The office of Chief Olanrewaju Adepoju, the acclaimed Yoruba poet, shares semblance with that of an academic – with volumes of well-arranged books sitting on the shelves and table in the modestly furnished space in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Indeed, if one has never met Adepoju, his bushy grey beard would complete his image of a professor who must have spent the better part of his life in research. This reason accounts for his grasp of different subjects, especially English Language. Yet, Adepoju never attended any formal school.
The 77-year old can safely be categorised as a product of self-development, aided by his unrelenting search for knowledge, even when his humble background in Aba Oke pupa village in Ido Local Government Council of Oyo State was almost a clog on the wheel to his destination.
It was always a tough time for him when his schooling cousins visited him in the village during vacation and flaunted their proficiency in the use English Language.
Instead of being intimidated, the experience further ignited his desire to acquire western education, even if it meant suffering in the process.
Adepoju saved money from the farm produce he sold and bought his first book entitled ABD Olope, a Yoruba alphabetical book, and was tutored by his younger cousin, Muili Oyedele. Within a week, Adepoju mastered all the letters, to the surprise of his home teacher.
His hunger for more books pushed him to Ibadan where he took up jobs as houseboy and newspaper vendor, and saved money to buy more books. The Western Region Library in Ibadan played a key role in his academic development, as Adepoju practically made the place to his second home – he would always be found reading and asking questions.
While he was working and paying regular visits to the library, his privileged friends were already undergraduates at the University of Ibadan. However, the smart Adepoju would always visit the campus to learn more from his friends, so much that at some point, he was assumed to be a student of the institution.
Interestingly, his determination and diligence paid off as he became incredibly proficient in English Language, such that he was employed at the defunct Peoples Star Press, Ibadan as a proof reader.
Adepoju would later work as a petrol attendant, also in Ibadan, where he started to write poetry during his spare time. An opportunity came when a friend to his former employer spotted him with his script and encouraged him to take his talent to the then Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (WNBC).
That was the beginning of Adepoju’s journey to stardom as a poet, playwright, author and social crusader, who used the power of his poetry to influence successive government policies. He wrote Sagba Dewe, Ironu Akewi, Orirun Yoruba, among others. Before he became a household name, he had some challenges, particularly at WNBC, where he was faced with the option of losing the copyright of his recorded poetry works to the company, or facing sanction.
He was asked to submit all his scripts, a directive Adepoju declined, tendered his resignation letter instead and ceased to work for the WNBC, where he had served in different capacities as newscaster, presenter, programme assistant, on N82 monthly salary. He did not just submit the letter, he also attached with it one month salary in lieu of notice as required by the rules of his workplace at the time.
His Ijinji Akewi, a five-minute poetry at dawn, warmed him into the heart of the management and the listening public. Adepoju became full-time professional poet, recording hit albums and featuring at social functions, where he was regularly appreciated. Prominent Yoruba indigenes are on the long list of the beneficiaries of his service, including some state governors who sought his voice in selling their policies and achievements to the public.
His fame as fearless defender of the Ibadan cause, in the face of critics, earned him the Alasa of Ibadanland, a chieftaincy title bestowed on him by the late Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Yusuf Oloyede Asanike, in the 80s.
Despite his achievement, Adepoju has done for the society and himself, he is currently confronted with deteriorating sight, a development that is denying him the opportunity to continue with his dream of giving the world his autobiography. Although as an Islamic scholar, he is optimistic that his sight will be restored, he is not foreclosing receiving help from kind-hearted Nigerians.
“The eye was once operated upon by the Eye Foundation in Ikeja, Lagos but it was not the solution. I need to replace the whole socket because the retina is damaged beyond further repair, and the Sight Restoration Centre in India is reputed for giving that service. That is why I was referred there. But the financial requirement is huge. I have confidence in Nigerians as long as I have faith in God. That is the situation now,” he said.