Chief Joseph Folahan Odunjo was the author of the Yoruba Alawiye; a Yoruba text book widely read in Southwest Nigerian schools. Chief Odunjo was a brilliant scholar, a teacher, a poet, a playwright, a novelist, a historian, a composer, an administrator and a statesman.
The literary icon was born 111 years ago in 1904 in the Defunct Western Region of Nigeria. He began his educational career at the St. Augustine’s Catholic Primary School, in Abeokuta.
Late Odunjo was the Minister of Lands and Labour in Western Nigeria in 1952, under the late Premier of the Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
He held the post until 1956 when he was appointed the Executive Director, Agriculture, Western Nigeria Development Corporation between 1957 and 1962. In the 60s and early 70s, he was the President of the Ibadan Catholic Diocesan Council.
Late Odunjo was a great disciplinarian but he was always fair to all. His love and commitment to education prevented him from gaining grounds in the political space. He devoted his leisure time to writing series of educational books.
His Alawiye Yoruba Language series books 1-6 were the approved Yoruba textbooks for the teaching of the Yoruba Language in primary schools in Western Nigeria.
It is indeed amazing to know that his first Alawiye book which was published in 1943, Iwe Kini ABD Alawiye, was what every student who went to primary school in the Western Region was administered with.
Late Odunjo was a member of a few organisations while he lived. He was the assistant secretary of the Nigeria Union of Teachers between 1942 and 1951. He also founded the Federal Association of Catholic Teachers, Lagos and Yoruba Province in 1936. He was the association’s president until 1951. He held the post of secretary of the Egbado Union, Lagos between 1941 and 1951. He was made knight of St. Gregory by the Pope in 1966.
Apart from the Alawiye books, Odunjo was also the author of a number of other literary publications. In his preface to the collection, J.F. Odunjo wrote that it had become necessary to have such a collection which sought to document Yoruba poems and wise sayings so as to promote the Yoruba culture and tradition, with such popular poems like: Iwa rere li eso eniyan, Ise ni Oogun Ise, Omo beere Osi beere, Owo Apekanuko, Bi ori Ijapa se pa, Kini ng o fole se. The collection inspires the teaching of morals in schools for decades.
Late Odunjo played a pivotal role in bringing Longman Publishing House to Nigeria. It is also believed that the success of his books played a significant role in guaranteeing the presence of Longman in Nigeria.
The Alawiye books have been variously revised and reprinted over the years. Fifty-seven years after; they continue to be as relevant in the classroom of various primary schools as they were in the first days.
Late Chief Odunjo was indeed a great man who made remarkable contributions to the Yoruba Library. Though it’s been 35 years (1980) since he passed on, he continues to be as relevant in death as he was in life. He will continually be remembered for his laudable contribution to Yoruba academics, Yoruba Cultural Heritage and also to humanity.
He was survived by two sons and five daughters. May his gentle soul continue to rest in the bosom of the Lord…Amen!