Epilogue – Brother Thomas: A Hard Act to Follow

OA Fakinlede (SJC 518: 1966-71)

Coli fotoWe, the Alumni of St Joseph’s College, Ondo at different times and from different locations in Nigeria, ending up – largely at the upper echelons in our society and in Diaspora, have testified, in this document, how effective Brother Thomas and the Lasallian Brothers’ fruitfulness have been in our lives.
As a lecturer, I use the experience of St Joseph’s, and how ignorant I was despite ability to see the efforts of the Brothers in helping us to get on in life. When my students do not appreciate the efforts I am putting in to make a difference in their lives, I reason that it took me close to forty years to appreciate that for Brother Thomas to come to our dormitory at six o clock in the morning, he must first wake up, probably have a small fellowship with other Brothers and walk through the unlit campus with his long touch light to reach our sleepy heads saying things like “Rise and shine”, “Oya, oya, o…” etc. while encouraging us to wake and begin the day. I am humbled by how little I have done compared to this supererogation!
There is more to say on this. Nigeria of today is a challenging place to live in. I do not begrudge my colleagues, who, for several reasons give up and leave. I know (at least from the example of family members that have done so) that many of them remain a mighty resource in the way the rest of the family survives in Nigeria. As a person, I have a problem. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Lagos and in Canada to PhD level. If I run away from Nigeria, and met Brother Thomas in Toronto, and he asked me what caused me to flee, I imagine this conversation taking place:

Thomas: Hello Fakinlede, I heard you have now come to live in Canada.

Fakinlede: Yes, brother. Nigeria has now become an impossible place to live in. There is no water, no reliable electricity, the educational system is a shadow of itself. I need something better for my family.

Thomas: That is interesting. You said you had no water supply from the Water Board? Did you not see the cistern we dug in our time that supplied water for our use? We even created another one near the swimming pool for you pupils. In addition to these there were various wells on the compound to get water from.

Fakinlede: Yes sir, I remember that! Did you say you dug them?

Thomas. Not really, we employed local labor and masonry to do all that.

Fakinlede. But how did you pump the water. These days, NEPA or its descendants will roast your pump!

Thomas: We used manual pumps for all our needs, and we never had an occasion to use buckets to carry water! We paid 12–15-year-old lads that were all too glad to gain a little pocket money and they lifted the water to our overhead tanks.

Fakinlede: But how did you iron your clothes? The epileptic power supply makes that such a big problem. And my freezer was out of commission for several months because of low current!

Thomas: In our days, we supplied you with electricity from 6-10pm. It was ONLY at that time that we too had electric power! Is it not arguable that you may have more clothes than you need?

Fakinlede: You made a good point there, Brother; but remember, I am not a monk!

Thomas: Ok, Fakinlede, I know I have taken extra orders and that was my choice. But tell me again, what did you say you studied in the University?

Fakinlede: (Now blushing) bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at University of Lagos, and PhD at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I know how to model extremely complex systems such as Nuclear Power plants and heavy manufacturing that Nigeria does not have. That is one of my frustrations! And that is why I am in Toronto, looking for a job now!

Thomas: But is engineering not designed to help you orchestrate life at its present state, while you build up to the future?

Fakinlede: I am finding this conversation heavy going Brother. I probably need to do some more thinking….

We can end it there. I remember that travelling from Ondo to Lagos as recently as 1971, there were no bridges where two vehicles could meet mid-stream. What we had was a situation on those big rivers where oncoming traffic had to wait their turn to use the single lanes that existed!
When you add that to a war situation, we begin to understand two things: The brothers were far smarter than they appeared to us! They may not be registered engineers, but they supplied water, electricity, basic infrastructure, and the necessaries that made our school superior to most schools in the environ; And they did not need the millions or billions for a plot in Banana Island to be comfortable!
I come from Akure. I remember when the Roman Catholic Bishop’s compound – 2 km from my house was purchased. They simply planted trees and arranged things around the square – classroom-looking block for the bishop’s residence. Yet go and look at it now, the natural ambience and superior environment makes us seem like cave dwellers within two kilometers of the same building!
I conclude that I write here only about my personal feelings. I am not qualified to judge others as I have, on several occasions, taken the easy road. All I want to say is this: Thank you Brother Thomas. But you are a hard act to follow! Happy birthday!

A Note of Acknowledgements

Nearly 30 former pupils of St Joseph’s College responded to my call to do this document. My thanks go to all the individuals that, despite their schedules, considered it worthwhile to let Brother Thomas know that we value and appreciate his contribution to our lives. Each of us was able to speak from the heart and there was minimal interference with content. Brother Thomas can therefore see for himself what our hearts confess. I thank you all.
I want to especially thank the seniors (to a 1966 class one pupil) that participated. My thanks to those of you I did not meet in school and were very enthusiastic to join this effort. Nob. Steve Nwabuzor comes up for a special mention for tirelessly organizing the seniors that are not known to me. I especially wanted to see Nob. Bimbola Oladapo made contribution. He was Senior Prefect in 1966. Thanks Steve, for getting us Senior Bimbi and several others.
The sets from 1965-69 to 1967-71 are especially dear. I call the first the “365 days is not a joke” set. These are the likes of Nobs Francis Awosika, Ebenezer Lafe, Diran Ayodeji, Folageshin Akinnawo and others. They know what they said to us in 1966 when we came into St Josephs. Again, old friends and seniors, many thanks to you for the fellowship of celebrating together, our great mentor and inspiration.
At the end of 1966, I was the only person that failed and repeated form one; a feat that Kido Boy (Muyiwa Olawoki) needed another 365 days to achieve! Francis Ojo – remember that you were too brilliant to get into that joy! That granted us the privilege of belonging to two sets! What a blessing! I have enjoyed all of you. Despite all the trouble I was to both sets, the love and friendship that I have enjoyed makes this collaboration just another chapter in our long-time association.
I end this note with a mention of two people: Nobs Ebunlade Betiku and Jimi Awosika. I slept next to Ebunlade in 1966 in Xavier 3 when Senior Ikusika was the “demigod” at the other end of the room! That was my first time of sleeping anywhere other than my mother’s room. Let us not even begin talking about bed-wetting! Ebunlade, you were a wonderful senior. There were three years between us, and I was not a model student by any means. You were so focused on your studies that nothing else mattered? You did not even remember, for once, to punish this pest of a boy! Thanks for what you have been and for giving us your wonderful insight in this book of memories and tributes.
And Jimi, we have come a long way! We have stories to share that go far beyond what we can write here. Together we shared that last year of expulsion from school and, as teenagers, navigated the world of adults and survived to eke out a WAEC certificate meeting again at the University of Lagos and are brothers for life. Your memory of the fine details of what I have completely forgotten makes me think I sleepwalked through our school. And as a busy CEO, I know how important this is to you to have spent time to respond so comprehensively.

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