Tribute: Owoade, A National Mirror is Broken

Tribute: Owoade, A National Mirror is Broken

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 12:47 pm



By Akin Owolabi

It was one year ago on July 21, 2015 when a legendary teacher and consummate college administrator, Prince Bashiru Olayiwola Owoade, surrendered to mankind’s most truculent adversary, death. This invincible, virulent and implacable enemy has been ravaging mankind over the millenniums. Death has sent and still sending billions of humans to the ever hungry grave. Man’s hope lies only in the Most High God’s promise to rescue mankind from ‘this last enemy,’ which the Scriptures say will be brought to nothing and the billions being held by its pangs loosened from the graveyards.

The imminence of Prince Owoade’s demise was not hidden from the few close friends and relations of this enigma of a person, a titan in every right in his realm of influence – education. But that it took about one year for some of his admirers, including this writer, to learn of the tragedy (death, irrespective of age, will forever remain tragic) suggests that the man did not get even a percentage of his well deserved rewards and regards, even towards his demise. Owoade, at his death should, in reality, be treated like a king, a colossus, not just for his accident of birth into the royalty, but for the enviable way he impacted the life of those who came across him in his service career. Many would have loved that he was flown abroad for the best of medical, despite being aerophobic. There is however this timeless saying of William Shakespeare:

“When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

Akin Owolabi

Akin Owolabi

The exit of ‘Oba’ (the sobriquet he acquired for the part he played in a drama in his student days at the University of Lagos) is curiously akin to Biblical Moses whom God hid (buried) his body in a ‘valley in the land of Mo2 ab, opposite Beth-pe2 or, and nobody knows where his grave is down to this day.’ Prince Owoade, in the Muslim tradition, was interred without fanfare in his Oyo hometown, Oyo State and all the rites observed in that crustal Yoruba town outside the purview of most of his teeming admirers. While Moses was 120 years old at his death; his eyes had not grown dim, and his strength had not departed, Owoade, at his death, was 74 years, and, to the best of my feeble, fleeting knowledge of him, felt fulfilled in life.

This reasoning derives from the subject’s yet-to-be matched record as one who midwifes one of the best public secondary schools, Lagos State Model College, Kankon – Badagry in contemporary times. Kankon, with Owoade as pioneer principal and for almost 20 years that he sojourned in that rural terrain, made sterling waves not only in Lagos State but also in the whole of our country – Nigeria.

What set Owoade apart from others was his humanness, his generosity, his give, give and never take disposition. Milk of humanness flowed freely in his royal veins. If he were a Christian, I would have put it to him that he more than imbibed the doctrine espoused by Christ Jesus at Acts of Apostles Chapter 20 verse 35 which states:

“I (Paul) have shown you in all things that by working hard in this way,
you must assist those who are weak and must keep in mind
the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said: ‘There is more
happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’”

The emphasis being that Owoade lived a life of giving than receiving. I had some major encounters with Owoade as Principal of Kankon Model College when I was editing the Lagos State Government-own Lagos Horizon (later renamed Eko Today). We designed an interview platform for the principals of model colleges in the state to ascertain whether the scheme was on course in accordance with the aspirations of their founder – Navy Captain (later Vice Admiral) Mike Okhai Akhigbe, when he was Military Governor of Lagos State.

The governor had designed a model college for each of the five traditional divisions in Lagos State, though with Ikorodu Division having two, the sixth was tagged Civil Service Model College, Igbogbo. The Badagry slot was set in the rural town of Kankon some 8 kilometre northwest of Badagry town. The model schools were located in serene rural setting to enhance teaching and learning. The Akhigbe administration combed the state secondary school environments for the best hands to drive the novelty and the lot for Kankon fell on Owoade, then principal in a secondary school in Alimoso Local Government.

The interview team I led to Kankon unanimously concluded that Owoade was far ahead of all others in virtually all aspects of college administration. Using the parents’ forum and other external channels, Kankon moved ahead to add more structures to the modest ones provided by the Akhigbe administration, thus making significant impact on the skyline of the school. The college had a mini-zoo with such exotic animals as chimpanzees, alligator, peacocks and a fish pond.

Kankon won many Lagos State and national laurels in the areas of national secondary school competitions and the principal was selected ‘Principal of the Year’ for as long as his name was on the list of contestants until he decided to step aside for others to have a feel of the coziness.

The interview visit exhibited yet another side of the principal. He was exceedingly generous, even up to a fault. At the end of the stimulating encounter, during which the Oyo blue-blooded school administrator thrilled the four-man team – Kunle Abimbola, Akin Obasa and Ayoade Giwa who once worked under Owoade as teacher. Owoade came up with gifts that could sway camels. Cartons of frozen turkey, almost in the proportion of the number of interviewers, and other exotic items were consigned to us. The principal was not pretending. He was merely being himself – give and give and to give.

In 1998, I wanted my 10-year-old daughter, Omowunmi, in Kankon Model College but curiously she was off the cut-off mark. I gave up until a chance meeting with Owoade. I told him my disappointment but said it was reversible. Kankon became the abode of my daughter for the ensuing six years. I and the mother took the girl to Kankon with a view to expressing our profound gratitude to the facilitator of the golden opportunity. Owoade was not on ground. I sought another opportunity to do it but the reverse was the case. Owoade regretted that he was away in Lagos when we brought the girl, saying he would have assisted. He opened his drawer and brought out a bale of notes containing 100 of N200, tossed it to me as his token assistance. Owoade had reversed the situation. The one who had given so much became the one giving more. He was such an enigma, ever ready to give.

Mr. Abdulganiy Omolaja Jolaoso, Owoade’s student at the Lagos State African Church Grammar School (LAFROGRAMS), Ifako, Agege, an associate and family friend for more than 30 years, described his mentor as a “born teacher, education administrator of all times; man imbued with sterling leadership traits and profuse sense of humour.” He said Oba, though the only product of his mother’s womb was father to many biological and non-biological children.

Jolaoso’s closeness enabled him to reveal that the former principal spent more than 75 percent of his earnings and gifts from appreciative wealthy parents on the sponsorship of indigent students. Layi, shortened form of Olayiwola, sponsored any indigent student who came across him even beyond his institution to tertiary ones.

As NCE teacher at LAFROGRAMS, Oba taught English Language and History with such passion and dedication that ensured 100 percentage passes in those subjects year-in-year-out, Jolaoso said. In 1979, Owoade secured a leave with pay to study for combined honours degree in the two subjects.

Owoade had golden opportunity to strike it rich but bluntly refused. Jolaoso, who supplied more than enough information for this piece, said Owoade disappointed his friends and associates who persuaded him to establish a private secondary school for self actualisation in view of the golden success that greeted his administration in public schools. His reason for turning down such proposal: ‘He would be tempted to give such private institution more attention as he was doing in service.’ He also advanced the reason of advancing age to turn down the advice.

He would say of himself:
“I was born a teacher
I remain a teacher
I will remain a teacher
If I come back to this world
I will come as a teacher.”

How true is that assertion? Omowunmi, mentioned earlier, who has proceeded to earn a master’s degree in Chemistry, said: “Though I didn’t meet him as teacher, he had a way of impacting knowledge to us and this was by means of the part he took in the Monday and Friday assemblies. Every Monday, he had a part which he tagged: ‘News Extra’ enlightening us, mostly boarders, on the happenings around the world. On Fridays was another programme code-named: ‘English par Excellence,’ which addressed common errors in English thus assisting in many ways to improve our proficiency in the language.

“He had zero tolerance for truancy as all academic activities were taken seriously and promptly. He ensured that all the teachers carried out their work dutifully. He discouraged roaming, hiring retired soldiers to enforce discipline. He also set aside moments for meditation which was set for Monday afternoons. After the prep of that day, we always had a silent hour when we would lay on our outspread wrappers in the open field to meditate for one hour. This, no doubt, infused in us the need for seriousness in life.

“He was also a father to the core, always pampering new students. He tagged new ones ‘angels’ and symbolised this by allowing them put on their Sunday whites every day, regarding them as ‘untouchable’ by the senior predators till after the orientation week.
“The orientation week was another wonder performed by my principal as it was only peculiar to my school. It lasted for a week and it included events like lectures, excursion round the school and Badagry town, visiting places like the council secretariat, Akran of Badagry’s Palace, slave trade building, the first storey building in Nigeria and the Whispering Palms Resorts in Iworo, near Badagry. We also had special breakfast with the principal and other top officers of the college among other social activities. Prince Owoade instilled so much confidence in the student and this galvanised us to hit the tops in our academic works and thereafter aim at greater heights in education. Admission into tertiary institutions, particularly the university system, was made easy for all Kankonians, as we call ourselves.”

The net result of all this was academic excellence that made Kankon the most sought-after secondary school in most parts of Western Nigeria. Top technocrats, civil commissioners, military and police brasshats, royal fathers like the Akran of Badagry, De Wheno Aholu Menu Toyi 1, The Alaaye of Ode-Remo , Oba Funso Adeolu, deceased, the political class fall over themselves to get their children and wards into Kankon. It was even noted that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s children berthed in the college.

Owoade was born on April 20, 1940 into one of the royal families in Oyo Alaafin. He was born to Prince Sanni Akee Owoade and Mrs. Nimotallahi Tanimowo of the Agunloye Royal family. He left the primary school system in 1954, attended the Local Authority Modern School in Oyo before undergoing an NCE programme at the University of Lagos. His passion for the chalk profession spurred him to reject an offer as broadcaster with the Federal Radio Corporation.

His oratory prowess and impeccable English recommended Owoade as the official orator of the Badagry arm of the Lagos State Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) and for many years was a moderator at many Lagos State Ministry of Education functions. Oba was aerophobic thus travelling by roads mostly in Nigeria while he tactically declined many international offers that would involve air travels.

Owoade was a football enthusiast and an ardent supporter of the defunct Lagos darling soccer team – Stationery Stores. He was a friend to some of the football stars of the time, particularly Haruna Ilerika. Oba veered into the hospitality industry on retirement from Kankon, establishing Super Flamingo Hotel in Badagry.

In the Yoruba royal tradition that Ori ade kii sun ita, (a decent man should not be wayward), Oba relocated to Oyo town about two years to his final exit, ostensibly to re-unite with some of his childhood friends who had settled back home. Prince Owoade’s name may not easily evoke passion in the Nigerian media, yet he was such a hero of enormous proportion in his chosen field. As a philanthropist of note, his home and office were Mecca of sort to his teeming enthusiasts. He impinged positively on the lives of youths who came his way, which was why one of the sets of Kankon Model College demonstrated its love and profound appreciation for their mentor by presenting him with a ‘tear-rubber’ Toyota car while he was still alive. Many would have loved to do more but for the man’s aversion to receiving syndrome.

Mention will continue to be made of Florence Nightingale, Mary Slessor, Michael Faraday, with oratory prowess that ranked with Cicero, Wilson Churchill’s and many other great people of history. Owoade’s name will one day be added to the long list in the global hall of fame.

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.