Thursday, November 10, 2016 3:17 pm
Ogbomosho born AGBO AREO, an initiator of the popular Pacesetter series in the 1970s and early 1990s, who currently runs a publishing house (Agbo Areo Publishers, Apata) in Ibadan, Capital of Oyo State, speaks to GBENRO ADESINA about his life, Nigeria, and publishing
Q: You grew up in your home town, Ogbomosho. Share the experience with us…
A: I was born at home on June 18, 1940. I was born into Christianity in Ogbomosho. Majority of the Ogbomosho people are Baptist Christians who are influenced by Baptist Missionaries who have their famous hospital in Ogbomosho and a big seminary to train pastors. I attended Oke Elerin Baptist Primary School, Ogbomosho. We were the last set of standard six in 1954. The Action Group’s (Awolowo) Free primary school started in 1955. I did some odds jobs. Briefly, I was a pupil teacher, and I attended teachers’ training college, Ogbomosho. Finally, I attended Ibadan Provincial Training College, Oshogbo in 1964. Afterward, I taught in some modern schools. I did my General Certificate of Education, GCE, Ordinary Level when I was at Oshogbo undergoing teachers’ training and I passed five good subjects. I did advanced level and passed. I attended University of Ibadan, UI, where I studied English.
How did your inclination towards books/Literature start?
I attended training college where you do general. We only had peripheral sciences.
Are you saying that there was no secondary school that you can attend as at that time?
There were secondary schools. I left school in December 1954 and my father died in February 1955. I am from a polygamous home and so there was no way I could go to secondary school because there was no money. My father was a produce buyer, a trader buying cocoa, palm kernel and Shea butter. He had about seven children. The property he left behind couldn’t sustain us hence; I had to do odd jobs to survive.
Life wasn’t that easy but not too difficult. I was fairly comfortable enough. Interesting, I had my GCE O/L before some of my classmates who went to secondary school had their school cert. I had my A/L before some of them went for Higher School Certificate, HSC. So, I entered the university before some of them. As a Christian, I always say it is God’s grace.
Was your mother the first wife?
Third and the last and I’m the first son.
Are you a polygamist?
Does your monogamy have anything to do with Christian inclination?
I don’t think so. I think it is more of a disciplined life. Though, marriage is never perfect, with my wife, we are at peace together. I was lucky from a peaceful polygamous home. Our house wasn’t a house of quarrels maybe because our father was a Christian and you know Baptists are conservative people. I didn’t experience the typical problems of the polygamous home. I don’t think I have ever thought of polygamy. My half siblings came from Lagos and Ogbomosho a few weeks ago for us to hold a meeting. They regard me as the father of the family. There was a great cooperation among my father’s wives.
Why do you think polygamous homes are always ridden with crisis?
Whether a marriage is polygamous or monogamous, each marriage is unique,. One, it depends on the husband and how he can maintain peace. Even with one wife, the woman could be wayward and troublesome. If a polygamous father is not really well to do, there will be problems: backbiting, unhealthy rivalry, envy and the rest. Of course, a monogamous family could be more tempestuous than some polygamous marriages. It is difficult to go into this because there is a lots of polygamy in the bible.
So, in Nigeria, is polygamy more of culture than religion?
You are delving into the history of the spread of Christianity in Nigeria. There were problems when the first Christians came. They asked their converts with more than one wife to divorce and keep only one wife. Later, the crisis was resolved and polygamy became acceptable in the church. In the Baptist Church, a polygamist cannot be a worker. However, no church has succeeded in banning polygamy but put in different measures to resist it. We know of some pastors whose situations compelled them to have more than one wife. To the best of my knowledge, no pastor can categorically condemn polygamy. I will give you example.
When I was in the college, we used to have students’ pastors on Sunday coming to preach. I was talking to one student pastor one day, and he said, there are two things he wouldn’t preach against. One, polygamy: his father was a polygamist with two wives. He said his mother died young, and the other really took care of his father and himself. Secondly, he said he wouldn’t preach against drinking because his father was making and selling spirit, ‘Ogogoro’ to send him to school. I have a book written by a cardiologist and published by the British Medical Association, saying that it appears that people who drink moderately live longer than those who don’t drink at all. What I am trying to say is that discipline, and conscience is very important in whatever you do. That I am a monogamist has nothing to do with religion.
Could you talk about your university days?
I attended UI. There were lots of enjoyment and high level scholarly exercises. We were only paying 90 pounds for a session to cover everything: tuition, accommodation, feeding. We enjoyed university so much. The library was saturated with up to date good books. I did English. The lecturers in English and French were English and French nationals. We had only a few African lecturers in English. I did subsidiary French. In those days, you would do three subjects in your first year, and at the end of the first year, you would drop will. So you have your main subject and your subsidiary subject. I did French subsidiary for three years. I am happy I did French also because now I edit some French books. At that time, everybody who majored in French had to travel abroad for one year. Then, the cafeteria was working; students ate three times a day. In your room in the hall, the cleaner would come to clean your room every day, if your bed sheet was dirty, they would change it for you, if you wanted to go to cinema, you would go to cafeteria and tell them to reserve your food, they would put it in the oven for you and if you wanted them to bring it to your room, they would. For extra curriculum activities, we always invited ambassadors, ministers, and top government functionaries for symposia.
I have three children who have graduated from UI, I do tell them that they didn’t attend university. We read books, and journals. It was even better up till 70s, and early 80s but since then, God! It is really bad. We really went through the university and the university went through us. We bought books. Our lecturers would always give us essays to write and the essays would be criticized in our tutorial groups. If you don’t have books, you would be loaned. It is sad what is happening now. I don’t know how lecturers are coping now. The students live for exam now. In our days, you would write an exam at the end of the first session and the next exam would be taken in your final year.
Why were you not writing exams?
That was the structure. All examinations took place inside Trenchard Hall. Students nowadays don’t know anything about Trenchard Hall.
Could you tell me more about Trenchard Hall?
Matriculation is done in Trenchard Hall for about 30 minutes and maximum of one hour. That is where graduation takes place. There were always symposia, seminars and lectures involving students. Students’ societies were very lively. That leads me to the Pyrate Confraternity. During our time, Pyrate was not a secret society. No contemporary of mine will agree with you that Pyrate is a secret society. We knew Pyrate and its members. They publicized their meeting which they normally held in the night at the Tower Court and they made a lot of noise during meetings. I was in Kuti Hall. When they finished early in the morning, they would go round the halls of residence in their uniforms. Then, if there was a students’ demonstration, they would lead. They would be in their uniform and hold their wooden swords. There wasn’t anything secret about them. The Buccaneer, Eiye were all known. The notice of meeting was pasted at the boards. At that time, we knew their activities to be youthful exuberant. Students’ magazine bugs and the Pyrate has its own, called Scorpion, which really sting. It stings especially female students. A lady later became a registrar and I remember Pyrate magazine really stung her. Later, when we were hearing of these terrible, veracious societies, it became very strange to us.
During our time, Pyrate was not a secret society. No contemporary of mine will agree with you that Pyrate is a secret society. We knew Pyrate and its members. They publicized their meeting which they normally held in the night at the Tower Court and they made a lot of noise during meetings. I was in Kuti Hall. When they finished early in the morning, they would go round the halls of residence in their uniforms.
Were you a member when you were in UI?
No. I couldn’t join them. I have always been a deep member of Baptist Church. In my second year, I was the secretary of the Baptist Union. I used to attend church. They would send buses to school from the church at Oritamefa to convey us.
What were your most memorable days in the university?
I will say sad. The day Kunle Adepeju was killed. That was the first time a student was killed in the university campus. Professor Lambo was the Vice Chancellor then. As for the memorable day, it appears we enjoyed every day during our time.
Who were your friends in the university?
Amayo was my classmate, former Managing Director of Daily Times, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi. He is quite younger to me but he is a fine gentleman. He was hall chairman for Kuti. Gbolade Osinlowo was the youngest in our class. That time, there were enough jobs to go round. Before you wrote your exam, companies, states governments would come to interview you. For those that did teaching subjects like English, and Math, you probably would disappoint two or three schools because three or four schools would have offered you employments expecting you. Because it was immediately after the war, there were opportunities, many companies were developing. I joined Macmillan only six months after I left the university. I was interviewed on the campus.
How did you meet your wife?
Baptist Church has lots of programmes for different age groups. The choir is very important in the Baptist Church. Maybe, I can’t remember really well how I met her. She was a choir member, and very active. When you have been together for a long time before you marry, you tend to forget how you met. This formalization is recent. I proposed to my wife, it was not part of our era. At our time, some people would be writing letters.
How many children do you have?
Five. Three of them attended UI and my boys who were relatively lazy attended polytechnic. The girls came first: Monilola has MA in English. She is a civil servant. Bola graduated from UCH medical school, now a doctor, she is in Australia with her husband, the husband is an Ibadan man, an engineer working with an oil company. Oyin is about to finish her PhD in UI, Laoye is working with us; he holds HND in Mass Communication from The Polytechnic, Ibadan, and the last, a boy, Dele, is in Australia with his sister. He holds HND in Business Administration. He is running a course now in Australia.
Is it because your sons attended polytechnic that made you say that they are lazy?
No, they wasted a lot of time. The girls didn’t waste any time after their secondary schools. The first boy wrote his GCE three times before he passed, Dele wrote it twice. The girls were always reading anything.
What is your view about polytechnic education?
I believe strongly in polytechnic education. Many of the universities abroad were polytechnics. I also know that in some courses, the polytechnic graduates are better and more useful to the community than the university graduates. Polytechnic is better in engineering. For instance, a student of Survey in the polytechnic is far more useful to the community than that of the university. Even, Mass Communication, they do lots of practical in the name of internship. I don’t think students of Mass Communication in the university go through such intensive industrial attachment. The British system is a wonderful system. You can see a managing director of a business in UK who has equivalent of school cert. He will train degree holders on the job. In the good old days of the Daily Times of Nigeria, DTN, the Peter Pan Enaharo of this world has no degree, Olusegun Osoba, Babatunde Ajose took Times to the topmost. We have not been fair to the polytechnic graduates. The council members of the polytechnic killed polytechnic because many of them don’t understand polytechnic education so, they can’t advise the government rightly. It is sad.