77 years old. That’s right. That is how old he would have been today. We would have gathered round him, along with his grandchildren and great grandchildren to celebrate him. For sure, he may have another lady by his side as his fourth or fifth wife, but that won’t have mattered. He would have been celebrated as a loving father.
If death had not struck on that evil of all days in 1976. He was just 36 years old when he had to answer the call that we all mortals will answer, one day. More than four decades after, I still do have my glimpses of him, now and then. He was caring, loving and would tolerate no nonsense from any of his children. We were not rich but were comfortable and he provided all that we did ask for such that we were the envy of many, amongst whom we grew up.
Father started me up on the path of life. From him I learnt the great education that travels bring. We didn’t travel by flights, it was all on the roads. My early recollection was with his Suzuki Motorbike. That was years ago in Oyo. I can’t forget the night that the Suzuki packed up on us, in the middle of nowhere. Three of us, miles away from the nearest abode. I remember, Daddy leaving mum and I to sleep, next by the Suzuki, while he trekked to seek help from the nearest settlement. Those were the good old days. We had no fear of attack from anyone. No, not even the casttle rustlers. I dare say we slept soundly that night, by the road side and it wasn’t until the next day that Daddy showed up and got the Suzuki repaired.
It wasn’t in Ode-Ekiti that I first became aware that I have a Dad, it was in Oyo. The day he came to pick me up on a trip to “who knows where”. Whether the trip started in Oyo or Ibadan, I cannot accurately recall. However, I do know we travelled in a Lorry. An open back one, the sort used in the north for carrying grains and agricultural produce to the south. Dad was seated comfortably in the front cabin and mum must have been nestled between him and the driver. My siblings and I, along with all our worldly possessions,occupied the open back of the lorry. The journey was bumpy and long, it seemed never ending. The sun shone and the cold taught us the importance of dressing warm. There were stops here and there and after what seemed an eternity, we finally arrived at a remote town. This I later came to realise was Daura. This was to be our home for the next few years.
Mother returned back to Oyo and I was left to be raised up by my step-mother, my other mother. His youngest wife became a mother to me. Of course, there were conflicts. I remember, it was always either with my half-sister or half-brother. We fought, we laughed and we learned. At no time was I made to feel that I was without my natural mother. I actually came to forget that I had one. Such was the love that prevailed in the house that he headed.
We had a decent accommodation, right in the middle of the town. Daura had no electricity but we were well served by kerosene lamps and candles for illumination. Then things got better and he bought a marvel of a fridge. One that runs on kerosene. That became our watering hole. We now had access to refreshing cold water, to cool ourselves from the dry humid and hot conditions of the almost desert landscape that Daura is. We got enrolled in the public school. I am pretty sure there was nothing like private schools in Daura then. Even ifthere were,I am sure that Daddy would not have enrolled us there as well. I remember running back from school, in those early days, complaining that the boys were abusing me. A Yoruba boy in the midst of mainly Hausa kids. I learnt Hausa words like “Sege Bansa”, Barao, and a few others that I easily can’t remember now. I would cry home only to be scolded, beaten with lashes and sent back to school by him. I soon developed good friendship the boys and was no longer an outcast. We walked to school and back with other boys from the community. There was no distinction. I was the son of a man of high repute in the society but treated no differently from the boy next door. It didn’t matter to anyone that I wasn’t Hausa. Eating Fura De Nunu (aged milk and millet blend) and other Hausa foods became the norm.
We were free in the neighbourhood. I remember the Durbar at the Emir’s Palace. He always encouraged us to go and watch it. I had a faint recollection of a man spitting fire during one of the durbars. There were also the snake charmers and, of course, the horses dressed in royal splendour with their riders paying tribute to the Emir of Daura. Such was the beauty of the Annual Durbar.
When prosperity shined on us, he bought The Red Lada. It was the subject of discussion for a long while. The Lada Car, not many would remember, was a piece of Russian Engineering and was second to none. I always describe it as the car with no luxury built in. The design must have had the philosophy that if something doesn’t contribute to making the car work, it shouldn’t be in the Lada. There was always this discussion, which was a better car – the Lada or the Fiat? His other friend had a Fiat.
On the few occasions that he had to drive us to school, I was always proud to alight from that shining car. There was no Air Conditioning and you could guess what the experience was to ride in this car under the heat of the northern Nigerian sun. We didn’t see anything wrong, we loved the car.
We took many trips in this car. I remember the many trips across the northern border of Nigeria just to buy fresh cow milk. Not that the milk was that dear to him but it was an opportunity for him to bond with us, his kids. On one occasion, as we were returning from the trip, we came across an Eagle on he road. As the Eagle spread its wing to take off, it ran into the car and got the windscreen cracked. It fell to the road side. I can vividly see daddy open the booth, bringing out the jack and using this to snuff the life out of the poor bird. We had our dinner made for us. It was warm milk with roasted Eagle that night. It was through these, that early in life, he imparted some very important pieces of wisdom into my then tender mind. I soaked them all. Did someone say something about discipline? He was a stern concerning this. I spent countless hours confined to my seat by the dining table, forced to study. I dared not leave the table until late into the evenings.
When he was jolly, he would bring out his cherished turn table. Yes, you got it. It looked like a briefcase, but when opened up, reveals its little secret. He would ask me to operate it, having carefully selected from his collections either a 33 1/3 or 45 rpm disc. The soothing music of any of I.K. Dairo, Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade or Emperor Pick Peters will fill the air. Far in that northern corner of Nigeria, he will gently sway to the music. As kids, we consider this the best of times to ask him for anything. Anything at all.
I must have gotten infested with the travel bug from him. He was everywhere and there was nowhere in this God blessed piece of earth called Nigeria that he did not foray into. In a manner similar to that of Mr. Bako, he took us round the country. In the Red Lada. You dare not say you don’t know whom Mr. Bako, his wife Mrs. Bako and their two children Alade and Biola were, except you had not read the Universal Primary English Textbooks for Years 5 and 6. We drove from North to South. The South-West and then North again. It was in this car that I got to visit Lokoja, on our way to Ibadan. We got educated as to what a confluence was and the historic significance of Lokoja to Nigeria. I recollect that Samuel Ajayi Crowder (that gentleman that interpreted the English Bible to Yoruba) lived there. Going back through Jebba, we marvelled at the bridge over the Niger. It was a brilliant piece of engineeting, with the train on its tracks soaring ahead of us. Somewhere here, my recollection is faint now, the road was very narrow and we were navigating through this road next to the river when the rear end of the car scraped the side roads. We were saved from falling into the Niger by inches. I can’t forget the ensuing altercation between our driver and Daddy. The Driver threw the car keys to Daddy in annoyance and left us stranded. Not being an expert driver, Daddy took over the control of the car and drove us all the way back to Daura.
It was that same car that traversed the south west and we got to spend time in Ode-Ekiti. How can I forget our late night arrival in Ode-Ekiti with Daddy? We were welcomed with a steaming bowl of pounded yam and Egusi soup. The next morning, a repeat of the same delicious meal followed. Well, our host clearly made a mistake when, with a lot of sweat, the women pounded yam again and presented it to us as our lunch. I was fed up and couldn’t hide my distaste of it. The Red Lada took us to Lagos, not the same Lagos as we now know it. We stayed in Agege visiting his father-in-law, my maternal father. He was a Muslim, a devoted one for that matter. We are Christians. This did not matter to anyone. We ate “sari” with him and I enjoyed it as I didn’t have to fast to enjoy this extra meal at the break of dawn.
On one of our trips to see an Uncle living a bit away from us, we had an accident with the car. The tyre busted. The car rolled over and landed on its roof, all the four tyres faced up. We were given for dead by other road users. Miraculously, we didn’t have any injury. No, not even a scratch. We all crawled out through the front windscreen that had shattered. It was in Saminaka, in Kaduna State, if I remember correctly. For some reasons, Death was not permitted to take any of us then but it started lurking at the corner. Waiting to strike, where it pained most.
Not that I resemble him, no. The credit for that goes to another of my sibling who happens to be his duplicate copy, in all terms of the word. He was short, I am not. He carried a goatee, I hate beards. He was polygamous with a love of women, not in the way I do. However, all things, said, I am his offspring and remain very proud to have had him as my father.
In his 36 years on earth, he got the education he could afford and craved that we kids should follow his path. He attended Ibadan Grammar School and then proceeded to Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo. He was an itinerant teacher and had left his mark on many schools and students. He was at Awe Grammar School, Awe. St Andrews Teacher Training College Oyo, Ijomu-Oro Grammar School and Ode-Ekiti High School were some of the schools where he tutored.
He loved his job, he loved his students. It was the love for impacting young minds that took him to Daura. Then, and even now, Daura seemed to be at the end of the world, a far far away place. He wasn’t bothered about that. He was known at the Teacher’s College and loved. Years after he was gone, I was pleasantly surprised when mother handed over to me a plaque that had been delivered to her by the Old Boys Association of Ode-Ekiti High School. I wept and my joy was rekindled in him as my father. It was to remember him for his significant impact on the lives of these men, who were his boys in those years at the school. The plaque was presented by the then Managing Director of Wema Bank, Segun Oloketuyi. Such was the impact he had on those whom he was privileged to teach.
His quest for the Golden Fleece was insatiable. He gained admission to a college in the UK and was preparing to leave the shores of the country. In preparation, he sent us all packing from Daura to Ibadan, to await his arrival. That was the last I ever saw him, alive.
And the man died. The unfortunate day was the 22nd October 1976. He was alone in his Red Lada. That same car, he loved so much. A send forth party had been arranged for him by his fellow teachers at the College. They must have partied and were probably tipsy as well. He was making his way back to Daura on the Katsina-Daura Road when, whatever happened, he and his beloved car ended up in the river. The end came for the man I am proud to have called Daddy. The rest is history, his corpse was brought down to Ibadan and got buried at the Church’s Cemetery close to Orita Aperin.
Years ago, I could pin-point with precision where his grave was. While we were not watching, busy with other affairs of life, some other folks turned the resting place of our dear beloved into the land upon which they have built their houses. The Cemetery, a sacred ground of those days, have been taken over by land grabbers and developed. As I write this, it’s been a struggle to locate his grave. The Bible records that when the Israelites left Egypt, they left with Joseph’s bones to the promised land. That was 400 years after Joseph’s death. The Israelites were able to locate his bones and took them along. 41 years after my father’s death, we can’t locate his grave not to talk of his bones. So sad. He is dead, true. We can’t show his grave to his grandchildren but he lives on in our hearts, in our deeds and the lineage we have established through him.