A chance encounter with the ‘master’, Odia Ofeimun

by anote
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By Jude Idada

IT happened.
And it blew my mind.
This meeting that took place at this event I went for.
In which I was one of the reviewers of a fabulous memoir, The Reel Life by Vincent Maduka. The first Director General of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).
After the event was done.
I saw another man perusing the bookshelves.
Alone and in his world.
A purist lost in the desire to feed the mind of great written gens even as the crowd networked all around him.
This man who is a great thinker, an erudite orator, fiery activist and incomparable poet.
I recognized him instantly.
Remembering that not only was he all that I have afore-stated.
He was also the Principal Secretary of the great icon Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
A man I hold in great esteem.
So I approached him in the bid to introduce myself, book an appointment with him and learn as much as I can about him and the great Awo.

Odia Ofeimun (left) and Jude Idada

“Good evening, sir.”
He turned to me.
His eyes in a squint as he regarded me.
Quiet for a moment before he spoke.
“Good evening.”
“I am a great fan of your person, your work and your life and I thought to introduce myself.”
“Thank you. I listened to you speak earlier on the panel. You speak very well, and you brightened the event with your humour.”
“I am honoured, sir.”
“I didn’t get your name?”
“I am Jude Idada.”
“Jude Idada?”
“Yes. sir.”
“Yes, sir.”
“I have heard that name before. Somewhere. You are a writer?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ahhh! I don’t believe it. You are the playwright?”
“Yes, I have written some plays.”
Oduduwa – King of the Edos?”
“Yes, sir. That is me.”
“Incredible! I listened to you speaking on the panel and had no idea that you are the same person.”
“It is me, sir.”
“Do you know that I just finished reading that play just two days ago ?”
“Wooow. I would never have guessed. I hope you liked it.”
“Liked it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“If you know me, or have heard of me, you will know that I am very honest with my criticism and forthright with my opinions. So what I say I don’t say lightly.”
“Your fame precedes you, sir.”
“Let me first start by saying that you are a playwright.”
“I try, sir.”
“Try? You don’t try, you excel at it. I say you are a real playwright. Oh my! I couldn’t put down the play. It was riveting, engaging, captivating, and enlightening. What a play!”
“I am so honoured, sir. That is something coming from you.”
“In fact, after the cadre of the great playwrights, Soyinka, Ola Rotimi and others, your play is the first I have written that shows that there are still playwrights in the younger generation. You should be proud of yourself.”
“I never would have thought you knew of me before I came to introduce myself, not to talk of (you) actually reading my work and liking it.”
“Ahhh, if I knew it was you, it would have been (me) that would have walked up to you.”
“You pay me great honour, sir.”
“You deserve it. You know, when I saw the play and read the title, Oduduwa – King of the Edos. I did not like it. King of the Edos? What does this playwright mean by that. You know how an Edo man is proud and all of that. But being a curious and open minded, I decided to read it. That was a great decision I took because what I read was phenomenal. From your name I see you are Edo yourself.”
“Yes, both of my parents, but on my mother’s side, my great grand fathers are from Ilesha and Ondo.”
“I see, no wonder your play was so balanced.”
“I tried to be as true as I could to orally handed down history.”
“You did and I am sure the play hasn’t been well received.”
“Well, it has been staged only once at the University of Ibadan.”
“I mentioned that on the first pages of the book. What I mean is that a lot of people would not like to push the play.”
“Apparently so.”
“You know why?”
“I am not sure.”
“It is because what you wrote about is true. And another problem is that the way you wrote it makes it very believable. So those are two strikes against the play – it is true and it is believable. The people that matter do not like creative works like that which attempt to address historical figures and events from unpopular perspectives. They will kill it if they can.”
“I have been told that by several people.”
“You see, I am not the only one that thinks so. What I will suggest you do is make it into a film. A real film that the world will embrace. Or you stage it again and use multiple cameras to record it, so you catch every emotion and expression. Then you upload it for all to see at a cost. Ahhh! That play needs to be seen.”
“Great suggestion, sir.”
“Why is it not in the curriculum of secondary schools, in states like Edo?”
“I have tried, no luck yet.”
“It is the title. It will turn any Edo man off. The Edo man does not call him Oduduwa, so when you say Oduduwa- King of the Edos, the Edo man immediately goes defensive.”
“Yes, I know.”

Hmmm. A film is the way to go. It has to be brought out for all to see.”
“I will work at it sir, and see if I can get sponsors and collaborators.”
“Please, you have to do it. You have to.”
“I will, sir.”
“The only thing I did not like about the play is the fact that you call the Edo, Edos. There is no plural of the word. Edo is Edo. Yoruba is Yoruba. Igbo is Igbo. There is nothing like Edos, Yorubas or Igbos. So please don’t make that mistake in future.”
“I stand corrected, sir.”
“Very good. And you should do something about your PR. How come people do not know you?”
“I let my work speak for itself.”
“In Nigeria? Ahhhh! Which work? Do people read? Even when they read, isn’t it only people who make noise about themselves and their works? This is not times of the old, when mastery of one’s craft was enough, and the works of the great spoke for themselves. This is the time of noise-making. So if the quacks make more noise than the experts, the people will call the quacks masters. You have to push your name out there. You need to be mentioned when people are discussing serious literature by great literary minds.”
“It will be great to be in such discussions.”
“You have to be. You know how many dance dramas I put up in this town? A lot of them. Years and years of it. I will go borrow money from friends to put it together and sell advertisement in the event programme to companies to get it moving. And never did I earn a kobo. People won’t come out when it is performances they don’t know about or names that are not popular. It is how Nigeria has been in the recent past. The name and the face sell.”
“I will work on it, sir, although it is not my nature to hug the limelight.”
“You must find a way to make it happen, if not for you, then do it for the purpose you want your work to achieve. If it is not read or known, then it is has not achieved the purpose for which you wrote it for.”
“You are very right, sir.”
“I read your work and I said, who is this guy? Who is this playwright that I have never heard of? Little did I know that just two days later, I will run into you. Please, I need your number…”
And I wrote my number down for him on the back of the book he was holding, not believing the change of events.
Small me, known by big him.
I would never have imagined it when I approached him earlier.
This man I so deeply and greatly respect.
The one and only Odia Ofeimun.
February 23, 2023

Idada, a multi-talented artist, is the author of several works including the plays: Oduduwa – King of the Edos, Sankara, a prize-winning children’s book, Boom Boom and countless other works

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