Jimi Awosika, (SJC 574 1967-71) Group CEO Troyka
I arrived at St Joseph’s College, Ondo early in January 1967 on what was an unusually cold Friday evening filled with trepidation but somewhat sure that I was not going to enjoy my time in the school.
This should be understandable.
I was just six months shy of 12 years, had never been out of home, had lived all my life in Lagos (at a time when Ikorodu Road was in the Western Region), had a somewhat sheltered life up until then, and even though a citizen of Ondo town had before then never spent more than a total of thirty days in the town; and this included the six days when I had to write the entrance examination and the follow-up interview into the school. On all the occasions when I had to be in Ondo except for the aforementioned days that I sat for the entrance examination and the interview for admission into the school, both my parents were around. I was decidedly unhappy.
In tow, I had an oversized pail (a size 32 as against the prescribed size 28), an oversized cotton mattress (a 4ft 6in by 6ft as against the 3ft 6in prescribed), and an oversized ego to boot! In the course of my stay in school, all three caused me much grief, the first two though not as much as the third which inevitably was the first and only one to be cut to size.
Settling into my assigned room (Austin 3) was easy (I had help from the most unexpected quarters from a senior, Benjamin Ayisire who looked just a little older than me but was in fact a Form 5 student!).
The same, however, could not be said for settling down.
Within forty-eight hours, I had had run-ins with close to a dozen seniors mostly in Forms 2 and 3. The guys gave no quarters and took none! From being asked to kneel down to weeding, cutting grass, and ultimately being ‘arraigned’ before a tribunal which sat in Aquinas 4 and was headed by a very popular Form 5 student, things were to my young mind getting out of hand. I applied to a boarding school, not a borstal I reasoned!
I had to call for allies.
Senior Patrick Fasusi (A P..a Pele) was about the only one I knew before I got into SJC. Tall, handsome, loved by all mostly on account of his excellent human relations and footballing skills, he was in my view, the perfect person to ‘rein in’ these guys. I spoke to him and instead of listening so I could understand the set-up of a boarding school, I went around telling anyone who cared to listen… ‘Be careful, you’ll come to grief if you don’t back off; Senior Pele is my college brother!’ You can surmise that this did neither Senior Pele nor myself any favors.
Monday morning after breakfast, we were herded to class. I was placed in Form 1B and within the course of the day, had received lectures from Brothers Alphonse, Albert, Mr. Marc, Mr. Akinrolabu and waited for it, Brother Bernard, the principal!
Things were beginning to match my expectations. This was a school after all! There were teachers, they were knowledgeable and very pleasant.
After lunch, we were told that it was time for siesta (what’s called that?) not by any teacher but by a senior student who was called the House Prefect. After siesta, we were led out with our Bush Machetes (‘Lala’) by a student called the Labor Prefect to the lawn in front of the main school building and apportioned spaces to be cleared. Thereafter we were told that it was time for sports, and we saw the Sports Prefect marshaling guys out to the front and backfields. Not to be outdone, the Bellhop (Senior Ebunlade Betiku) kept everyone reminded that there was a specified time for everything. Dinner, the almighty Chapel, sleep, and waking! In between all of these, I had many infractions, each visited with severe punishments that I thought it necessary to invite the intercession of the principal. Brother Bernard listened attentively, told me he understood my predicament, and in sympathy issued the ‘comforting’ words.’ my boy, obey and then complain later. Did I hear right?
While I clearly understood what he advised, I did not feel obliged to follow the advice and the punishments came in torrents. At the end of the week, I was on the Troublesome 20 list in his office! I had not been told that the gentle giant, the ever-approachable Brother Bernard was not one to be trifled with!
His word was law!
Friendly counsel came from some sympathetic seniors mostly in Form 5; ‘be careful boy, you might be on your way out of this school’ they admonished.
I realized that I had to see things with the right lenses.
Beautiful the environment, intense the teaching, this was no place to misbehave. It was a colony of laws and though mostly unwritten, they were administered by the leaders of the school including the Form 1 class captains!
I needed no goading, I had to start behaving right.
And I started enjoying my time in school.
Suddenly getting up at 6 am to go to the Chapel was not an effort anymore, the hymns were soul-elevating and Brother Bernard’s weekly homily was something I looked forward to.
I started making friends across classes and on outing days went with my friends to their homes in town and enjoyed the hospitality of parents who were more than happy to entertain their sons’ friends. Then came March and talk was all over the place about St Joseph’s Day, the March 19th fest that then was the most important date in SJC’s school calendar. Preparations were afoot and for a week before the day, the school was agog. Some seniors had been dispatched to a farm in Oke Ogun to purchase the cows and save mass on the said day, everything was organized and executed by the students!
It was a real blast. The organization was impeccable; the event lavish. Aside from the delicacies served at lunch (on normal days, each meal at SJC was a cut above the average in most homes then), each student went away with three chunky pieces of delicious fried meat.
With clipped wings and the resultant clear eyes, I was beginning to see the beauty in the school and the good in other students even those I initially had little affinity for. I saw wisdom, intellect, goodness in the most unlikely people, classmates, and seniors. And talent? Profuse and prodigious!
In sports, academics, debating, nurturing, managing, leadership, name it. The school not only had a way of identifying these in prospective students, it deliberately nurtured them when they got into SJC.
1967 was a particularly unique year. The Form 5 students led by their urbane Class Captain Senior Fola Adunola and the Senior Prefect Senior Benson Oruma demonstrated camaraderie and courtly manners. Brilliant individually and as a group, each one bar none was a leader of men. The Olu Akintades, Benjamin Ayisires, Frank Thorpes, Peter Akinjiolas, Olusegun Awosikas, Augustine Akinwoleres, Yele Akinkuotus, Ebunlade Betikus, Gbenga Ogunniyas, Muyiwa Johnsons, Benson Akingbojules, Edward Osunsades, Fola Adunolas, Benson Orumas, Gabriel Adegokes, Jide Omiwales, Adebiyi Adesidas, Edward Akingohungbes, Olukunle Oyewoles, Olu James, Femi Fowodes, et al were a study in intellect, humaneness, good manners, and good breeding.
Theirs was a class par excellence and they laid the example for the following sets.
In sports, the school excelled in both the Grier Cup and AAA for athletics, but it was in football that SJC truly came into its own as a powerhouse. The football team was captained by the skillful Frank Thorpe at Centre Back and peopled by Muyiwa Johnson in Goal, Francis Obe (Right Full Back), Gabriel Adegoke (Left Full Back) Augustine Idemudia (Right Half Back), Cornelius Odi (Left Half Back) Dotun Lofinmakin (Outside Right) Olu James (Inside Right) Patrick (Pele)Fasusi (Centre Forward) Benson Oruma (Inside Left) and Jide Omiwale (Outside Left) mowed down every opposition and but for the sanction evicted by the football authorities would definitely have made it to the finals of the Thermogene Cup in Ibadan that year! They played the most entertaining football in that part of the Western Region and had a daunting and rugged mentality.
It was a 12-man wrecker’s squad!
The 12th member, Gbenga Ogunniya (Ekpe Rollinco), the self-appointed Team Manager was no less endowed. What he lacked in athletic and footballing skills, he more than made up for in courage, belief and a mordant tongue which in full deployment would make Adolf Hitler and Kwame Nkrumah sound like cubs! Their success and distinguishing style of flowing football built up the attack from the back with pincer movements that choked the opposition defense from the sides allowing the superb dribbling duo of Patrick Fasusi and Jide Omiwale to deliver the goals time and again was applauded by all opponents but Ondo Boys High School.
They had hitherto ruled the roost and were not enamored of some new stars bent on upsetting the status quo.
It was our summer of ’67! And did we live it in the sun!
Soon word started filtering out that a certain gentleman, a much-loved Reverend Brother who had been on study leave would soon be returning. Just about every senior boy had something good to say about the gentleman. He was equated to everything that was good. He was said to be highly intelligent, with excellent listening skills, a great mixer, highly perceptive, jovial but firm. We were told that he was much younger than the current Principal but no less passionate about the physical, intellectual, mental, and emotional development of the students. The prospect of having this paragon of humanity join an already outstanding community of the most dedicated, most selfless, most passionate teachers and spiritual leaders led by the highly disciplined but avuncular and indefatigable Brother Bernard created a sizzling atmosphere in the school all through the second term and well into the third. The arrival of a Dean of Discipline (the first in the history of the school) in the person of Mr. Dapo Aliba initially got everyone’s back up but soon things returned to normal.
That Brother Thomas would rein him in was a consolation to everyone.
Late in the evening on a particular day, a few weeks into the third term, there was this din around the house grounds…Brother Thomas was back! Some seniors were out on the front field and had seen him coming out of the Chapel and along with Brother Bernard was headed for the Brothers’ residence.
The atmosphere was electric, comparable to the anticipated return of a World Cup-winning team. Even though I was impressed with the excellent reports about him, I could not, as my seniors, be overboard in my expectation as I had not had any previous interaction with him.
The next morning, we went to classes, and soon we saw this slightly portly, balding gentleman in cassock walking along the corridor in the company of Brother Mel, the handsome guitar-playing minstrel. He walked with a spring, covering more than anyone with his moderate height would.
Even at that distance, I liked him instantly.
‘Wait till you get close to him and you will see what a nice guy he is’ said Senior Pele when I saw him later on the house grounds and gushed about seeing Brother Thomas he had spoken so lovingly about.
And Brother Thomas did not disappoint him.
My first interaction with him two days after his arrival told me I was dealing with a man who, as against students, saw us as his wards and was keen on embedding himself in our lives. Earlier in the day, he had visited our class as part of the process of taking over and each one got up to introduce himself…Ransome Ayisire, Francis Ojo, Cornelius Fakinlede, Simeon Fadipe, Adelana Adesida, Yinka Omiwade, the names rang out. Fast forward seven hours later, I was enroute to the Austin House bathroom from the school well when I heard ‘Jimi, hurry up. You’ll be late for dinner!’ What? I thought; that’s the new principal! How did he recall my name?
I was not ‘My boy’ I was Jimi.
Then started a close relationship that I just like every other student, had with Brother Thomas and over time came to take for granted. He was everywhere on the compound, house grounds, school compound, sports fields, dining hall. Either in cassock and leather sandals, short-sleeved white shirt on Khaki shorts and leather sandals or vest and shorts and flip flops, he was the ubiquitous one and the constant all through the five years I was in school. Aside from the dog who sometimes accompanied him on his evening rounds, his other two companions especially post-school hours were the black rubber pipe conveniently tucked inside the arm of his cassock ready to be deployed to deal two sharp whips on the errant student and his massive torchlight!
He rendered the Bellhop jobless as promptly at 6 am, starting from either Austin or Claver House when the only noise around was the sound of the crickets, the familiar voice would ring out ‘rising time, o ya o, everybody, wake up!’. Thirty minutes later, starting from Aquinas House, he would be going from room to room rousing the late risers and herding everyone to the Chapel.
There was no escaping him!
For those suspended, there was no hiding place. Not a few of the daring ones who broke bounds and headed for town, most times to Rex Cinema have tales to tell of Brother Thomas emerging from nowhere either at the cinema or on the road. By the end of 1967, he moved the Principal’s office to the former Aquinas House behind the Basketball court and the whole building became the administrative hub of the school housing along with his office, Brother Alphonse’s dispensary, and the Staffroom. From his office, he had a full and direct view of the school building, the laboratories, the Chapel, and the dining hall.
It was clear that the second phase of the development of the school and its transformation into a premium, integrated human capital development, and center of learning where leadership and cultural development were critical pillars, was afoot. The school’s reputation as a leading performer in the West African School Certificate Examination was now established. This was helped by the stellar performances of ’64,’65, and ’66 (’65 being a stand-out year with one of its students Mutairu Oyeneyin aka Ajiteru scoring 7 indices). Thereafter, it was taken for granted that at least one-third of any set would end up with Grade 1 in the School Certificate exams.
It was a season of ‘teacher don’t teach me nonsense.
The students were as expected of good teaching as the teachers were capable and demanding of the highest level of performance from the students. While this might appear to most as expected, it was the consequence of thorough and long-range planning by the La Salle Brothers who saw the intellectual, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development of their wards as their prime responsibility and gave all to the mission. For them, it was not a job, it was a calling, it was life. Somehow, they were able to infect all the teachers and non-teaching staff with this higher-order value.
Looking back now, while we did not have too many teachers with anything but a first degree, we had the most dedicated and somehow the standard of pedagogy was extremely high. Whether it was Brothers Romwauld, Bernard, Thomas, Alphonse, Albert, Mel, John or Messrs Ola, Marc, Akinyosoye, Edema, Akinkuolie, Jegede all of whom then had first and second degrees or Messrs Ogundele, Aworinde, Amadasun, Ojo, Adegbulugbe, Ademulegun, Akinrolabu, Akinkoye, Ivbijaro, Adare, James who then had NCE certification or were aspiring university students, the students got quality teaching and sometimes personal coaching as required.
It is important to point out that at the material time being reported, the last nine of this most distinguished cohort (Kenneth Amadasun, Valentine Ojo, Johnson Adegbulugbe, John Ademulegun, Olu Akinrolabu, Ajibike Akinkoye, Mathew Ivbijaro, Thomas Adare, and Frank James) were outstanding past students who had either just finished their A levels or were about to go to university! The program of bringing back brilliant old students as teachers helped mentorship and built aspiration in the students. I can report that I not only was inspired by these old students, but I also developed a lifelong relationship with some of them.
It was however not only about studies and sports. Being a Catholic school, we were subjected to religious instruction both as a course of study at school and daily practice in the Chapel. Whatever topping was needed was provided by Brother Alphonse who took any opportunity through his actions and homilies to rear us right. In my view, if ever there was a candidate for sainthood, my lot will be cast for Brother Alphonse.
As against what now prevails in our national life, choice of religion was free and the school even promoted it.
Moslems were encouraged to go for Jumat prayers on Fridays and Christians of other faiths were free to attend service in the churches in town on Sundays but daily prayers in the chapel were mandatory for all students. And did we enjoy mass and the choral classes provided by the handsome and debonair Brother Mel! Advent was bliss in school, what with the beautiful Christmas carols that belted from happy students singing in the school chapel.
Not one to encourage in-breeding, Brother Thomas opened up the school to local cultural influences. Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, and other top drama acts of the day staged performances in the school. Saturday nights were for entertainment and when not provided by a professional actor, the students staged drama and dance shows most times with music and equipment supplied by Baba Frank Awosika (the No 1 DJ in Ondo in those days) and not being a co-ed school, we danced ‘bone-to-bone’.
Here I will have to relate how the school band that was initially christened The Phagocytes but later became The Psychedelics came to be.
It was late 1969, Gbenga Akinribido (Siphan Salah) had just been named Senior Prefect and my main man Funwa Ogunniya (God bless his great soul) became the school’s first Social Prefect. This fine Saturday evening, Funwa, Kofo Fashina and I were miming Eddie Floyd’s Knock On Wood and other Soul songs that were being played on the Rediffusion box in what was then known as ‘Palaver Square’ next to the dining hall. It was the heydays of Soul music and WNBS had an hour every Saturday evening dedicated to playing Soul songs. It happened that Brother Thomas was walking past and he stopped by to watch the ‘performance’ we were obliviously putting up. He called Funwa and me aside and asked if we thought we could start a school band. It initially sounded like a joke and I remember Funwa telling him just that. Undaunted Brother Thomas repeated the question (it actually sounded more like an offer) and seeing that he was serious, we answered in the affirmative.
Fast forward some two months, Brother Thomas invited us to his office, and out from a bag came a brand new acoustic guitar (for those reading this some 53 years after in a relatively more prosperous world, this would seem a simple thing to do but I am talking of 1969 when acoustic guitars cost about fifteen pounds and tuition plus boarding fees for a year was fifty-five pounds)! Expectedly, we were shocked but delighted. We knew Brother Thomas took every word of his seriously but we never expected this to come to be so soon.
Now the joke was on us. We had to put together a school band! The only decent guitar player in the school was Diran Akindeji (Alan Steel) but he was not an all-around guitarist as he was more comfortable with bass chords. What we had was an acoustic guitar with a different scale length and the musical role and needed a different technical and conceptual approach. Make do we had to, so we started rehearsals initially in the dining hall and soon we had a huge crop of fans led by Brother Thomas himself who would later metamorphose into our band and booking manager. What we lacked in personnel we more than made up for with creative improvisation.
In reality, what we had was an Acappella group with a guitar backing. To aid our singing, Brother Thomas got someone to bring in a microphone, a portable amplifier, and a loudspeaker from Ibadan. While the performances especially the singing improved, the guitar got drowned by the amplified singing and it became apparent that we had to resolve this problem. Off we went to Brother Thomas. He thought about the challenge and came to the conclusion that we needed a pickup mic for the guitar. This he promptly got us.
We had come a long way but we were still far from where we wanted to be as a band. We sounded very much like a country music band than the soul/pop band we wanted to be. Our de facto leader and the one who as the Social Prefect gave credibility and legitimacy to the band, Funwa Ogunniya was now in his final year and though still very enthusiastic about the project, had his attention divided. The lot fell on me to make a representation to Brother Thomas for additional equipment. This was in 1970 and we had been joined by two highly skilled multi-instrumentalists Soji Fajemirokun and Femi Fasehun, both of whom were in Form 1.
The addition of these talented boys sort of made the pitch easier but I never expected a positive response from the principal. If I at any time in my life ever felt like an Oliver Twist, it was at that meeting with Brother Thomas.
He listened attentively, said nothing all through my long winding ‘speech’, and when he felt I was done, looked up and said ‘Jimi, go back to your studies’.
That’s it, boy, you’ve burnt your bridge, I thought.
For the next few days, I was really down and avoided the band and anything that had to do with it. Funwa’s consolation and that of Victor Asekunowo (Dr. No) another great friend of mine did nothing to lift the pall of despondence I felt.
About three weeks later, Baba Agbebaku, the school clerk told me that Brother Thomas wanted to see me. I had since the last meeting in his office avoided him and this time around did not look forward to being in his presence. As I walked into his office, he looked up and said, ‘Jimi, tomorrow you and I will be going to Ibadan to buy the new equipment for the band, so prepare for the trip. We will leave after breakfast.
How I made it to my room and through the night I still do not know. My joy was not really because we were going to buy the music equipment after all; it was the fact that contrary to what I thought, Brother Thomas was not upset about my outlandish request for expensive new equipment for the band.
As arranged, the next day, a Saturday, we left for Ibadan after breakfast in his Peugeot 404 station wagon, and after a three-hour journey that seemed like 30 minutes, we were at Kingsway Stores in Dugbe where we bought an electric bass guitar and a full drum kit. We then headed for Rational Bookshop in Oke Bola where we got an electric rhythm guitar, a power amplifier, a new microphone and stand as well as a loudspeaker. We then headed for the Cocoa Dome at Cocoa House for lunch before driving back to school.
The Psychedelics had arrived!
In 1970, the band was led by Funwa Ogunniya (and later me ) with Diran Akindeji (Alan Steel) on bass guitar, Femi Fasehun on guitar, and backing vocals, Soji Fajemirokun on drums and backing vocals, Adelana Adesida on maracas and vocals, and I the lead vocals. It was a very tight band, and I can say without any intention of being self-deprecating, that I was the least talented of the lot and only owed my membership and later leadership of the band to the fact that I knew most of the songs and possibly my earlier exertions on behalf of the band.
The Psychedelics became the toast of the town with concerts played at St Monica’s Grammar School, St Helen’s College, Adeyemi College of Education, St Louis Girls College, and Aquinas College Akure. Even though Aquinas College had a more mature and sophisticated band, they no doubt acknowledged and commended our musicianship and the quality of the sound. And all of this, just because one man Brother Thomas believed in us and committed the resources needed for the band come to life!
You will have to forgive me if I give the impression that 1970 and the following year 1971 was just about studies, cultural and musical exploits. The ’69 football team led by Dosu Doherty and the ’70 team that had Ebenezer Adenusi (Jackson) as its attacking arrowhead were simply a marvel to watch and but for the fearsome Ondo Boys High School team of 1970, that year’s SJC team would have gone down in history as second only to the ’67 team to have gone through a whole’s year’s campaign without any defeat.
Early 1970 saw the arrival of a young, tall, ebullient, and intelligent agricultural science graduate from the University of Ibadan as a Biology teacher. He knew and could teach Biology alright but the young man, Mr. Kokumo Akinkuolie, a former student of the school, was more interested in getting us to see agriculture in a new light.
With the encouragement of Brother Thomas, he set up the Young Farmers’ Club and proceeded to set up a school farm and a piggery. Soon, enlistment was more than expected and every evening you would see the ‘young farmers’ either headed for the cassava farm or the piggery for work. He brought in about a dozen piglets mostly sows from UI and before you knew it, we had a thriving piggery. The pigs were fed with the cassava we harvested from the farm as well as leftovers from the dining hall and right before our very eyes became full-grown. I had never seen pigs that massive in my life!
All this was well before the Government poisoned the well by taking over the administration of schools, they neither founded nor had the capacity to manage.
Well before our many years of the locust as a nation.
Well before the need was replaced by greed and service to man was replaced by service to self.
Even after all these buffetings, the school on the hill that the La Salle brothers built and the students they nurtured still stand as both a testament and tribute to the highest of values, Service. These were men who gave up the comfort of Canada, one of the most advanced countries of the world and still today, one of the best places to live on earth to serve the less privileged.
As wards of these great men, the least we can do is to emulate them in all we do, if only from now on!
Happy birthday, our very dear Brother Thomas and thank you as well as all the other La Salle Brothers for your love and service.
Long may you live in comfort, good health, happiness and contentment.