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Sunday, 24 September 2023 06:52

[OPINION] Owo High School at 60: In search of old classmates - Bolanle Bolawole

A saying of our people is that 20 children cannot pull or play together for 20 unbroken years. This is not because they may not be willing to do so but because circumstances beyond their control will compel them to do otherwise. Many strings will put them apart and they will go in different directions whether they like it or not. The first pull is time and the activities that each of them will have to undertake or accomplish. For instance, it is not all the kids that grew up in the same environment that end up attending the same elementary school. The pulling apart starts from there. It aggravates as they move from elementary to secondary school. For those of them that attend the same primary school, the average years they would spend together is six years. I still remember, as if it was yesterday, the day decades ago when we were passing out of primary school at Ansar-Ud-Deen (AUD) Primary School, Owatowose, Owo and were singing “gbagidari o digbóse tá o tun pade” and everyone was mopping up tears. It was a bitter-sweet moment. Sweet because we were passing out after six years of school activities and moving on to a higher level of educational attainment but bitter because we were parting with precious friends and classmates.

I still remember some of my primary school classmates like Dupe Ajape, Yusuf Adagbeje, Banji Adelegan aka Bomber, Azeez Olukokun aka Three Stones (because of the shape of his head) and Yunusa (?) Anola. Adagbeje was, perhaps, the best pupil in our 1967 set but I remember returning home on holidays from the then University of Ife many years later and the driver of the taxi that I boarded at the motor park was Adagbeje. My shock! I screamed his name! He turned around and also screamed “Ojo”! I asked him what was the matter; he replied that after AUD he had no funds to further his education! He was at that time happily married with children! That is one example of how talents get wasted; how destinies get truncated; and how society itself suffers avoidable losses!

My choice of secondary school was Methodist High School, Owo for reasons I cannot really understand or explain now. I took the entrance exams and passed but my father would have none of it. It was Owo High School, Owo, founded by the “Leader”, as Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin of blessed memory was called by his supporters, or nothing! Pa Ajasin led the Action Group in the town and the party of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the darling of the people of the Western Region in those days. So, I ended up at All Saints Modern School instead of rotting away at home. The next year I was still recalcitrant and took only the entrance exams to the same Methodist Secondary School. I was admitted once again but, once again, my father stuck to his guns. It was Owo High School or nothing! I cannot remember the names of many of my classmates at All Saints but I remember Ibikunle Falana (with whom I communicate till date), the always-getting-into -trouble ‘Lasekan; and the stammerer, Alite. I remember our teacher, Mr. Famose and our headmaster, Mr. Agunbiade. Not long ago, Ibikunle reeled off a list of many of our mates and teachers at All Saints. His memories in that regard dwarf mine.

Once bitten, twice shy, they say, but I got bitten twice before I learnt to do the needful. So, the third year around, I sat for the common entrance examination to Owo High School and was offered admission and my father said: Now you are talking! So, I started secondary school in January 1970. I was to regret the two “wasted” years, so to say, at All Saints each time Senior Adigun and Senior Fajoyomi, who were in Form Two, would command me to kneel down for no just cause other than to show that they were seniors! “Three sixty-five days is not a joke” was their usual refrain and I would say to myself: It is not your fault! if I hadn’t “wasted” those two years at All Saints, I would have been your senior and I, too, would have been the one yelling “Three sixty-five days is not a joke” at you!

Owo High School was fun! I had wonderful seniors and unforgettable classmates. Some of my teachers I remember to this day. Our principal, Pa Ajasin, and his wife, Mama Babafunke Ajasin, were in a class of their own. The pillars of Owo High School were learning and good upbringing and our principal and his wife did their best to impact these in us. Most of the teachers keyed into this but, of course, there were a few errant ones who were not spared once caught. Students were generally well-behaved because the penalty was severe if the contrary was proven. But all said and done, students will always be students! One thing that is common to most students is that it takes years after leaving school to appreciate some of the teachers that we thought were unnecessarily tough, even wicked, when correcting us and rolling back our excesses.

Age tempers and experience is the best teacher. It’s 49 years slowly winding down to 50 years that my 1970/74 set passed out of Owo High School, Owo but it looks just like yesterday! We are making plans to celebrate our Golden Jubilee in grand style but the immediate task ahead of us is the 60th anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) of the alma mater, which comes up between November 6th and 12th this year. Various activities have been lined up for the events and preparations, which started months ago, are already in top gear. The school has benefitted immensely from the activities of the Old Students at national as well as at Set levels and more of such benefits are still rolling in. The 60th anniversary will bring all the sets together, many of whom have identified areas of need in the school that they are filling as we speak. My own 1970/74 set is participating fully in the 60th anniversary activities.

Our own specific show, however, comes up next year when we shall celebrate our golden jubilee – which is 50 years of our passing out of Owo High School. The first assignment we gave ourselves was gathering our members together and the first decision we took was that everyone who started with us in 1970 (even if they dropped one or two years or changed school and those who joined us midway or repeated class with us) is a member. I am glad to report that many of our members in these categories have joined forces with us. Those yet to do so are enjoined to follow suit. If three sixty-five days is not a joke, then, we need not be told that fifty years is none either! A lot of waters have passed under the bridge during the period. Many of our classmates have gone to be with the Lord! May the good Lord rest their soul and bless the families that many of them left behind! We will be glad to link up with their families and take them on board as part and parcel of the 1970/74 Set family.

Each time we inquire about a classmate and we receive the news that he or she has passed on to glory, it saddens us but who are we to question God! We are consoled by the fact that we knew them; that we shared great moments and eventful years together; and the fond memories we have of them shall remain evergreen. Many of our classmates today are retirees after having occupied various positions in life. They have contributed their own quota to national development, be it as teachers, civil servants, lecturers, engineers, medical doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, media practitioners, businessmen and women, pastors, name it. We are proud of them and of their achievements! We urge them, however, not to relent or rest on their oars. Studies have shown that while a man’s strength abounds in his youth, the best of his intellectual capacity is to be found in old age. May we all age gracefully!

Going round trying to gather our members together and rally them around our common cause and goal, we have found that some are withdrawn, some lukewarm, and some evasive. Majority of those we have been able to contact have, however, been enthusiastic and upbeat. Many reasons have been adduced for the lukewarm attitude of the few but none of these reasons, I beg to say, is tenable. We cannot all have achieved the same measure of success. We cannot all have been the same thing. We have pulled in different directions and have achieved a measure of success individually. We might have been mates but fingers are not equal. No one needs to feel inferior or superior to anyone and no one needs to despise anyone or feel despised. Our strength lies not in the individual achievements that God has opportune each and everyone us to make but in the pulling together of the successes that each of us has achieved in our various fields.

Everyone is relevant. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone is needed. Therefore, anyone who pulls back is holding back something very useful that he or she can offer. Everyone who pulls back is a minus and not a plus. Everyone who fails to throw in his or her contribution to the pool diminishes us and imperils everyone, including himself or herself. Please understand that there is a classmate of yours somewhere who needs what you have. Don’t deny him or her of the opportunity. Note also that there is another classmate of yours somewhere who has what you need and is willing and ready to offer it – if only you come out of your cocoons. Don’t also deny yourself the opportunity! You can see, then, that with the right attitude, it is a win-win situation when old classmates and school mates come together for the good of all.

Three of our classmates started the process of bringing the 1970/74 set together – we thank them! Their efforts have started bearing fruits. Now, we hold monthly meetings in Lagos and connect with our classmates on phone. The response has been very encouraging. For instance, on Tuesday, 29 August, 2023 we embarked on what we called our “First missionary journey” to Ibadan where we met with our members in the Oyo state axis and were hosted by one of the smallest girls in our class in those days but who is now a big “Mama”, grandmother and top civil servant! It was a very hilarious meeting held, incidentally, in the sprawling headquarters of a worldwide Mission at the Bashorun area of Ibadan. Classmates who, ordinarily, would not have recognized one another had they come across one another outside, met and it was banters all the way. We discussed; we filled ourselves up on “lost” times; we ate and we drank. We parted feeling refreshed and fulfilled.

Encouraged, we embarked on a four-legged “Second Missionary journey” that took us from Lagos first to Osogbo, then Ondo, Akure and, finally, Owo. The Ondo leg, where we met and spent time with two of our classmates (one of who is now physically challenged), was very emotional. Who could have known that any such thing awaited any one of us fifty-something years ago? And who can tell what still lies ahead for anyone? As we speak, there are a few other classmates with health challenges. May they receive their healing! We hope to reach out to them and be there for them. We are setting up the Diaspora branches of the 1970/74 set in Europe, the Americas, Canada and other places where we have members. The cooperation we have received from some of them has energized us a lot. LET THE OTHERS WHO ARE STILL WATCHING FROM THE SIDELINES PLEASE COME ON BOARD! If you have the contact address of any of our classmates, please let’s have it and, please, join the OHS 70/74 platform.

At Owo, we were given red carpet welcome and royal treatment by one of our classmates at his Lilijo Motels in the town. The trip to Owo took us to the alma mater where we were well received by the principal, who was an old student, and other members of staff and students. We also went around the school to see things for ourselves, as they say. The encroachment on school land was a pain to us. We also visited our hostels – Girls’ Hostel. River Niger and River Benue (where we spoke with the property owner, Pa. Benedict Bosede Adetula), Bungalow Hostel, Ogboni Hostel, Odion, Anuoluwa, etc. Reminiscences of our years in those places kept flooding back and it was fun all the way!

The immediate goal as we speak is the fast-approaching 60th anniversary, which kicks off on Monday, 6 November with media/press briefing to be followed by a rally to the palaces of the Olowo, the Ojomo and the residence of our Founder, Pa. Michael Adekunle Ajasin. Tuesday is tree-planting day by the alumni, supported by global partners while Wednesday witnesses the commissioning of projects and presentations of gifts. On Thursday, which is Day Four, a student will act as One-Day principal of the school with alumni members volunteering as teachers. A quiz competition will round off the day. Variety show and novelty football match between alumni members and the school’s staff members come up on Friday (Day Five). Saturday (Day 6) will witness a bumper harvest of seminar/symposium, launching of Endowment Fund and dinner/fund-raising activities.

My set, OHS 70/74 Set, is participating fully in the Diamond Jubilee activities but the 50th anniversary of our Set’s graduation from the school comes up next year at a date yet to be announced. It promises to be fun all the way! God willing, I will see you there!

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