THE LOUIS ODION SEGMENT ON TUESDAY:VCI @ 70: An old boy's declassified file
By Louis Odion, FNGE
Even as a rookie reporter with Concord Press back in 1993, I did not have to scale any big hurdle to see legal icon, Chief Gani Fewinhinmi, SAN, that very first day. Once the receptionist at his Anthony, Lagos chambers announced via the intercom that the visitor was "from Victory College Ikare", I was immediately led upstairs and ushered into his expansive office.To his feet, he sprang with child-like excitement and locked me in a bear-hug like long-lost friends, even though he had graduated from VCI a decade before I was even born. Without hesitation, he gave me an extensive interview and, at the end, was patronizing enough to personally see me off to the reception, holding my hand, proudly introducing me to everyone on the way (including Festus Keyamo) as "My fellow Victorian".Such was the talismanic effect of the "Victorian" invocation among those bonded by its heritage and weaned on its twin transcendental values of laboramus (working) and expectorante (expecting). The school's colors are white and navy blue.But that spirit of kinship would be tested precisely a decade later when the great Gani took up a brief from THISDAY against this writer, Dr. Amanze Obi and The Sun newspaper in the now celebrated copyright case. He won the suit for THISDAY. Even before the legal fireworks opened in court, Gani was empathetic enough to call me privately and utter these comforting words: "Fellow Victorian, please don't be angry that I took up this brief against your interest. It's a just a point of law, nothing personal. I believe you'll understand."The "people's lawyer" was only one in a long list of greats VCI sired who individually have extended the national frontiers in various spheres. Like former second citizen, now late Admiral Mike Akhigbe; late Chief Ade Adefarati (one-time Ondo governor); General Alfred Aduloju (former Secretary, Supreme Military Council during Murtala/Obasanjo regime); and Justice Akintan (retired Supreme Court Justice).We also have Professor Michael Faborode (former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University); both the Olukare of Ikare and Owa Ale of Ikare, Oba Akadiri Momoh and Oba Adegbite Adedoyin respectively; Bishop Mathew Owadayo (retired Anglican Bishop of Egba Diocese); and one-time VCI principal and presently the Secretary General of Afenifere, Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa.The younger generation of alumni include retired General Jones Arogbofa (Chief of Staff to President Goodluck Jonathan); present Osun Deputy Governor, Mrs. Laoye Tomori; Senator Ajayi Boroffice (representing Ondo North); Segun Abrahams (aspirant on APC platform in the Ondo 2016 governorship race); Jiti Ogunye (Lagos-based lawyer) and award-winning journalist, Akin Orimolade.Next week marks the 70th anniversary of the premier college founded "for culture, for science" by a missionary, Lennon Jubilee.
Week-long activities marking its illustrious history open on Monday (February 20) with a public lecture as the grand finale on Saturday (February 25).Indeed, as generations of old students began to regroup in the ancient town of Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State ahead of the platinum celebration, emotions would overflow.Old memories would come alive. Of the tolling school bell summoning the morning devotion. Echoes of the school band playing as the assembly dispersed. The wet smell of grass during Labour Hour as pupils descended on the school farm with cutlasses and hoes. Classmates bursting into hot tears on graduation day, afraid they might never see again. Moist enveloping distant Ikare hills at dawn and haze during harmattan…For my generation, it would particularly be sentimental. If the 80s have been described as the twilight of the ferment of Nigeria's intellectual culture and the 70s its apogee, then we probably then qualify to be addressed as the children of transition. The last of the analogue before the digital age.With the supplanting of the 6-5-4 with 6-3-3-4 system in 1984, Nigeria's academic complexion would not be the same again. And with the ethical realm systematically taken apart with the permissive culture of the cancerous Ibrahim Babangida regime beginning from 1985, the roof literally began to leak on the nation.I attended VCI between 1983 and 1988, incidentally when now septuagenarian Chief Arogbofa was principal. (The present principal is Mr. Ariyo Bode.) Beginning from 1982, the college was re-designated as "boys only".Were we always good boys? Not all the time. We played naughty sometimes. We had our favorite teachers. Those who liked carrying canes about like staff of office were naturally hated. We invented ugly nick-names for them. As revenge, we would mimic their mannerisms beyond the earshot or eye-view of the authority.The sophomore years are usually the age of impression, when young adolescents begin to adopt monickers in an attempt to express a new sense of awareness. One day, a classmate ran into a big trouble, necessitating his mother, a complete illiterate to be summoned to the school from a neighboring village.Seeking clarity first, the interrogating teacher began by asking what inspired the old woman to name her ward "Reverend Poison". She did not understand the English name. So, the tutor transliterated it to Yoruba: "Alufa Majele".Instantly, she, waving the right hand round her head and casting the report away in a supreme African gesture of denunciation, thundered in anger: "Omo temi ki she Alufa Majele. Segun ni mo so omo mi. (My own son is not Reverend Poison. I named him Segun.)"So, to sustain sanity across the school sitting on vast swath of land, Principal Arogbofa never spared the rod and encouraged teachers to be as generous.Tall, slim-built and ever smartly dressed, the principal demanded of the teaching staff excellence not only in the way they taught, but also the way they appeared and carried themselves. As a tutor, woe-betide you if you came to his office in shabby attires. So much that a rather apocryphal story was often told then of a teacher who, apparently not knowing how else he could dazzle, entered Principal Arogbofa's office tucking in his "conductor's" (French suit)!Overall, while we passed through VCI, emphasis was not placed only on grooming students academically; it extended to encouraging us to take more than passing interest in the School Chapel events, sports as well as extra-curricular activities. For instance, the School Press Club offered me the first platform to explore my writing talent. I did amateur boxing on the side.Principal Arogbofa always called everyone his son. His relentless counseling rooted in deep Christian values of perseverance and modesty made me have faith early in hard work, stand firm for my conviction and embrace a work ethic that treasures good name over gold and silver.Same value obliges us never to, even for a moment, forget the son/daughter of who we are. And instill in us a deep sense of brotherhood and solidarity, never to succumb to temptation to betray or abandon our friends in trying moments, however dire the circumstances.Once, a classmate was slapped with an unusually heavy sanction for an unruly conduct by being asked to cut tall grasses almost half the size of a soccer pitch. He was not expected in class until the bush had been cleared. In solidarity, words were soon passed around in whispers that class members should stay back after school hours. Once the school became empty, we the volunteers descended on the field with our sharpened cutlasses like locust and within an hour, the thicket of grass had been mowed down.The following day, the class master could not believe his eyes. Having perhaps gone to bed the previous night reveling in the malicious pleasure that the wayward boy had been given something to keep him busy for a long time, the teacher now found himself confronted by what seemed a First Testament miracle.Following the boy's continued insistence that he cleared all the vast weeds all by himself even as the conniving classmates looked on in a cliff-edge fright, the teacher then took a second unbelieving look at his little quarry and finally, to our relief, only shook his head in a knowing silence.Truly, as stated in the school anthem we daily sang, VCI is the "foster mother of us all".