Tuesday, 29 May 2007

In the seven years that I have been living in the UK, never have I felt a greater urge to be home in Nigeria. My reason is simple: I want to be one of those who boldly and proudly attend the funeral of Dare Odumuye who passed away not long ago, age forty-one. I can already hear those who do not speak Yoruba wondering why he was named ‘Dare’. Dare’s full name was Oludare which means ‘the Lord had judged in my favour’. Dare was fourth of five children born to a lawyer, Femi Odumuye and Gbemi Odumuye, a civil servant.
My father and Dare’s are from Ilisan-Remo and both travelled to England to study in the 60s, our families have been linked through the years in various ways. For instance, we both lived in Old Bodija, Ibadan in the 70s. Dele, my brother and Dare were agemates although Dele went to Bodija International School and Dare went to Maryhill Convent School. He was an excellent student. So studious was he that his Dad promised to buy him anything he wanted for his tenth birthday if he managed to come at least third in his primary 5 exams. Dare came second and couldn’t make up his mind what to ask for. He approached my brother for advice and Dele urged him to ask for a bicycle. On hearing his son’s wishes, Dare’s father sighed and said, ‘I just hope this thing you’re asking for won’t kill you.’ Dare’s arm was still in plaster from a previous bicycle accident. He got his bike all the same.
I went to the same university as Dare and although he left 3 years before I was admitted, people still talked about him and speculated about his sexuality. I found it refreshing, even then, that he was not remembered with the collective disapproval that all things remotely connected to homosexuality are met. Dare was talked about with fondness. I put this down to his personality; he was generous, worldly and fun-loving. He loved to dance, was known to enjoy a booze-up and was incredibly popular with the girls to whom he was both protector and friend.
It was not until 1990, when I began escaping to Lagos at weekends to sing at Jazzville that I started seeing Dare again. He would wrap me up in his big arms and plant a giant kiss on my lips. He liked to refer to me as aburo- younger sibling. When I started writing in the mid 90s, Dare would always make it a point of duty to let me know how proud he was of me. He would tell me the newspaper he’d seen my work in and quote lines from poems he’d read.
Those who knew Dare as a child were perhaps not surprised when he founded Alliance Rights, Nigeria (ARN), Nigeria’s first gay rights organisation. He was unapologetic for his love for beautiful things and unashamed of his large frame. He was so comfortable in his own skin.
I was surprised when I saw Dare a few years ago and he told me he had become a born-again Christian in the Anglican Church. This declaration immediately brought questions to my mind as I knew how vehemently the Anglican Church in Nigeria rejected homosexuality. He said he believed fighting for gay rights was his ‘calling’. I found it ironic that he so readily embraced an institution that suggested he was immoral and unworthy of God’s mercy. Dare’s email address was babalobi@ which Meaning ‘born of God’. He was an embodiment of all that is good about Christianity, much unlike those who proclaim that homosexuality is ungodly. What sort of God creates people only to condemn them?
Dare was a fighter and the manner in which he stood up for what he believed in should put most Nigerians to shame. Too often, we sit on the fence when we should be fighting against the world’s injustices or at least supporting those who are in the thick of such struggles. Dare was a flag-bearer, a revolutionary and a trail-blazer. He was undaunted in his struggle for gay rights in Nigeria and beyond. We have much to learn from people like Dare. We need to think more about the bigger picture and not just the small lives that we lead. Dare only saw the bigger picture.
He found out he was HIV positive in 2001. Did he curl up and lose his zest for life? No! Did he decide his life was over? No! Did he embark on some sick revenge trip? No! He was determined to live the rest of his life positively: contributing to HIV awareness campaigns; creating a safe haven for gay and lesbian Nigerians; campaigning for safe sex.
For me, Dare will always be an inspiration. I will miss his big kisses and bear hugs. I will miss reading about his animated debates with homophobic institutions. Most of all, I will miss knowing he is there, being strong, brave, living his life without a hint of self-pity. He was something special.
I know you are wherever it is that good people go. Sun re o, egbon mi, Dare.