l’ll never forget the day I was given palmwine for anaesthetics —Bankole
Mr. Segun Bankole is the image-maker for Sovereign Trust Insurance PLC. Like others, he has a story to tell, but unlike others, his story is uniquely his. CHIMA NWOKWOJI was all ears in a sit-down with him.
Where was your childhood days spent?
I was born on 25th October, 1970 at the Island Maternity in Lagos. I lived with my grandparents. My father was in the Nigerian Army and my mother worked at the Eko Hotels. She is late now. I spent the better part of my childhood with my grandparents because my father was regularly posted from one location to another. At some point, I lived with my father in Ojo Barracks in Ibadan. Then my paternal grandparents saw that the movement was getting too much and might disturb my education. They compelled my dad to bring me to Akoka, Morounfolu, where I was to be part of a family because I had other grandchildren around too. My father’s elder brother, now late too, also named Segun Bankole too, was living in Germany then. So, the children were with our grandparents. All of us had a hall in the house in Akoka. I went to St. Patrick’s Primary School in Yaba. It was the era of free education and I was posted to St. Francis Secondary School. It was a new school, a Jakande school. I had a distinction in my primary certificate but didn’t want to go to any Jakande School.
Why? Because Jakande School was tuition free?
No. I just wanted a school with a name like St. Finbarr’s College, Kings College and so on. We had friends who didn’t go to Kings College but still attended schools with big names. My grandfather, Chief Oluranti Bankole, now late, actually started the vision of St. Finbarr’s College. He was an educationist and had some influence. He asked my choice between CMS Grammar School and St. Finbarr’s College and because some of my uncles had attended Finbarr’s. I wanted to be different. So, I said CMS Grammar School. The CMS dream came through and in 1982. In fact, St. Patricks later became St. Anthony schools were later split into two, those who attended in the morning and those for afternoon. From St. Patricks, I ended up in St. Anthony Catholic School and CMS. I left CMS in 1987. In school, twelve of us that were so close were like a gang.
Were there subjects you dreaded then?
I don’t love Mathematics. When I went to check my results in 1987, I had already written out all the subjects with expected grades. I wrote down F9 for Mathematics. When my principal saw it, he asked why I felt it would be F9. I told him that I did all I could do in the objective section and because I didn’t want my worksheet to be empty in the theory, I transferred all the questions there to make the papers appear full. By the time he reeled out, I noticed that I needed five papers and if had scored F9, I would have a resit, but I would scale through with P7. So, he said I got P7 in Mathematics and I was like, wow. I jumped out and I was so happy that I wouldn’t have to resit. I passed the other subjects.
And headed straight to the university?
It was a case of where do I go from here. I had to go for ‘A’ level studies. Then, Polytechnic was not an option for us. It was either you went to the university or for ‘A’ levels, or to the Federal Arts and Science then. So, Ogun State Polytechnic, which we used to call Ojere then, just had second set of ‘A’ level students, but we were tired of wearing school uniforms and wanted to appear to be big boys. So, I applied to Ogun State Polytechnic. It was there that I met some of the friends I have – Muti Jones, Tayo Popoola, Wuraola Oduniyi, Folake Odebiyi. It was there I knew what friendship really was.
The Polytechnic must be full of indelible experiences for you.
Between 1987 and 1989, which was almost going to be a turning point for me, and about two to three weeks to my ‘A’ levels examinations, I was going from my house in Onikolobo to a friend’s house along Oluwo road and suddenly there was a blackout. It was a hit-and-run case. I could hear voices in my head saying ‘hold him, hold him.’ At some point, I heard, ‘stop talking. You are the one that’s supposed to be held, not him. You just got hit by a vehicle you don’t know.’ At that point, I started to feel the pain. While at the Polytechnic, I still used to go to the University of Ife to pursue my admission. One of the guys who also used to travel to Ife for same purpose saw me and said he knew the person that had been hit. He took me to my sister-in -law’s house. That was when it dawned on me that it could have been the end of my life. I then said God, thank you I didn’t die. It happened on a Friday and she couldn’t take me to Lagos on Saturday because she was the Matron of a hostel where parents came around to check their children. It was on Sunday when one of the parents came by and asked why she hadn’t taken to the hospital. She now said she had been busy, but would do it later.
Was it a serious injury?
It was, but you know how people behave. Maybe if I was one of her children, she would have, but she was like ‘he’s the son of a soldier, he would survive.’ It was one of the parents who came from Lagos that asked where my parents lived that opted to take me to my parents’ house in Lagos. They took me to Maranatha Hospital. All I kept telling the doctor was that I had an exam in two weeks and ‘I have to be back for my ‘A’ levels, I have to be back for my A-levels. He shut me up and said; “what if you had died, would you still remember about your exams? Somehow I made it back to Ogun for the examination and I still succeeded. After my ‘A’ levels, I came back to Lagos to work as a Litigation Clerk with Femi Atoyebi & Co., now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Adetayo Oshitogun Chambers in Marina. While there, I awaited my JAMB results. At one point, I needed to raise money. I had an uncle who had finished from Ife and was into interior decoration business. Whenever he had to decorate or renovate a house, I acted as a foreman. It was there I got interested in painting. Then we got a contract to handle the mansion of an Igbo doctor and were expected to paint in Orlu local government. There was no ATM then. We ran out of money and my uncle needed to come back to Lagos to get money. It was so tedious a process. When he left, I was trying to paint one of the rooms. I stood on a drum and at a point, I lost my balance and in order not to let the paint spill on the wall, the make-shift ladder that I was standing on caved in. I dislocated my hand in that fall. It was another Friday and we couldn’t find a hospital to take me to. One of the Igbo said that there was a man who used to arrange bones during the civil war and all of that they should take me there. There was no phone then to call my uncle what had happened, so they took me there. The anesthesia applied on me was palmwine. The guy said that once I take that palmwime, I won’t feel any pain. The palmwine was just to make me unconscious so that whatever they wanted to do would not be that painful to me. I took the plamwine while he tried to do some things the native way. To my surprise, I felt a bit relieved. It was a long wait for my uncle and I was in serious pain. He finally got back on Monday. My hand was swollen and had been dislocated. When he saw it, we got into another bus from Imo to Lagos and went to Igbobi Orthopedic Hospital where they carried out an X-ray. They set it, put a cast on it which was there for six weeks. By the time it was removed, the damage had been done till this point.
No Law interest despite the interactions with Law firms?
My father wanted me to study Law but I was more motivated by the writings of Ola Rotimi, Wole Soyinka. I loved Literature and I could speak English well. I had made up my mind that I was going to be a Lecturer. I wanted to be wearing Adire.
What stopped you from being a Lecturer?
The reality dawned on me. If indeed I wanted to become a lecturer with people shouting no payment and all that, would this struggle become my life? Later that year, I decided I was going to change the course of my direction but at that point, it was also too late to start studying Law. My first degree was in Dramatic Arts. Ola Rotimi was among my many lecturers. Ola wanted me to major in Directing because I was one of the good actors in my set. I was the lead character and I was his premiere cast in his last work- “Man Talk, Woman Talk.” I did a lot with Ola Rotimi. In fact, while he was writing the script, he said to me, I am working on a new play and each time I put up the character of the boy, I see you, but I am not going to give you that role for free. Then, we had the likes of Jude Orera, Muyiwa Odukale and a lot of good actors. When the script was done, he called for an audition but everybody who saw the premiere said I did a good job. But I opted for Advertising. I majored in Radio, TV and Film Production. My final year project work was done on The Stress of Acquiring Tertiary Education in Nigeria. I did a documentary on that. I think I was one of the first students who did something on Private Broadcasting station. Then, I used Raypower, which was just coming up. At that point, I knew I was not going to lecture and if I still wanted to, that would be now. Maybe when I finally put down my tie and suit, I can go back to lecturing. But Law is very tempting. I do say to myself, I am going to be 50 next year. If I study Law now, when am I going to be called to Bar. But I am not foreclosing the possibility.
Would you say there was an impact of living in a barrack?
Living in the barrack toughened me. Today, people still ask me where I get my energy from. We used to joke that they must have given soldier boys some injections. That is the way my father is. He will be 75 this year. When he calls you on the phone, he is off it in one minute or two minutes. But it really showed me what a true child should be. We used to go to the bush to hunt for rabbits and birds. We also used to go to the river. I saw children grow up in boundless communities. You could do anything and yet you were checked because discipline was important. There were some officers in the barracks then, called Magajia, they were women and could discipline anybody. I grew up knowing how to polish shoes, to iron clothes. All these things have shaped me to the extent that people ask me who taught me how to do all of these. I used to iron my father’s uniforms and polish his father’s shoe until I would see my face shine in the shoe. It was a very good lesson for me today because I mingle with the poor and with the rich, but I know where the bounds are.
How much are you missing bachelorhood?
I miss freedom. As a bachelor, you don’t have anyone checking on you. You don’t have anyone calling you darling. Now, there is not much of going out with the boys because you have a responsibility to your family. Most times our women want us around them. If you are married to the right person, you will enjoy it. My marriage will be 19 years next April. I think I have been married to the most amazing, loving, prayerful woman. My wife is not the kind of person that would say okay you are going to Ibadan and would call my driver to confirm. That has given her peace of mind, but a man will always be a man. You know we would want to have our space at one point in time. We want to be with our friends. You may have your little love squabbles but you will settle it.
What attracted you to her?
Her motherly nature.
How did you search her out?
I was serving in a theatre organisation that was run by an American, Chalk Mike. Mike used to be a lecturer at both the University of Ibadan and the University of Ife. It was a project sponsored by UNICEF and USAID on female circumcision. His approach to theatre then was TFD (Theatre for Development). We were talking to people regarding the ills attached to circumcising our female children. It was meant to be a project that a lot of undergraduate should be involved in. The idea was to develop Cell Units of Federal Arts Students who would use the training from the pet theatre to carry out that advocacy for people to ‘say no to female circumcision.’ Temilola Craig then was in her second year at the University of Ibadan, while I was a theatre manager. I think it was their holiday period and they too were on strike. They brought them from Ibadan to have what they called inside-out training. They would teach them the art of guerrila theatre. When she came, everyone used to call her Mummy Lola because she had this motherly look. I just came out from a bad relationship like she was. When we had done all the training in Lagos, we were to go to a village called Olosunde in Oyo State. We stayed there for like a week or so among the villagers. We watched them go to the farm and as we were watching them, we were gathering our materials and when we returned in the evening, we would develop skits and had a rehearsal of what we had done. Because I was a production person and she was in charge of welfare, she would come to me to say ‘we need this, we need that’. At one point, we got talking. When others were talking, she would always want to be with me and we would talk. From there, the relationship blossomed. When we got back, she returned to school and I stayed back in Lagos. Then, we used to go an extra mile to call ourselves. Every midterm, she would come home and if I had any letter to send, I would send or I would just go to U.I. to be with her and finally met with the family.
Are you a male-child man?
That’s a poor mentality. If God gives you a male child, be thankful. If you get a female, be thankful. But most important thing is to have children that will listen to you. Of the two children that I have, the girl is more accommodating. She behaves like a mother. Female children tend to be more focused early in life than males. They know what they want and because of the tender nature they have. Just pray that God gives you good fruits and that when you nurture them in the way of the Lord, they would be receptive to such teachings and education.
How do you relax?
I love listening to music a lot. TV hasn’t been my thing. When I am with my family and we watch TV together, I sleep off. But when it comes to having a bottle of beer, talking politics, I am okay. I love educating people, but most especially I am always at Jide’s place. If I am not there, I’m at Ikoyi Club relaxing. We discuss politics and fashion. You know you discuss a lot of things when you are in a beer parlour. I love to laugh a lot and I know that I can only get that with my friends. Apart from the office family that I have and the family that I have in the house, my friends are my immediate family. I am more of an outdoor person.