By OSA MBONU-AMADI, Arts Editor
By the end of 1997, I left 9 Awofodu again, this time, never to return, to go and live in a four-bedroom flat at 16 Igbo-elerin Road, Okokomaiko, from where my younger brother had packed out and traveled abroad.
I was still single, so the four-bedroom flat was too big for me. I spoke to my friend, the late Sylva Eleanya, who was also single, and two of us went there to live. The rent was N25, 000 per annum. Sylva was working with Vanguard as a sports photo journalist, while I was a piano and music teacher.
By 1998, my PGD Journalism program at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism started. I was shuttling from Okokomaiko to Ogba, Oregun, Ikoyi, Apapa and Victoria Island where I later got private lessons as a piano teacher.
At the Iba Housing Estate, near Igbo-elerin, I got another appointment at the flourishing Kristobell Junior Academy to come in once a week to teach music. That same year, soon after the Assemblies of God Church, Badagry District, had established the Evangel College, Okokomaiko, I was invited by my friend and co-alumnus of the music department of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Pastor Elijah Akubuilo of the Nigerian Army, to come and replace him at Evangel College as a music teacher.
I added Evangel College to my time table for once a week. My hands became full. I was making more money than most fulltime teachers. I also became a star teacher. In the nursery/ primary schools, I had no fixed time for any class. Whenever I walked into a class the class teacher would suspend whatever he or she was teaching and I would take over. By 1: 00 p.m. any day in any school I was out of the school to some other business.
Studying at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos was a lot of fun for me. I have always loved academic work. The academics gives me the opportunity to excel. The classroom in every academic institution is like the Christian race towards heaven. As the only thing that matters in the race to the Kingdom of God is doing God’s will, in the classroom, the only thing that matters is one’s academic performance, not the car the student parked outside, or how handsome or beautiful or how well he or she is dressed.
Quite a number of students in my class came from big print and electronic media companies, while others were senior staff members of other private and public organizations. We had one Yoruba traditional ruler in our class whom we elected as our class captain. He was a baale somewhere at Omole.
It was in NIJ that I met Professor Idowu Sobowale who came from UNILAG to teach us. I immediately saw the type of brilliance I admired a lot in Idowu Sobowale and I paid a lot of attention to the course he was teaching us – Scientific Journalism.
The first professor of journalism in Nigeria, Professor Idowu Sobowale is arguably the best teacher of journalism in contemporary Nigeria. He is solidly founded upon the foundations of both theory and practice. Having reported for the Daily Times as a war correspondent, and made huge strides in the academics, Sobowale became a hand in journalism of which those who passed through him can be said to have passed through the best hands in journalism training. I was to meet Professor Sobowale again at the Lagos State School of Communication where he expounded and expanded his Scientific Journalism which became Precision Journalism at LASU. At LASU, Professor Sobowale picked the two best MSc students, Felix Kuye of the Guardian and me, to work with him in a research he was conducting for the government in Bayelsa State.
Also at NIJ, I met another important teacher, Peter Ofili, who was coming from the Federal Radio Corporation, Lagos, to teach us Broadcasting.
Ofili persuaded me to run another program in Advanced Radio Production at the FRCN Training School, Sogunle, Lagos. When I got to Sogunle, Ofili introduced me to other students made up of FRCN broadcasters, as his most brilliant student in NIJ.
I also met another teacher, Tunde Akingbade, who taught me, and aroused my interest in Environmental Reporting. Tunde’s course at NIJ was titled Science and Environmental Reporting. I loved Tunde too because he is a very brilliant man. He did something that drew a lot of attention to me among the students.
After the semester exam on the course, Tunde brought back our scripts to the class after marking it. He returned the scripts to us and told the whole class to “endeavor to read what Amadi (now Mbonu) had written”. After the teacher left the classroom I was besieged. Everyone wanted to read what I had written. For a few days, my script went from one student to another before it finally returned to me.
Among the courses we took at NIJ was Desktop Publishing which we simply called ‘Computer’. We were up to 20 in the journalism class. The day the Computer lecturer will come, we would all go to the computer room which was narrow and had only one computer. Only few people in those days knew how to use the computer. I could not remember ever touching the computer in NIJ. I was not computer literate until much later.
It was also around that time I was introduced to Mrs. Titi Lawani and her children by Mr. Nowoola GRA of the Nigerian Army and a co-alumnus of the music department of OAU. Nowoola was teaching the Lawanis – Ladipo and Lawunmi – before Nowoola’s spouse won a US Visa lottery and they went to live in the United States.
The home of Mrs. Lawani and her children became another home for me in Lagos. Among all the families I taught the piano in my 22-year career as a piano teacher, Mrs. Lawani and her children were the closest and kindest to me.
I was told that the head of the family, Mrs. Lawani’s husband, was assassinated, around that time too, in a most gruesome and horrifying manner. The man was said to be a prominent banker, while the wife, Mrs. Titi Lawani was a chartered accountant and management staff of the Nigerian Breweries.
I taught all the children – Ladipo, Lawunmi, Tundun, and Itunu the last born – from their primary school days until they all left for the universities.
Mrs. Lawani has one of the largest hearts I have ever seen among human beings. And she is strong, mentally and emotionally. She shouldered the problems of her family, her extended families, and numerous other requests made on her by her acquaintances.
She helped me and my family in so many ways and still does up till today, more than ten years after I stopped teaching in the family. I bonded with all the children so much that anyone would believe that I was one of their relations.
Few years after I left the Lawanis another tragedy struck the family. Tundun was killed. Till today, I have not gotten over Tundun’s death. I also believe that the family has not gotten over her death. How could anyone get over the horrible killing of a teenager like Tundun? And Mrs. Lawani loves her children more than words can express.