Of Old Times, Old Flames, Sweet And Bitter Memories (I)

Bola Bowale

Back through the ages I go wandering once again/Back to the season of my youth/I recall the bags of rags that someone gave us/ And how my mama put the rags to use… In Dolly Parton’s “Coat of many colours”

There is nothing new that will not become old; even our world (as we know it today) will wax old like a garment and be discarded. Looking back in history, the world has gotten old anyway! And it keeps getting older each day that passes! Scripture says so. And just like the Apola king of yore, Idowu Animashaun, crooned, the brand new garments that our parents knew waxed old, got torn, and were discarded. The same thing has happened to brand new clothes that we ourselves have celebrated. Clothing is here used figuratively.

The world passes away and everything within it – its beauty, its challenges; its pains! Driving through my home town again last week brought memories of changing times and seasons flooding back my mind and coursing through my consciousness. It has now become a yearly ritual for me to visit the ancient town of Owo during the convocation ceremony of Achievers University, Owo, courtesy of its founder and pro-chancellor, the inimitable Dr. Bode Ayorinde, one-time honourable member of the Federal House of Representatives.

The name of the university is not a misnomer at all, for Ayorinde himself is an achiever. Not born with a golden or silver spoon in his mouth; not having come into sudden and questionable wealth; and not having the backing of a coterie of men of means with deep pockets to lean on but working tooth and nail, day and night, and through all manner of weather conditions, be they clement and be they inclement, to give birth to a university, and to also sustain it through thick and thin and then nurture it to its present enviable status where it has begun to attract recognition and acclaim – all of these are no mean achievement. As the saying goes that it takes a thief to decipher the footprints of another thief on a rock, it takes an achiever to give birth to an achieving university.

The journey from Lagos to Owo last Friday was filled with traffic hiccups that kept me wondering when – or whether – this country will ever develop in the real sense of the word! One-and-half hours at the Lagos end of Berger and two hours meandering through traffic within Ibadan town, and being at the mercy of street urchins who fleeced me on the excuse of serving as a guide. Will it take an eternity to complete the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, which started as far back as 1999? Is the government concerned about the harrowing experience of travellers on that road? Outward Lagos, the traffic so early on Friday morning was outrageous but it was nothing to compare with that of inward Lagos.

Most of the time road users spend four, five, six hours or even more in that snarling traffic – and it has been like that for months now! Many of those living in that axis and working in Lagos have relocated or now work and sleep in their offices or have made arrangements with friends and family members where they “manage” during the week and only brave it home for the weekend. In saner climes, no government will subject its citizens to such harrowing experience. Alternative arrangements would have been made and the construction work, which has dragged on for decades, would have long been completed.

As I write this in my hotel room in Akure, making my way gradually back to Lagos, I shudder to think of the harrowing experience that awaits me on that Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. Should I go through Sagamu/Simawa/Ikorodu or simply drive against the traffic and bribe my way through, as I understand motorists and “okada” now do on that stretch of the road? Trust Nigerians to catch-in on any situation to fleece the other person! Transporters have hiked their fares while traffic and security officers have turned the situation to another of their many pots of soup. Again, I ask, when has the mere construction of roads become rocket science? When will this obviously uncaring, unsympathetic and lackadaisical Federal Government complete the Lagos/ Ibadan Expressway and save road users the ordeal that has ruined lives, wrecked homes, and destroyed businesses? Roads in the South-west region must qualify as some of the worst in Nigeria.

The Akure-Owo road is pitiable. I understand the Akure-Ikerre road is worse. Fainthearted efforts have been made to patch portions of the Ibadan-Ife road but the entire road has expired and needs complete resurfacing. Security is necessary but the avalanche of security checking points from Ibadan to Owo, many of which operate as unofficial “toll gates”, should be checked. Is there anything that can be done to stem the tide of corruption in this country, seeing that Nigeria’s fish is rotten from the head? The Owo of 2022 is significantly different from the Owo I left behind in 1976. I struggled and relied on residual knowledge to get by. Many of the old landmarks have given way.

The dual carriageway that starts from the Emure-Ile junction and runs through the town and the near-by Iyere town to the Owo-Benin road junction is delectable. Another dual carriageway, running from the Idashen end through Ishanma all the way to Ikare junction, is ongoing. Many homes and businesses have had to give way. Good roads should have a positive impact on the socio-economic development of Owo – but more will still have to be done. Last Friday at about 10.00pm as I made my way to my hotel room after the Achievers University dinner, Owo was in pitch darkness. I understood there had been no electricity supply to the town for days. Besides, there is the absence of industries in Owo and its environs.

Ayorinde, with Achievers University, has led the way; others must now follow. The university as the largest private sector employer of labour in Ondo State must be saluted. Ayorinde as a person has taken it upon himself to draw home prominent Owo sons and daughters from all walks of life with the incentive of free plots of land to further aid the development of Owo. After the Achievers University thanksgiving service last Sunday at the Saint Andrews Church, Imola Street, Owo, Ayorinde took me to the site opposite the university gate and handed over to me my own plot of land. He had been on my neck to collect and develop this plot of land for years.

My plot of land sits next to my cousin’s, Prof. Segun Kolawole of the University of Ibadan, himself also one of the “captives” of Ayorinde in this regard. When the story of the development of Owo is written, Ayorinde’s name will be etched in gold. More Owo sons and daughters must follow in his footsteps. Divisive politics, politics of bitterness, of mayhem, and of wanton destruction of life and property was the bane of Owo’s development.

Torching the houses and businesses of political opponents not only ruined the fledgling businesses springing up in Owo in those days, it also drove businesses that suffered such mayhem away while also discouraging wouldbe investors. No investor will touch a volatile environment with a 10-mile long pole. Ayorinde must be a courageous, risk-taking, and faith-believing Owo-loving man to have established Achievers University at Owo.

Thank goodness, Owo town appears to have moved away from those negative trends of the past, I believe. Three developments, among others, must have aided this trend. One is that many illustrious sons and daughters of Owo are, with single-mindedness of purpose, committed to changing the negative narrative of the past.

I remember one such meeting a few of us held years back in Lagos, hosted by Segun Fagboyegun (now Olugboyegun). The second positive trend working in Owo’s favour these days is that it appears to me that there is now a new understanding amongst the Owo royal family to see themselves for who they really are: Members of the same family, the same blood, with the same roots and ancestry.

One member of the Olateru-Olagbegiroyal family, retired Justice Adesuyi Olateru- Olagbegi, has been very impressive in this regard. Last year before and after he was conferred with Achievers University’s honorary doctorate degree, Justice Adesuyi paid homage to the Olowo, His Imperial Majesty Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye III, who was present at the ceremony.

An Ogunoye’s presence at a function where an Olagbegi was being honoured would have been unheard of in the past. Orisa oke ma duhun s’Olowo Justice/Prince Adesuyi chorused again and again! May the God of heaven never allow evil to befall the Olowo! That would have been a sacrilege in times past! Also imagine that Justice Adesuyi from the Olagbegi ruling house also contested the throne with the reigning Olowo; you will then appreciate that Owo may have moved away from “ote”, the dirty politics of treachery, that had been its bane.

To be continued.

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