Wale Adebanwi on Mama H.I.D. (27)

Death in the Dawn

THE journey to Ibadan felt like the longest journey in her entire life. Every journey by a troubled soul always feels like one that goes on forever. She wished to be in Ibadan in a jiffy to see her son. She couldn’t endure the length of the journey, because she desired reassurance. Therefore, she stopped at Sagamu on the old Lagos-Ibadan road to see Reverend William Frederick Mellor, the old English Methodist cleric, who had made Sagamu home. Perhaps, she would hear some good news from him. At least, he would help pray for her injured son and calm her frayed nerves. As she drove into Mellor’s compound, she saw many people observing her with sympathy. What have they heard and what do they know, she wondered? But she noticed that the dejected look on the faces of most of those watching her, if it had anything to do with her was not reassuring.

But again, she was reassured when she met Rev. Mellor, who had become an English-Yoruba man, or more specifically, an English-Remo man. In the culture that Mellor had come to imbibe, you do no announce the tragic passing of a relation to anyone, let alone the  tragic death of a son to a parent, until the bereaved is around loved ones who could comfort and, if need be, restrain the bereaved from causing injury to himself or herself due to intense grief. Therefore, everyone assured H.I.D. that they were merely saddened by the accident in the midst of all the trial and tribulations of the father but thankful that Segun survived.

She left Sagamu for Ibadan, unsure of the reality, but somewhat doubtful about the reassurances. When she drove into Ibadan, the city where she and her husband had reached their greatest personal glory and where Segun was conceived and born twenty four years earlier, a sense of foreboding overcame her. Soyinka’s prayer was most fitting for her at that moment. Writes the poet in “Death in the Dawn,” “And Mother prayed, Child/May you never walk/when the road waits, famished.”

Around Challenge area, H.I.D. saw hundreds of people gathered in groups with some wailing and others crying out loud. They were mostly in animated discussions. Somehow, she knew this was about her and her family.

“That was how I knew something had happened,” writes Hannah Awolowo in her autobiography.

But she couldn’t stop to ask what had happened in the city. She drove to her Oke-Ado home…Earlier in the morning after Segun had departed to Lagos, Kayode Oyediran, Tola’s fiancee, returned his fiancée’s car to her in Oke-Ado only to find out that he had to keep the car for most  of the day. Oyediran, who was in his final year at the Guys Hospital Medical  School , London, was in Nigeria, specifically at the Ibadan Medical School (University College Hospital, UCH) for his three months elective. He usually parked the car in his apartment at the UCH whenever he had to use it late in the evening. He would then drive it back to Oke-Ado in the morning, so Tola’s driver could drive her to work. The driver would drop him back at the UCH after dropping off Tola.

This Wednesday morning on July 10, 1963, when Kayode arrived at the Awolowo’s, he found that he would still need to keep the car after dropping off Tola at UI, because her driver had chauffeured Segun to Lagos. Therefore, Kayode drove Tola to work and then returned to UCH to resume work. Unknown to the two lovers, what Soyinka would later describe in his poetic tribute to Segun Awolowo as “An error of the sun” and “A mirage upon earth’s/Apostate face” was unfolding at Aba-Nla, on the road to Lagos. The previous evening, a Tuesday, Kayode Oyediran saw his fiancee’s brother who told him he would be travelling to Lagos the next morning to see his father. He also mentioned that he would be having lunch with their mutual friend, Agu Norris at Ikorodu Road, but promised to be back in time for both of them and other friends to go to Green Springs Hotel to play snooker.

Kunle Olasope, a broadcaster, and another friend of Segun also saw him the same evening. “The evening of July 9, 1963, Segun and I, with some other friends had gathered to socialize at Osunmarina Restaurant, an Annex of Cooperative Hall, next door to my office, Radio Nigeria, Ibadan at Gbagi, now Oba Adebimpe Road, Ibadan. Segun left me early to go home because he had to attend court at Ikeja the following morning. So we bade each other good night, to meet on his return from Ikeja in the afternoon of the following day, recalls Olasope.

Shortly after Kayode dropped Tola off at work the morning of July 10, she received a phone call from one Mr. Macaulay.

“where are you? Have you heard that your brother had an accident at Aba-Nla?” “Accident?”

Macaulay was travelling to Lagos and saw the accident. He stopped and was told that Segun Awolowo was one of the victims of the accident. She left Jericho quickly and headed for UCH to see her fiancee. She needed him and the car to travel to the scene of the accident. As she made for UCH, she was told that her brother had since been transported to Adeoyo Hospital, then the major state hospital in Ibadan. She also learnt that he had sustained an injury to his head and that a neurosurgeon was urgently needed at Adeoyo Hospital. Who else could help get the neurosurgeon but her medical doctor fiancée?

Before the troubled young lady could get to UCH, her fiancée too had picked up the news. He was driving into UCH gate when he saw her fiancé. He stopped to talk to her. He tried to calm her. She told him about the search for a neurosurgeon.

There was only one neurosurgeon in Ibadan in 1963. In fact, he was the only neurosurgeon in the whole of West Africa. Professor E. Latunde Odeku was one of the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights movement in mid. 20th century United States. Born on June 29, 1927 in Lagos, Odeku was trained at Howard University and the University of Michigan. He joined the Howard University neurosurgery faculty in 1961 at which point he became the second black person to be certified by the American Board of neurosurgical Surgery. Such was his devotion to his fatherland that, though he received multiple job offers in the US after his certification, Odeku chose to return to Nigeria. Upon the return of the “truly global pioneer… who opened the door for people” for many other minorities in the US and Nigeria to study neurosurgery, Odeku “worked tirelessly, providing excellent neurosurgical care” in Nigeria and beyond.

When Tola and Kayode asked around for Professor Odeku at the UCH, they were told that he had travelled to another West African country for work. The reason the doctors at the Adeoyo Hospital were seeking for Odeku was that there were no visible injuries to Segun Awolowo’s body even though he remained unconscious, so they were hopeful that a neurosurgeon might be able to help if and when he was revived. They suspected that he had had a damage to his neurological system. Before meeting his fiancee, Kayode had heard the news of Segun’s death but thought it was a mere rumour. Since he was a medical doctor, he decided go to Adeoyo to see his prospective brother-in-law who was also his friend. He and Segun and Yomi Akintola among other friends were together in the UK and enjoyed their weekends together in the house of the Agent-General of the Western Region of Nigeria to the UK, Chief Toye Coker.

In the meantime, Tola headed for Oke-Ado to see her other family members who she heard had gathered there…

“Death the scrap-iron dealer”, writes Soyinka in elegiac acknowledgement of Segun’s life, “Breeds a glut on trade.” The poet and play Wright metaphorically fingers Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron (worshipped also as the god of the roads), as the culprit for Segun’s death in a vehicular accident. “The fault/Is His of seven paths whose whim/Gave Death his agency.”If Soyinka excoriates Ogun as the one who gave Death “his agency,” Segun’s parents were convinced that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew why.

At Aba-Nla, a village about fourteen miles to Ibadan, around 7:45am, Segun Awolowo’s car had a head-on collision with a bus, driven by one Rashidi Ayinla, a 35-year old Abeokuta driver. Segun’s driver, Ogunjimi Odunlami, died instantly, while Segun went into coma. Dr. R.O. Akinsete, the Principal Medical Oficer at the Adeoyo Hospital, told the Daily Express that the young lawyer “had a fractured skull and that he had lost a tremendous amount of blood” by the time he was brought to the hospital. But the doctors tried to save his life. Perhaps, he would have had some chance if he was rushed to the hospital earlier and he had not lost so much blood. Still, the odds would have been great given the fracture on his skull.

About forty-five minutes after he was admitted to the hospital, Segun Awolowo died. It was around ten in the morning..

A little past two hours after Segun died, Anotu Awofeso took lunch to her brother, Obafemi Awolowo, in the prison, as Hannah had requested before she left for Ibadan. She was there with her son, Abimbola Awofeso, who returned from the UK only a day before. They had not heard the news. They heard th news inside the prison. Anuto broke down and was stopped from crying by her brother, who asked her to hurry to Ibadan and Ikenne to see his wife and help in making arrangements for the burial.

The first sympathisers that visited Awolowo at the Prison were Rev. F.O. Segun, the Provost of Lagos Cathedral and Cannon Asekun, and Venerable A.A. Efunkoya. By the time they arrived, the authorities had sent “a dozen steel-helmeted policemen” to take position in front of the prison yard to prevent people from gathering in the area. The policemen diverted traffic from Broad Street and blocked the road leading to the prison yard. Despite this, people gathered about a hundred yards from the prison. But they were dispersed by the police. Markets were closed in parts of Lagos as the news spread around the city.

The next morning, July 11, Revd. T.T. Solaru, a close friends of the Awolowos was one of the first to visit Awolowo in jail to pray for him. His political associates, such as S.O. Shonibare and his wife and Alfred Rewane followed. J.O. Odeku, Hannah’s landlord also visited…….

TO BE CONTINUED

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