In the interiors of the city of Ibadan is a community called Oja’gbo. Life in Oja’gbo is rough; to survive you have to be rugged. It is a place where you lived one day on to the next, and the things that laid in your future was all the things you saw around you – the hooliganism, crime, gambling etc. Success stories were hard to come by in the community – you could hardly find people whose lives could inspire you to success. In the biblical sense, Barr. Oyebamiji Akinlolu, can anything good come out of Oja’gbo? On an April afternoon, I was born in Isero compound in Oja’gbo – a place where vices flourished.
Getting an education wasn’t a very important thing to homes in Oja’gbo – parents had no problem with their children not going to school, after all, they themselves barely had education. Most of our parents – at the time – were getting on with their lives without any education, so they did not see the need to compel a child to go to school. They believed the purpose of education was solely to earn a living; from their point of view, there were other ways to make a living and so school wasn’t a big deal.
The first time I went to school, I was six years old and it was my mother took me there. The school was St. Peters, Aremo. On that day, she taught me how to cross the road. ‘Look right, look left; when you are sure no vehicle is coming, run!’ that was what she said. At the school, I was asked if truly I was ready to study; I answered ‘yes’ – that was how I enrolled. When I got back home, my mother informed me that, from then onward, I would have to go to school by myself.
My father was a community leader (Baale) and my mother was a trader. She sold kola and when the business was no longer lucrative, she began to sell drinks. We would follow her with the drinks to places where there were parties and we would hustle to sell stuff. Of course, we were uninvited in those spaces and so organizers of parties would often chase us out of their party venues.
However, one thing struck me whenever we went to those parties to sell stuff – I was always intrigued by how some people had so much influence that they could order for things without batting an eyelid simply because they had money. I always wanted to be like them and so I wondered all the time what I could do to make money and be like them.
As a child, the only things we knew about life were disco parties which some of the big brothers and sisters in the neighborhood always organized. From our window, you could peep and see people smoking weed, Indian hemp and all that. Meanwhile, all through Primary School, if you spoke to me in English, I’d look at you as though you are speaking Mandarin.
After primary school, I wanted to attend Lagelu Grammar School – it was a big school and so I had set my eyes on it. When my placement was released, I wasn’t admitted at Lagelu Grammar School, instead I was granted admission at Oke’badan High School, a school notorious for truancy and hooliganism. When I got home and people mocked me that I had been admitted to Oke’jongbon High School.
To go to Oke’badan every day, my friend and I would leave Oja’gbo very early and trek to Agugu side where our school was. It would take us 30 minutes to trek form Oja’gbo to Oke’badan. I dared not ask for transport fare when the money I was being given for lunch was barely enough in the first place.
On the second day of my Form I (JSS1), I was walking to school and at Oluyoro, I saw a group of people bent over machines. I stared at how they were tapping keys and, when they rolled a knob, the papers came up; it all looked like magic to me. Fascinated by the machine, I mustered all the courage within me and asked what exactly they were doing. It was then I knew it was typing and the machines were typewriters.
I signified my interest in learning and I was told I could join them and learn but that I had to take a form which cost N5 and then I’d pay N10 per month. That was a lot of money at that time – 1990.
When I got home, I told my dad that the notoriety of the students had made some of our teachers to come up with extra-mural classes for we the serious students who really wanted to learn and that it was going to cost N10 per month. My dad gave me the money. I paid N5 for the form and that was how I got enrolled at Oriola Typewriting Institute. At the time, we used to call the typing place ‘studio’.
School would close by 2pm, I would resume at the typing studio with my uniform still on; I wouldn’t leave for home until 6pm or 7pm. What being so busy at the studio did for me in those years was that it kept me away from the vices that thrived at Oja’gbo. As a young boy walking in the steps of the big guys he looked up to in the hood, I used to foment trouble; but once I discovered typing, I hardly ever had time for trouble-making.
Six months into learning typewriting at Oriola, a conversation ensued as we typed, that there was a better typing studio at Oja’gbo. This new place was called Emmanuel Commercial and Typewriting Institute and, from the conversation, I gathered that the proprietor was a proper alakowe with plenty university degrees. Hearing that, I made up my mind to find the school and enroll there. The thing was, I had never heard of it before.
That same day, I left the studio very early and traced the location of this new studio and I found it – Emmanuel Commercial and Typewriting Institute. The founder of Emmanuel Typewriting Institute was Dr. Gbade Ojo who would, many years after, become the Chief of Staff to the immediate past Governor of Oyo State. I made enquiries about how to join the institute. I disclosed that I had some experience in typing and so a typewriter was set before me and I was tasked to type some texts.
Once they saw my fingers on the tabs, they were impressed. I was told to pay N20 per month and join. Instead of starting as a beginner, I was elevated a few steps up. After my JS3 exams, going on to SS1, I wanted to go to the Arts class but the Guidance and Counseling staff in my school looked at my JSCE result and discouraged me from going on with my plan. Instead, I was encouraged to go to the Commercial class. The typing classes continued till I finished secondary school and for those six years I was paying per month. In fact, at some point, the fee was increased but I always found a way to pay.
Before I finished Secondary school, I had applied for – and passed – all the professional examinations in Typewriting including the 25, 35 and 50 words per minute exams by the Royal Society of Academy (RSA), London. Then the Simeon Adebo Training School introduced the 60 words per minute and I passed that too.
After secondary school, the next question then was, where do I go from here? In my Form 5 (SS2), I saved up some money and enrolled for the GCE. I wrote the exams and I made 4 credits but I did not pass Mathematics and English. I had a F9 and P7 respectively. My oga at Emmanuel typing studio had eulogized me for my GCE grades and that made me confident to try again. In May 1997, I enrolled and wrote the SSCE and I threw my all at the outstanding papers. When the results were released, I had an A2 in Accounting and C6 in Government, every other thing was Pass. In short, I performed woefully.
The good thing for me was that, from the home and area that I came from, no-one cared about my SSCE result or anything. Completing secondary school, not dropping out to learn a trade, is seen as a huge achievement. That was like the peak of education.
In July 1997, while I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, a friend of mine introduced me to his own oga’s friend. The person I was introduced to was a lawyer with an office was at Agodi Gate. His name was Chief Obitade. He needed a typist for his firm and so I applied. He took me to his office and gave me so manuscript to test my skills. Once my fingers began to hit the tab non-stop, he had to stroll out of the office to the desk where I sat and offered me the job immediately.
He started me on N700 per month and he promised to increase it every month. The next month, he added N100 to make N800 and by a couple of months after, he was paying N900. After that, he never increased my pay. My take home remained N900 for the next two years that I was with him. One day, a client came to our office one day and my oga prepared a land document for the client. The client paid N80,000.
At that time, N80,000 was a lot of money and because I was the one who typed the document, I had hoped that my oga would give me something for all the work I had put in. Instead, he collected the money from the client, got into his car and drove off. That day, I began to desire to earn that kind of money too; the only way I figured I could do so was to become a lawyer too. However, as fate would have it, my oga passed away in 1999.
Story & Photo Credit awatiibadan.com.ng