Seventy-two naira or its equivalent. That was all it cost, in those days, to give Chief Ayo Adebanjo, now a lawyer and politician, secondary education. And the education was not acquired in an unknown village school. It was at the famous CMS Grammar School, Lagos. Chief Adebanjo who will turn 83 on April 10 spoke on his childhood and political life with Bashir Adefaka.
What is your background and how was it growing up in life?
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. First of all my father was a goldsmith and my mother was a petty trader. To be candid, it was from the proceed on all those petty things, provisions, my mother was selling that I was sent to school, starting from Ebute Ero then to the CMS Grammar School.
The standard of secondary school at that time, we are told, was very high. How did you access secondary education with your humble background?
Oh, the form to take entrance examination into the grammar school was bought by me from my pocket money, which I used to save. My mother didn’t know. It was when the result came and I passed that my colleagues were congratulating me and my mother asked, “What are they congratulating you for?” That was when she got to know. At that time I was living with her at Idumota, Lagos and the landlord then was one Mr. Green, who was working in the Government Press that they used to call Secretariat. We looked at him then as a big man in the public service. His son was expelled from the CMS Grammar School.
So the way I put it to my mother was that the school where the son of our landlord was expelled was where I was going. She said, “Eh, do you think you can go there?” I said yes. And how much were we paying then? One Pound Ten and to pay the One Pound Ten Shillings in three months, my mother had to take part in Esusu contribution, Three Pence a day, which came to One Pound Seven. Then she would give me the money to keep in kolo (clay safe). When I got home for the second time I asked her to go and change the money to currency that my colleagues were mocking me that I was coming to school with coins. For the period of my secondary school I paid the equivalent of 72 naira. That was what I spent to acquire my secondary education.
Where was your father; because you have spoken much only about your mother?
You know, my father was a polygamous man and he paid my fees in primary school for two years or so: I and my senior brother, who is dead now and he said he was not going to pay again and my mother took over my own, up till my secondary school.
What particular experience in life would you not like to wish away in a hurry?
I told you my mother was selling provisions. Even right from my primary school days when I came back from school, she would put soap, matches, all those things that people used to buy, in a tray and I hawked in the area. When I came back and I made some money, she would say, “Ah, you sold well today!”
And one thing I remember very well which, when I tell my children I just shake my head is when I was still living in Surulere and the air_conditioner in the room of one of my children, who is a lawyer now, broke down and he said, “Daddy, you have not got them to repair my air_conditioner and it’s very hot now.” I told him, “It’s not your fault. When I was in school, I was sleeping in a passage in order to get light to read. Because where I lived with my mother was a shop. At night my mother would want to sleep and I wanted to read, so I got permission from our neighbours in the house to allow me sleep in the corridor because they used to put on the light there.”
I remember some of our tenants at that time, one Oduwole and Oyemadegun; he’s dead now. Oyemadegun occupied the backroom. When he woke up in the night to go and ease himself, he would say, “Ah, Ayo, you are still there?” I would use that light for my studies and anybody going to the toilet would have to pass through on my mat. And I said my son was now complaining because the air_conditioner in his room was bad. That’s why I said it wasn’t his fault.
Do you know what he told me? He said, “But your father was a goldsmith and my own father is a lawyer.” (Laughs). And the mother said I should answer him (laughs). Anyway, it has not been easy but we thank God.
What informed your decision to become a lawyer?
I chose that from my secondary school because in our own school at that time, as from Class Four you either went to the Latin Class or the Science Class. I chose the Latin Class because without Latin then, you couldn’t do law.
I also later had some impressions of people like late Fani_Kayode, Rotimi Williams and G. I. C. Taylor. When I left secondary school and I was doing journalism, I used to go to cover court proceedings and I would always choose the court where Rotimi_Williams and G. I. C Taylor would be facing each other. And the way Fani_Kayode dressed in those days you would always like him.
How did you come in contact with Chief Obafemi Awolowo?
After I left school and I was doing journalism, Chief Awolowo and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola invited me to come and be an organizing secretary in the Action Group. That was in 1954.
What were you doing as party organizing secretary?
Oh, ours was not like the kind of what you have these days when organizing secretaries just issue press releases. No! We would go to the people and explain to them why they should join the Action Group and why they should discard the NCNC. All the bad doings of the NCNC we told them; what Awolowo would do we told them, “If you vote for us, Awolowo will give you free education” and so on.
And I remember in one of the seminars Chief Awolowo and others addressed us in Ibadan when they gathered all the organizing secretaries and Chief Awolowo said, “You don’t have to tell any lie to the people. Just tell them what we will do. Tell them what is wrong in the society that we are going to correct.” That was our own focus then.
And what wrong could it be in the society at that time because, that was the era we still refer to as better than now?
It was at that time there was this crisis in the African Continental Bank where the late Dr. Azikiwe was involved and there was no money there. We listed them and we called them “NCNC black record.”
Were there cases of corruption at that time and what was the level?
There were. In fact the corruption they had at that time were masterpieces. We should be apologizing and asking God to forgive us for those who we thought were corrupt then compared to what is happening now. They were 10 percenters. Our people now are 150 percenters in corruption.
What is your view of the Awoists group today?
You will see these young men who accuse the leaders of Afenifere that they are conservative, we have one party and we have been there for over fifty years. These young men who joined Awolowo yesterday are in five parties in five years. You see now how progressive they are? I just mock them. And this thing that they do they dare not do when Chief Awolowo was alive.
Supposed Chief Awolowo possibly looks back and asks you how you’ve fared since his death, what would you tell him?
I will say many of those who call themselves Awoists are using his name in vain. I will tell him so! I will tell him that a very few of us are trying to keep the track line but a lot of them who use his name to climb to the top have bastardized the name because they do things that he will never do.
What is your strength of character?
In our days, moral instruction was one of the things that were very important and that’s why, if I had my choice, I would always like my children to go to a missionary school. Every morning in the CMS Grammar School on the assembly, before we left for classes, there was a moral instruction where they talked about the evil in the society and we were taught how to guide against it.
We were also taught to be good ambassadors of the school after leaving. Through all those moral lessons I got the character of Godliness, straightforwardness and honesty in public life and even private life. That’s why when they say there is no honesty in politics and that politics is a dirty game I say “No, it is those who play it that make it dirty.”