By Dele Sobowale
“When he shall die/Take him and cut him out in little stars/And he will make the face the face of heaven so fine/That all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 in ROMEO AND JULIET.
How does anyone write the obituary and tributes of a brother who was more like a father without choking with tears with every word written about the most loving relationship between two half brothers anybody can imagine. But, I will try and believe me every word of it is true.
Start with a statement made by our mother, Arinola, when I was about seven and Bankole (Kole for short) was about fifteen. My brother was trying to teach me arithmetic meant for two classes above mine when mother exploded. “Kole, you have come again. You forced him out of my womb a month ahead of time. You got him to walk in one day when everybody else failed for months. And now you want him to start working on arithmetic too much for his age.” Kole laughed, pretended not to listen to our mother. I was cracking those problems in two days.
He was born on May 14, 1936 and was telling his mother that her next baby will be a boy born in May. The doctors had estimated June ending for my arrival. I showed up on May 8. From Day 1, I was called Aburo Kole. In fact, so many adults and even my age-mates in the neighbourhood around Campos and at St Peter’s Faji Primary School, Lagos Island knew me only as Aburo Kole. They might as well have called me Omo Kole because I never knew any of my friends and playmates who had a more loving brother. He shared everything with me right from the start till the end. He still gave me my Christmas money in January this year. I was 73 racing to 74 and he still regarded me as his little brother – to be pampered. I will come to his influence on my career in the media shortly. He was a great motivator.
Our parents/brothers provided the funds for our early education until the end of secondary school. But, he showed the way to educating yourself by bagging the first scholarship to attend university. Then, he encouraged me to do the same. Nobody was happier when I succeeded in getting the Scholarship, ASPAU, to study in the United States.
The first hint that I had an unusual person as brother came on my first day at the primary school. Wedged between my mother and my grandmother, Onikepo, like a felon who might bolt away, I was introduced to late Mrs Willoughby our Infant One teacher with the words “This is Aburo Kole, keep an eye on him.” The warning was well-deserved because while Kole was the closest thing to a saint ever born of a woman from start to the end of his 82 years, I was literally speaking a “Devil”. Within minutes several teachers in the school had gathered to see “Aburo Kole” who had established a record of coming first in every weekly and quarterly examination 95 times straight. In unison they wanted to know if I will be like Kole – a fine boy and very gentle. Kole meanwhile had bolted to Methodist Boys High School in Lagos Island. Thus from first day at school he had set two bars for me as the new standard in the family. He came that day and after lunch took me aside for my first lesson saying “Dele you will come first this week.” I did.
With him coaching I broke all his records and even went to Igbobi College from Standard five instead of the usual Six. I was in Form One at Igbobi College when he bagged a Western Regional Government scholarship to go to university. A week after, I received a letter from him saying “Aburo, I got a scholarship to go to university. I expect you to do the same when you finish at Igbobi with Grade 1.” Two more hurdles set before me by the person I loved most. It was an order. I finished Igbobi as ordered and grabbed a scholarship as well. But, the story did not end there. He went on to collect a PhD from Cornell University, USA and promptly wrote to me that he was waiting for me.
Fast forward. All his life he had only one ambition. He wanted to be a teacher. He had no interest in anything else. And, he spent his entire teaching career at the University of Ibadan. Even a tempting offer from Military Governor Mobolaji Johnson, who was a school mate at MBHS and a close friend, to be a Commissioner in Lagos State was turned down. I remembered getting him a job which would have paid about seven times his emoluments at UI in 1987 and all he did was to look at me and ask “Aburo, don’t you know teaching is my life?” I meekly apologized. The promoters were so astonished that a Nigerian could turn his back on so much money they sent him a cheque all the same.
To the best of my knowledge, his only major foray out of U.I was when he took his Sabbatical to help establish the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Even the offer of substantial promotion failed to hold him from returning to U.I. I remembered visiting him several times on the way to Idi-iroko where there was a substantial Ogunmodede family business he left entirely to me to manage. With most of the extended family in Lagos, he left most decisions to me and even those who ran to Ibadan to see him would be told firmly “Go and see Dele.”
On the few occasions when decisions were referred to him to be made, his judgment was invariably infallible. When Elton Trueblood wrote that “Faith is not [just] belief without proof, it is trust without reservation”, he was talking about a relationship that existed between Prof and I for 74 years. He even influenced my media career in ways that I am now just disclosing because I needed to protect him.
For almost seven years I had been writing for VANGUARD on Mondays under MARKETFACT. It was mostly on economics, business, marketing and the consequences of decisions made by the managers of public and private organizations. It was on MARKETFACT that I made the first predictions of Stock market crash and Bank Failures in the 1990s. Then one day, Uncle Sam walked into my office and asked me to write a column for SUNDAY VANGUARD. I was alarmed. I was an Economist with MBA in marketing and by 1994 had nearly twenty six years of Sales/Marketing experience in the USA, Caribbean Islands and Nigeria under my belt. I was on sure ground. But, General Commentary was (and still is) tricky business. You could get hurt or maimed or killed writing that kind of stuff. But, Uncle Sam wanted the first one in about two to three hours. The decision to write the first one was taken out of my hands. Then I remembered one quip about courage which said “Courage is being scarred to death but going forward anyway.” I went forward in 1994 with the first one – which might have been the last.
That week-end I went to UI to see my “god” – the only one I can rely on to tell me the truth. I told him about the new assignment and even took a copy of the SUNDAY VANGUARD in which the first one appeared along with my Egbon and mentor Alhaji Kola Animasaun. He read it, twice. Then he looked up and said “Dele I know you believe in what you wrote. But, will all the others be the same. I know it is dangerous; but I prefer a courageous brother to a coward. You should continue if Uncle Sam will allow you.”
That did it. Thereafter, not even the ferocity of the military governments would deter me from writing my columns. And each time I was in detention, there was “my god” to provide for my family out of the meager salaries paid by academic institutions. He was also my severest critic when he disagreed with my position. He would invite me to Ibadan and state in clear terms why he thought my position was “stupid” (those were his usual words). Then, he would ask me to convince him. Invariably, it ends with “Dele you must continue.”
As fate would have it, he died virtually in my arms on Friday, May 18, 2018 at Ibadan –on a day when as usual money was scarce. But, for him I will scrape the bottom of the barrel. It is difficult to find such a rare individual; it was my good fortune to have lived with one for 74 years.
THE BLIND VERSUS THE BRAINLESS
“Only the blind can fail to see the government’s achievements.”
I must admit to being partially blind. I sympathise with those who are totally blind. But, it is one of the irrefutable facts of history that all the blind people in the world and especially Nigeria had never done Nigeria any harm. Nigeria is in this mess today because of funny government officials and thoughtless spokesmen.