book , Atoto Arere is a complete one while others are in series. I wrote Ka rin Ka po in 2007 and that was 38 years after writing ‘ Aja Lo Leru’ as continuation of Lapade a hero in the two books (Aja Lo Leru and Agbalagba Akan) due to popular demand by my publisher .I have published many books, but by different publishers. Almost all my books were used in schools, newspapers, radio stations”.
“For the Octogenarian, he is writing for passion because it is not financially rewarding, he voiced out” there is no money in writing , the only reward there is somebody will just come and say thank you, giving you a handshake. Writing only made me to be famous , it has no financial reward. You can imagine how terrible it is .The highest I have ever got from publisher is N32, 000 from Aajo Aje , a play I wrote few years ago”
On his plots in writing
He said “writing is about vision , you sit down , and you see something happening and you internalized it , then you put it in another situation and form a story, On Agbalagba Akan where Lapade was featured , I remember we have a farm here about 12 miles away , my mind went to that , and it is between Oyo and Ibadan. I started with that, because there were no cars going through the bush path, I plotted it and did the story”
Asked what he could have been if not a writer, he said he does not know because he chose what he loved best and “that is writing, I love writing”, he said.
The old man declared that he is always happy but not when he remembers his younger brother who passed on more than three decades ago he feels bad, “I am happy everyday, but my saddest day has always been connected with my younger brother, Ayo Okediji who died over 30 years ago .I am two years older than him .He died in January 1984 when I was 54 years of age. Not only that”, the man said as he shook head again and wiped his face with handkerchief, ” I have so many deaths like that. I am not also happy when I remember a colleague like D.A. Ladele (who authored Je N’lo gba Temi) who died sometimes ago. In fact, his death was painful for we were very close, he lived down there (pointing) .We discussed a lot about Yoruba usage and spellings and how to improve on it. We spoke and discussed. He was living nearby my house .But he died recently and this also jolted me”
For Pa Okediji he is happy and very proud of his children, he said “Each of them has his own choice of life, Moyo is in love with arts, he is a Professor and lectures in Texas in the United States of America. I have a daughter who is a lawyer, her daughter is also a lawyer, another child of mine is a school’s Principal while another is a teacher. I thank God for everything”
I’m not afraid of death
For Pa Okediji , he is bold and ready to go when the whistle is finally blown and asked to return home , as he boldly said ” I am not afraid of death! . I am old what else again? God has been kind to me .I have good health, my children are doing well and here I am you are seeing now”.
The word ”regret” is not in the old man’s dictionary, when asked if he has any regrets in life, The old man sat down comfortably and gave a good laugh, as he used a hand – woven fan to blow the air, he said ” Looking back and having regret is like crying over spilt milk. As soon as I can forget. I have no regret .I am happy with my God. I am the Otun Baale of Apaara. Apaara was a big quarter on its own I was honoured not because of my writing, but entitlement, I am a community leader and church leader”.
The dearth of Yoruba language is the Novelist’s major concern, as people no longer teach their children, he said ” everything is going down; the culture is now money, when Aja lo leru was published in 1969, they gave me an award and also 25 pounds . If the government had been doing like that, if rich people, companies recognise that, then Yoruba language will be alive, there would be an improvement when recognition is given to writers and if our government, or moneybags are interested in Yoruba language , there is no money in writing but fame ( laughs)
Advice to up -coming writers
Pa Okediji has one golden advice to those interested in writing ”Let them read, If you don’t read you cannot write .It is unfortunate those aspiring to write does not want to read and I don’t know why. They need to read a lot before they start writing , if they want to write they shouldn’t expect to become millionaire over night.
He gave a shocking story of his life, and that he didn’t have a University degree!. He said ”I went to primary school , I left Standard Six in 1943 , I became a pupil teacher in 1944 . Could you believe that I don’t have a degree , and I went to the University for a Diploma course called “Asoso” (Associate Certificate of Education) after obtaining Teacher’s College”.
That is the man who has written about 13 novels and crime stories in Yoruba language.