My Lagelu Years – Part 1

For my mates from Lagelu Grammar School, the experiences I write here will, in many instances represent our collective ones but in few, personal. For those collective experiences, where because of passage of time my recollections stray from your understanding of what happened, please assist by drawing my attention to this and I will easily make the needed changes.

Otherwise, as with every other person reading these lines, kindly provide your comments below the write-up.

September was almost here and we had to find a school for our son. Someone had recommended that we visited a nearby school, noted for its discipline and outstanding student performance. I had just finished meeting Dr. David, the Principal, a Filipino who had been residing in Nigeria for 27 years then. I had been showed the Science Laboratory but was still unable to make up my mind that the school was right for my cherished son. The laboratory had awoken in me some memories of my old school and this, being a boy’s only school, was an additional positive.

I was walking out of the school building when my attention was drawn to a lovely white peacock spreading its beautiful feathers. I loved the idea that the school adored nature. I turned back to go into the building and collect the forms. It was then that I saw a couple of student, kneeling down in the open courtyard with their arms raised. Knowing that many school had done away with corporal punishments, this fully got me convinced that this was the right school for my son. Without hesitation, I collected the entrance examination forms for him. He passed and was duly admitted, everything thereafter is history.

However, this was not the whole story. A few months later, I had gone to pick up my son from school. He was sober looking as he entered the car.

“Son, what is wrong”, I had asked.
“Dad, I was punished today”
“Why, what did you do wrong?”
”Nothing, the principal just picked on me for running around”

I chuckled to myself, noting that the Apple does not fall far from the tree. History has just repeated itself. I remembered my first day at school and how I was similarly picked upon by the Principal. As I knelt down, that morning, just by the 3 steps at which Class 1C stood, all I could think of was that I ought not to be in that school.

The Block for Class 1A to C, where I got punished that fateful day.

My journey to secondary school had started years before. In 1976, I had moved to Bodija and was a student at the Methodist Primary School there. The expectation had been that I would continue my education at Methodist Secondary School. However, due  to a series of unfortunate events, in a twinkle of an eye, I was pulled off from the privileged environment of Bodija and was back at Oke-Labo.

My mum, then a student at Teachers College in Sagamu, had heard of Tai Solarin’s Mayflower School and felt that was where I deserved to be schooled next as a boarding house student. She obtained the entrance form, completed and submitted them. She showed up one weekend at Oke-Labo,  as she does on her days off school, and I was taken to Ikenne to sit for the examination.

Getting back to Oke-Labo, Uncle Folorunso had concocted his own plan. He had taken my mother’s move to be a smart and devious way to get me far away from him and his other siblings. He wasn’t going to allow this to happen, I had to be within his eyesight. I was the only link connecting my mum to her ex-husband’s family and if I get taken away, his rights to my mother under the Levirate marriage custom would be gone also. To forestall this from happening, he had also obtained the entrance form to Abeokuta Grammar School and I followed him to Abeokuta and took the entrance examination as well.  It didn’t stop there, Uncle Soba, for reasons best known to him, wanted me in Lagelu Grammar School. How he got to choose a school in Agugu for a 10 year old child living in Oke-Labo still beats me till today, when there were other nearby schools. He procured the form and I sat the tedious Common Entrance Examination as well.

On the grounds of the school hall with my little porcupine

I gained admission to Methodist, Abeokuta and Lagelu but failed the interview for acceptance into Mayflower. Mother was dejected and a mini family meeting was held to decide my fate. Lagelu was the choice made for me. However, because of the distance, it was further decided that I would be staying in the dormitory as a boarding house student. From that moment, preparation for the D-day started.

The first visit was to Oje Market to purchase white China Cotton and Green Khaki materials. These were delivered to our neighbourhood tailor, Uncle Muda (not a relative of mine in anyway but we called nearly everyone uncle). He took my measurements and proclaimed, like the Lord of the Manor, that the pair of tailored uniforms would not be ready for a month! I still needed to have the school badge. This was gotten from the school and handed over to Uncle Muda to sew on the pocket of the shirts.

A fabric seller in Ibadan

A bus from Labo with the conductor shouting “Agbeni, Ogunpa, Dugbe” took us all the way to Ogunpa, where we alighted. In those days, the Ógúnpa River ran swiftly, carrying with it tons of waste. Along its banks, a market had formed – the Ógúnpa Market. Up and away from the beaten path, was a group of “Alàgbẹ́de” who made and sell  locally fabricated metal boxes called “potimonto”. We bought one and picked up a silver coated shining metal bucket. From here, we walked across the bridge on Ógúnpa River to Lebanon road. Here the Lebanese reigned supreme, trading in all sorts of wares. We bought a pair of white tennis shoes, white tee shirts and knickers for sport, a pyjamas, bed sheet as well as a woollen blanket, amongst other things. Everything was neatly folded in the potimonto and we made our way back home.

As boarding students, we resumed a day earlier than the day students in order to go through the familiarisation process for the dormitories. We had been provided a list of items that were essential for us to bring to the dormitory. Each student presented his items and these were ticked against the list. Thereafter we were assigned to dormitories, there were three of them. I was assigned a bed in the middle one. It was a bunk bed and being a freshman, my lot was the lower bunk bed.

Our dormitory had two rows of bed with about 20 beds in each row. We were taught how to lay our beds and then walked around the hostels and shown where the house masters were accommodated, the washing line to spread our clothes, the dining hall, kitchen and the rest.

A street around Dugbe in 2008

The first day of classes was a bright September day in 1979. It must have been around 5am when a loud whistle sounded and the lights came on in our hall. It was time to put on our white sporting tee shirts, knickers and tennis shoes. With dressing done, we filed into neat columns in front of the hostel.

The exercise masters, about 4 of them, took us on an early morning run around the neighbourhood. At their instructions, we separated into groups and started jogging, each group led by an exercise master. As we jogged, we sang. Songs like “Home, my home, when shall I see my home…”, “Nzebu zebu, eyimba eyim” etc. We exited the school premises from the back, took a left turn and jogged the whole way to the main gates. From here, we followed the main road that runs through the school back to the dormitory. The weather was cold when we started but in no time the cold disappeared, to be replaced by sweat all over us. I had never been exposed to this type of stress before but the stern looking exercise masters were not to be played with, so I did all I could to keep within the pack. It was a hectic exercise. The route was tarred but dusty in some areas, I was concerned for my brilliant white tennis shoes.

We were back at the hostel before 6am. After this, we took our baths in the communal showers, there was nothing like individual privacy. We dressed up and went for breakfast. Breakfast had to be taken in the dinning room and be finished with before 7.30am. The previous day being Sunday, we had had a sumptuous dinner here, something that was a clear difference from what I was used to in Oke-Labo. From the dining hall, we trekked the short distance to the school hall, a majestic building standing at the bend of the main road , marking an artificial border between the classroom areas and the hostel.

At 8am, the assembly bell rung and we joined the day students to line up smartly in front of Labiyi Hall, the official name of the school assembly hall. We were lined up in groups ,according to our cohorts, with the senior boys at the extreme left side and we, the greenhorns, on the right. As I stood in line with others in my cohort, I needed no one to tell me that I was one of the youngest there, it showed in my height. We were lined up  with the shortest students in front and the tallest at the back. Quite noticeably were some guys at the back of our lines. There was no way on earth that they were in the same year with me, I had thought. Some of them were older than my senior brother and I thought they must have joined our line in error.

The School Hall – Assembly was always in front of it

Various announcements were made. We sang the national anthem and I was just munching words. I knew the words of the old national anthem very well but not the new anthem which was introduced just about a year before that time. We also sang the school anthem, prayed and did some other things. There was a roll call and we were assigned to various classes, I and a few others to Class 1C. I was given a seat at the front of the class because of my small stature.  The desks were similar to the ones I had used at Olubi Memorial School except these ones have no space for ink pots. I have grown up and now was expected to use BIC fountain pens, which we popularly call biros.

Our class tutor had left the class and for some reasons that I cannot recollect now, we were running up and down the veranda that connected classes 1A to 1C in what was an uncontrolled enjoyment of the new environment that we were. That was, before the Principal showed up out of no where and punished us. I was sore afraid but after getting three strokes of the Principal’s cane each, we were let back into our classes and severely warned not to behave like hooligans  He must have said something like “idlers have no room in Lagelu and we will train you not to be one.” What that meant, I had no clue.

My bottom was sore as I took my seat in the class and the first day of classes started in earnest. A class captain was appointed, his primary job was to maintain the list of noise makers and those speaking in vernacular. Of course, one of the bigger boys was chosen and having tasted the Principal’s cane, I vowed to myself to keep out of the captain’s list. I managed to do this for just a few days.

Relieving the experience, walking the same corridor in 2010

Soon the bells rang and it was time for break. All eyes were on those of us that had just been punished by the Principal. We became the laughing stock and that hurt more than the Principal’s cane. With shame, I joined a couple of boys at the school’s football field, walking through the bush path that passed behind the toilet and the science lab. Teams were formed and a couple of older boys made it but not me. They had a plastic ball, no one could afford leather balls in those days. The main football field was very green and well manicured but the teams were playing on its fringes, kicking up a lot of dust. Playing there required some dexterity – the ball being light, it was not just all about skills but the play was also dependent on the wind.

The bells rang again and all of us, sweaty kids, had to get back to classes. For those who were not wise enough to have taken off their white school uniforms, they had some explaining to do in class from the mixture of sweat and sand that now made the uniforms look brownish.

Relic of our dormitories, as they looked in 2008

The day’s lessons were soon over. While the day student’s were either picked up in cars (for the rich ones) or found their way home through the many paths that run through the forested grounds of the school, we boarders walked back to our different hostels. We had to change from the school uniforms to the boarding house wears before we were allowed into the dinning hall. With lunch done, all boarding students observed a mandatory siesta period of about an hour after which we went to Prep classes. These were classes where we reviewed what we had been taught during the day and prepare for the next lesson. Dinner was around 7pm or thereabout. After this, the house master came in to check that we were all tucked up on our beds. Light out was around 8pm and everyone was expected to sleep off thereabout.

Telling the story to my “Little Porcupine”, in one of the classrooms at Lagelu

I was missing home already, I thought of my playmates in Oke-Labo and what I could have done for that day. I probably would have been rolling my tyre or pulling my car, with body made from the container box of St.Louis sugar and its tyres made out of Coca-Cola bottle caps, around the neighbourhood. I wasn’t cut out for this strict regimented life that started by 5am. As I saw the innocence of my childhood disappear before me, I started crying under the cover of my ash grey blanket with black and red stripes. No one cared, no one looked my way. No calming words came from anywhere. At that point, I longed for my mother to show up and take me away from Camp Agugu, quartermastered by Mr. Arotiba, a name that I will come to get very used to in years to come.