Thursday June 7, 1979. A day to remember—as painful as it is. A day of pain, sorrow, tears wrapped in the bosom of Father Time, the great healer. A day that fate and destiny beckoned. A day that proved the English dramatist James Shirley right when he said: “There is no armour against fate.”
Forty years after, the sense of loss is still there, felt by his children and a few of the grandchildren old and lucky enough to have known their grandpa. It was the saddest blow to the Adenuga family. The day that Papa died. A sudden death that did not allow the old man to reach 70, the biblical age of which King David, the psalmist wrote: “The day of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
As the family biographer, I know this date and it has sort of given me the edge to be the first to celebrate this educationist who moulded his son to be who he is today. There is no better time to celebrate a father who did not live to see the greater height attained by his son to whom he gave his name—and a father’s blessings that go with it. When your son has pushed the envelope, stretched the boundaries and written your name in the skies as a household name in Nigeria, Africa and globally, you deserve to be resurrected and written about. When your son has achieved so much and has entered the exclusive Forbes list of the world’s richest men, then you deserve to be presented to the new generation of Nigerians and the world at large forty years after you left this world where you once lived a modest life as a husband, father, lay reader and a teacher whose reward, as the saying goes, is in heaven. You must be reaping so much reward yonder now!
I was in my fifties, when I started this project of researching the Adenuga family ten years ago, along with my friend Pastor Dimgba Igwe who is no more. Like Papa, he too died unexpectedly in a painful motor accident. Life is a mystery. No one knows the hour, as the Bible says.
How time flies! Now in my sixties, nearing my own biblical benchmark age, I consider myself lucky to have known so much about my subject, having spoken to virtually everybody in the family with a memory to share. Biography, like education itself, is an endless journey. I am still learning. By June 7, 2019, it would be 40 years since Michael Agbola Adenuga died. Born October 13, 1910, he would have been 109 this year. His parents were David Oba Adenuga and Eunice Banwo Adenuga—both from Ijebu Igbo. Mike Adenuga’s mum was so fond of General David Jemibewon that he transferred the name “David Oba” to Jemibewon, a friend and a mentor of sort who as governor of Oyo State assisted Adenuga in 1976 to get a bank loan in those days of entrepreneurial humble beginnings.
Adenuga, I got to know, is a royal name which has to do with crown and palace. “Ade means crown. Nuga means palace,” Mrs. Otunba Yetunde Adegbola, Mike Adenuga’s immediate elder sister told me. “As a matter of fact, they called my father several times to come and be crowned the Olumolusi of Ijebu Igbo but he refused. That is Papa for you. He believes being crowned king is worldliness and he cannot stand the rituals that go with it. It was against his Christian belief.”
While he inherited his business acumen from the mother who comes from a line of business people, Mike Adenuga inherited intellect as additional bonus from his father’s lineage noted for their academic drive. Mike Adenuga’s grandfather David Oba Adenuga was a shoemaker. In those days, you had to be very educated to be a shoemaker. Explaining the intellectual prowess of the Adenugas, Mike’s other big sister, second in the family of five, Mrs. Margaret Afolashade Akande said: “My father’s younger brother Jonathan Adegbite Adenuga attended Fourrah Bay College with the late Governor Michael Adekunle Ajasin. He was the second graduate to be produced in our town. He settled in Sierra Leone where he became a successful photographer and a record manufacturer popularly known as the ‘Devil of Mount Oriel.’ Another younger sister of my father, the late Mrs. Josephine Ayoola Lawore studied in America at Harvard University. She retired as the Director-General, Ministry of Education in Ibadan. The Adenugas are very academic-minded.”
The first child of the family, the late Mrs. E.O. Osunsade also made a discovery about her grandfather, telling me: “There was one thing I noticed about that man. I went through my father’s archives and saw my grandfather’s notebook or diary. It contained all the dates of birth of his children. He wrote them down. Most people of their own age would just tell you, you were born around this time or during this particular event. But all of his children knew the date they were born because he recorded them down in his own handwriting. He must have been a highly educated man for his time.”
On his part, Mike Adenuga’s father (the senior Michael Adenuga) was a teacher trained at St. Andrew’s College, Oyo. He later studied at the Institute of Education, Exeter University in England. He taught in Ijebu-Mushin and was later transferred to Ile-Ife. At a time, he became an examiner and was transferred to Ibadan where he resumed teaching. He had been in Ibadan since 1943 where he had all his five children—three daughters and two sons.
“Most of the time, he was in the teaching profession,” his first son Ademola Adenuga told me. “He became the popular headmaster of St. James’s School in Ibadan, the school directly behind St. James’s Cathedral. Later on he became Inspecting Assistant in the Ministry of Education until he retired.”
I asked Otunba Ademola how come as the first son he wasn’t called Mike Adenuga Jr. and he explained: “As at the time I was born, the craze then was for people to bear purely Nigerian names. Being the last born, my father felt he should not miss the opportunity of naming his last born after himself. In those days, the trend was for my father’s parents to name their grandchildren. It was after the death of our grandparents that Dad had the privilege of choosing the names of his children. And that was how Mike carried that name as Mike Adenuga Jr.”
Mike’s eldest sister, the late Mrs. Osunsade continued the story: “My parents are from the same church and the same town: Ijebu Igbo. They got married in 1937. For a long time, my parents didn’t have a boy. It took roughly ten years after marriage that the first boy, Demola, came. For them, having a second son (Mike) made them very happy. I don’t know why. Prior to that my mother had lost some pregnancies. Actually, he came in as a gift at a point they were trying to end having children. Coming as a boy was a happy event. It made my parents very happy. And my father decided to name him after himself. My father’s name was Michael Agbolade. His son’s name is Mike Adeniyi. As the last child, he was given some extra care than we had. He was well looked after by his parents and his older siblings…I am very happy for every great thing he has achieved in his lifetime. My only regret is that our father didn’t live to see so much of it.” (Next week: ‘What we remember Papa for’).