Remembering Professor Adefuye -By Kole Omotoso

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Late Professor Ade Adefuye

Late Professor Ade Adefuye


Just because he had been at the University of Ibadan I forgave him the mistake immediately but promised to raise the issue with him. He, the historian, from the Department of History that began the Ibadan History Series. In some interview or write up that he had done, Ade had said that succeeding Nigerian governments were so conservative that they had found it impossible to support the radical African National Congress (ANC) of Nelson Mandela. This was sometimes in 1993. I had just completed interviews with various ANC leaders, including the Old Man himself, and on that score Ade was wrong. As Mandela would never let you forget that Nigeria always stood with the struggle in South Africa, no matter who ruled the country, civilian or military. Even under Sani Abacha, South Africa had a committed supporter in Nigeria. I had also spoken to the late Joe Mathews, whose father, Professor Z.K. Mathews, Vice Chancellor of Fort Hare University, and member of the ANC had moved the adoption of the Freedom Charter. Sometimes in 1963 or 1964, Mandela and an ANC team had set out on an African safari to drum up support for the struggle in South Africa. Ghana was a natural point of attraction. Z.K. Mathews had stopped over there to see Kwame Nkrumah on his way from the United States of America to South Africa. But Mandela’s team could not see Nkrumah.

C.L.R. James and George Padmore, both from the Caribbean Islands of Trinidad and Tobago had become gate keepers at the door of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana. Both had been communists and they were no longer communists. And like all former converts, they condemned all who still kept to their old faith. The African National Congress was still allied to the Communist Party of South Africa and linked to the Soviet Union. Therefore Kwame Nkrumah would not be allowed to see them. Once this had been established, a group left Accra for Algiers in Algeria, while another group left for Lagos, Nigeria.

Once in the Nigerian capital, the ANC delegation was welcomed by a young and dynamic Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He put the delegation in the poshest hotel in Lagos and organised a series of parties for them. An amount of thousands of pounds was made available to them, payable into any account wherever they wanted, and they chose London. They were given tickets to their next destination and wished farewell.

I will miss his cool analysis of the Nigerian political scene and his continuous belief in Nigeria and the incredible possibilities of the country into the future.

This was the story I told Ade when we next met, which was either in London or in Kingston. And he agreed that Nigeria, in spite of its conservative government, did not confuse immediate national concerns with permanent continental issues. And over the years, we would meet and talk and wonder what was happening to Nigeria.

It was in this spirit that we met again this July on a flight from Lagos to Johannesburg. He came into the business lounge of the South African Airways at Murtala Mohammed Airport and we embraced. He had official duties in South Africa before going back to the United States of America. We talked and joked and when our flight was called I said I would see him in the plane. He smiled and said that was not going to be possible because he had not been able to secure a business class seat in the flight.

Anyone familiar with the flights of the South African Airways from Johannesburg would tell you that business class seats on the flights from Johannesburg to Luanda in Angola and the business class seats on flights from Johannesburg to Lagos are usually the first seats to go. The particular aircraft used on these flights has 42 business class seats. They cost four times as much as the economy class tickets, but they still go first. So, on that particular flight that night, Professor Adefuye, Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States of America could not find a seat in the business class of the flight. And for both of us, that’s life. We would see either in Jo’burg or when I am next in Washington D.C.

I will miss his belly laugh, especially in the company of Tony Wallace, originally from Jamaica, now resident in London, as they traded stories of Kingston, Jamaica. I will miss his cool analysis of the Nigerian political scene and his continuous belief in Nigeria and the incredible possibilities of the country into the future. And his refusal to answer my question: what about now?

Sun re o, Ade. Rest in peace.

Kole Omotoso writes from Akure.