Retired Lt. Gen. R.M. Kupolati, B.Sc., M.Sc.(Mech. Eng.): A tribute

February 24, 2012 

by Tola Adenle

I am not in the habit of using this column for self-promotion unless writing about the things that make one’s life feel full is self-promotional.  Neither have readers been sent running for handkerchiefs because I meant a piece of writing as a cathartic exercise for myself.  This piece is different.  While it may, hopefully, bring some personal relief, it is actually meant to share a brief insight into the subject, a story that I am sure still needs to be told on a much grander scale.  Talking about a story, I had bugged Rufus on and off these past five years since his retirement with the Ruling Class of General Abdul-Salami, about either an autobiography or that he should allow me to do a biography but in his usual humble and self-effacing ways, he thought the idea of a biography was “ too grand” and preposterous {To o, se ‘bi wa je bi America?]and the idea of his writing his own story was  “too early.”  He had a habit of using that Northern Nigerian phrase, ‘to o’. as an interjection.

Rufus could tell his own story without the assistance of a has-been journalist because he was as good with words as with swords although it’s hard for me, and for all non-army people who knew him to imagine Rufus raising his hands to strike dead a human, foe or whatever.  Paradoxically, too, although he was a soldier’s soldier who earned the respect of colleagues, juniors and even senior colleagues in the Army, Rufus enjoyed nothing more in his private life – after his children and family – than robust discussions of politics, social issues and exchanging reading materials (books, magazine and newspaper clippings) which always brought out the best in him when with those with like tastes and minds. Many, though, would describe him as almost taciturn because Rufus kept his private side very private.

Most civilians look at Nigerian army types, especially the top echelon – retired and serving – as barely literate or bottom of the barrel in the brains department, lazy, corrupt, empty “zombies” (to borrow Fela’s words), die-hard reactionaries, etcetera.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, though post-humously, a real gentleman.  Rufus was way above barely- literate or bottom of the barrel in the brains department:  His mechanical engineering degrees were not earned during one of those cushy adult education post-retirement programs that task not our revered generals but earned in his youth from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, U.S.A.  Although an engineer, he took unusual great pride in his A1 in English Literature in the School Certificate Examinations.

I do not know if there are retired generals with post-retirement degrees pining to go back to their alma mater the way those who suffered in many ways during youthful university days love to tread those same paths and hallowed halls in older ages.  A couple of years back, Rufus was very encouraging – though in subtle ways – to get Ade, his oldest son to attend O.S.U.  I think it is a male thing: if I am a doctor, my son must become a doctor; if I attended U.I., so must my son.  Well, like most kids nowadays, Ade. though a real son of his father and no pushy, loud kid, had his own ideas and got the fact across to his dad!  The up side of his first visit back to Corvallis since he left in the early 70s was that it rekindled old memories in ways that those who go back have always expressed, and brought him a lot of joy that was apparent to those who saw him on his return.

Lazy, corrupt?  Not R.M. Kupolati.  Those who knew him in the army always talk at length about his hard work but above all, about his always being a very contented man.  That is the Rufus that we who knew him outside his professional world also saw.  Retiring from the army as head of the Armed Forces PTF, he had, at various times been in sensitive positions that most Nigerians would have seen as outlets for self en-richment: he was at one time in charge of clearing the ports; he commanded ECOMOG, etcetera, but he left all these positions as he entered: untainted by the grime that most armed forces top brass always bathe in.

He led an ascetic life, often fasting for what amounted to about a quarter of the year, a fact reluctantly volunteered to stop my incessant offer of “at least a coke.”  He was a cautious, meticulous and humble man.  Rufus was not one to throw his weight around – never had much of the physical type – or use his positions to ask for preferential treatment.  He would go into a bank and take his turn on a queue; he lost a piece of land to Lam Adesina’s government at one of Ibadan G.R.As but refused to see anybody to get the land or his money back even though he had planned to make Ibadan his primary residence from where he could make quick trips to his beloved “village”, Ijumu in Kogi State.  Incredible as it may sound, Rufus once spent about an hour at a police check point (as a general, though not in uniform) with you-know-who, being asked for all sorts of documents, both current and extinct before being forced to reveal his identity.

Talking of Ijumu which he always fondly referred to as ‘village’ – mo nlo si villagemo ti wa ni village l’e se gburo mi (I’m en route to the village; you did not hear from me because I have been in the village), Rufus, like most Ekitis (of course we Ekitis know that the whole of that area is physically and culturally  Yoruba-Ekiti) loved his place of birth and he traveled there from Lagos more often than somebody in Ikoyi would visit Ikeja.

As one ponders the nightmare of your demise, what comparison comes to mind to describe your steadfastness, your reliability, your loyalty, your being different from the Nigerian Character, etcetera than to turn to Literature which you loved so much, as we send you forth?  Some words from a favorite literary work you loved enough to remember most of its lines off head even into your 50’s; Shakespeare’s Julius Caesarseems apt.  


As the trap had been meticulously set for Caesar by the conspirators and he had walked right into it in spite of his wife’s dreams which caused him only momentary caution, Caesar uttered these immortal words in response to Cassius’ plea for pardon for Publius Cimber:

… constant as the Northern Star,


                                The skies are painted with unnumb’red sparks,

                                They are all fire and every one doth shine;

                                But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.

Go forth, Rufus Modupe Kupolati, on a journey long-ordained even before Thursday, February 24, 2005 when you met one of those killer overtaking –without-caring-drivers; and for us, we can, in spite of this very painful blow, still ask of death “where is thy sting” because your memories, good work and unique-ness will always be with those whose paths crossed yours while here.


The Comet on Sunday

February 2005

[Seven years ago today, General Kupolati died on the Abuja-Lokoja Road in an accident.]



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