Ropo Sekoni is a Professor of Literature in English, Lincoln University. He had his fair share of adversities while growing up. But rather than decimating his dreams, the challenges turned out to be guide on which sound later decisions that led to his success were formed. Enjoy his story.
When my father retired, my family relocated to Ondo State. At that time, I was seven years old. We were living in Lagos until his retirement. So, I started my primary school at All Saints Primary School and when I finished my secondary school, my father couldn’t sponsor my education anymore. So, I had to work and the office of Statistics, Lagos State, was the first place I worked. I also worked at Cable and Wireless, now, known as NITEL. I was there till 1967 after my ‘A levels’.
I was to go to University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Journalism when the war broke. Emeka Ojukwu then said the East wasn’t safe for non-eastern citizens at that time. So, I went to the US where I got my first degree in Double major in English and Social Sciences. I also had some other qualifications.
In October 1977, I came back to Nigeria and the first job I got was to teach at the University of Ilorin. I was one of the foundation lecturers. I was there for three years and then went back to University of Ife, Department of English, where I was till 1990. Between 1985-86, I was at University of Florida for Funbarypht Fellowship, a prestigious American Fellowship. I got a job as a professor of Literature at Lincoln University till 2009 and I retired and came back to Nigeria.
On my arrival to Nigeria, I was offered to serve as member of the editorial board of The Nation Newspapers as well as Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and became the chairman of the Board.
I grew up during the colonial era, I was in class three when Nigeria got her independence. I spent most of my growing up under the colonial government. In those days, schools were not close to the house as they are now. I used to walk two miles to school.
We saw the white men and we knew that education was important. Between the 50s and 60s, I could count the number of cars in Ondo town. They were owned by educated Nigerians. So, I believed the only way to escape the agony of becoming a farmer was to be educated.
My father also motivated me. He had standard six and yet he was able to sponsor his children to school. I thought I should do more.
There was a day we were taken on excursion to University of Ibadan in 1958 and I saw undergraduates going to the University with academic gowns, I was surprised. I also saw how decent lecturers houses looked . At that time, I knew that education was important.
I also saw how Africans were living in some mansions. At that time, I believed education was meant to change the quality of one’s life. Education was attributed to decent behaviour, decent living, good jobs and respect in the community. So, I was motivated to change the quality of my life.
One good thing about that time was that there were no threat. Even if we walk to school, there was enough time to rest and go to lesson. There was no television and TV activities that distract children’s attention. The only time to play was spent in the field or at the back of the house, then back to study. So, it was a busy schedule in which the emphasis was placed on reading. Until the invention of One channel Radio Station by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo for Western Region. The same channel was producing news , music and all educational activities including reading of Shakespeare, the novels of Daniel Fagunwa and others.
The challenges of my life came when I entered secondary school. My father’s timber business collapsed the second year when I got into high school. The first truck of timber was involved in an accident and that was a major financial problem for him.
It was tough going to secondary school especially in my first two years because I had to go soliciting help to pay my fees. Apart from that challenges of not having extra money, we were getting one shilling as pocket money in a week in the boarding school. While the entire secondary school fees was £60 a year.
At that time television was introduced, the first in Africa coming from Ibadan with only one channel, we were attached to Physicas education at 4 o’clock on a daily basis on the station. It was also used to improve our learning. So, all the electronics gadgets then were used to improve the knowledge base of children unlike what happens today. So, we were not distracted and our teachers were dedicated as decency was the order of the day. No one dares the school laws. Our teachers used to tell us that we were between the door and the gate. And because I was the first born, the only way to become a members of the middle class was to have good education. Despite the fact that we were rascals in school, we still know our bounds.
Another challenge came when I finished my secondary education. Instead of furthering my education, I went in search for a job. My father who was struggling could not finance my education. So, I advised him to concentrate on my siblings while I took it up from there. I came to Lagos and got a job. But, I enrolled for GCE advanced level on my own and after work, I resumed for coaching at the then love garden now Onikan Stadium, it was very beautiful place for reading. So, by the time my friends were writing their higher school certificate examination, I was writing my GCE A’levels which was a equivalent.
But, I couldn’t get my result until after one year. So, I had to stop working because in those days school certificate was supposed to work as a third class clerk while G75 worked as an assist clerk. So, I had to re-enroll for another GCE pending the release of my result.
Then, I went back to work but this time it wasn’t easy to secure a job. I went through series of interviews including Ministry of Works, Cable and Wireless that became NET, Nigerian External Telecommunication which later became NITEL. I was out of job for about six months.
The third challenge was at NITEL and that had to do with my boss. He never wanted anyone to do things outside his primary assignment and I had to study for my A’levels. So, it became a serious confrontation but at the end, he allowed me to go for the examination.
My fourth challenge was still at NITEL. One of my bosses was harassing me of having affairs with his girlfriend. Although both of us were colleagues in the training school but there was nothing special between us. So, one day he came into our office, everybody stood up but I didn’t because I was busy doing some electrical works. So, I was given a query for not showing respect. I thought it was going to be a easy thing but in the end, it turned out the other way round. I was summoned for questioning and I was frustrated and to open up that he didn’t come to do his job but to see his girlfriend. Then someone answered and said, “if you didn’t know he came into the room, how did you know he came to see his girlfriend?” Then, I said, I had his voice but I didn’t know when he came into the room. So, it was tough for me to assimilate because I was just 20 years old.
I was on night shift on the day of the first military coup in this country. I didn’t know what it was because I was always attached to the French room. Suddenly, some soldiers came into the room and pulled me up, pushed me to a particular room. I couldn’t see anyone. I was scared to death. Then, they pushed all of us to a cafeteria. Only to know that it was a coup de-tat. They took me home and warned me not to tell anybody of my experience, that was my fourth challenge.
In general, my adult life has been peaceful. I’ve always had good department heads especially when I was in teaching.
The only challenge was that when Structural Adjustment Programme by General Babaginda came, things were so bad. It was very difficult for teachers to get an extra tyre. Likewise some people were arrested and detained but I thank God that I was never detained.
When I was to take a wife, it wasn’t difficult. We were both young, we got married and had children but the marriage had crisis and I had to move on with my life. So, I decided to re-marry but this time, I was careful not to allow any mistake. I needed someone who would possess some additional virtues every man will be looking for in a woman. As a man I was looking for someone who has all the good qualities of my mother and not the wickedness of your mother. But relatively, life had always been a very peaceful. I have been married to my new wife for 33 years and it has been a wonderful experience.
If you ask me, the toughest times in my life was the three years in high school when my father’s business went down. And second toughest was when I was working and at the same time studying but worse when I went to the US. I was out of scholarship and I was working all summer, I was working to save enough money for my school fees. In the summer, I was working in the factory, I still remember a particular factory where we were bottling corn. I worked in another factory where they were making powered egg. There were other minor jobs alongside. I remember I drove a school bus in 1970 in Washington. I did that for three summers. But in 1972, I got a scholarship, so I didn’t have to work. The only work I engaged in was teaching.
I have learnt to be disciplined and self reliant all my life. Because my father was a contractor, I was used to helping him carry cement in his site. The work used to be between 8 o’clock in the morning 5o’clock in the evening. One of the things that helped me in life was that I didn’t give up easily. I learnt perseverance and desire to take challenges which is a spirit for survival was my strongest point.