Popularly known as Baba Teacher, Baba Londoner and Baba Abeokuta, Alhaji Sulaiman Akanni Oyegunle is a nonagenarian and a member of the first generation of teachers in Ogun State. In this interview by SEGUN KASALI, he speaks about his childhood experiences.
You played truancy in primary school?
(Laughs). Let me start by saying I was born on March 16, 1930. When I was about six or seven years, I started to attend a Quranic school. Around 1938, I went to Lagos when my aunt was about to get married. After the marriage, I stayed back in Lagos. In 1939, I started my elementary education at Methodist School on Lagos Island. So, I was nine years of age then. At the end of the year, I was promoted to infant two. Unfortunately, I could not continue there because I had krokro (rashes) on my head (laughs). And if something like that happened to you then, you had to go to the children’s clinic. So, I was going there for treatment. When I was discharged, I didn’t want to go back to school and I didn’t know that they had written to the school that I had been discharged. So, every morning, I would leave for Carter Bridge at Ebute-Ero instead of going to school.
What were you doing at Ebute-Ero?
I was only playing there. I wasn’t doing anything else. There was a primary school at Ebute-Ero where I used to go. So, whenever the school closed, I would also ‘close’ too and would go back home (laughs).
Were you not caught?
When I dressed up, carried my books, tucked in, I would go to my usual place. I didn’t know my aunt was tracing me down to where I was going. When I was about to relax, she said “Ah! Akanni! So this is where you come every day without going to school!” Then, she held my hand and we went back home. Unfortunately, her husband died and we had to relocate to another area in Ebute-Metta. There, I didn’t go to school, but I was attending evening lessons at St. Jude’s because I had to hawk pap in the morning with my aunt moving round railway compound, Apapa, and other areas too.
Financial paucity made you stay away from school?
Not that. I was supposed to be transferred from the school I was going to the new school situated at our new residence. But, that was not achievable because I was a truant. So, that was why I was not admitted and as a result, I resorted to attending evening classes. Around 1942, my elder sister was about to marry in Abeokuta. So, we went to Abeokuta. While I was staying with my aunt in Lagos, my two parents were staying in Abeokuta. So, after the marriage we went for in Abeokuta, I absconded (laughs).
We were planning to go back to Lagos and we had to walk to Lafenwa railway station because we had to travel by rail. When they were about leaving for Lagos, I climbed and hid in the orange tree around the house. When they started calling my name, ‘Sule! Sule!’, I didn’t answer. So, in order for them not to miss the rail, they quickly left and concluded that I would meet them in Lagos anytime I got back. After they had gone, I came down and Baba saw me from upstairs saying ‘Iwo omo yi, kini o nwa ni bi?’ (you this boy what are you looking for?) ‘Won nwa e ni Eko ati wipe won ti ra gbogbo nkan ti o ma mu lo.’ (they are looking for you in Lagos and they have bought what you would take along). So, I didn’t say anything but climbed upstairs to tell him that I could not go to Lagos again because I didn’t go to school.
And that I wanted to start schooling in Abeokuta. So, his younger brother, Abdusalam, took me to one cleric at Ijemo who was a teacher at Muslim school. When they took me to the headmaster and introduced me as someone from Lagos, he asked what class and I was and I said standard one. He said ‘Standard One?’ He said I would be tested. I said alright. He tested me based on English and Mathematics and I passed.
So, that was how I started Standard One at Muslim school in Abeokuta. I was 12 years old then. So, at the end of the year, I was promoted to Standard Two in 1944. In 1945, I was promoted to Standard Five. Soon afterwards, Muslim schools were changed to Nawar’udeen schools. In 1945, they bought a piece of land at Oke-Ilewo located on the outskirts of the town. So, by 1948, the school was ready and I was in Standard Six then. So, on November 14, we had our first school leaving certificate examination. I was among the 10 best students of that particular examination.
You got this despite your truancy?
I was old. I was 12 years old then unlike someone who had just started schooling. What I am saying is that my age made me to be able to assimilate. Unlike what it is now, it was arithmetic not mathematics. So, when the result came, I didn’t go to the headmaster to ask because my dad sent me on an errand. But, my manager was living close to my house. So, on coming back from the errand, I saw someone with my manager. Immediately I greeted him ‘Good evening Sir’, he said ‘Boy! Have you heard about your result?’ I said no. So, he said I should go and meet someone for the result and I should come back to him thereafter. On getting to the headmaster’s house, he thought I had come for the result when he saw me. Coming back with a sheet of paper in his hand, he shook my hand and said ‘Congratulations!’
So, I ran back to the manager to inform him of the development. He said the three of us who came first, second and third would be appointed as probational teachers with the intent to send us to a teacher training college. So, when I was about leaving, he said, ‘Come! Where do you live?’ ‘Who is your father?’ I told him I was staying at Ijemo and my father was Chief Sunmonu Oyegunle, who was the president of produce buyers. So, the manager then told someone in my presence that my dad was the one who prevented him from being apprehended. So, he said I should help him say ‘Hello’ to my dad.
The next thing he said was that I should bring my application for a teaching appointment. So, in January 1949, I was received as a teacher at Nawar’udeen School at Owode. The school had no door and window. When we resumed, I saw one of my classmates, S.O Shorinolu. So, the two of us were given appointment in that school and our headteacher was Mr I.O. Babatunde. The salary for the three of us was seven pounds per month – One pound, 50 shillings each for me and Mr Shorinolu, while our oga was collecting three pounds, 10 shillings. But, before we had our salaries, we had to go to villages campaigning for more pupils. However, I was so happy to inform my dad of the appointment.
And what was his reaction?
He was very happy. But, he warned me to be very careful because of my complexion. I must be very careful of women (laughs). He did not tell me the reason behind that but only warned me. I was 19 years old when I became a teacher. I could remember we resumed in January 1949 and March 16 was my birthday. But, I made mistakes.
Did the mistakes have to do with your dad’s warning about girls?
Hmm! Exactly! My friend, Mr. Shorinolu and I were in the same room in the school. He would tell me ‘Sule, is this how we would be sitting down? I don’t have time for all these’. But I was always telling him to let us endure it for some time. However, on resuming for the first quarter holiday, I didn’t see Shorinolu.
A lady was transferred to replace him. It was during the rainy season and we had just got back from classes after being beaten by rain. Her own room was beside mine in this same compound. So, I just slept after eating. It was around midnight when I heard, ‘Adjust to the other side’. It was the lady, the new teacher. She came to sleep with me. The next thing she did was to cover me with her wrapper. I was a novice because I had not done something like that before. Anyway, ‘it’ happened. She took in. The next day, she wrote in a piece of paper, ‘Thank you for being my everlasting joy. Don’t tell anybody’ (laughs). The manager informed my father that something had happened. So, my father told the manager to transfer me. As a result, I was transferred to Nawar’udeen School, Abeokuta, around Ikija area.
What happened to the lady you impregnated?
The lady’s father was not happy when she, my mother and I went to their home. He said, ‘Tola! Is this your life? ‘Husband?!’ ‘How much are you receiving as salary?’ ‘What a pity!’ Anyway, my mother was taking care of the baby. She gave birth on February 28, 1950. But the baby died after some months.
What happened to the lady after the unfortunate incident?
Nothing. But everyone went their separate ways, particularly because the lady’s father was not happy because I am a Muslim and the lady was from a Christian home. But she was not happy. So, I went to Sepeteri Nawar’udeen School in Oyo province because I was on transfer. We were three then and our head teacher was A.O. Ademoye. So, I was told that someone had been transferred there too but the person was junior to me. At that time, my salary had increased to two pounds. In December 1950, I bought a bicycle in Lagos. I didn’t take the bicycle to my new school, but I gave it to my brother without knowing that I would need a bicycle because of long distance trips over there. Life at the new school was different. The pupils there were 10 years and 12 years older.
What happened to Shorinolu?
He had left for Forestry Guard at Olokemeji. So, he had become a big man. In fact, he had many houses. And I was still into teaching.
Why did you stick to teaching?
I had passion for it and I believed it would be better someday. So, I was preaching endurance to him, noting that it would only last for a while, but, he would say ‘Don’t preach’.
So, did you think otherwise when you saw him making it?
No, I was undeterred because I knew I would make it someday. I went to see him one day during Christmas when I came back from Sepeteri. When I got to his place, I saw people with bottles of beer on the table. The next thing he said when he saw me was ‘Oh wretched teacher’. That was how he addressed me. But I told him that old friends are better than new ones. The mother heard and came to tell him, ‘What you are telling the light-skinned teacher is not good’. So, I refused to sit down despite his mother’s appeal to me.
What was the thought on your mind on your way home that very day?
There was even a time he was about embarking on a journey and we met. So, we fell in step. We got to a place where some bricklayers said to me, ‘We have been waiting for you Sir’. When he heard that, he congratulated me and left. At the place I was teaching in Sepeteri, it was fun and I was doing well. So, the parents of the pupils were happy with all of us who came from Abeokuta. They were giving us food free of charge – yams and so many other things. I could remember anytime the school closed, the parents of the children would ask us to make a detour and eat pounded yam. I was sending my salary to my brother (Baba Lai) to deposit the money for me. So, I was saving my salary from the school at Sepeteri at farmers bank. But the bank liquidated and I had 20 something pounds. I was always sending the money to my brother to help me deposit it in the bank, which was situated at Sapon. So, we were coming on holiday in 1952 when we heard that farmers bank had liquidated. I didn’t know the meaning of liquidation (laughs).
Who then bailed you out?
When I got home, my brother (Baba Lai) was telling me something had happened to the bank we were depositing money. He mentioned our brothers who also had money there. So, that is why I didn’t go back to Sepeteri again. I went back to the manager and told him I wanted to go back to Abeokuta because of liquidation. So, I was transferred back to my alma mater, Nawar’udeen School. The following year (1954), I was in charge of Standard Four. So, I sat for Nawar’udeen Teacher’s Training College, Ota examination and I was successful. In 1955, I went to the teacher’s training college.
And girls were not all over you anymore?
Ahh! I was being careful so that what happened then would not repeat itself. I would have furthered my education to the university level even after I passed GCE, but I resolved to settle down.
Where did you meet your wife?
I have problem with women o (laughs). In 1957, my co-teacher at Sepeteri introduced me to one of her sisters’ daughters and I married her. But, I didn’t know what happened that made her to pack her baggage. I came back from school one day and I didn’t see her. So, I went to complain to her relation who told me that the people in my house helped her to pack out, and that she had gone to Ife to see her parents. So, I went to Ife and she told me she was not interested in me anymore. But I didn’t know why. I told them not to worry that I won’t go to court because there was no quarrel between the two of us. So, I was about preparing food when one woman came to me saying ‘Excuse me, Sir. Can I help you with that?’ I was surprised and I said no. But, my step-mother asked me to let her help me, not knowing she was looking for a husband. My aunt in our compound approached me and said the woman was looking for fruit of the womb after being married since 1952. To cut the long story short, we came together and she took in and she gave birth on July 7, 1960. But the woman disappointed herself.
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