Monday, August 8, 2016 7:58 am
By Dotun Adekanmbi
He’s just 16 years older than I am. He had me when he was very young. He’s had many more after me; so many that I’ve lost count. And we’re scattered all over town like Jews. Can’t tell how he does it because he is an amazingly shy guy. Throw him in a crowd of more than three people and he’ll lose his voice.
I didn’t get to know him well enough until I was about seven years old. He had left my Mum and I in rural Emure Ekiti in search of the rainbow in Lagos.
I faintly recall that he visited occasionally. I could remember because on those occasions our house was often filled with meals from women of all ages in various homes. I always wondered why. Each time ‘Abayo’ was around, rice moved to the centre of our food table. Steaming hot and nicely packaged pounded yam were delivered at cockcrow in trays covered with attractive wool. My mother never got jealous. And I never fought the young boys and girls that made the deliveries. Me, fight where food is concerned? Never!
At some point, however, seeing my dad seasonally was no longer enough. Each time my immediate elder brother, Oladipo, headed for Lagos in those lorries that only travelled at night, I found a way to sneak myself on board what was called ‘2nd Class’ sitting area. The motor boys or mates always found me out. I never left Emure because the tyres of the vehicles never rolled an inch until I was dragged off the lorry, no matter how loudly I wailed. Somehow, my dad eventually agreed that I be brought to Lagos. Wow!
Too many things happened in Lagos. I was registered in Pry 3 at St. Thomas Aquinas Primary School in Surulere. In my first week, I got into a fight. I never forgot the name of the boy…Kamilu Isa. He looked at me, Ekiti boy in Lagos, who born dog? I did not win the fight but I earned a right to belong. Ever since, I’ve become a Lagos Boy. Christopher Ajufo, Koyejo Shotade, Gabriel Matiluko and Charles Ogbue became a part of my crowd. But I digress.
My dad was unmarried at the time. But, boy, can he cook.
This put me in hot water someday. No, I did not steal a piece of meat from the pot; I did worse. I chop belleful one night and, as my people say, one finger no gree enter my yansh again. People of my generation in Lagos can tell stories of encounters with ‘Agbe Po’ (night soil men). Hey! Don’t you dare thump your nose at me for my humble beginning. Shifawu Street (No. 47, precisely) in Surulere had no comparison. Interesting neighbourhood but most of us turned out right. If in doubt, ask Sola Ephraim Oluwanuga. As I was saying, I chop belleful and chose to call out ‘Aaaagbe Pooo’ at a passing night soil man. I ran into the toilet to hide.
He loves to remind me of days I ran errands for the many older relations and friends who put up with him in his one-room apartment. If any made the mistake of allowing me to eat before sending me to buy their dinner, breakfast was what they ate. But if you sent me to buy food as soon as I sat to eat, no microwave could beat me: you’ll get your food before you finished placing your order. Gosh, how I remembered once saving my food from landing in the gutter when I fell. I wouldn’t dare repeat the feat on any other person’s assignment. If your food troway, o danu naa niyen; bring money and you’ll get another! My Aunty Abiye/Aunty Omoladun can testify.
What about my battle with ringworm/lapalapa/tanmona, etc? My dad was no medical doctor; he was just an ordinary clerk with the Pay & Records section in the Army. Yet he fought the disease to a standstill. Sandpaper today, Morgan cream tomorrow, Sanitas/Izal the day after and some unnamed chemicals much later. Today I still catch a whiff of those funny-smelling disinfectants. Today, you look at my head and say ‘it is correct!’ Yes, I agree. But thank my dad for that.
But that head also took some heavy knocks. Arithmetic, I hate you! Whoever invented the multiplication table should be nailed to a cross. Ask me ‘2×2’ and you could travel from Lagos to Emure and be on your way back before I come up with the answer. Wrong answer, knock. Wrong answer, another knock. Wrong answer again, serious warning: you must know it by tomorrow.
Tomorrow, same thing all over. He gave up. I thanked God. And I scored F9 in O/L Maths. But English Language? I dey try small, small. No thanks to dad who always ensured that Daily/Sunday/Evening Times as well as Nigerian Tribune littered the house. Without knowing it, he defined my career path. Being Editor of Business Times was a fitting payback for his investment. Everyone else in my generation in the family is an Olodo in English. And I’m talking of the ‘coupon’/’Odo rabata’ type.
What kind of people in my family: PhD Analytical Chemistry; Masters in Economics, Physics, Computer Science/Statistics, Accountancy and the like. I’m happy to be a ‘black sheep.’ I firmly resisted dad’s pressure to study for a PhD immediately after graduation (but I now regret not heeding that counsel). But can you blame me?
I could not in clear conscience put more burden on a man who dropped out of school in Form 4 to see us through school. PhD ke? When the man financed my education to Bachelor’s level and my immediate elder to PhD on a measly Level 8 salary? When he refused to get married until I was in my final year in the varsity? With whom I had the unenviable task of picking his dead daughter (and first child) at the children’s ward in LUTH in 1992? That still bails me out of sticky situations in the present time? No way.
I remember these and more with gladness in my heart because today, August 8, is a special day. Someday, the story would be better told with fuller details.
Today, I just want to celebrate ABAYOMI ADEKANMBI, the man I call Father, not just because I really had no deep remembrance of our biological father (who died when I was 5 years old) but because he embodies everything GOOD about a father. He led (and still leads) by example. His life exemplifies the notion that leadership is earned, not conferred by age. He’s not rich but with a snap of his fingers, he can command wealth to life on account of his amazing goodwill. I know he will read this because he’s also on Facebook. But he won’t say a word because he’s not given to saying much. I know, too, that he would find space to shed a tear or two for reasons we both know. But that’s ok. Real men cry!
Abayomi Adekanmbi is the ONLY living human being who has a final say in my life. If he says ‘Yes’, I never can say ‘No;’ if he asks me to jump, I’d only ask: ‘how high?’ He knows this for a fact. Yet, he does not play God with me. Or any other member of the expanding Adekanmbi clan. If in doubt, ask any Adekanmbi you know from Emure.
Now that I’ve got your attention up to this point, please join me to pray for Abayomi Adekanmbi as he clocks 70 today. He is an extra-ordinary human being with a very LARGE heart; a brother like no other; a brother who is more than a father and a father who continues to do with ease what many fathers can’t even begin to contemplate.
ABAYOMI ADEKANMBI, OLORI EBI ULE ARO, EMURE EKITI…the grace and peace of the Almighty will continually locate you and abide with you and your family.
At 70, it’s just Morning Yet on Creation Day.