Friends, fans, family members and well-wishers of culture veteran, Adebayo Faleti gathered at the Arts Theatre, University of Ibadan on May 20, 2016 to celebrate his legacy. In Nigeria, many times, this happens when the “celebrant” is late. This is the reason why Ibadan Film Circle, a group of culture enthusiasts, started the Legacy Series.
“We call it a legacy series because it is an opportunity to appreciate people who have contributed to the society,” says Ropo Ewenla, the Chairman, Organising Committee of the Legacy Series. This is the third in the series. The first one honoured comedy legend, Moses Adejumo (aka Baba Sala). The second honoured veteran broadcaster and culture administrator, Alhaji Gboyega Arulogun. Why Adebayo Faleti now?
“He is in a critical state and we just have to do it while he is around. We’d hate ourselves if he is gone and we didn’t do him this honour,” Ewenla says that on his previous visit to Faleti, the man had had difficulty walking but his memory and sight were still sharp. He looked at the publicity material and wondered where they got the picture of him on it.
Age is taking its toll on Faleti who is in his late 90s. His tired legs can no longer carry his lanky frame as quickly. Hence, the choice of live streaming from Adebayo Faleti’s house. Faleti watched the event live. We also watched him live at the Arts Theatre. He spoke to us. Speak of “ancient” speaking through “modern” means. This is not to mean that Faleti is ancient in any way, it just means that he belongs to a different world.
A cross-section of the attendees was a combination of old and young. This includes foremost playwright Femi Osofisan; lecturer, Professor Remi Raji; filmmaker, Tunde Kelani; Caine Prize winner, Rotimi Babatunde; actors from the Yoruba film world, Taiwo Ibikunle and Bidemi Odunsi. This interesting mix shows how Faleti’s work appeals to both young and old, how it connects the “ancient” with the “modern”.
There were speeches from friends and well-wishers; short film excerpts, courtesy of Mainframe Productions and performances from Ajankoro Dugbe and Beriola. Let me speak on the performances: Ajankoro Dugbe’s beautiful play on words capture the significance of wisdom to age; Beriola, who is male, made use of a female voice to chant. Both performers, though young have a grasp of fast-dying Yoruba traditions—speak of the “ancient” in a modern “gourd”.
The film excerpts were reminders of Faleti’s contribution to the Nigerian film industry. His rich oeuvre, includes Oleku (2007), as newscaster; in Efunsetan Aniwura (2005), as an elder; in Saworoide (1999), as a narrator on the realities of Jogbo Kingdom; in Thunderbolt (2002), as an herbalist. These excerpts were reminders of Faleti’s work and Tunde Kelani’s filmography; they were also a social commentary on Nigeria. In a way, they were echoes of the “ancient” on the “modern.” It made me wonder, what will Faleti, as the narrative voice filled with hate for the rot in Jogbo then say of the heights of corruption in Nigeria today?
I learnt many new things about Faleti. He studied English at the University of Ibadan—who would have thought? He was once a civil servant; in fact, he once lost and regained his job during the military regime because he spoke for fellow civil servants. “A conscientious servant that’s worthy of emulation,” foremost Yoruba actor, Tubosun Odunsi—who looked better in real life than in the films—said of Faleti. He also called him a prophet.
“Some are not anointed with oil but by God. Baba Faleti is one of them. Anything that Alagba says will come to pass.” Odunsi says that Faleti used to call him a pastor even though he was a chain smoker; today he is what Faleti called him.
Professor Ogundeji who had researched widely into Faleti’s work performed Faleti’s poem “Alakaadi”; a satiric performance of people who are educated but not learned. Who knew Faleti wrote such beautiful poetry in Yoruba?
The final round of tributes were from his family. His wife, Olori Olubunmi Faleti supported by crutches spoke lovingly about her husband’s support. “He supports everything that I do.” She went into details of his commitment to her business. Initially she said many had doubts: Who marries a theatre practitioner? Who marries a theatre practitioner that speaks Yoruba alone? Who marries a theatre practitioner much older than her? One of his daughters spoke of her father’s caring nature: “He was there for me every time I gave birth. He is always asking about our welfare.” She says.
When Faleti spoke to the audience, his voice quivered; his Yoruba, impeccable:
“E se o. Mo dupe o! Eyin na a r’omo se bayi fun yin o. Iku ni mo n duro de bayi. Mo de dupe l’owo gbogbo yin toti soro nipa mi. E se o! Mo dupe. O dabo! ” Faleti said waving his hands; thanking everyone present. In that teary moment, I thought about life, death and legacy. Death is not the end, it is just a passage. One’s readiness for it depends on how well one lived on this earth. Faleti has lived and seems ready for the next phase. This legacy is about his life, a preparation of some sorts for an exit. It is not for him, but for those left behind. What will be said of us when we are gone? What will people remember? For that is what a legacy is about.
Daily, we write this legacy, through our actions and inactions. When people speak, they only read our lives, as we wrote it.