To the University of Lagos and its staff restaurant overlooking the lagoon and the Third Mainland Bridge penultimate Thursday for the eightieth birthday celebration of Sisi Bola Alo, an old screen star from the enchanting WNBS/WNTV of the swinging sixties and seventies. These were the halcyon years of Nigeria. It was the time of music, dancing and singing. Please play me that number again and thank you Mr DJ, the much storied and now departed Alex Gboyega Conde.
Unilag was funereal and deserted. There was a ghostly desolation in the air. At the car park abutting a dense mangrove forest an old man appeared with a huge plank in hand trying to clobber a wily and agile monkey that made a complete fool of him. Frustrated, the old man lowered his sight and resorted to picking out of season mango fruits.
All is quiet on the “Eko for Show” front this cool and demure midmorning. You had expected to witness the remnant of the tumultuous crowd that had come to receive the university’s reinstated vice chancellor. But by the time one reached the Second Gate, the human commotion had vanished.
As you picked your way through the open corridor of the sparsely peopled Guest House now looking drab and completely run down, you had a sense of aborted greatness. This Guest house and the famed Unilag Staff Club on the floor above was a destination of choice for denizens of the old Nigerian university system who flocked there in the golden epoch of Nigerian universities.
But all that, like most things else, is now history and you can pocket your fragrant reminiscences. The party was well under way as yours sincerely made his entry. Organised by Auntie Bola Alo’s children, Feyi and Yemisi Oni, her brother Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Babajide Alo and his wife Funmilayo, and sundry nieces and nephews, it was a moveable feast of dancing, singing and family rejoicing.
Yours sincerely thought he had slipped into quiet anonymity beside Princess Bisi Gbadebo-Soboyejo, a former registrar of FUNNAB and Professor Duro Oni who was chairman of the Unilag Staff Club in the mid-eighties at the same time yours sincerely ruled the roost at the old University Ife Staff Club. But somebody drew Auntie Bola’s attention to one’s presence and she began to holler “ Ah, ah, snooper is here, snooper is here, Tatalo is here ooo!!” It was obvious that she had nothing but contempt for pseudonymous integrity.
As the party wore on, a major figure from Nigeria’s tube history suddenly materialized. Welcome the incomparable television goddess, Julie Coker. The celebrant could not contain her excitement. Her old friend had come to rejoice with her and welcome her to the octogenarians’ club. In no time, the two had teamed up to give the audience some memorable duet of singing and dancing. The swinging sixties suddenly came alive once more in the restaurant. Rosemary Anieze and Ibidun Folakan would be nodding from beyond.
It was time for commendations ably compered by the celebrant herself. Speaker after speaker came forward to attest to the celebrant’s abiding vivacity, her kindness, her boundless generosity and her gift for friendship. Behaving as if she was in front of a live television audience, Ms Alo took her time to introduce everybody.
The oldest of three delectable ladies who had walked in earlier stepped forward to give her testimony. Snooper thought there was something eerily familiar about them, like youngsters who had blossomed into winsome maturity. It turned out that they were sisters.
Winifred, Dorothy and Bisi had come to represent their late mother who was Auntie Bola Alo’s bosom friend. Margaret Gascoyne was a notable socialite in Ibadan in those unforgettable days. Ancient memories welled up in yours sincerely as one remembered the grand old dame and the rapier thrust of her witty repartees.
Forty minutes later the celebrant still held on to the microphone, like an empress of the tube. Discreet representations had to be made to persuade the old television star that it was time to quit the stage. But the great diva was having none of that nonsense. The lady was not for turning. Further emissaries had to be sent before the microphone could be gently prised from her. It felt like the last snapshot of a great era. Here is wishing Auntie B many happy returns.