Even as a rookie reporter with Concord Press back in 1993, I did not have to scale any big hurdle to see legal icon, Chief Gani Fewinhinmi, SAN, that very first day. Once the receptionist at his Anthony, Lagos chambers announced via the intercom that the visitor was “from Victory College Ikare”, I was immediately led upstairs and ushered into his expansive office.
To his feet, he sprang with child-like excitement and locked me in a bear-hug like long-lost friends, even though he had graduated from VCI a decade before I was even born. Without hesitation, he gave me an extensive interview and, at the end, was patronising enough to personally see me off to the reception, holding my hand, proudly introducing me to everyone on the way (including Festus Keyamo) as “My fellow Victorian”.
Such was the talismanic effect of the “Victorian” invocation among those bonded by its heritage and weaned on its twin transcendental values of laboramus (working) and expectorante (expecting). The school’s colors are white and navy blue.
But that spirit of kinship would be tested precisely a decade later when the great Gani took up a brief from THISDAY against this writer, Dr. Amanze Obi and The Sun newspaper in the now celebrated copyright case. He won the suit for THISDAY. Even before the legal fireworks opened in court, Gani was empathetic enough to call me privately and utter these comforting words: “Fellow Victorian, please don’t be angry that I took up this brief against your interest. It’s a just a point of law, nothing personal. I believe you’ll understand.”
The “people’s lawyer” was only one in a long list of greats VCI sired who individually have extended the national frontiers in various spheres. Like former second citizen, now late Admiral Mike Akhigbe; late Chief Ade Adefarati (one-time Ondo governor); General Alfred Aduloju (former Secretary, Supreme Military Council during Murtala/Obasanjo regime); and Justice Akintan (retired Supreme Court Justice).
We also have Professor Michael Faborode (former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University); both the Olukare of Ikare and Owa Ale of Ikare, Oba Akadiri Momoh and Oba Adegbite Adedoyin respectively; Bishop Mathew Owadayo (retired Anglican Bishop of Egba Diocese); and one-time VCI principal and presently the Secretary General of Afenifere, Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa.
The younger generation of alumni include retired General Jones Arogbofa (Chief of Staff to President Goodluck Jonathan); present Osun Deputy Governor, Mrs. Laoye Tomori; Senator Ajayi Boroffice (representing Ondo North); Segun Abrahams (aspirant on APC platform in the Ondo 2016 governorship race); Jiti Ogunye (Lagos-based lawyer) and award-winning journalist, Akin Orimolade.
Next week marks the 70th anniversary of the premier college founded “for culture, for science” by a missionary, Lennon Jubilee.
Week-long activities marking its illustrious history open on Monday (February 20) with a public lecture as the grand finale on Saturday.
Indeed, as generations of old students begin to regroup this weekend in the ancient town of Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State ahead of the platinum celebration, emotions will certainly overflow.
Old memories will come alive. Of the tolling school bell summoning the morning devotion. Echoes of the school band playing as the assembly dispersed. The wet smell of grass during Labour Hour as pupils descended on the school farm with cutlasses and hoes. Classmates bursting into hot tears on graduation day, afraid they might never see again. Moist enveloping distant Ikare hills at dawn and haze during harmattan…
For my generation, it will particularly be sentimental. If the 80s have been described as the twilight of the ferment of Nigeria’s intellectual culture and the 70s its apogee, then we probably then qualify to be addressed as the children of transition. The last of the analogue before the digital age.
With the supplanting of the 6-5-4 with 6-3-3-4 system in 1984, Nigeria’s academic complexion would not be the same again. And with the ethical realm systematically taken apart with the permissive culture of the cancerous Ibrahim Babangida regime beginning from 1985, the roof literally began to leak on the nation.
I attended VCI between 1983 and 1988, incidentally when now septuagenarian Chief Arogbofa was principal. (The present principal is Mr. Ariyo Bode.) Beginning from 1982, the college was re-designated as “boys only”.
Were we always good boys? Not all the time. We played naughty sometimes. We had our favorite teachers. Those who liked carrying canes about like staff of office were naturally hated. We invented ugly nick-names for them. As revenge, we would mimic their mannerisms beyond the earshot or eye-view of the authority.
The sophomore years are usually the age of impression, when young adolescents begin to adopt monickers in an attempt to express a new sense of awareness. One day, a classmate ran into a big trouble, necessitating his mother, a complete illiterate to be summoned to the school from a neighboring village.
Seeking clarity first, the interrogating teacher began by asking what inspired the old woman to name her ward “Reverend Poison”. She did not understand the English name. So, the tutor transliterated it to Yoruba: “Alufa Majele”.
Instantly, she, waving the right hand round her head and casting the report away in a supreme African gesture of denunciation, thundered in anger: “Omo temi ki she Alufa Majele. Segun ni mo so omo mi. (My own son is not Reverend Poison. I named him Segun.)”
So, to sustain sanity across the school sitting on vast swath of land, Principal Arogbofa never spared the rod and encouraged teachers to be as generous.
Tall, slim-built and ever smartly dressed, the principal demanded of the teaching staff excellence not only in the way they taught, but also the way they appeared and carried themselves. As a tutor, woe-betide you if you came to his office in shabby attires. So much that a rather apocryphal story was often told then of a teacher who, apparently not knowing how else he could dazzle, entered Principal Arogbofa’s office tucking in his “conductor’s” (French suit)!
Overall, while we passed through VCI, emphasis was not placed only on grooming students academically; it extended to encouraging us to take more than passing interest in the School Chapel events, sports as well as extra-curricular activities. For instance, the School Press Club offered me the first platform to explore my writing talent. I did amateur boxing on the side.
Principal Arogbofa always called everyone his son. His relentless counseling rooted in deep Christian values of perseverance and modesty made me have faith early in hard work, stand firm for my conviction and embrace a work ethic that treasures good name over gold and silver.
Same value obliges us never to, even for a moment, forget the son/daughter of who we are. And instill in us a deep sense of brotherhood and solidarity, never to succumb to temptation to betray or abandon our friends in trying moments, however dire the circumstances.
Once, a classmate was slapped with an unusually heavy sanction for an unruly conduct by being asked to cut tall grasses almost half the size of a soccer pitch. He was not expected in class until the bush had been cleared. In solidarity, words were soon passed around in whispers that class members should stay back after school hours. Once the school became empty, we the volunteers descended on the field with our sharpened cutlasses like locust and within an hour, the thicket of grass had been mowed down.
The following day, the class master could not believe his eyes. Having perhaps gone to bed the previous night reveling in the malicious pleasure that the wayward boy had been given something to keep him busy for a long time, the teacher now found himself confronted by what seemed a First Testament miracle.
Following the boy’s continued insistence that he cleared all the vast weeds all by himself even as the conniving classmates looked on in a cliff-edge fright, the teacher then took a second unbelieving look at his little quarry and finally, to our relief, only shook his head in a knowing silence.
A pity, he had no evidence to implicate anyone.
Truly, as stated in the school anthem we daily sang, VCI is the “foster mother of us all”.
Fashola’s Love Letter
From Ibadan Monday came a report that should comfort long-suffering energy consumers in Nigeria. While addressing the 12th edition of the monthly meeting of stakeholders in the power sector, 3-in-1 Minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, spoke to the heart of the big moral question DISCOs (distribution companies) have been unable to answer.
Just how fair is it for consumers to pay for services not rendered?
The extortionate strategy is simple: estimated billing system. In order word, whether electricity is supplied or not, you are made to pay a fixed rate, failing which you are summarily disconnected.
Speaking that day, the former Lagos governor rose in defense of helpless consumers by saying they have a right to resist paying for services not enjoyed. To be sure, each time the Minister explains that power generation is hampered by lack of gas to power the plant, people can understand. (Of course, people can also see that BRF has grown more grey hair over sleepless nights trying to make the power plants deliver more megawatts.)
But what does not make sense to the people is when the DISCOs seek to make them pay for services not delivered. That certainly was not the promise when the nation’s power assets were privatised years ago.
Such shylock arrangement, it must be said, only amounts to incentivising the bad behaviors of the DISCOs. Once they are made to realize their revenue is tied to performance, there will be the push to sit up.
Over the years, deadlines have been set for the DISCOs by the power regulatory agency for consumers to be metered. But it is always convenient and profitable for the companies to breach same.
This writer is a victim. One has been waging a running battle with the DISCO in Edo State which will not supply a pre-paid meter to one’s private residence in Benin despite repeated application. One had paid for a meter replacement to the old PHCN after the existing one got blown up by power surge.
On assumption, the Benin DISCO said they didn’t have the records. So, it was convenient to begin to drop estimated bill at the gate monthly even when the cumulative energy supply for 30 days would probably not exceed 24 hours! Truth is: for our energy need, we depend largely on our own mini “power plant” of two weather-beaten generating sets with the public supply as a mere “back up”.
Not content with the extortion by “estimated bill”, the Benin DISCO later expanded the terror by cooking up a “crazy bill” indicating an exponential 1,200 percent hike of the former! It took a personal call to the highest authorities in the Benin DISCO before the “crazy bill” was reluctantly reviewed a bit downward.
Since, one has written and written, prayed, “dry-fasted”, lobbied for just a pre-paid meter to be supplied, even at one’s cost, without success. And we are told we cannot go out of our ways to procure one, except the one customised by the DISCO itself. So, one has had to draw more than a dose of the biblical Job’s patience to endure all the shenanigans of the Benin DISCO ever since.
With Fashola’s Monday declaration, one sincerely hopes the DISCOs will realise the game is finally up. We cannot be talking of efficiency in the sector if emphasis is how much return the DISCOs make on their investment without anyone asking how much value they bring to the table.
Thank you, BRF.