Let me celebrate the birthday of a true friend who has been very loyal to me since 1994, highly respected by my late parents as a member of our family. I was one year ahead of him at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. He studied History(Faculty of Arts) while I studied Geography(Faculty of Business & Social Sciences).
This Ejigbo fellow often claimed I inspired him in many ways but I also gained ‘native’ intelligence from him. He grew up in Abidjan but his command of Yoruba language is above sea level. He became a certified ‘adult’ orphan over 10 years ago, I just joined the club on November 1st, 2019 when my father(N.A LASISI), foremost Nigerian postage stamp designer joined his ancestors after a brief illness.
I met “Sikiru” Ayofe Amoo also known as ‘SK Agbo-Oba’ by accident of history on campus. That was during ASUU’s strike in 1994. We both lived in the same H-Block hostel(popularly known as the Animal Kingdom). I was a ‘Don’ of the H Block during the era. I was also “Hero” in the hearts of many students, my campus nicknames were just too many….”Gani Radical, Gani Nokia, Omo Baba 70, Omo Baba Abami, and others. I was very popular at the mini-campus..Yesssssss!
This great guy was also my late father’s friend. My Dad even tagged him permanently as “SK Agbo-Oba” or just Mr Agbo-Oba.
When I was expelled from the University of Ilorin for “revolutionary” activism and campus journalism, SK Agbo-Oba stood by me, he wept with me and also accompanied me to the main campus (Room 56) to collect my official letter of pardon. We trekked from the main campus to Challenge area of Ilorin. I was unable to use my legs properly for 5 days!
It was during the Abacha military regime, everybody was extremely careful on campus on statements and utterances. I even invented coded language like CM, SM, STD, JANGO, COLO which were only understood by me and SK Agbo-Oba. I won’t go into details for now because walls have functioning ears.
Some students just refused to leave the campus during the ASUU’s strike, Amoo and I just met while loitering around the mini campus of the University of Ilorin, and we became close friends. He later invited me to his hostel room, we ate from the same plate. He cooked very well because he partially grew up with grandparents, not sure of his culinary skills right now!
It was Mr SK Agbo-Oba who first showed me a rough copy of “Commonwealth Currents” around 1995/96. That’s the official magazine of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.
“SK, where did you see this Commonwealth magazine?” I asked him out of curiosity.
“Gani, I saw it from one old woman selling Akara in Ejigbo town of Osun state, I love the frontpage stories and I begged the old woman to give me and she gave me after I bought Akara from her.”
“Really? After going through the contents, I believe I can write better articles than all the writers in the editorial board.” I proudly told SK Agbo-Oba.(Bi ogun eni ba da ni loju, se ni a n fi gba ori.)
Mr.SK Agbo-Oba gave me the magazine to read. I saw the London address of the magazine publisher(Commonwealth Secretariat). I wrote to them that I wish to be receiving the monthly copies of the magazine.
I used 2 postal addresses, my father’s PO box 2097, Sapon, Abeokuta and Unilorin’s Dept of Geography address.
After about 3 months, I started receiving my copies in both Abeokuta and Unilorin. Signed, sealed and delivered! Mission Accomplished! I studied the magazines on a monthly basis as if preparing for examinations. I also used some of the contents in my articles as a popular Unilorin campus journalist.
To cut the long story short, Commonwealth Currents did not arrive again. I was worried, then I got a “sad” letter from London, saying they would no longer post the magazines outside the United Kingdom and any interested subscribers must join the email subscription list since they would only send e-newsletters, not the printed(hard copies) version.
I did not let that development to discourage me, the internet was just picking up then in Nigeria. I tried to open one ‘yeye’ email address, just for me to be receiving the monthly e-newsletters.
Every Wednesday, I must check my email inbox for “Commonwealth Currents”(e-newsletter) to read the stories and articles, just to study the ‘house style’ of Commonwealth journalists, not knowing I would still work on this particular e-newsletter in London. That’s destiny! AKOSILE or KADARA?
Let me fast forward to around April 2002 when I received a particular edition of this Commonwealth e-newsletter via email. I saw the advertisement for a young African journalist(under 30 years!) with a degree in Journalism, English language or Mass Communication to apply for Commonwealth Media Internship programme in London, all expenses to be paid by the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec). I knew I was not qualified because I studied Geography, not Journalism, but one “Rowaniya” spirit whispered to my right ear…”Gani, this is your golden opportunity to get out of Nigeria for the first time in your life, please take the risk now.”
I gathered all my published articles both during my freelance journalism with Daily Times of Nigeria(DTN) and The Monitor Newspapers of Nigeria. ComSec requested for 4 articles each from each applicant, I intentionally sent about 10 articles, just to display my creative writing skills. It was a tough selection process, I wondered why I was not knocked out at the first stage because I presented my Unilorin Bsc Geography certificate. I even wrote at the bottom of the essay(maybe to win the sympathy of the examiners!) that I was even expelled during the military era (later pardoned by my University!) because of my “revolutionary” campus journalism. I did the telephone interview, Oyinbo people called me from London. I answered all the questions very well because I had been reading the e-newsletters on a weekly basis for over 2 years!
To post the parcel to ComSec London, no money, nobody to assist me and the deadline was just 2 weeks away.Poverty na serious matter oooo. When I finally got the money, no transport fare to post the parcel at the post office located at the Lagos airport, somebody told me they always carry letters and parcels to foreign countries on a daily basis. I just need to beat the deadline of 2 weeks, my work must arrive in London by fire by force.
I took another bloody risk, I entered Lagos airport bus from Ikeja UnderBridge with an empty pocket, I did not wish to spend from the allocated London postage money in my pocket.
Time to pay for money, I did not say anything(ojo buruku eshu gba ice cream!). The bus conductor asked me for money, I told him to relax and to let me check my pocket. At the end of the day, he discovered I was not ready to pay and threatened to push me “on motion” since I was the closest to the bus door. One gentleman saved the day, he paid for my transport.
I arrived at the Lagos Airport post office around 11.30am, I posted my parcel to London with a strong faith that I must be selected. The post office officer told me I was so lucky because all UK letters must depart from the airport by 12.30pm, meaning I came to post my letter 1 hour early.
Victory at last! I was the only young African journalist selected out of 65 applicants from the Commonwealth countries. The ComSec in London paid for my British visa and flight ticket(Virgin Atlantic). When British High Commission in Lagos was “foot-dragging” over my visa application, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Commonwealth Secretariat(ComSec) sent very strong faxes to the British High Commission in Lagos to grant my visa as urgent as possible. I was sent the copies via email. The British visa was granted under 48 hours! Power pass power oooooo. Aye o ni mu gbogbo wa ooooooo! I was received by ComSec officials like a VIP at London Heathrow airport 18 years ago. I was lodged in one posh hotel around the Bayswater area of Central London. E ba mi gbe Olorun Oba tobi…Allahu Akbar…From a ‘village’ in Abeokuta to London without paying one naira. My head dey inside 2 4 7!
After my Commonwealth internship programme based on a signed agreement, I returned to Nigeria, ComSec assisted me to cargo all my loads. I was heavily “loaded” then with Commonwealth pounds and dollars. As usual, giving out free money was never my problem. I “settled” friends and relatives. I also reconnected with a loyal friend, Mr SK Agbo-Oba in Ibadan and I performed my “Omoluabi” duties to appreciate a true brother.
Commonwealth money finished, back to “struggling” Naija level….aye mojuba ooooo.Nobody go even borrow me ordinary N2,000 to chop food. All the people wey chop my free money sef dey take style to avoid me…I learnt my lessons then…my brain extra sharp now. I swear to God.
I missed one golden opportunity during my ComSec days, I did not pursue my “relocation” to Canada through the Commonwealth Of Learning (COL) programme in Toronto. I wrongly assumed the United Kingdom was better than Canada.
I was regularly in touch with some ComSec officials and they so much love my creative writing skills. We exchanged many emails. Anyhow any way, ComSec paid for my flight ticket again to return to London since I still have a valid British visa. The rest is now history. Wait for my AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Dare Lasisi writes from the UK University of the year, University of Strathclyde Glasgow, Faculty of Science, Department of Computer & Information Sciences, Glasgow Scotland.