How being from village affected me in secondary school —GNI
Gboyega Nasir Isiaka (GNI) was born into the family of the late Prince Tijani Adebowale Isiaka and Alhaja Adijat Isiaka of Remo Quarters, Imeko in Imeko Afon Local government area of Ogun State. In this interview, He shares his story with SEGUN KASALI.
HOW was your growing up?
It was interesting, eventful, exciting. I enjoyed every bit of it. I grew up in Imeko. That is the farthest northwestern part of Ogun State where my parents hailed from. There, I had the early part of my life. If I can remember, I went out of the town maybe once or twice. Aside that, I had my primary and secondary schools there. Life was the best at that time. Then, you were taken care of by everybody and you are disciplined by everybody in the community. And then, we were free with ourselves. So, it was quite good. My father was not a farmer but I went to the farm with my uncle. That was my in early days in secondary school. I helped my mum to hawk sugar and puff puff. I also followed her to the next village where she sold bushmeat and supplied same to town that was about 10 km away from home town. We would go on Friday to buy bushmeat and take them to town late on Sunday. Very early on Monday, we would walk down to Imeko with it and then go to school. The funny part of it was that it was then that I got close to an uncle who got me to the farm. Most of those things we were doing then were just commercial trading.
Did you notice any difficulty in paying your school fees?
No. My father was the Director of Western Nigeria Development Corporation in those days and I was given a state scholarship in my form four and five when I lost him. So, we didn’t have difficulty in being sent to school, but then, we had to support our parents because we were in the village. I went to Ansar Ud Deen Primary School, Imeko. From primary one to six, it was a school that had six classrooms. So, you moved from one class to the other every year. I happened to be one of those lucky to never repeat a class. Again, because it was a primary school and a Muslim school, we had to pray and every Friday, we had to file from the school to the Central Mosque to observe the Ju’mat. And of course, I cut weeds and all of that. Another aspect that I won’t forget is lateness to school, particularly on Mondays. As I said, I had to follow my mummy to the next village to buy bushmeat before going to school. Once we returned, , we would carry with us our bags and run to school. There were quite a number of days you would discover that you got late to school. The way they did it then was that every day of the week, the teachers would write down your name as a latecomer on a particular day. At the end of the day on Friday, they would call everyone out. As they called out your name, they would give you one stick. If at the end of the day you had two sticks in your hand, that meant you had come late twice that week and your punishment was going to be decided by how many sticks you had. There was hardly any week that I would not have any stick. So, we would have one punishment or the other- either you were asked to stay behind to sweep the entire school at the end of it or cut the football field or the other. On your way home, you would see all manner of people fighting. They had probably threatened themselves that after school, we would meet. I was one of those that was never involved in that. If I knew anyone was going to do that, and it involved me, before the school closed, I would have found my way to run out of the place. But then, I had this guy who lived next to our compound. He was very huge and strong. So, early in the morning, he would come to our house. His name was Nojeem. He was about a year or some months older, but stronger. He would come around and stay. He would be with us in the morning. After the cleaning job, they would give you money for lunch in school. On our way to school, he would collect the money from all of us- myself and two of my younger ones. We gave it to him because then, when we got to school, he was the one that would buy the food and share it for all of us. We did that because if anybody wanted to oppress us, he was the one that would stand up for us. So, to that extent you couldn’t complain when you got home. We still see ourselves now and we joke over it.
How profitable was ‘paying’ him?
Once they even see him going with us, they won’t come near us. My younger brother, who was more stubborn than I was, always went around the school to deliberately offend one person or the other. They would have told themselves that they would meet at a particular location very close to our school called Baptist. Once Nojeem showed up, they would behave. But I didn’t get into all those things.
Other indelible memories of your primary school days…?
There was a particular day we went to the bush to hunt and we killed a rabbit. We must have been about 10. I stood in a particular location. The rabbit ran into a hole and deposited there. To be candid, I was afar but they went in there and started making efforts to get it. The rabbit came through Yekini’s way and, being a swift individual, he was able to kill it. They smoked burnt it and shared it to all of us. I had to devise means to take it home.
The other one I remember was that we usually left very early in the morning. Whenever we didn’t go to the next village to go and help our mum in bringing bushmeat to Imeko, we would go to the stream and it was only when you fetch water you would be able to eat in the house. There was a particular day I was supposed to have gone very early to fetch water. My mum had gone out and she said we should do all of that, make sure we bath and get ready. I woke up very late and I didn’t go to the stream. What I did was to go and get part of the water that was kept in the house to bath. As I was doing that, my mum came. I am sure she saw that I was using the water in the house. I had soap lather all over my body and my face when I heard her voice. I ran through another door with the soap on my head and I was naked (Laughs). She pursued me. Neighbours appealed to her that when I come back, I would go and fetch the water and all that. She agreed after a lot of pleading. Apart from that, I was an easy going person and there wasn’t much of issues.
While we were hawking bushmeat and sugar, there was another interesting story. You know the St. Louis Sugar. We would pack it in a tray and take it around. The interesting thing about it is that you would sit down and empty some of it in the tray and reset. You know that there is no way you will reset it and some of those in pieces will not fall off the tray. So, as you were hawking, you put your hand on it and you dipped a finger in your mouth and lick it (laughs). So, when it was time to hawk, some of us usually preferred sugar because you knew there was something to be enjoyed (laughs).
So, hawking was fun then?
Those were the things we went through. Hawking is not necessarily the best. It is now looking more like child labour. We were doing this not necessarily because there was no money to send us to school, but it was the way we were brought up. You have to help, you have to support and so, we take it as part of hard work. We thank God that despite that we still had time to study and do some other things.
There was a time we were selling eggs. She would boil the eggs and we would take it to the garage. Whenever we got there, the motor parks’ workers always did something. One would take one, and the other guy would take another one. They would play a game that involved egg-breaking and the person whose egg got broken lost the competition. At the end of the day, the person that lost paid us. In that instance, there were times somebody would lose too much and it would now become an issue for the person to pay us. We would have to reach out to our uncle around there to make sure that we collected the money.
Hope nobody came to any harm while hawking?
Our house is in a village. Nobody attacked anyone. There was nothing like kidnapping then. Our parents had their own way of rewarding us. They could say that a certain thing would be given to whoever sold on a particular date. Maybe once in a while, we wanted to play pranks and gave reasons why we should not go.
When it was the time for exams, our mum usually gave us time. It wasn’t a time there was so much of homework. There wasn’t much of homework compared to what we have these days. When it was time for academics, our mother would give us room to study. We know of so many people that didn’t do as much we did and still didn’t perform so well.
How was Imeko in those days?
It was a rural community. There were no banking institutions, no telephone, no light, no generators, apart from one location, which was Paradise hotel. It was owned by one man based in Benin Republic, but he was a native of Imeko. What we have now like Celestial Church Christ, we didn’t have it in those days. You were your brother’s keeper. You could move from one place to the other and there were no fears of kidnapping. Because we didn’t have phones in those days, there was no opportunity to see what was happening in Lagos or Abeokuta unless you physically visited the place.
The prominent thing, which is still prominent, is the border town, hence there is so much relationship: cultural, social and commercial, with Benin Republic. Apart from that, what you saw around was farming. Religious wise, it was a church that was there and a mosque. Father Adeoye built the church. He had one of the biggest churches in Lagos. In terms of commercial activities, it was more of international trade and that is why you see the presence of Customs because it is a border town. They dealt in commercial products like petroleum and the like.
From Muslim Primary School to Christian Secondary School?
I went to Nazareth School, Imeko, which was a Christian school. That was the only secondary school we had there then in Imeko. Because it was set up by Mount of Salvation, Oke-Igbala, members of the church in Lagos sent their children to the school, but a majority of the children were from Imeko and its environs. Again, it was a five-year programme. I think the only difference in secondary school was that we were a bit more mature. Because the school was new, there were bushes to clear. So, punishment meant a lot. There were lot of things for you to do unlike the primary school that was much earlier established which had lots of houses around it. But this one had a lot of land and needed to be expanded.
Were you also a late-comer in secondary school?
No. By this time, I was more mature.
Have you stopped hawking then?
I was still doing it, but not as much. You know we were now seniors. Now, you had classmates that were females. You were now conscious of some things. I think it was in the first year it fizzled out because there were tests coming up and we needed more time. I now had study mates. There was a lot to do and I think the commercial part had gone down. One of the things I remember then was that it was a female classmate that harassed me over the way I dressed. We were still dressing the way we were dressing. Her name was Kehinde Ajayi. I don’t know what she’s doing now, but she is someone I still see very well. I still make joke of it.
What did she say to you?
Don’t let me give you the details of that (Laughs). She was the one who changed some things about me because we were just there in the village. To be candid, there were some things we just felt didn’t matter while in village, but it really does.
No shoes, like former President Jonathan?
No, we had shoes. But there were some ways of dressing that were not expected of a guy as at that time. And because they were coming from Lagos, they were more exposed. So, they called our attention to some of these things. We also looked at them and adjusted.
Did you have a girlfriend then?
No. My friend, who is now occupying a high position in Customs and I were the youngest in class. So, we dared not look into the eyes of those girls because they were older than us. Yes, we were all in the same class, but they were more exposed because they came from Lagos. The natural fear and timidity of a village boy affected us. That prevented us from toasting those girls. There were not more brilliant, but you know the way these things are that some people are bullies, some people are more exposed, some people are more aggressive. We belonged to those people that were quite small.
If you weren’t into girls, it must be book then.
All I know was that in primary school, I was doing well. In secondary school too, I did well from class one to five, but it was relative to the people that were in school. About 50 something of us wrote the final exam in my final year and only one person had a P in English and Mathematics. I was not in any of those two. Then, the general thing in my community was go to primary school, go to Nazareth, finish up to class five and end up either a teacher or a Customs person. The first port of call was to go and struggle to get into Customs, but the second one was to go to Teacher Training College. If you had either four credits or five, you could go to Teacher Training College at Ilaro, if I am not mistaken. If you had two, three credit passes, you could go to two-year Teacher Training College, which was at St. Louis in Abeokuta. I made up my mind that I was going to neither of these two. In fact, I got reprisals from my uncle and my elder brothers who said I was wasting my time on any of these. With what I had, all I needed was to do two years Teacher Training College and be at Grade Level 7. There was a particular uncle of mine when I was in Ayetoro – I was at the Local government office for one year as a clerical assistant – who reported me to my parents that I was wasting my time and that all I needed to do was a two-year programme. But I told him that I was not into teaching going. It was when I was doing that I got into Abeokuta Continuing Education for one year programme and came out excellently.
Any unforgettable moments during secondary school?
Well, the one I can remember was, maybe because it coincided with the death of my dad, in form four when my dad passed on and this was in 1976. We were supposed to act this play, “Asiritu” at the second Ogun State Arts and Cultural Festival and I was in it. We first did it at the divisional level in Orona Hall. From there, whoever came first, second and third, went to Abeokuta. It was almost at the time of going that my dad had an accident and died. I had to opt out. After his death, because of my relative performance, the school principal made a recommendation to the Ministry of Education and I was offered scholarship, thus becoming a boarding student. I used to be a day student.
To be part of those that were to feature in a play suggests you were very social then
Not really social. You mean for participating in that play? It was not really that. I think at that time we were more conscious that we were all growing up and because we always came out well in the class, I was also known in the school.
Between continuing education and university, how did you manage without a father?
I was staying with my elder brother at that time and he was the secretary of MPA. Also, I already had some money from the work, but he also supported it. After my WAEC exam, I really wanted to be a broadcaster because we didn’t come from that background where you would have been exposed to what to study in school, but Shola Omole of NTA News enticed me. So, we just picked Mass Communication. But actually, my interest was in broadcasting. So, when I finished my WAEC, I got admission to study Mass Communication at MAPOLY. That was how I got into Mass Communication. But my time at the Continuing Education had exposed me a lot to Mathematics. So, I became interested in Mathematics and again, because the admission requirement for Mass Communication included Credit in English and Mathematics, I was happy that there would be something that must be Mathematics and it wouldn’t be English only. But when I got there, I discovered that it was just English Language and I lost interest in barely three months. I didn’t write any of the exams. After about three months, I stopped. Again, I got a lot of reprimand from my uncles. The other thing that got me disinterested then was that the school was in Onikolobo. It was easy for me to get there, but they moved some departments to Ojere, which was really far off. By the time I got to Onikolobo, I already told myself that I had to get out of this. When they now moved to Ojere, I was like ‘enough was enough’. I will tell you what happened on the day I stopped. They had a class from 2 to 4 pm, but I thought it was 4 to 6 pm. So, I got there like quarter to 4 and the class was about 10 minutes to end. I entered. The lecturer asked; “are you a member of this class? and I said yes. He said “I am sorry for you”, while I was telling myself that before you are sorry for me, I am already sorry for myself (Laughs). So, I said I am not coming back to this class and that was the end. So, I left that day and I didn’t come back. Of course, it was leaving the known for unknown. When JAMB came, all I knew was that it must be something in which I could express this Mathematics. So, I was looking between Economics and Accounting. I saw Accounting and said this may not be bad. I looked at the required subjects and I saw English, Mathematics, Economics and then Government. Already, I had all the papers required for admission and that was how I filled it in. Again, because of my circumstances, I had to prepare for those things like never before. And it came out well. I remembered that then I scored 90 something in Mathematics and my score was number four. That was how I entered Ife.
Did you find your desired course easy?
That was why I could come out with a First Class in Ife (OAU). By that time, I had got my rhythm. There was one joke that we normally cracked at Ife that the motto of the school is learning and culture. We normally said that there were two vice-chancellors: there was a one for learning, which is for academics and there was also one for culture, which was Palmwine Drinkers Club. So, what we normally said was that if you came out of Ife with First Class in learning that meant if you were a member of Palmwine Drinkers Club, you would come out with First Class upper, and this means that you would have First Class in learning and First Class in culture. So, if you were not a member of Kegite club, and you had First Class in learning, you missed the cultural aspect. For me, I was a Kegite and I was the ‘Cowrie’ in my fourth year and the ‘Cowrie’ is the financial secretary. I was all over, but I managed myself very well. My friend used to call me Gboye Sabbatical. It was in the university I got the nickname. It still sticks till today and it came from the way I managed my time. After two or three weeks of Kegites’ activities, you would never see me near there again. I would tell them I was on sabbatical.
Was the spirit of Aluta also in you sir?
No, I wasn’t involved in student unionism at all. The only social activity I was involved in, apart from the departmental activity, was the Kegite’s Club. Again, I think it was in our final year that the government reduced the amount of subsidy they were giving per student for feeding because then; you buought meal ticket for 50 kobo, and it was supposed to 1.50k per day times 30, which amounted to about N45 or thereabout for 30days. But of course, people would do 0-1-1 or 0-1-0. If it’s on Sunday, you would have chicken with ice cream. So, sometime in 1986, it was stopped. The meat now became two instead of three and a few other things were affected and students went on rampage. I remember that the University of Ife, Kaduna Polytechnic and one other school, were shut down by the government then. They made an announcement and we were given two hours to leave the campus. And you know the distance from main campus to the gate. It was a bit of a trouble that day and I remember that very well. So, when we got out, we were looking for vehicles and I was going to Abeokuta. We then saw this cement truck which had an open back. It stopped for us. The guy said we were going to pay I think one naira each and we were more than 40. As we were going, some of us discovered that more than half of the people did not have the money requested by the man. Unknown to us, the conductor of the vehicle was aware. When it got to Asejire, they parked and said everybody should start paying their money. That was when he discovered that more than half of the people there did not have money to pay. We had to start begging and were there for hours before he eventually agreed. I think one man came and paid some of the money. The good thing is that it was an interesting four years. If I had the opportunity again, I want to be a student of Ife.
Was it in school you met your wife?
No, it was not. It was even after my service year. I served in Jos and worked for about a year and a half. I moved to Lion’s Bank. We met at a friend’s house. He was having a sitting-room birthday and she came with her brother, who is a friend to the celebrant, and we got talking. All of us, generally, got talking. After that, I got to know the friend and the brother too. We started talking and one thing led to the other.
At what point did love come in?
I think it was about the following month or two. The first thing was that I was generally a friend of the brother. After two or three visits to the brother, we became friends and we got talking. We were friends before I proposed.
Looks like you got a fair deal from her parents.
Well, the dad was pleased that I was a Muslim. Second, he wanted to know if we had done the necessary test. He was very particular about that. And the ones we did, their answers were affirmative.
Was there a change she had been demanding?
Well, she wanted me to be more prayerful. She said I was not prayerful, particularly in my political life.
Tell us about your career
I worked in an accounting firm in Jos for about three to four months before I joined Lion’s bank. From Lion’s Bank, I joined Icon Limited Merchant Bank. Then, there were three major merchant banks in Nigeria. The like of His Royal Majesty, Emir Of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was like one or two steps ahead of us then. He was in Kano, while we were in Lagos, but we usually heard about him. The current DG of Debt Management Office (DMO), the Chief Economic Adviser to late president, Shehu Musa Yar’adua, were also at the bank.
What did you inherit from your dad and mum?
From my dad, public service, especially in politics. We grew up to see a lot of people living with him. From my mum, hard work. If I was 14 when my dad died, what would you say about my younger one who was two years old. But we thank God, he is now a Director at Wema Bank. There must have been some grace of God, support from our mum.