OJELABI’s SOMBRE ELEGY: A Lesson in Discipline &
Consequences of our Dereliction of Duties
By ‘Tunji Ajayi
I love James Morton’s aphoristic assertion. The great Scottish writer once averred that “Free minds and free lips are necessary in order that men may grow and learn.” Incited by his advice, I am inclined to write on one of my greatest heroes, while hoping that our world would learn one or two things from the story. However, I plead that you permit me to borrow the above main caption from my earlier writing on the wife of the acclaimed winner of the scuttled 1993 presidential election. In honour of the late Kudirat Abiola, after her fatal assassination June 1996, I had written: “Kudirat’s Sombre Elegy.” (Nigerian Tribune, June 17, 1996). But today I am, albeit with great pain, writing under almost similar caption on one of the greatest teachers I have ever had, who passed on five years ago on March 29, 2017. He greatly impacted on thousands of Nigerians who have found their feet today; hence his story will be a useful lesson to those who care to read and learn. But painfully enough, our children today no longer read, let alone learn from enthralling and didactic stories of our great men. They only delight in giggling at google and grinning at video-film footages. They shun wide reading. Consequently, we now have a Copy & Paste generation of “tomorrow leaders” who envy the Awolowos, the Soyinkas, the Achebes, the Chimamandas, etc, but loathe reading. They don’t know that the enviable heights which truly great men reached were never attained by sudden flight. Our indiscretion of today will no doubt impact on our tomorrow. It is better to be an illiterate unable to read and write than to be literate and hate reading. Evidences abound to confirm that wide reading confers knowledge. A story for another day.
Many people have jaundiced views on the true meaning of greatness. They erroneously think that huge wealth, affluence, big mansions acquisition, fleets of posh cars etc, confer greatness. No! Very soon, many of the children of the present-day wealthy men, mistaken for great men, who are busy stealing our collective patrimony to enrich themselves illegally will no longer be able to walk the streets of this country freely. They and their family names will forever be engraved in the Hall of Shame & Ignominy Wall as archival materials for easy retrieval by the oncoming generation. Verily, verily I say unto you, no one would move close to them. Let alone have a hand-shake or touch the hem of their glittering ill-gotten garments. History is rolling the tape. Yes. Greatness is synonymous with sterling virtues, excellence, distinction, and unblemished honour. Pa S.O. Ojelabi was the man who transformed me and thousands of others from nothingness into something good. A man can be proud, but not arrogant. I am proud, because I was fortunate, during my boyhood age, to have been under the tutelage of this Sage whose sterling principles rubbed on me. My assertion is beyond the vagary of exaggeration. I hardly speak in abstract, hence I will explain.
My unreserved apology goes to Fela, the maverick musician who, in his album entitled S.T.B. - Sorrow, Tears & Blood which he called the regular trade mark of all human governments was downright right. But Death, the father of them all, is a human’s worst enemy to be conquered to pave way for man to enjoy the New World which God eloquently promised. Late Pa Simeon Ojedele Ojelabi was perhaps a man from another world, who was rigidly stubborn on sterling principles, and an unrepentant hardnosed disciplinarian of no mean repute. I gained admission into his Saint Mark’s (Modern) Commercial School, Osogbo where he was the Headmaster in 1973, but with weeping and teeth gnashing. Reason? I was single-handedly raised by a great woman called Rachael Segilade Aduke alias “Sisí Edúnàbòn” - a very dear mother who literally sold all she had to send me to primary school, but could ill afford “prohibitive” fees to ensure I proceeded to conventional high-brow secondary grammar school. It was costly then to send children to grammar schools! Yes. Most of the schools charged a “whopping” ₦30 or ₦40 per term then! Yes. You heard me right! Are you grimacing? You had to sweat profusely to earn ₦1 honorably in those days. Those were the days when a ₦ was exchanged for $1; and Saint Mark’s School charged between ₦10 – (Modern School section) & ₦15 as school fees for (Commercial Section). One could count on one’s fingertips the number of Secondary Grammar Schools in Oshogbo Township, which was in the then Western State. There was Oshogbo Grammar School. There was also Saint Charles Grammar School. There was also the great Fakunle Comprehensive High School – a great historical monument and the testament of our great history, but which was painfully demolished by a governor brandishing his transient power to build a Shopping Complex! Oh! . . . I remember one more – the Baptist (Girls’) High School, whose students I tactfully “hated” for only one thing. Our Saint Mark’s Secondary (Modern) Commercial School and the Baptist (Girls) High School were in the extreme opposite ends of the town. We boys especially, often trekked back home several kilometers from our school in the afternoon in groups; chatting and playing our street pranks in the scorching sun, but whose unbearable effect is often doused, and almost unnoticed with our being overly engaged in various antics and jokes as we moved along. ‘Femi Abulude, Niyi Adejobi, Kunle Apara, Segun Oyedepo, Gani Abodunrin, Tajudeen Shittu, Idowu Akinyele, Ademola Adesina et al, were my brilliant school/prank mates! We all eloped from home in the eerie nights to watch the then Sunny Ade from the surrounding tree tops at either the Recreation Club or Oshogbo Sports Club and other events venue then. Same for every football match at the then Association Stadium where Ademola Adesina starred for the Osogbo Nepa Football Club, later to play a dominant defense role in the then Nigerian Green Eagles National Football Team. Wale Ajayi, Demola Adesina, and I formed the International Boys Football Club which later metamorphosed to Wise Eleven Club adorned in our yellow jersey. Yet, and painfully the Coach hardly featured me as striker. A wicked and unfair man! I guess the vindictive coach hated me passionately. Reason? I was good at playing “over-the-bar” inside 18-yard box, or even at closer distance face-to-face with the goalkeeper! I guess most goalkeepers knew I was artful and lethal on the field and often used jùjú to get me distracted! Who is laughing scornfully? Stop it! Truth is bitter.
We never missed watching the ever invincible and unconquerable film actors – the iron fist Bruce Lee, the irascible Yasuaki Kurata, Chen Xin, Kam Kong, the ravishing and ever-loquacious Hema Malini and Fu Chin Chen in his Bruka The Queen of Evil, etc at the popular Rasco Cinema. We couldn’t afford the 50 kobo gate fees. Yet we never missed any new film. We perfected the art of subterfuge and then looking left and right as we crawl snakelike into the venues.
Now back to the presumptuous Baptist Secondary School Girls’ story. Whether we were going or returning from school, we had to meet on the way these pretty Baptist High School girls, posing arrogantly in their green & white uniform. In their muffled voices with unpleasant mien, enveloped in derisive laughter as they walked towards our direction, we often alleged that they were making mockery of us. Perhaps we suffered the pang of inferiority complex. Perhaps we just hated them with their often coincidental derisive laughter. We assumed they prided themselves in attending a highly-rated grammar school which was the preserve of the children of the opulent; while on the other hand we were attending a low, poorly-rated Secondary Commercial (Modern) School! Oh, what did boys do when they met girls in those days? . . . No lewd thoughts though; no obscenities, no indecent and insipid talks. All we cherished was mere playing pranks and cracking decent jokes with girls around us. I remember that hackneyed and verbose English I often used to impress girls: “Can you be my inamorata?” I often got cold reception until I knew that a message recipient remains in the dark, so long she doesn’t understand the sender’s message. The girls, though sparklingly pretty, none of us had the urge of making overtures, let alone using my vocabulary to woo. We already resigned to fate, concluding that they would never accede to any such overtures from Secondary Modern (Commercial) School scholars. Like Bob Marley would say: “He who feels it knows it all”. It was painful looking at, and merely admiring a beautiful girl you could not “woo”, as we often said in the olden days. For attending low-rated Modern Schools, my friends and I saw ourselves perfectly fitting into ace writer Franz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” definition. Thus, we did not even have any ego, let alone brandish it. Within us, we suffered low self esteem, psychological depression and deflated pride for not being able to attend conventional secondary school. Virtually all of us had the inferiority complex to “woo” the arrogant “grammarians”, crack joke with them, or attend occasions with the privileged children of the opulent men.
Pa. S.O. Ojelabi changed our jaundiced perception of life. He believed fervently that whatever one becomes in life is often one’s own choice. Thus, one can either choose to revel in success by engaging in unpretentious hard-work and honesty with Godly fear, or brood in utter sadness in a toga of laziness and deception. Who dared come to school one minute late? Who dared fail to do class assignment? Who dared appear in rough and rumpled uniform? Oh God, woe betides such a student! Ojelabi didn’t use mere cane to flog erring students. He used the rod; the type often used by the herdsmen then.
Pa. Ojelabi had solution for every unreasonable action inside his rod of discipline! The unrepentantly rigid disciplinarian must have been an avowed believer in that unequivocally clear Biblical canon in Proverbs 22:15 that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a boy, but the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (NWT). He said I was stubborn. And permit me to believe him reluctantly. Yes. But I honestly felt he was being wicked then, as he would mercilessly flog me without let up, either for failing to do my assignments, playing truancy, coming late to school, or not tucking in my shirt and buttoning up! His handsome son, Ayodeji - a more stubborn boy by my rating; but my best friend in the choir who loves eré’pá (high-risk play) so much, was always flogged too at home especially for hibernating and avoiding house chores, but would suddenly emerge from nowhere whenever food was done and ready to be eaten. Oh! This Ayo would pursue me - an innocently gentle boy, all over the church premises, on the road etc, after singing practice! Pa Ojelabi was already at the School main gate by 7.30 a.m. with his highly revered gleaming Rod of Discipline & Whistle to beckon at latecomers. Once he blows his whistle pointing at you; an offender momentarily stood transfixed! You are under arrest! His eagle eyes missed nothing! You couldn’t come a minute after 7.30 a.m. I trekked 6 km to school every day. Every student had to sweep, clear school weeds, fetch water for class use before the actual resumption time. Most often we were requested by either the equally tough and no-nonsense Mr. Fagbemi or Mr. Adejumo to bring 5 strooong . . . looong . . . robust, straight . . . bamboos to school either to build assembly sheds or construct a perimeter fence around the school farm! The bamboo-qualifications had to be met. Oh my God! Lack of discipline breeds idiocy and imbecility. Our schools are now in shambles and disarray. Discipline has gone with the wind, and we are running all human affairs against the blueprint of our Creator. Not even my immediate senior sister Dele Ajayi being a staff in the school spared me from the rod. She merely watched and giggled while I was being flogged! Today, I am inclined to thank all my teachers for beating the alleged stubbornness out of me. May God bless them all.
Pa S.O. Ojelabi used every minute issue to teach moral lessons. He showed us a story in Gregg Shorthand book in which a ravishingly beautiful bird was caught among other breed of birds stealing crops and destroying a farmer’s farm. Though the Stork pleaded he was a good and pious bird, his plea to the farmer was snubbed as the farmer replied: “All that you’ve said could be true. Yet you were caught among other breeds of impious birds that were stealing my crops and destroying my farm. Thus, you will have to suffer the same fate like other birds, in whose company you were captured” Ojelabi knocked down the kernel of the story into our heads as he said emphatically: “You are judged by the company you keep.” Thus, I have never forgotten his homily till date! Where is morality in Nigeria today?
I remember each time he wanted to flog me for my errors, in a muffled expression but in Hausa language he would murmur: Itachi moganni awuka.” And the flogging went on. I mellowed my unbridled radicalism and pig-like stubbornness the day I knew what he meant when translated to Yoruba. He was saying: “Igi loògùn Wèrè.” (Applying the Rod is the antidote of madness!). The Bible preaches it. But we say it was child abuse and that God’s advice is “old-school”. So, students are now faster and are instead beating their teachers! A country that is run against the blue print of God may never prosper. Any discipline by the teachers at school today is mistaken for “child abuse”, and we now shudder seeing most parents in megalomania toga, following their erring children to school to impose their own standards, avenge, and beat teachers in return – an ignoble descent into moral debauchery! While the Bible advised we must train our children from infancy, so that they do not depart from the path of wisdom. Today, we shudder in chagrin and dismay hearing horrendous news that primary school pupils, like in the tertiary institutions too now engage in cultism, brandishing charms, guns and knives etc. as defense mechanisms! And as they move up to secondary schools and the Universities they join cultism on a higher pedestal to become the terror of the society. He who brings faggots into her bedroom should be prepared to entertain lizards. Why do we expect to sleep peacefully in a permissive society that hates discipline?
Pa S.O. Ojelabi nurtured many of us, and produced a brilliant man and a trove of knowledge with ingenious ideas who became the template designer and initiator of the renowned Accelerated Tax Revenue Generation Programme (ARGP) that has immensely assisted this country to re-direct her efforts at revenue generation through tax as opposed to sole reliance on exhaustive oil. The incessant crude oil price fluctuations and politicization at the global market had always frustrated Nigeria’s budgetary plans! It was embraced in not less than 28 states of the Federation when it started. The blueprint was copied verbatim and is still being used today by virtually all the states of the Federation! A story for another day.
Like many other Markians in different fields today, Pa S.O. Ojelabi brought out the creative writing skill in me. He it was, who taught me that there are not less than 4 types of commas (,). Yes! Each distinguishable only in contextual usage viz: (1) Comma Parenthetical (2) Comma Apposition (3) Comma Series. (4) Comma Adjunct. I have so far written 4 volumes of Biographies on some VIPs in Nigeria, each not less than 500 pages, including on our King Sunny Ade the music maestro, without first having a a facsimile as template to type from. Ojelabi taught me very high speed in Typing & Shorthand. Regardless of volume, I type anything straight from my head and mind. No manuscript! After flogging me one day in his office, he told me that once I could type and write shorthand, I needed no manuscript to type from. It wastes writers’ scarce time! He taught me how to create suspense, using anecdotal facts, applying embellishment and logic and deduction, play on words, etc, all in creative writing in that same supposedly low-rated Modern Commercial School! Not many know that Ademola Adesina who starred for the Nigerian National Football Team was not only a great international footballer. He was also a good sprinter; so amazing in relay race, sizzling in high-jump etc. Ojelabi’s St. Mark’s Modern (Commercial) Secondary School brought out the latent sports talents in him before he proceeded to Osogbo St. Charles Grammar School. Yes!
Virtues, real hard-work, scholasticism, morals, discipline, etc, are fast effacing in our schools. No more desire for technological breakthroughs that transformed other enviable nations of the world. The lopsided school system glorifies the mundane. Rarely does our own system glorify academic and scientific solutions to hitherto jigsaw puzzles.
A great Organist per excellence with atavistic skill, Pa Ojelabi taught us how to sing in alto, tenor & bass; as a member of the choir at the All Saints’ Anglican Church (now a Cathedral) in those days. Pa S.O. Ojelabi who produced many brilliant students who also influenced many of us in turn, and incited us to be committed to scholasticism is a great unforgettable hero. In a Biography on one of his great students who doubles as a mentor and benefactor to thousands of Nigerians, I had written on Pa. Ojelabi uncommon skill thus: “His wizardry and supreme dexterity on any brand of Organ is unparalleled! . . . With his dexterous fingers on the keyboard and his peripatetic left foot on the pedal, Pa S.O. Ojelabi is a delight to watch while playing any brand of pipe organ. He pays high premium on moral probity, excellent conducts and decent lifestyle.” At the singing practice, it was amazing how he often simultaneously hollered at erring choristers singing a wrong refrain or chorus, even while his peripatetic fingers and legs were busy on the organ. He would instruct in verbal words, tongue-lashing while still playing the organ without striking any wrong notes or playing discordant tunes! Ojelabi was from another world!
A stickler to time; if he gave you an 8 o’clock appointment, please do not get to him by 8.05 a.m. My utter pain was that the almost 500-page scholarly work was yet to be published until he died on March 29, 2017 at the age of 89. He admonished us that “Sweet is only sweet, after Sweat.” With the discipline he instilled, while eagerly following the footsteps of our extremely brilliant Senior Prefect - who passed the final stage of the ACCA (London); while still at the OND level of the Polytechnic, Ibadan even while thousands of bachelors and masters degree holders were grappling with the first stage of the exams - many of us immediately after leaving St. Marks quickly bought chairs, tables and relevant O’Level textbooks. We kept our noses to the scholastic grindstones, reading day & night in the confines of our individual rooms. Since “Lawyers houses are built on the heads of fools” Many of us studied and passed our GCE ordinary level examinations, without the aid of any teachers, in flying colours! We thus had the most sought leeway for admissions into various polytechnics and universities. Yes. I went to Ojelabi’s Modern Commercial School where discipline reigned supreme. No man values a man who devalues himself. I am a proud graduate of the reputable Polytechnic Ibadan with 71% Upper Credit (Secretarial Administration) and also the then University of Ife’s Post Graduate Diploma in Management Studies with a B grade, and the University of Ibadan masters degree with a clean B+ grade. Yes! Indeed, when I was presented with my Master’s degree certificate (Communication Arts) in 1990, I remembered this great man’s aphorism: “Success does not come by accident, but chances favour only the prepared mind.” Like I once wrote on KSA’s esoteric feats in “King Sunny Ade The Legend!: Cultural Values & Philosophies Behind a Genre of African Music,” (2021) a writer who boasts he has finished his story on real great men and their multifarious traits in a single book volume simply bluffs. On Late Pa Simeon Ojedele. Ojelabi, a great hero and real blessing to the academic world, it will be a gaffe to claim I can finish writing on him in a single piece. Adieu! One of the greatest teachers of many teachers; a foremost educationist; a real moral and morale builder; a great Organist of repute with peripatetic fingers on the organ keyboard and ubiquitous leg on the pedal. Farewell in your glorious honours. After all, like Louis VI King of France once said, “Better a thousand times to die with glory than live without honour.” Verbum Satis Sapienti.
N.B: Amazon.com bumper promo on the new Book: “KING SUNNY ADE THE LEGEND! – Cultural Values & Philosophies Behind a Genre of African Music” – a whopping 57% off the $95.00 Cover Price to buy @ $41.31 for personal & academic libraries, culture & tourism departments worldwide, great fans, music buffs etc. Get your copy via: https://amzn.to/3FD5fi3
*’Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115, +2348162124412) Face book: https://www.facebook.com/tunji.ajayi.946