In his poetry, writing and acting, for example, Alagba Faleti was always attempting to jolt our cultural memory about the ongoing denial of our cultural being in the face of modernity. His translational energies were actively functional. Translating the Nigerian national anthem from English to Yorùbá could be seen as an attempt to facilitate the devolution of national memory into cultural acceptance. But more than this is his dedication to the unraveling of cultural memory, especially amongst the Yoruba. This reconnects us back to the emerging cultural hegemony of globalization and the danger it poses to cultural memories across the globe.
Take his one and only novel, Omo Olokun Esin (translated into the English as “The Freedom Fighter”) as a deep example of how culture matters to a nation. The novel, though set in the traditional Yoruba society of the 19th century, is an attempt to come to term with the dynamics of colonization and independence. Basorun Gaa, published in 2004, brings to life the dictatorial powers of a onetime chief in the Old Oyo Empire and how he was eliminated. In Magun (“Thunderbolt”), we saw the attempt to highlight the efficacy of a cultural antidote to adultery in the face of modernity.
The fidelity that Faleti had to cultural memory did not prevent him from seeing how such memory could be challenged or reoriented for the sake of understanding how our contemporary society has gone along in the grip of national exigencies. His plays and poems therefore speak to us in their contemporariness while they are yet culturally moored in the Yoruba traditional past. Indeed, Alagba Adebayo Faleti lived his entire existence within the conviction of his culture. He spoke the Yoruba language with his accustomed gentle mien. And his dress sense, with the characteristic abeti aja cap, portrayed a cultural personality that carried the cultural message in his very person. To put this in other words, we can say that Alagba Faleti performed his culture in his very person. And so it was all too easy for him to fit easily into the few cinema productions he featured in. out of which Saworoide, by Tunde Kelani was masterly.
Unfortunately, while these cultural productions have done a lot, for instance through the cinema of Tunde Kelani, to orient Nollywood in a particular ideological direction, Adebayo Faleti remained at the margin of Nollywood until his death. This was someone, again like Akinwunmi Isola, whose cultural sense and being are sufficient to gift Nollywood with a deep ideological framework with which to reorient Nigeria’s national project. Nollywood is a powerful medium that could instigate a strong cultural reinvention of the Nigerian nation. But alas, the movie industry is defined by those whose commercial sense stands in negative tandem to the image of a country caught in postcolonial predicament. It is not even too risky to hypothesize that Nollywood has done a lot to hurt the profile of Nigeria than any other institutions because of its urge to just project our situation rather than correcting or engaging it. And is there not only too little that such a gentle personality could achieve all by himself, or even in the company of other unassuming characters in the drama of the Nigerian state? Nollywood is performing Nigeria, but it cast characters like Adebayo Faleti in cameo or even marginal appearances!
Nigeria, as a performance space, does worse. I have written many pieces on the relationship that Nigeria has with her unsung heroes and heroines—starting with Simeon Adebo, Jerome Udoji, Ojetunji Aboyade to Claude Ake, Tai Solarin, Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Bala Usman; the list is endless. When delivering the eulogy at the grave of Aboyade, Soyinka was caught in a bind. He recognized the significant role that heroes played in the trajectory of nation building but he also recognized that he lost a good friend because he gave himself to a country that maliciously and inexorably squeeze life out of its true patriots. Soyinka himself has gone on after burying Aboyade to exert himself on behalf of Nigeria, yet he has been hounded unceasingly. And when the government does eventually recognize the due worth of an icon, long after the figure has received approval from the populace, we grudgingly reward them with what we consider the best Nigeria can give her sterling citizens.
Amongst his many awards, the honor of the Order of the Niger (OON) constitutes one significant step by the Nigerian government to rethink its relationship to its heroes, heroines and iconic figures. But, it seems to me that the OON is a tokenism that falls far short of what is needed. Awarding titles and building monuments are mere national gestures that bounce off the real challenge of engaging Nigeria’s national heroes and heroines. And what is needed? It is that Nigeria needs to urgently integrate her iconic figures into her project of redefinition and reinvention of her national dynamics in all its spheres—cultural, political, economic, educational, and so on. Nigeria needs an institutional framework that allows her to critically engage her heroes and their legacies within a continuing template that allows the heroes and their heroic contributions to continue into the perpetuity of national memory, even after the death of the heroes.
As a cultural icon in the Southwest of Nigeria, Alagba Adebayo Faleti speaks to an urgent necessity of inculcating the demands of cultural innovation and experience into national planning. Culture plays a significant role in many nations of the world. Take India for instance. And Faleti was a quiet reminder of that fact. If according to Matthew Arnold, the British poet and critic, culture refers to “acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit”, then Alagba Adebayo Faleti’s existence and oeuvre did a lot in that regard. He cannot be left to the ravages of time and national forgetfulness.