Why I used 11 pens in two hours to write Civics exam in school —Ajibola

Professor Joseph Olusegun Ajibola, a banker, economist and administrator, needs little introduction. The former CIBN president and current Dean, Postgraduate School, Caleb University, told his life story to TUNDE ADELEKE.

TELL us about your early days

I was born 61 years ago in Ipoti-Ekiti. My father, the late Oyinbo Ajibola, was from a section of Ipoti {now Ejiyan-Ekiti) and my mother is also from Ipoti-Ekiti. But I grew up in Ile Odofin-Owa, another quarters within the community, with my grandmother, my mother and my sister. Early days were very tough and very rough. It was in the midst of poverty and a very turbulent polygamous setting. This was one of the reasons I, my sister and my mother could not live with my father. But luckily for me, I had an elder brother who was the first born of my mother. He was old enough to have been my father because there was a major gap between us. My mother grew up in Ijebu with her parents, who migrated from Ipoti to settle down in Ijebu. My mother was the first child of her parents. Her father was someone to reckon with in Ijebu then. He later became Olori Omo Ekiti in Ijebuland. He betrothed my mother to his friend, who happened to be Prince Adejumo from Iloro-Ekiti. My mother had many children, but only my brother survived. So, when her father died in Ijebu, they moved back to Ipoti. That was when my mother married my father. I am the last born of my mother. Though she had many children before us, only my sister and I survived.


So, that was how your polygamy experience began?

That was how my mother married into a polygamous set-up. Overall, my father married four and a half wives, having inherited the first one from his late elder brother. He married four wives. It was very tough in terms of everything – there was not enough food, no clothes, nothing; just eking out a living. My mother struggled to survive all through. My father was very prominent and very hardworking, but polygamy did not allow me to enjoy fatherhood. As a kid, I never enjoyed fatherhood, but I enjoyed time with my mother and grandmother. I was seeing my father from a distance. There was no personal relationship. I think I started relating with my father when I was in primary school. I went to Ile-Ife with my brother after primary school. I was a houseboy for some years before I came back to Ipoti to start modern school from the money I had saved. My father came in at this juncture and that was when I started relating with him. But we became best friends from that point up to the time I lost him in 1986. So, we were friends from 1972 – 1986. That was the only time I related well with my father. But my mother, all through; my mother outlived my father and during that time, I struggled to eke out a living for a long time with my mother. I started primary school at over six years. My father took me by force from my grandmother and forced me to start school because that was their style that time. As elders in the church, they were compelled to bring their children to school. I was very brilliant in primary school and in later years, I was always coming first in class. I think that was the first thing that started endearing me to him as a father. After my primary school, Baba was sufficiently okay to send me to school straight away, but he dared not because of our polygamous setting. What will be the explanation to other children? I had to follow my brother to Ife where I worked, saved money, came back and started modern school.


That must be tough on you.

Life went on. I finished well in school and stayed back for about two years, during which I was going to the farm with my father. During those days, there were a lot of challenges. I remember that on occasions I would not be able to go to church because there was no cloth to wear. I would not attend social events also. I remember when I only had two or three pieces of clothes – two for school, one to playing around in. I would be confined because of signs, and challenges of poverty. But I had to do menial jobs to keep body and soul together. I weaved baskets, sold firewood and other things you could think of as menial jobs. I earned pittance to feed, to buy things for school and so on. My father was, however, remarkable in the sense that he insisted that I should go to school because when I was in Ife, I was already thinking of doing something else outside education, but he insisted I must go back to school. So, my going back to school, I owe it to him. I think because he worked in the Public Works Department (PWD) for 43 years in Ekiti West Division before he retired in 1969, he saw the value of education. Being close to the ‘Oyinbos,’ who were the DOs (District Officers) then, talking to us about ‘overseas, he was building interest in education and what he saw that education could do in peoples’ lives. He tried to send most of us to school, but only few of us succeeded eventually.


With this background, how did you get here today?

I enjoyed motherhood care. From the mother side, my mother and grandmother did everything possible to see that I did not die in the midst of all those challenges – poverty, disease and so on. So, that was a sort of encouragement. Then, my determination to succeed in life. Because I grew up in a hostile environment, I was determined to overcome the obstacles. Fatherhood also became a factor later. My father helped and was very determined to see me through school and did what he could do financially to support. Finally, and most importantly, the grace of God that saw one through monumental challenges which ordinarily, one could not explain how one was able to overcome them.


Something happened to your hand while writing an examination in the modern school. Tell us about it

I was in Modern III. From Modern I, we were told that before we came, students from a particular neighbouring town always came first in class, up to the time we came  in. Now, from our set, somebody from Ipoti also began to come first. When we got to Modern III, we were to write our final examination and then this thing happened. We thought it was a joke at first, but in the course of the examination in that subject, Civics, I discovered that the hand was no longer holding pen. It started from the thumb, then moved to the fingers next and spread to the wrist. I used 11 pens and biros in writing that two and a half hours Civics examination. I would pick a pen, by the time I had written 2, 3 lines, the lead would break. That went on and on like that. Nobody knew what was happening. They just saw that my hand was shaking. They started donating pens to me. So, they had to take me out of the school. We got to town and as the setting was at that time, the noise was everywhere. People started coming out and began to apply ointments and incisions to bring the hand back because I was told the hand was already losing strength and could have withered. So, after all said and done, we came back and one of the prominent people said he would fish out the person responsible and he did.  They went to the neighbouring town, called the meeting of all the cult groups in the town and warned that should anything like that happen again, it might lead to the sacking of the town. They started begging.


Why Technical and conventional secondary school? 

I did not attend conventional secondary school. I will not say because of either money or no money. There was no counseling at all during our own time then because after Modern III, I was still contemplating going back to a high school, but somebody very close to our family misled my father. Unfortunately, my father did not come back to me. The person told him I would have to show my Modern certificate before I could be admitted into Form II in the secondary school, which was not the case. I gave four examples of my mates who were already in Form II in the secondary school. So, people of our generation had no counselor. We were just going adrift. While I was in Modern School, some were already telling us the beauty of going to technical school, or a teacher training college. I could have even gone to a teacher’s college, but they turned it to UPE at that time and there was a lot of confusion. It was one Mr. Fatokun from Okemesi that called me and said, “This boy, I think you should go to secondary school. He did not explain to me; I did not understand either. I would have eventually gone to a secondary school, but the kind of stories we were hearing about graduates of technical schools landing good jobs, riding cars among others, gave us the impression that technical schools were better than secondary schools. But fortunately for me, when we got there, we met it in a poor state. We led some protests and the then Governor Jemibewon of Oyo State approved the take-over of technical schools to become government technical colleges eventually, and we were allowed, those of us in Commerce, to sit for secondary school certificate examinations like any other secondary school. I passed out with outstanding grades. That was what took me to the university.


You mentioned going to the farm with your father. Does it have any relationship with your current efforts in farming?

Yes. When I started going to the farm with my father, at a time in Modern I, I was about the only one left with him until another brother joined us. That time, I started something unusual. I would cultivate my own farm beside Baba’s own separately, planted all sorts of things. While I was doing that, people were saying; “you are the only one taking after Baba”, and so on. I continued to follow that and Baba was giving all of us a lot of counseling. Then, almost all the teachers in the Baptist Primary School were farming on our farmland. Baba also gave the pastor of the church a piece of land to farm. He would be telling us; “See the pastor, see the teachers they are all on the farm. They are not buying anything except salt. Anywhere you go in future, remember that farming is a very important occupation, irrespective of what you become in life”. Baba always reminded me often. Only two of us (his children) were prominent on the farm, but he used to counsel me in particular, not to leave farming anywhere I found myself. That’s why I named my farm after him.


Can you remember some of the pranks you played as a youth?

At that time, there was still the tradition way of disciplining people. So, our pranks then were limited to going after games, setting traps, going to the river to swim, following masquerades all over town, joining people performing rituals and offering sacrifices and so on. At times, we would disappear from the house to be part of those festivities. Sometimes, we went for co-operative labour (oya), or took time to play football, run races, etc. So, our pranks were limited to those, and not to smoke, drink or womanise. It was later that night parties started coming to town. You had to disappear from the house to partake.


How was your love life at that time?

I had a girlfriend when I was in the university. Before then, I never knew anything called love life. So eventually, I had contact with only two. The first one, we could not get married. It was the second woman that I eventually married.


Why did you part ways with the first one?

I was around 13, 14 years then and was in the modern school. We later parted ways to face our lives. We then came back later we discovered that none of us was into any serious relationship yet. At that point, we started dating. But somehow, we disagreed over level of education. I wanted her to go further in her education, but she said she was not interested. That forced me to look for another woman.

What can you recount as remarkable experiences while growing up?

Apart from the attack on my hand, when I started working as a houseboy with a man from Ijesha, we were selling retail medicine, going round the whole lot of Ife community. He is a man I will never forget. The second day I resumed with him, he told me; “anywhere you go, tell them you are my son. Never tell anybody you are working with me”. He took me and trained me the way a father would train his son. In fact, he would sit me down during our off hours and tell me the stories of every Ijesha community. He introduced me to everybody as his son, bought clothes for me and we would eat from the same pot. He was the first person to open my eyes to life. But while there, anytime there was a mistake, I was the one he would flog. I was always the one he would chastise whenever there was a mistake. Then, the day I was leaving, he said that the day my brother handed me over to him, he pleaded that he should treat me like his son and not as a worker because if he should treat me like a worker, he might not bother about whether he was doing well or not, but if he treated me like a son, he would train me to be useful to myself and the society. That’s exactly what he did. He told me the time he was beating me, he was only teaching me a lesson, not to be a spoilt child. Up till today, I keep remembering some of his teachings. Then, when I won the Western Nigeria Modern School Essay Competition, which they used to commemorate the Children’s Day in 1974, they paid me 4 or 6 naira. It was big money then because my teachers were earning N18 per month. It was celebrated far and wide. That was what started sending signals that ‘the one we thought is nobody may turn to somebody’.


Any involvement in games and sports?

Yes, there was, but there were no facilities. In the modern school, I was the second goal keeper. I was also one of the runners. I was also involved in almost all forms of sports, but there were limited facilities in the environment.


How did you meet your wife?

We met at Ife. Her father happened to be from Ipoti and as fate would have it, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Ilare. She happened to be the first daughter. After service, we would go to Mission House to say hello to Baba and Mama. They would compel us to stay back and take something. In the process, we started interacting with the children. Then, during festive periods when they came home (Ipoti) for celebration, we would exchange visits. In the process, a deeper relationship began.


You seem so embittered with polygamy.

It is difficult to pass any judgment on polygamy because, like somebody said, Africans are by nature, polygamous. The only problem I see with the polygamy of then and now, are the different settings entirely. In the polygamy of then, there was competition as to who would inherit what. Which child would excel over the others, etc? That was when polygamy became a problem in our setting. The competition was unhealthy, very expensive, very costly. Some even paid the supreme prize (wives or children). We have examples of where polygamy actually blossomed. You’ll see life in such homes. You hardly know which child belongs to which mother. And there were horrible ones and mine happened to be one of the horrible ones in that environment That’s why it is difficult to pass a definite judgment.

If you look at the kind of polygamy we have today, unlike before when everybody was living under the same roof and see yourselves first thing in the morning and last thing in the night. Most polygamy today leave apart. I know of friends who have two, three, four wives that don’t live together. I had a challenge a few years back. Somebody, an elder in a church, it was at the graveside that other wives and children showed up. That’s the kind of polygamy you can make reference to today. You have fathers that have fathered many children out of wedlock – some are known, some are unknown. We have some that have “legally” married other wives and they are keeping them from public glare. So, only few are courageous enough to come together to live under the same roof.


How do you spend your typical day?

Before I left bank, I would wake up 5.00 a.m. Before 6.00 a.m., I am on the way and I won’t come back until 9.30 – 10.00 p.m. I have conditioned myself that most times, I didn’t sleep before 11.00 p.m or 12 midnight and I won’t wake up later than 5.00 a.m. That’s what I still practice till today. So, when I wake up, the normal routine; devotion and so on. I manage to wait till 7.00 a.m before I set out. In the evening,  I go to church or other engagements; come back home 7.00 or 8.00 p.m., read newspapers and do some work – I either have some technical work to do or write papers or writing academic papers, grading papers, preparing lectures or having some family issues to handle; and that may even take me up to  12.00 midnight. I listen to news, watch football. On routine basis, that’s how my typical day is spent.