Last Friday I went back to my roots – Owo in Ondo State. Mission was to give Mrs Felicia Aboyinbogun - Iye Bimbo (Bimbo’s mother) – a befitting burial. Just like Mrs Aboyinbogun was my mother’s very close friend, Bimbo and I have been childhood friends. As they say, I walked into Owo on my head and not with my legs; meaning, I was born and bred there by Owo parents.
I left Owo for the first time in mid-1976, two years after passing out of Owo High School (OHS) in 1974 with Division Two. My first port of call was Ede, then in Oyo state but now Osun, to live with my elder sister whose husband, Mr Olusola Omiyale from Igbajo, was a teacher at Baptist High School, Ede. My in-law registered me at the Labour Office on Fagbewesa Street, Osogbo and the first job they got for me was that of a Laboratory Attendant at Osogbo Grammar School. I rejected the offer. I never was a Science person. Next, I got the job of an Auxiliary teacher in the same school, which I accepted, and I taught English and Literature in Forms 1 and 2.
At OsoGrams, I was known as “Mr. Jeans” because of my penchant for jeans and high-heeled shoes called “Platform” in those days. I left Osogbo for Ilesa Grammar School (where friends called me “Odaju” – the Audacious One) for my “A” Level in February 1978 and passed the first-ever JAMB, getting admitted into the then University of Ife same year. While in the university, I spent my holiday regularly at Owo; usually together with Bimbo, who also attended Ife, and on occasions with another classmate, Olanrewaju Adepoju (Larecso) at Ipele.
At OHS, Laresco and I (Black Avenger) together with Victor Akinlose (Vicky Moro), Akintayo Akintewe and Monday Adodo formed the dreaded “Danger Five”. My father died in 1996 and my mother followed 10 years later. Since then, my visits to Owo have petered out. But thanks to technology: I have managed to keep in touch with Owo through the social club to which I belong – the Krown Klub, Owo. We have a platform and occasional visits to Owo, such as that of last Friday, have ensured that I am not totally cut off from my roots.
Last Friday, I found that Owo has changed in, interestingly, two opposite directions. I had to fall back on residual knowledge to pick out places and locate where I was going. On the negative side, most, if not all, of the magnificent buildings of yore have become a shadow of their old selves. Other more magnificent buildings have taken the shine off them. This is a lesson! There is no opulence you display today that others coming behind will not surpass. Whatever you build today, better buildings are coming to overshadow it.
Everywhere also displayed signs of the harsh economic downturn that wallops the country. For sure, our fathers were wealthier in real terms that those of us their children. They lived a better life and prospered earlier. They made achievements, built houses and established businesses at relatively younger ages than ours. Keeping aloft their legacies or maintaining their achievements has been difficult for coming generations.
Rural-urban drift also leaves telling repercussions on Owo. Many like me have relocated to the cities and our places and positions left vacant are being sorely felt. If you have read Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, then, you will understand how the relocation of able-bodied young people from one location impoverishes that location while empowering and helping to develop their new-found homes.
Another reason advanced for the parlous state of our localities is the weakening of family ties brought about by new-found individualism. Rather than converge on the ancestral home as was the case in the past, the new elite prefer their own buildings, fenced round with barbed wires and made inaccessible to unwanted family members. The ancestral home, which once belonged to everyone, is left forlorn and abandoned to the weakest links in the family who do not possess the economic power to do the needful.
But Owo has also witnessed some development! New houses, more hotels, a university, a dual carriage-way that runs through the town and many more were evidence Owo has not been left behind in the scheme of things. Laresco took me round some of the on-going road projects. His summary is that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (aka Aketi) is performing. And I remember that Mr Yemi Olowolabi, the then Ondo State Commissioner for Information, had told me a few years back that no government in Ondo State since the return to civil rule in 1999 accomplished a fraction of what Aketi did in just one year in office.
Partisanship apart, Yemi should know. He was Chief Press Secretary to Governor Olusegun Agagu, now late. But Akeredolu suffers two vices: One is that he is a good governor but not so good politician, to borrow the words of Mr Bola Tinubu while describing the erstwhile Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State. Ondo politicians are grumbling that Aketi is not putting money in their pockets. Truth be told, Aketi must find a way to do that without compromising good governance. It is a tight rope politicians must learn to walk without falling.
The story is told of a governor in one of the South-west states who went head-hunting to get competent hands for his government. Among those invited was an Americana who came and started building roads, hospitals, bridges and providing water in his local government, intent on turning it to New York overnight! When the time came for second term, his constituents rejected him! They complained that he did not put money in their pockets. He hurried back to the US flabbergasted! Again, like Ambode, good performer but not so good politician.
Aketi’s second virus is that he shies away from publicity. He works but does not advertise his work. People around him say they have tried in vain to let him see reason. They say he insists his good works will speak for him! Amen! Until Anita Ward of the “Ring My Bell” fame took hold of the bell and rang it herself, no one rang her bell!
Last Friday also, my seniors at OHS, the third set that, in 1969, passed out of the school described by one of them, Pastor Jube Olawale, as Nigeria’s own Eton (for that was the founder’s goal and ideal for OHS), celebrated their golden jubilee on the school premises. They had refurbished a whole block of classrooms. The president, Mr Bode Ogunleye aka Adinqua, also reeled out scholarship and prize-giving initiatives the set as a group and as individuals have initiated. The digital centre donated by another old student, Foluso Falaye, sits majestically within the premises.
Giving back is the name of the game. The river that forgets its source will dry out. I never met them in school (I was admitted in 1970) but I remember hearing some of their names and aliases from our seniors, such as Titi-kaka; Bobo-Bobo. I met them life-and-direct last Friday. Some of the old students (and their spouses) at the event were Tunde Fadayomi, Ajayi “Samuel Crowther” Ijadimibola, Bobola Owoputi (Bobo-Bobo), Mr and Mrs Kunle Saliu, Mr Gani Lagundoye (Titi-Kaka) and his wife, Mr Nafiu Kayode Muhammed Apaokagi (and his wife), Comfort Femi Aiyetigbo (nee Lasekan) who was described as “Mother of the set”, Mr Adebayo Gabriel Adesina (represented by the wife), Mrs Olasinbo Famakinwa (one of the set’s moving spirits), Mr Olorunjube Olawale and his wife, Mr Owolabi Olufemi, Mr Phillip Ojo, Mr Kola Adekagun, and others who later joined the ceremony.
The school was adequately represented by students and teachers ably led by the principal, Mr Bola Obameso. Interestingly, Bola is the kid brother of my bosom friend, Olajura Obameso (Barbarossa), who retired from the Army. The cultural display, especially the Owo songs, rendered by the students made my head to swell. May our culture not go into extinction the way we are going!
The 1969 set eulogised our founder and principal, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin (now late), who later became governor of old Ondo state. We sang his favourite hymn – SOP Hymn Number 515: “He who will valiant be...” and held two minutes’ silence in his memory and honour, as well as for those of his wife, Babafunke, and members of the 1969 set who are deceased, some of whose names were mentioned. The set was to later pay a courtesy call on the new Olowo, who is also an old student, and on the traditional prime minister of Owo, Mr Ojumu.
My own set of 1974 had better started preparations for our own golden jubilee!
What a stressful but memorable weekend! The bad state of the inter-state roads nearly ruined it all. And to think these were the same roads Minister of Works, Mr Babatunde Fashola, swore were “Not that bad”! Not only were they that bad, they were, indeed, death-traps!