A biography of Deacon S.I. Ojelabi

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BOOK REVIEW
TITLE: A SCHOLAR PAR EXCELLENCE

A BIOGRAPHY OF
Chief (Deacon) Solomon Ipadeola Ojelabi, JP

AUTHOR:     BARRISTER OLAJIDE OLANIPEKUN
PRICE:          NOT STATED
PAGES:         273
REVIEWER:   BIODUN OPALEYE
Which one would you prefer at 80? A biography or auto-biography? I have read the autobiography of Mrs. Golda Meir – the late first female Prime Minister of Israel. It’s a 493+ page book. Whatever the case, only S.I. knows his own preference which Mr. Olajide Olanipekun neatly and innocently chronicled in his 273-page volume on Chief (Deacon) Solomon Ipadeola Ojelabi, JP.

If one takes out the treatise on FIDITI GRAMMAR SCHOOL, from the biographical book, the remainder becomes peculiar to Deacon Ojelabi and to him alone. But with FIDIGRAMS added to it, the horizon widens on the character and personality of Chief Ojelabi as a tutor and mentor.

As the first proof reader / writer and reporter at the Baptist Press, Orita Mefa, Ibadan, in 1969, I garnered that the biographical book on Deacon Ojelabi allowed too many empty pages between one chapter and another. I believe Chief Ojelabi’s archival library has enough pictures – historical ones which could have filled the spaces even without any textual stories.

A singular example of a photograph missing in the book and which could have told a story or stories is the 1958 or 1959 staff group photograph where Messrs Alex Ajayi (Principal), Christopher Okigbo, and S.l. Ojelabi prominently appeared. The three persons at that time rocked the boat of Fiditi as well as that of Nigeria in different ways. What a miss!

I (this reviewer), being an old student of Fiditi Grammar School of the third set admitted into school in January 1956, understood, like some others, the experience and reactions of Chief Ojelabi on issues and situations dexterously captured in the book. When the author talked of S.I. possessing intelligent and good memory of people and events, my mind went straight to the day Fiditi township welcomed him back home in 1958 at First Baptist Church, Fiditi with a 21-gun salute. I was present at that occasion as a Form Three Student then. As he moved out and met us at a corner, I remember him saying to me, “Hello! A.B. The General”, my nickname since age six and which is common to all those bearing Abiodun. Other incidents followed at advanced level when we consider how he keeps records and remembers names. Somebody once referred to him in Latin as “Encyclopedia Fiditia” in addition to original “Ojelabi – Oniwe” recorded in the book. I concur!!!

Reading through the biography of Chief S.I. Ojelabi, one would agree as the author ably put such in sequence that S.I. had been consistent since childhood in protesting against injustice meted to himself or to other people. While I am not claiming to know more than other people on the issue of oppressive policy, I wish to submit that majority of people from whose hands S.I. suffered injustice happened to be Baptist Christians with whom he worshipped and among whom he served in various capacities. I can say I know this as a Baptist myself having served the Baptist Convention as a features editor; church training programme editor and finally as first ever, Public Relations Officer / Press Secretary up to Dec. 31st 2011. I was a reporter and still reporting.

One major reason for this phenomenon among Baptists is traceable to our congregational system of worship whereby, in an all-comer affairs in leadership and Baptist polity – some turn out to be difficult leaders hiding under a so-called committee decision which, in itself, is good and representative enough but could be misused by a diabolical leader. It is, and has been a human problem rather than being a spiritual problem. For example, this reviewer had repeatedly come across Fiditians and Baptists for that matter who are said to be excessively critical of Chief A.O. Adeyi, Chief S.I. Ojelabi, and Chief Pekun Adesokan for the past fifty years running. As a Christian, I often challenge such destructive critics.

“When will the battle against Chiefs X; Y; and Z be over? Or don’t you think the cumulative effect is already telling on you the critic, the church and allied institutions?”

In fact, a former Governor of old Western Region was said to have complained that the highest number of excessive criticisms (not protest now, if such protest is righteous) came from Oyo south (Fiditi in particular) and Ekiti Local Government Area respectively.

But the consolation from the above sad situation now is that there had been political realignment making former enemies to be colleagues again in the same party. The former inter and intra-church quarrels had resulted in a new generation of the same stock getting married to one another and finding themselves as business, political, or social associates.

Back to the issue of Fiditi Grammar School as it featured in the book, recognizing the many sacrifices of our indefatigable Master, Tutor and Principal, S.I. Ojelabi – we have nicknamed FIDIGRAMS as the Areopagus of Fiditi – or (Fiditi Grammar School for Boys) – the cradle and seat of wisdom or learning that was and still is never like any other (Adspice Virtutem). Reading through the book, one is tempted to ask – why is it that the best brains are usually attracted to Fiditi? Again, come to consider Messrs Alex Olu Ajayi, Christopher Okigbo and Solomon Ipadeola; Ojelabi between 1956 and 1960, Nigeria’s year of independence. This reviewer spent at least three years under the tutelage of each of the three between 1956 and 1961 when I left school. I can “usurp” an award for each of them -the motto of Deacon S.I. Ojelabi’s BBHS old school of “Nulli Secundus”.

When Alex Ajayi left Fiditi in 1959, he assumed office as Deputy Registrar, WAEC, Yaba-Lagos, and later as Registrar at the University of Ife (now OAU). Before 1961, there was only one university in Nigeria – that of Ibadan.

In the case of Chris Okigbo, he left Fiditi about 1960 to become the sole representative of Oxford University Press Ltd in Ibadan. But one needs to read an authentic account of Nigeria’s Civil War of 1967-70, to discover the radical role Chris Okigbo – the poet – played until he was killed in the war. What Okigbo fought against before and during 1967-1970 war is still with us and rearing its head until the 2011 general elections.

The trio of Okigbo, Ajayi and Ojelabi are poets. Thank God Chief Ojelabi tells his own story frankly and correctly. We their students of old could be the greatest beneficiaries of the erudition and in the case of Deacon S.I. – we’re beneficiaries of his gallant academic and administrative competence at Fiditi.

On 28 June, 2010, I attended the 80th birthday ceremony of Chief Alex Ajayi at Anglican Cathedral, Montgomery Road, Yaba, Lagos. At the occasion, Fiditi town, and indeed Fiditi Grammar School of all places the celebrant served, did come out prominently in significance. Alex Ajayi is an Anglican Christian; S.I. Ojelabi, a Baptist; and Chris Okigbo, a Catholic.

I remember in 1958 – 1959 Mr. Ojelabi (S.I.) teaching us Civics apart from major subjects like English and Latin. I have never forgotten a maxim he taught in Civics saying, “Don’t cheat; and don’t let anybody cheat you.” When this maxim is placed alongside his biography, one readily agrees that he lives his philosophy. When he visited us in hostels for pre-school physical exercise and inspection, I never knew until reading his biography that he was imparting into us what he learnt at various levels of his education. That was before 1960 Nigeria’s year of independence and can you imagine how such ideals saw us through our various professions?

When I succeeded him as Secretary General of an organization of Fiditian Baptists in Diaspora named “Pastor Daniel Adegoke Memorial/Evangelistic Society of First Baptist Church Fiditi” – I noticed one aspect of his brilliance. He kept a neat and orderly record of minutes. I was already used to that in my decades of service at both the Baptist Press and the Baptist Building Headquarters in Ibadan.

But what I never always had was the fact of being at a crossroad (or dilemma) over a matter or issue of concern. A phone call to Oga S.I. was like touching a computer or wireless www.com for an answer. When I read many of such instances as recorded by his biographer – “I just de laugh!”

Finally, on politics, readers would readily agree with the author that it had been all stormy and turbulent. If Chief Ojelabi felt marginalized by both the dead and the living in the struggles for political representation in Fiditi some fifty years ago, we wonder if the situation has improved generally now even with his successors despite realignment of political forces. If the answer is no, then we need to admit quickly that the way and manner we weigh politics in Africa is not peculiar to Fiditi alone but it is also fundamentally wrong all over Africa. Fiditi can’t be an exception.

Where then do we go from here after Nigeria’s fifty years of political independence by the year 2010. Or, did Chief Ojelabi remember (at least in a chapter) to tell his generational successors the way out? Thank God he is still alive and doing well. Maybe we need an extra-curricular article in tract form as addendum to his biography on the way out of the present nation-wide confusion in politics just like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, according to S.I., mapped out democratic socialism for the ancient Action Group. Again, please remind me, does any of the present political parties in Nigeria have an ideology? Please remind me! Which one in particular? We must view the struggles of Chief Ojelabi from another perspective of being a pioneer in many of the fields so recorded in the book. Could his pioneering challenges be different from those of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in whose church he currently serves as a revered Deacon? Such is to be expected.

I read Chief Ojelabi’s biography twice. I then compared my own private notes on FIDIGRAMS as an archaic student with his own as a veteran master and principal in the same school. I concluded that any student that found himself at FIDIGRAMS between 1954 Year of Foundation and the first seven years terminating in 1961 must be a hero indeed. In fact, we realised this in 2004 during the Golden Jubilee when we mobilized FIGSOSA to locate the pioneer students in particular whose ages then ranged from between seventy and seventy-five. Only a few could attend. Thereafter, welfare committee of FIGSIOSA reached out to the sick and the bereaved in various locations.

Old students of the first seven years, 1954 – 1961, studied with hurricane lanterns. There was no pipe borne water but treated one to provide safe drinking water. We slept on two-piece wooden bed. We uprooted palm trees, Iroko and Araba trees to make the school site wear the present beautiful look. Yet, despite all these hazards, FIDIGRAMS, led by sports Master Okigbo, was ahead in soccer and sports nationwide. Through the dedication, steadfastness and patience of Deacon S.I. Ojelabi, Fiditi boys and girls are today found in every profession and in every country in the world. That, I think, is the reward for pioneers like Chief S.I. Ojelabi. (Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State was reported to have said that the reward for hard work is to have more work to do. So, let it be with S.I.).

As a proof to the above, we heard the news on VOA radio in 2010 of a Sierra Leonean woman who commendably reflected on her life after the Sierra Leonean civil war. She remembered with tears that Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone which Deacon S.I. attended used to be educational beacon to most West African youth before 1960. Apart from that legacy destroyed in Sierra Leone, the woman lamented that Nigeria that drank from the fountain of knowledge flowing from Fourah Bay has had to send all kinds of relief materials to Sierra Leone in recent years. What a loss! What a damage to legacy!

Thank God, our own Deacon Chief S.I. Ojelabi is still alive and in Nigeria to do more for her only because he had received grace to do so from the Lord God. The book is a must read for any elite that would not stumble in present day crisis.

Teachers! Tutors! Teachers of English in particular! God bless my teachers! The article “God bless My Teachers!” was written by me in the “Nigerian Baptist” magazine in the 1970s; but in 1969, before then and at the Baptist Press where I had practical training in religious journalism under American Missionary Miss Barbara Epperson, I received a few awards. My boss (Epperson) gazed at me one day to ask, “Who and who taught you English?” I remembered to mention Messrs E.O. Oyerinde (Aawe); Alex Ajayi (Ado-Ekiti), A.O. Adeyi (Fiditi), S.I. Ojelabi (Fiditi), E.O. Ogunjuyigbe (Ijebu Jesha); Christopher Okigbo (Anambra), E.A. Adeyemo (Ibadan), Mike Agboola Olajumoke (Imeri-Ondo State) and a few others.

Miss Epperson saw me through the use of English as a second language up to writing naturally not necessarily by observing too many grammatical rules as I would but by speaking and writing English naturally. The same thing happened to me when I began to study French. You learn French by speaking French – not just by grammar.

One last question: With all commentators in the book praising Chief Ojelabi, S.I. for keeping good records – may we then know how much records the commentators themselves keep of their individual nuclear or extended families; records about Fiditi township; of the church they attend; and yea of the Yoruba race they claim to jealously belong? Or, are they just mere titled spectators and commentators leaving only Chief (Deacon) S.I. Ojelabi (aka ‘Oniwe’) with the saddle of record keeping while they look on.

A columnist, Muyiwa Daniel, commenting on “Nigeria’s Forgotten Heroes of Sport!” in the “Sunday Life” of 24, April 2011 (page 9) concluded thus: “It all boils down to a nation that has failed to recognise the meaning of keeping records”. What a commentary in AD 2011 after the book launch on Ojelabi S.I. in the previous year AD 2010!!!

Three days before I finally left school in 1961 after writing my school certificate examination, Mr. Ojelabi summoned my class to his house at Temidire, Fiditi. With cabin biscuits and orange squash, he bade us farewell telling us how to face the new life we were about to experience. God bless my teachers, including S.I. then, as I thereafter found many things he told us to be true indeed.

 

MY VERDICT: 75% of Nigerians (educated or illiterate alike) don’t read; 90% don’t keep records. But who wants to lead such a people? Maybe reading the book “Chief (Deacon) Solomon Ipadeola Ojelabi JP. – A Scholar Par Excellence” would change that situation! PERIOD!!!

 

POSTSCRIPT (NOT AFTER THOUGHT):-

When, by the grace of God Chief (Deacon) S.I. Ojelabi clocks either 90 or 100, he can review this biography to consider in addition the aforementioned thoughts or what he feels about them.

 

‘Biodun Opaleye

27 April, 2011

08063467561

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