Bamidele Ademola-Olateju is a writer, farmer and activist. A member of the Premium Times Editorial Board, she writes a weekly column for this newspaper in addition to her regular engagements with friends and followers on social media.
Mrs Ademola-Olateju was a close friend and confidant of the popular writer and Carleton University professor, Pius Adesanmi, who died in a plane crash in late 2019.
She clocked 55 on May 3. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mrs Ademola-Olateju reflects on her friendship with Mr Adesanmi, her writing, business and political life as well as her plans for the future.
PT: How time flies! It was like yesterday when we all gathered in Lagos to usher you to the golden age. Now you are 55. How does it feel?
Ademola-Olateju: Wow! Two weeks to my birthday, I finally came to grasp the fact that I will be eligible for the big 6-0 in a few years. Where did the time go? I don’t feel that old but 55 seem so much older than 54. According to the calendar, I have spent over 20,000 days on this planet. At 55, I could feel my shortening mortality but I am so thankful for the gift of life. I am fascinated and curious about what the future holds for me.
PT: Congratulations madam! Looking back, how fulfilled are you? What regrets do you have?
Ademola-Olateju: I think fulfilment is not a point in space and time. It is a continuum because I still have a lot in me to give and to serve humanity. To answer your question, I will say I am fulfilled because I live a life of meaning and I have since found my purpose. I have sufficient understanding that this is my life, my chance and my choice of how to live. I am pursuing my passions and passions are the gateway to fulfilment. Following one’s passion yields a high Worthiness Quotient. My Worthiness Quotient is high and that is a measure of how often I am giving and receiving love, to nurturing and supporting others. I am happy that I have a solid foundation, strong-rooted markers, that I am happy, appreciative and healthy.
Do I have regrets? I am really confused about that. I am confused because there are no coincidences in the lives of men. Robert Frost in Mountain Interval specifically in the Poem The Road Not Taken said; “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.”
Given my foray into writing, my late literary sprout and life as an advocate, should I have studied law, sociology or philosophy? I think about that a lot. It is the road not taken.
PT: What exactly delayed your literary sprout? You suddenly erupted on all of us like a volcano. The world only encountered you as a fierce, engaging and brilliant thought leader and public advocate in 2013, about eight years ago. We were all wondering: ‘where has this woman been all this while?’
Ademola-Olateju: I often describe myself as a gatecrasher to the writing scene. Writing for me is an experimental and experiential career. What pushed me into writing is my social conscience and my urgent sense of equity, fairness and justice. I did not have liberal arts education. When I got to graduate school in the United States in the mid-1990’s, three things collided. One, the internet has been commercialised and the University was one of the first to be on the web. The Nigerian academic community took that opportunity to establish a Newsgroup called Naijanet to galvanise academics and students to fight the junta. Two, I was exposed to endless texts in the school library dating back to St. Thomas Aquinas. Three, the critical and interrogatory nature of graduate business school sharpened my mind.
I started writing on Naijanet and realised people like the way I string my words. I gained confidence but it wasn’t enough. Then came Pius Adesanmi. On a visit to our home in Michigan, he asked to read anything I have written lately. I gave him something abstract that crossed my mind… “what is self?”. He exclaimed! “My God! Bamidele you can write!” That marked my journey into public intellection. I credit him for watering the shrivelled cotyledons of my late literary sprout. Looking back the last seven years, I have produced thousands of pages of work. I have compiled a few pages into my first book; For The Love Of Country. It reinforced my belief that there is no deadline for success. Creativity can be found in every demographic. For me, my creative juices flow from self-directed education, passion and a life dedicated to learning. I spent my youth learning, observing and understanding the world we live in. I left Nigeria as a Pupa and emerged in America as a butterfly. In 2014, Premium Times became the lepidopterarium for this butterfly.
PT: Yes. You arrived at Premium Times with a bang that shocked some of us. I recall that email in 2013 through which Pius Adesanmi introduced us. I could feel pride in his words as he told me: Musikilu, I am giving you a writer of distinction. Were you under pressure to perform after being introduced by a writer of that stature?
Ademola-Olateju: The story of my introduction to Premium Times will forever be etched in my memory. I had earlier written two articles. One was on Buhari, with the title: “Buhari Is A Damaged Brand”. Pius sent it to Sahara Reporters and it was published. Next, I wrote a three-part series titled; “Education In Nigeria, The Missteps, The Gaps.” Again he sent it to Sahara Reporters. Whoever knew Pius, knows he was a great promoter of talent. He just called me and told me by fiat that I have what it takes to maintain a column and that I would start writing for Premium Times. On a Tuesday night in May of 2013, he asked; what day of the week would you like? I said Tuesday. You know how Pius was, he gave that his witch cackle laugh and said; ehn nau, today is Tuesday, get me a thousand words in the next two hours. Ha! Bamidele, no ha. No ha! You can do it. Ó dàbọ̀, lọ kọọ́. I sent my introductory article to him an hour later. He called back within minutes and was almost crying. Bamidele, you have done it! Go forth and make your mark; he said. I was shivering. The title of that article, “For The Love Of Country” became the title of my book. For some reasons, I still think it is the best I have written.
PT: What are the other articles that stand out for you? Are there impacts of your writing you want to share?
Ademola-Olateju: I have written many articles that have impacted policy. From writing about those who stole to calling on the government to reduce the number of foreign missions. Many of my articles have gone viral; three of them really stand out for me. One was a liars paradox on who we are as a collective;
The above was written in 2017 and every quarter since then, it makes its way back to the top as the most popular. The message therein resonates. It has gone viral beyond my imagination.
PT: You did not talk about the in-depth article you wrote about Chief Okupe and his Agbonmagbe Bank which became Wema Bank. His estate is threatening a lawsuit.
Ademola-Olateju: [Laughs] Chief Doyin Okupe lawsuit is a joke, actually a farce. What did I write that is not in the public domain? How did I disparage his father, Chief Mathew Adekoya Okupe? Or is he angry because I reminded those who knew and informed those who did not know? I don’t blame him, I blame those who removed history from our curriculum. Some of us know history and what we do not know, we search and learn. I say it again; Agbonmagbe bank was hardly a glorious incursion. It was a run of the mill loan shark wrapped up in sleaze and shady deals. The bank was not an edifying example of indigenous entrepreneurship and never really transited out of being a loan shark until it was acquired.
You know I don’t write anyhow. The records are there and public if you know where to search. I got all the information from a University in America Midwest. The problem with we Nigerians is we think because we burn buildings and destroy historical records, that they automatically disappear. No, they don’t. They end up digitized in libraries abroad. When we meet in court, we will present Coker
Our lawyer will ask him; why did the Marketing Board convert the £200,000 deposit into shares and acquired majority holding? What prompted Western Nigeria to do a hostile takeover of the bank to protect its investment and prevent bank failure? Agbonmagbe bank was wrapped in muck. The Coker Commission of Enquiry detailed everything. On the record are incriminating and scathing pronouncements by Ọba C. D Akran who was regional minister of finance at the time. We will put all the muck on the table. It is history. For those who might be interested, the entire report of the Coker Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of Certain statutory corporations in Western NIGERIA. 1962 VOL II can be found here;
PT: Now you have written consistently for eight years churning out contents for your PREMIUM TIMES column, and social media where you enjoy huge followership. What value will you say writing has brought to your life and country?
Ademola-Olateju: I have a baked-in sense of responsibility and accountability. As a writer, I feel this urgency to be accountable and responsible to society. In the last two decades, long before I started my journey into public intellection, I have always seen myself as privileged especially in terms of sterling upbringing, education and exposure. I believe privilege ought to count for some good. I have brought that sense of wanting to do some good, into my writing. I want to inform and shape life within the limits of the little knowledge I have. Writing to me is an escape, it is liberating, calming and a way to changing the world. As a writer, I reflect and interpret my society, my geographic world and the planet. For millennia, the writer has always been a custodian and an interpreter of culture. Personally, I have been a writer who sounds the alarm, a warner. I like to think I am doing my best possible to inspire, guide and challenge my readers, followers and hopefully our leaders.
PT: You mentioned our friend Professor Pius Adesanmi earlier. For those of us who knew him well and related closely with him for years, his passage was a huge blow. You were even closer to him than some of us. How are you dealing with that huge loss?
Ademola-Olateju: I am not a stranger to loss. All kinds of loss. Loss of friends, opportunities, money, many things. Every loss is a form of death but with death comes finality. A sense of never. Pius’s death was a big blow. My dear friend Dipo Famakinwa died in 2017. Pius, Dípò and I had great plans for the Yoruba. We had it all mapped out with some great, brilliant minds of our generation. Without warning, Dipo died. Two weeks after, Pius asked me; Bamidele, what would you do if I die? That would mean you would be alone you know. There was this picture three of us took at DAWN commission’s office, Cocoa House, Ibadan. It felt the two of them were deleted, erased, with me alone standing. I felt alone and still feel alone. It is very tough to lose two great friends within two years. Pius Adesanmi was not just a person. He was an experience, he was a thing, he was an idea, he showed myself to me. In a way, he prepared me for his death. I was close to his mum. He brought his first daughter to me and she spent four good days with my daughter and me. I knew him inside out.
He knew he wasn’t going to live long. He told me what to do but I never took him seriously until it happened. He even told me he would die in a plane crash. When it happened I was numb for weeks. I couldn’t cry. I still deal with the regret. I wonder what I could have done differently. I am at acceptance that I will never experience him again except in dreams and àrìnàkò (chance encounter). Many times, I feel an internal emptiness and pain. That sense of “Never.” That really hurts. Well, in life we forge relationships. Relationships with people, groups, community, ideas, activities, career and so on. These relationships give our lives meaning and, therefore, make us feel good about ourselves. When we experience loss, part of our identity is destroyed. It has been a little over two years. I have tried to be his best friend, even in death.
PT: What are the other things Mr Adesanmi told you which you have kept to yourself so far?
Ademola-Olateju: Things my dearest friend, Pius told me that I kept, were things I would still like to keep within me. One thing though, he was in search of happiness till his death. He was very brilliant and accomplished in his career as you all know but there were parts of him that felt like a turbulent gush of winds. I mean real buffeting headwinds. I regret being very dismissive of his pains. I wish I had let him do some things he wanted. He relied so much on my approval. My counsel each time he told me his pains was ‘we all have our cross to bear and that there is no human dignity without pain because pain is a measure of happiness’. Without his pain, would he have been on that flight he fought to be on? I doubt it. Again, there is destiny and I said it at the beginning of this interview; there are no coincidences in the lives of men. No one can ever have it all. He lived the way he was created to live.
PT: We all miss him. May God continue to be pleased with him. Hope his mum, wife and children are doing well.
Ademola-Olateju: Pius’s mum is doing well. My gratitude goes to our mutual friends on Facebook who rallied support and created a befitting memorial service for him. Among these are very close friends of Pius and me, some met him when he was alive, some never did. They contributed money and independently sponsored the event. Lola Shoneyin, Kayode Ogundamisi, Wale Adebanwi and so many others. In the last 18 months, my dearest friend and mentor, Erelú Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, has single-handedly taken care of Mama Adesanmi’s monthly stipend thus relieving us. There are some things I will not like to comment on. The memory of my late friend is very important to me. I was true to him when he was alive. I will remain true and committed to his memory. My prayer is: may we be blessed with good and God-fearing people who will superintend over our affairs when we die.
PT: What about his wife and children?
Ademola-Olateju: I referred to those as things I would not comment on towards the end of my response to the last question you asked above.
PT: Let’s come back to you. With all the time you commit to writing, advocacy and activism, those are not what pays your bills. What are your revenue yielding engagements?
Ademola-Olateju: Good question. Serious activism, not jẹun-jẹun activism and advocacy, is for those who have the means and are not enamoured by material stuff. I do not earn a penny from those. The business environment in Nigeria is very hostile. When I ventured into Nigeria earlier in the 2000s. I had an office and we trained people in Enterprise Applications with the government as our major client. Working with the government in Nigeria is fraught with booby traps for anyone with a social conscience. When I could not cope, I invested in farming, hoping to be free of encumbrances and compromising situations. I was making headway until kidnapping became a thing. Even before then, we were facing herder’s issue.
The Bororo Fulanis were grazing their cattle on farms. The resident Fulani seem at a loss on what to do. There are many friendly resident Fulani around my farm who supply me with cottage cheese and they have been there for ages. Everyone in the area knows me as the American woman. I suspended operations because I could be targeted. People pay for me to speak, and I do some freelance writing but that is nothing. I owe everything, I mean everything to my backbone, my unconditional supporter and cheerleader; Ademola Olateju. He is the propeller of everything I do.
PT: Thumbs up to your husband. But despite these business and security challenges, you have remained largely in Nigeria even when you have the option of returning fully to America. At a time that a popular pastor is asking people to have Option B about the country, what’s holding you down here?
Ademola-Olateju: The short answer is: it is too late for me to give up. In one of my earliest memories. I was three and a half years old. The teacher handed us sippy cups with the Nigerian flag emblazoned on them. She opened the green bottles and poured us a clear liquid with beads of air stuck to the sides of our cups and sometimes popping into nothing at the surface. It was sweet and different! 7 years later, I got to know it as Sprite. That day was October 1, 1969, in Igbogila, Egbado Division, Abeokuta Province, Western Nigeria. Sprite was served to us courtesy of the Western Nigerian government to celebrate Independence day. The seed of patriotism was sown in me that day even if I was too young to understand it. I heard lots of stories from my parents on how they looked forward to and celebrated Empire day before Nigeria’s independence. It was never to be, many things went down the hill after the civil war, in conjunction with the discovery of oil.
Sixty years plus later, we are still groping in the dark. Finding our way has become a nightmare. But somehow I believe in this land and its potential. Since nothing is static in nature, I believe we will reach entropy and order will be restored. What I feel is not denial, order will happen. As disorder and randomness persist in a system, the chances of order increases. It is the second law of thermodynamics. We will get there, even if not in my lifetime. It is too late for me to give up! My head touched the earth in Igan-Okoto. My placenta was buried in its bowels. This land pulls me in all directions. I love this land with all its craw-craw and jagajaga.
PT: When you announced before the last Ondo election that you were going to canvas for votes for Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, some of us thought that perhaps that’s your tactical entry into Nigerian politics. Is that the case?
Ademola-Olateju: It really is. French poet Alfred de Musset famously said, “Il vaut mieux faire que dire” (Doing is better than saying).” I don’t speak French by the way but I have read the translation. I’ve always tried to live by those words. In 2018 when I started accompanying Her Excellency, the First Lady of Ekiti State Erelú Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi on her women empowerment tours, the deficiencies and limits of my advocacy on civic leadership, youth engagement and politics became so glaring. There are a lot of false assumptions and elite disconnect in politics and grassroots mobilisation. I knew I had to step it up. Talk is cheap. I needed to walk the talk. Yes, I am in politics now. I am not planning to contest but I am very involved in electing candidates. I worked for Governor Akeredolu and my approach increased voters’ turnout.
PT: Meaning you are an APC chieftain now. What roles are you now playing in the governance of your state? Any appointment in the offing?
Ademola-Olateju: [Laughs. I am not a chieftain. I am not playing any role beyond my efforts in my local government. No. No appointment. I am not lobbying or asking for one.
PT: What if you are offered one? Especially at this time that many people, including Premium Times, are clamouring for more women in politics and in the governance of our country.
Ademola-Olateju: I will take a political appointment if I think I will be a good fit and I have an assurance that I can bring workable new ideas, improve process and innovation to the position.
PT: Regarding your writing, advocacy, business and politics, what irons do you have in the fire?
Ademola-Olateju: Business-wise, I hope the security situation improves soon. For now, nothing is worth risking my life for. On the writing front, I’m working on a faction (fiction and fact) that is taking me too long. I plan to get serious about it and get it published soon. In advocacy, I am very concerned with identity, values and civic participation issues among the Yoruba. I am bothered particularly about the youth demographic and the 18-35 psychographic. Some of our work will soon come to the fore. On Politics, I plan to actively support a candidate for the presidential election.
PT: Who is that presidential hopeful you are planning to support?
Ademola-Olateju: I have my eyes on someone who has the leadership character, the temperament, the charisma, the learning, the exposure and the moral strength to steer the ship of this country to greatness. Since he hasn’t declared his intention to run, I would not mention his name. I hope he runs.
PT: Thank you very much, madam. Any other thoughts you like to share?
Ademola-Olateju: I would like to thank my readers on Premium Times and my friends and followers on Facebook. They have kept me going strong all these years. Every week, they put me at the top of the most popular. I owe them a lot of gratitude for their interest and dedication. I also thank you and Dapo Olorunyomi for the vibrant platform you have given me to share my thoughts. Thank you
PT: Thank you!