In many Nigerian societies, there is a norm that is observed with all seriousness: do not speak ill of the dead. In these communities, the dead is often seen as not really sacred in the sense of it, but as defenceless and already under judgment in another realm – the next world. However, in December 1985, a man decided to shred this societal norm into a thousand pieces. What was even more shocking was that the man was a pastor – member of the clergy that was believed to venerate, or at least, accord some respect, to the deceased – and he released his display in one of the most conservative corners of tropical Nigeria. Come with me on this journey back in time on how Pastor Lambasted Sade Adu’s Father’s Corpse During Burial
In the world of 1985, things were very much different from what it is now: there was no social media as we know it today, only the rich or well-to-do bought newspapers, Nigeria was ruled by crazy military despots, Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in as President of the United States for the second time, Nelson Mandela had rejected an offer of freedom from the South African government, Madonna had launched her first concert tour in New York, Steve Jobs had resigned from Apple, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ciara, Michael Phelps and Lewis Hamilton, the legendary British Formula One driver, were all born. But in this time, these were not the only stars. In fact, there was one superstar who was dominating everywhere and who was known all over the globe. Her name: Helen Folasade Adu. Her middle name, Folasade, means “honour confers your crown”.
Just aged 26, Sade had conquered the world: her debut album, Diamond Life (containing the hit track, Smooth Operator)¸ which she had just released in 1984 after a record deal with Epic Records had sold over eight million copies, climbed to No 8 on the US chart in September 1985, smashing the records to become one of the top-selling debut recordings of the 1980s and the best-selling debut every by a British female vocalist. A legendary voice, Sade would later be named the most successful solo British female artist in history. But 1985 would come with its own tragedy for this queen of the songs.
THE ORIGINS AND THE DEATH OF SADE’S FATHER
Although Sade was born in Ibadan, Oyo State in 1959, her ancestral home is Ikere-Ekiti, in what is now Ekiti State, as there was no Ekiti State back then in 1985. Sade’s father, the late Professor Adebisi Adu, was a Nigerian economics lecturer at the University of Lagos who had married an English district nurse, Anne Hayes, in 1955. The couple met in London while he was studying at the LSE and moved to Nigeria shortly after getting married, they would later on separate with Anne taking Sade and her sibling Banji to the United Kingdom where they stayed with their grandparents. He later rose to the position of the Acting Head of Department, Economics Department, University of Lagos.
The Adu family compound is located in Afao in Ikere-Ekiti with its patriarch (Sade’s grandfather) being Josiah Alawemo Adu, a well-known chief in the area. He was known as Baba Egbe of African Church Cathedral in Afao, Ekiti because he was one of the strongest members of the church who combated followers of the African traditional religion who had vehemently opposed the construction of the church (natives worshipped the Olosunta Rock so when the Anglicans came, it was a real battle). He made sure that although his family was a large one being a polygamist, that his children were very well-educated. As a matter of fact, Sade’s father was the first graduate of statistics in Nigeria and one of the very first graduates from Ekiti.
THE FUNERAL CEREMONY AND THE PASTOR’S DRAMA
Following the news of her father’s death, a devastated Sade flew to Nigeria to honour her late parent. She was visibly taken over by grief and sorrow. The fateful day, a Saturday in December 1985, came and the venue of the funeral service was the St. John’s African Church in Ikere-Ekiti. When the time came for the traditional religious sermon, the pastor stood up, grabbed the microphone and gallantly coughed into it. In the audience were Sade and other grieving members of the Adu family. What came out next from the pastor’s mouth was more than a nuclear bomb. He thundered on and on leaving no room for mercy for the lifeless Adu lying in the casket laid out in front of the altar or pity for his sorrow-soaked relatives and loved ones inside the Gothic-looking ecclesiastic masterpiece.
Taken over by a scary mix of derision, anger and cold-heartedness, the pastor released all the venom in his mind. He blasted the dead man saying although he was the first graduate of Ikere-Ekiti, he never associated with the rustic town when he was alive. The church went into total and confused silence. Congregation members could not believe what they were hearing and some others felt they probably had ear infections that even the best doctors in London could not treat. But the ‘man of God’ was not done yet. He lashed out again saying people should be useful and do good deeds while they were still alive. His listeners were thrown into a state of shock and confusion but the pastor did not send anybody. He then delivered a punch so painful that many in the church could not take it any longer and started murmuring. The pastor asked the bewildered congregation: ‘With all his education, can he now carry the whole of his certificates to the grave?’’
By now, the tension inside the church was more than palpable. Apart from the kids and relatives of the deceased, others listening to the rambling of the pastor were colleagues of the man in the coffin and they came all the way to represent the university community and honour their fallen friend and their hero. Also, because Ikere-Ekiti was such a small community where everyone knew everyone, Professor Adu’s loss was a communal one that called for group mourning so everyone from all corners of the hamlet was there to listen in shock to what the clergyman was reeling out for their hearing.
But the pastor was not alone; he had his supporters who were also natives of Ikere-Ekiti. Some of the parishioners said that although the pastor went too far in his condemnation of the dead, but that the late Adu too did not try that he could have done more for their community. One of the parishioners said that the late Professor Adu could not even paint the African Church where he was now being castigated in death. The parishioner, who did not want to be named, insisted that the late Adu had the money and resources to paint the church but he refused. He argued further saying if the late professor was able to marry three foreigners (the late Adu was married to a British, a Swiss and an African American) and who graduated from the university in the 1950s, he should at least have enough money to spoil his townspeople and carry out projects such as the painting of the church.
When the pastor had comfortably painted the dead man as the most evil creature before everyone throwing his family into even more grief, a gentleman rose, approached the pulpit and saved the day for the Adus. He was like a perfume detoxifying the atmosphere. He first played Mark Anthony to douse tension and erase the stinging impression left by the pastor and commenced his own speech. The gentleman said although it was true that the late Adu was the very first graduate from Ikere-Ekiti, it was sheer wickedness for anyone to say he did nothing for his hometown. The gentleman said the late Professor Adu was so in love with his town and his people that the hospital in the town could not have been possible without Adu’s efforts. He also reminded everyone of the various contributions the late Adu made towards the development of his town while he was alive.
Overtaken by emotions, the congregation kept clapping and the applause echoed all over the community. Sade, the beautiful daughter of her dad, went to the pulpit and made attempts to also defend her late hero, her father. The first time, she tried to summon courage and speak out but she broke down in tears, the sobs made others ululate even more. The global music star and an idol to millions was reduced to tears in a village deep in the forests of tropical Africa. She made a second attempt to defend the soul of her father but she broke down again, the tears reflecting the sheer agony of her loss. The harder she tried, the more the tears came streaming down her famous face. Finally, she gave up – the shock was just too much for her.
After the service, some of the late professor’s colleagues who spoke to reporters shed more light on the whole thing. According to Yinka Orimolade, also an economic lecturer at the University of Lagos, Adu’s critics were talking from an angle of sheer ignorance. Orimolade said when Adu was retired in 1975 by the regime of military strongman Murtala Muhammed, Adu did not even have a house to retire into because he did not have a house. Orimolade further explained that even as a foundation member of the Department of Economics in UNILAG, there was no housing scheme in place that would have assisted Adu to construct his own house. He also said Adu was not into private practice like others so when the retirement came, he had no place to hide his head. Another colleague, F O Onipede, corroborated what Orimolade said saying it was him (Onipede was also retired alongside Adu) who offered Adu his boys’quarters in Isolo, Lagos to stay saying: ‘That was where he stayed until he was able to move to Ibadan.’ Orimolade continued saying: ‘Even at Ibadan, it was obvious Adu was not making it. The man did not have the temperament to be in business. He was strict and could not tell lies.’
That day was one of the saddest in Sade Adu’s life. Although she was then one of the most celebrated figures on earth, she was in no mood to either sing or talk about her career that day. Not even her mother by her side could crack her gloom. To worsen the whole case for her, the pastor went on and on to heap so much venom on her late father, someone she cherished greatly. Sade Adu would later depart Ikere-Ekiti with so much pain in her heart, never to return to Nigeria.
With time, Ikere-Ekiti began to feel some of the touches of modernity. A road construction project meant Professor Adu’s corpse had to be exhumed and buried in a new site. His daughter remains a legend and has gained even more fame, won the Grammy, sold over 50 million albums to become the most successful solo female artist Britain has ever produced, amassing more power than she could have imagined that day 31 years ago but her father was not able to witness any of her earthshaking achievements.
So what are your thoughts? I leave you with my favourite of her works, King of Sorrow: