It was the shrill and authoritative voice of my father flying through the living room of our Lagos apartment at Jakande Estate, Lekki, Lagos to hit me in my reverie in the room I shared with my brothers close to the living room. From the tone of his voice, I knew I was in trouble. You see, my father belonged to that generation of parents who used every visible part of their body and at times the invisible parts as well to communicate.
That day, the way he called my name, I didn’t need any prophet to tell me I had done something wrong. I therefore steeled myself for whatever was coming my way as I presented myself before him. I quickly did a mental rundown of what could be the problem; despite my mental anguish it’s was blank. Daddy extended my ordeal by not saying anything to me for about ten minutes as he did justice to the bowl of Amala and Ewedu soup set before him. After what looked like eternity, he looked at me for the first time since he called my name.
“What is this nonsense your mother told about you today?”
Me, I was lost. I couldn’t figure what he was referring to because I couldn’t remember any ‘nonsense’ as far as my day was concerned.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about sir.”
“Oh! I see.”
He ate his fish last, washed off his hands remnants of food before drying his hands with the small towel his wife had left on the table for that purpose.
Now all his fiery focus was on me. I saw that look in his eyes, my second hint that I was in for a serious wahala. Then involuntarily, I shivered.
“Your mother told me that you rejected the school bag she bought for you today from Ereko Market.”
“Is that true?”
Suddenly it hit me where my trouble had come from.
I was in SSS 1 at Methodist Boys High School, Broad Street, Lagos; an elitist public school at that time by all standard. I needed a new school bag and between my parents, it was agreed that I should get it. Of course my mother was in charge of family shopping; something she did alongside buying stuffs for her Provisions Shop in Central Lagos: Docemo, Idumota, Onigorodom, Apongbon, Idumagbo, Ereko. I told her my preference; I wanted nothing but a Nitendo backpack. However, when I returned from school that fateful day, she gave me a different bag; something inferior and cheaper (that was my thinking). I was livid and implacable. Flatly, I rejected the bag and I vowed to use my hands instead of the ‘useless’ bag to convey my books to school.
“Yes sir” I answered as I prepared for the worst.
At that point in his being my father, he had abandoned the rod as a form of punishment for me. But he had substituted the rod with a coterie of ‘punishments’ more sinister and deadly in its ability to put the fear of God in me, and put me on the straight and narrow path. Example of such deadly punishments: face the wall on your knees and carry heavy omo olota as he terrorizes you by walking up and down like a village headmaster as you live with the fear of uncertainty; smoke Monkey cigar (which involves you stooping and wrapping your arm around one raised leg while you suck a finger of the curved arm etc.
“Olumide, sit down.”
I was totally perplexed as I sat before him.
“What your mother told me is it true?”
My head did the talking like an agama lizard answering in the affirmative.
”Today I will tell you what you never heard before.”
Daddy proceeded to narrate how he never used a bag as a student; he carried his books in his hands and trekked several kilometres to get to school every day. Later, he carried them in baskets he had made by himself. Born to a polygamist farmer, his mother had vowed that his son would not be a part of the family farming crew. His mother sent him to school and she was reportedly responsible for keeping him there until he got to Class Five. Due to paucity of funds to pay his fees, he discontinued school and stayed at home for seven years.
Within the interregnum, he became a cassava farmer and in the sixth year, providence came to his aid. Famine and drought invaded his village and neighbouring communities but his cassava farm not only survived the drought, it did very well like an oasis in the desert. With the aid of his mother who made the cassava into garri, he made substantial profits from selling garri in a season of famine and drought. Fired by determination and his new found ‘wealth’, and encouraged by his mother, father returned to school and on the first day of his return, the headmaster mistook him for a new teacher posted to the school because of his age and size which were disproportionate to elementary school.
Eventually, he became a beneficiary of Awolowo Free Education programme in the Western Region excelling in academics and sports becoming quite popular in his area for both (I used to scan through his numerous sports certificates in the file where he kept them on his cabinet together with his academic and on-the-job training credentials).
With his eyes fixed on me, he said “Olumide, ayo lo n paa e.”
“Son, do you trek to school?”
I was too ashamed of myself to answer. I shook my head to say no.
“Olumide, a tortoise on a tree didn’t get there on its own; someone must have put it there. The person who put a tortoise on the tree can always bring it down.”
I record that day as a turning point in my life. I learned the virtues of being appreciative of anything no matter how little or inconsequential; how to value money and the service of others; never to waste anything; how to be grateful for the life I have because there are millions who envy my position; and knowing that nobody owes anyone anything.
Daddy told me how he left his village in Ekiti after school to search for the proverbial Golden Fleece. First, he berthed at Lanlate Ibadan where he worked with Coca Cola while living with his maternal uncle, Chief Alonge of Ayede-Ekiti who was a minister under Awolowo. It was supposed to be a spectacular turning point for him. Alas! It wasn’t. He had to leave Ibadan and escaped to Lagos when his uncle’s wife almost turned him to a slave or beast of burden.
Upon his arrival in Lagos, he didn’t know anyone and after roaming the streets of Ikoyi the whole day looking for a job, he begged the Mai-guard at an uncompleted building to allow him pass the night with him. For a bed to sleep, he had only pages of the day’s newspaper which he laid on the dusty floor. The next day, fortune smiled on him as he got a job with the construction company building the Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi. After the building was completed and delivered, he got a job with the government and spent the rest of his adult life working for Tafawa Balewa Square Management Board. Through hardwork, integrity and honesty, he’s a Lagos success story with all modesty.
Today, I have fond memories of my father. As I pen this tribute which I began to write on Sunday (exactly a year since he left us), I shed tears as memories engulfed me in a kaleidoscope: the opportunities taken while father lived, and the missed opportunities I took for granted. I remember how I grew up under his wings and watchful eyes; eyes that hardly missed anything. He was my first hero whom I copied with panache and fidelity. A disciplinarian to the core; he was more than a firm believer in the maxim: “spare the rod and spoil the child”; he personified the maxim.
As a child, he introduced me to reading as I cut my teeth in multi-purpose reading, becoming an avid reader and later, a writer, by devouring the books I could find in his modest library. I started reading newspaper as a child as I used to share his Daily Sketch, later Punch, Concord newspapers and Newswatch magazine with him. He would fight me for running low the battery in his beloved transistor radio to listen to news on different channels like BBC, VOA, Radio Lagos and FRCN but he never beat me on that one.
Through unlimited access to newspapers and the radio, my interest in current affairs developed and was honed. I got to know about the Nigeria Civil War from him; I can never forget those nights of him recounting history and telling stories. Every historical date was stamped on his brain and he would reel out those days and events with relish and to the admiration of all.
My father taught me about honesty; honesty was something he personified. a good name was all that mattered to him. I heard from him first, the Yoruba words.creed: “oruko rere san ju wura ati fadaka lo” – “A good is better than silver and gold.” He never took a kobo that wasn’t his; whether it was government money (a fair game in Nigeria), church money or monies kept in his custody by others. He handled government money for over thirty years without a single case of theft. Even when they set him up to get him out of the way, he escaped the trap because he was Mr. Integrity.
In recognition of his unblemished service and honesty, he was asked to replace himself with any of his children after he retired; a promise yet to be fulfilled till date by Tafawa Balewa Investment Company. Sadly, barely six months after he retired, the youth corp who temporarily relieved him absconded with about N6 million only. Based on his integrity, he got jobs for many only on his recommendation. People used to keep their monies with him, monies he won’t touch even if he was starving. Punctuality was his watchword.
By mundane Nigerian standard, he was a poor man in material things when he died. Many believed he was foolish for not helping himself to the till like others. But if honesty and good name only would take us to heaven, surely father would occupy a front seat there. I’m proud of the man he was. And I know that someday, somehow, somewhere his name would open doors for his children and grandchildren.
Certainly, he was not a perfect man. He could be stubbornly stubborn; and it was on this that we had our epic falling out during my undergraduate days over a matter that shouldn’t have caused any trouble and for which he was sorry years after. Though reconciliation between us was slow-paced, I’m happy that in the intervening years, we were able to put it behind us as our relationship reached a new heights based on mutual respect and understanding.
He was certainly your typical African man who didn’t see much reason in helping his wife to do house chores. Several attempts by us (their children) to instigate mother against him on the basis of his congenitally blunt refusal to help with any form of domestic chore met with a brick wall. Mother was too much in love and your typical African woman (totally submissive) to query the status quo. No wonder they were peacefully married for about 45 years.
I remember father’s courage in the face of adversity. How in 1990, he had lost all his properties in the demolition of Maroko; a wicked and satanic hostile take over of the land of ordinary Nigerians by the rich and powerful. Father lost everything. Mother too. And I saw him crying for the first time. He had to start again. With determination and the unquantifiable support of his beloved sister and her family in Ejigbo, Lagos, he carried us past that most difficult time of his life.
In 1995, he lost his elder brother to death. Invariably he became saddled with the wife and children of his deceased brother. I can never forget how against all odds, he provided food every day for seventeen of us at once -morning and evening- during those better forgotten days. Things were very tough, but he was a tough man, so he kept going. I remember his battle with the sickness that took him. Throughout his ordeal at home and at Military Hospital, Ikoyi, he held his head high despite the indignities which the sickness foisted on him.
On the day he died, as he fought the last fight with death on his hospital bed, I had a conversation with him on the immediate need to make peace with his God. In his sub consciousness, he shook his head to indicate he understood me. I prayed for him. Then I left his bed side and drove home. Two hours later, Daddy left this world to be with his Maker on Saturday, October 8, 2016. His remains were interred after a Christian funeral service on Monday, October 10, 2016 (exactly a year ago) in his house in the town where it all started for him; a place he loved so much.
Rest well, Abiodun. Omo Owa, Omo Ekun, Omo Orire d’ade, Omo Onimuto O Bale Sare Oge.
We love you and miss you terribly. But we know that you’re in a better place and that our loss is heaven’s gain.
Sunday, October 8, 2017 was exactly one year since my father, Elder Gabriel Abiodun Osagbemi left us to be with the lord. On behalf of the entire family, I appreciate the mercy, grace and favour of God upon his family since his transition.
The family appreciates all members of our extended family, kith and kin, in laws, friends, church members, neighbours and everyone who comforted us, travelled with us to bury him and supported us in whatever form.
May the good Lord grant us long life in good health and wealth in Jesus name. At the marriage of the lamb, may the Lord’s mercy uphold us so as to be counted worthy to partake.