My father’s 26 children from 10 wives lived as if from same mother — Veteran broadcaster, Olasope
Retired veteran broadcaster, Kunle Olasope, shares the story of his life with ABIODUN NEJO
When and where were you born?
I was born in Ibadan, Oyo State, on May 8, 1937. It was a Saturday morning at Oke Padi.
Who were your parents?
My father was Chief Julius Olasope. He worked with Public Works Department before he retired. He lived for 81 years. He died in 1979. He founded the umbrella organisation for all Efon sons and daughters, the Efon Improvement League (now Efon Development League). He lived most of his life in the Western Region. In fact, when he died, people said he died young. My mother was 91 when she died. My father’s brothers and sisters also lived long.
Did he receive western education?
He had modest education. He read Standard Six. He didn’t attend secondary school. He attended schools in Lagos, Ondo and Ibadan for Standard Six.
Which schools did you attend?
I attended Agbeni Methodist School, Ibadan, for primary education. For secondary, I was at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos. For tertiary education, I went to the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, which in my time, was the only other tertiary institution then apart from the University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan). The University College branch later became University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). During my working life, I went to University of Ife, Ibadan branch for evening Law studies.
How was your childhood?
My childhood was quite interesting. My father had 10 wives. My mother was number two. We were about 26 children and I am number six. We were trained to be prayerful. Every 6am, the entire family would hold morning devotion and at night before going to bed. Our father was quite loving; although we were many, we lived together as if we were born by the same mother. Our father would always warn us against evil that it would befall anybody who engaged in it. He also taught us to observe civic responsibilities like paying taxes, obtaining licences etc so that we don’t run afoul of the law. He urged us to be careful and cautious not to offend people deliberately and of course, not to accept any nonsense from anybody.
How was being from a polygamous home impact on your life?
Even though my father was polygamous, he encouraged us to be monogamous. He said that in their days, wealth and popularity were measured by the number of wives one had. He said it was the fad at the time and truly, managing polygamy was not easy.
What attracted you to broadcasting?
It was interesting that when I was born, I did not talk for three years. My mother thought I was going to be dumb. But after I overcame that initial difficulty, I realised that I was versatile; I have the gift of speaking. For example, I was the one calling out the hymns during the family devotional services and reading the Psalms before my father would call on others to pray.
I made up my mind that I would go into a career that requires talking; that I would be a lawyer, teacher, priest or a broadcaster. Out of ignorance, I thought lawyers were liars, and that I didn’t want to be a liar; so, I said I wouldn’t be a lawyer. At the time, teachers’ rewards were said to be in heaven, and since I was not in a hurry to go to heaven, I said no to teaching.
To be a priest, I said being a socialite, I enjoyed going to clubs and restaurants, I loved social activities like dancing, music and all that although I was neither drinking alcohol nor smoking. So, after all that, the attraction was broadcasting. I used to listen to some broadcasters from the British Broadcasting Corporation who inspired me. I also listened to some Radio Nigeria broadcasters. With the inspiration from the newscasters from the BBC and Radio Nigeria, I got inspired and said I would be a broadcaster.
Tell us some fond memories of your broadcasting experience.
When I started, usually at Radio Nigeria, you had to be there for about six months or so being trained in various aspects of operations and programming before you could be allowed to read the news. But because I schooled at Igbobi College, where, as a prefect in my final year in 1955, I read lessons during services, made announcements to the entire school and took part in debates and competitions, I was already used to talking to the public.
I was lucky that after two weeks, I was allowed to read the news. I was sent to the BBC in 1962 to study. When TV came in 1959, I was one of the pioneer announcers appointed; three of us – Anike Agbaje-Williams, John Edyang and myself. The three of us had been in Radio Nigeria. We were tested and found suitable. Then on TV inauguration night, I was the one who read the news from the Lounge of the Western House of Chiefs at the Secretariat.
I was on the last story of the bulletin when Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s car arrived and cameras trailed him into the house from where he inaugurated the television station. It was after the inauguration that we switched over to Television House from where Agbaje-Williams did the continuity announcement to launch programming and start operations. That was a memorable night. We took part in the coverage of independence, broadcast of the second All Africa Games, FESTAC 77, the first West African Games and the National Sports Festival. Those are the points that will remain evergreen in my memory.
What is your view of the nation’s broadcasting industry today?
When we started, broadcasting was mainly owned and run by government. Ibrahim Babangida liberalised broadcasting in 1992 and licences were granted to private entrepreneurs who have now set up private television and radio stations all over the place. It is good because it gives people the freedom of choice. If you don’t like what is being aired, you can switch elsewhere. It created employment opportunities for the people, it also helped in promoting social change in society, mass education, reformation, entertainment and education. Be it agriculture, aviation, arts, sports or general knowledge. It is a welcome development.
How do you feel to have retired from the profession you cherished so much?
Will I really say I have retired? I don’t think I have retired. I still do some broadcasting until a few years ago when I started to have problems with mobility. You see that I am on the wheelchair now, but with regards to the ability to communicate on radio or television, I can still do it. It is a matter of gift. If the opportunity was there and I am able to go physically to the studio, I will still read news.
Is any of your children following in your career path?
They did not go into broadcasting. Only one of them, my daughter, Jumoke, who lives in London, is into broadcasting. Others are into other areas of economy.
How will you describe your friendship with the late Segun Awolowo?
Segun was more than a friend to me. We were like brothers. We both were registered to start school at Agbeni Methodist School in 1943. I was one and a half years older than Segun. When we started school, the promotion examination was that you had to put your right hand across your head to touch your left ear, Segun couldn’t do that because he was younger, so they said he should repeat primary one and that that was how I became a year senior to him. I finished at Agbeni in 1950 while Segun completed his studies in 1951. Incidentally, when I got admitted to Igbobi in 1951, he too was admitted there in 1952. We continued together until I left in 1955 and he left in 1956. But by January 1957, he went abroad. I too went to the Nigerian College in September of that year.
We were together at WNTV. After my return to Radio Nigeria, I was sent to BBC in 1962. There, I met Segun who was just finishing his studies. Then, Baba Awolowo’s trial had started in Nigeria; so, Segun had to leave London by air to come home. He left his box with me, which I brought along because I came by sea. On the night before his death, we were together at the restaurant and he said he was going to bed early by 9pm because he had to go to Ikeja the following day for a court case in the morning. Early the following morning, on his way, he had accident at Abanla. That was how he died. Our friendship was the best I had because his father and my father were friends, classmates and also class leaders at Agbeni Methodist Church.
How would you compare life during your younger days to now?
Life was very interesting at the time. There was money in the country. Society was safer to go to the cinemas and do things like that. One could walk one’s girlfriend home at night without trouble. But now, with the economic downturn, and increase in criminality such as armed robbery and kidnapping, one dares not do it. People tend to be more careful now, staying indoors rather than going to dance. We had social activities at the time and bands such as Victor Olaiya, Roy Chicago, Eddy Okonta, Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, IK Dairo, Dele Ojo etc.
I was invited to be master of ceremonies at many places and Segun and some friends used to go with me. It was such an interesting time that we had. I pray that such a time will return to Nigeria when people can move around and enjoy social life without fear of losing their lives through criminal activities.
How do you relax?
I played football and table tennis and loved music and all that when I was still able. But now, at over 80, I have to take life easy. I came in on a wheel chair because I had a car accident some years back which affected my mobility. My movement is now restricted, but I do a lot of my activities now in the church. I am quite active in church matters at the diocese. I was an officer in the church. I am Otun Baba Ijo and active in the Christian Association of Nigeria and also the Chairman, Board of Trustees of Efon Development League. My relaxation now is mainly watching television. I love watching sports, documentaries, news and special programmes.
Did you ever think you would live this long?
I must say that growing up, I had fears that I might not live long because at various stages of my life, I knew people who died young and I was thinking that maybe, I too would not live long. For example, one senior Adesina died shortly after we left Igbobi; later, there was Kunle Animasaun, who was an editor at Daily Times, who died at around 30 or 40. I thought I would not live long. Some professors died young and didn’t make it to 40 or 50. But to God be the glory, I scaled 50, 60, 70 and 80.
What do you think is responsible for your long life?
Well, is the grace of God and also the fact that longevity runs in the family.
What would you like to change about your life if given the opportunity?
Is there anything I will change really? If I have to live my life again, I would still love to be a broadcaster because broadcasting is interesting. I would still love to be born an Ekiti man because the Ekiti man is noted for industry, integrity and the kind of parentage I had was one of the best around. My father was good, my mother was good and they instilled discipline in us. If there is anything, I would wish I didn’t have an accident. That is the only regret I had, but again, I thank God that the car accident didn’t take my life.
What do the awards and honour you received mean to you?
I think people felt that I have made contributions to society. It is an appreciation. There are many young people that I have mentored. I have the passion for discovering and developing young people. Some of my good friends are younger than I am. It has been a life of service to God and man.
What is your advice to Nigerian youths?
The Nigerian youth must work hard. They should not be in a hurry. They should avoid get-rich quick syndrome and criminal activities. They must take their education seriously and continuously educate themselves by reading newspapers, magazines and journals, listening to radio and watching television and learning. They must have life ambitions and work towards achieving them.
What more do you want from life?
I want God to give me good health. If I can walk, I will thank God for that. When I went to see to the hospital to see the Professor, he said ‘Look, you are not sick. I am not going to give you any medicine. You talk well, you reason and write well’. I’m still the effective husband of my wife, but to be able to move around is what I wish God will grant me so that I can continue to contribute more to society to develop the younger ones and leave a good name and legacy behind.