Obasanjo encouraged me to stay in the army —Oba Fasade
For the Owa of Igbajo, Oba Adeniyi Olufemi Fasade, his past 28 years on the throne have been admixture of pleasure and pains, depending on which perspective the journey is viewed. However, he would always attribute his staying power to his strong faith in God and total submission to His power over him. In an interview by TUNDE BUSARI in his palace located on elevated surface, the outspoken monarch reflects on his life as he clocks 80 years. Excerpts:
I learnt you served in the Nigerian Army. How did it happen when you already had a job not related to the Army?
How I joined the Army was funny and interesting. I saw the advert in a newspaper and asked our messenger to buy the newspaper for me at Broad Street. I got it, read the advert and wrote my application, which the same messenger helped me to post. I got a reply to come for interview. I attended the interview. Commodore Wey, who was the second in Command to the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, was the chairman of the interview panel.
What did he ask you during the interview?
The first question was ‘why do you want to join the army?’. I said to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. That was the popular slogan then on radio before and after news broadcast. I told the panel that as a young man I needed to contribute my own quota to the unity of Nigeria. So, I was commissioned a full lieutenant in the engineering corps. I can remember that day when I left home in the morning with tie and returned later in army uniform. My mother could not believe her eyes. She shouted and ran to my wife, asking her questions she could not answer because I did not carry her along while I was applying and attending interview. We were taken to Kainji for 14 weeks training, after which we returned to Lagos and were posted to Nigerian Army Engineer Corps, Ede. From Ede we were drafted to Third Marine Commando then prosecuting the civil war from the southern end. I was at 3 Field Engineer Regiment, Port Harcourt.
Can you remember one of the remarkable moments you had in the military?
I can recall the role the former President Olusegun Obasanjo played after I had been enlisted. He was the Inspector of Engineer ing who received us. I walked up to him with a complaint of the salary approved for my rank. I showed him the pay slip of my previous job. He listened to my complaint and said I should forget my previous pay slip, adding that my new job would offer me better opportunities. There is another thing I remember about Obasanjo when he was the Garrison Commander in Ibadan. Nigeria Army Engineer Corps, Ede was under him. Some soldiers stole tyres on their way from the war front. They were fished out by the owners of the tyres. The authorities then took them to Ibadan. Obasanjo listened to them and later asked for the reason they stole the tyres. He spoke with them like a father. Suddenly he changed and said ‘You are bad boys who should not live among the good ones. Take them to Agodi Prison.’ He ordered and they were taken away. Something happened after this experience. One of us said he could not stay again and ran away from the army. You took the bull by the horn early in life and found your way to the United Kingdom. What really informed that decision?
There was nothing that informed my decision to travel to the UK than my search to be a better and successful person in life. I found myself as the first born of my parents, and that position put me in a tight corner, so to say, to help my parents in raising my younger ones. And to have enough resources to take up that task, I needed to develop myself. That is one of the reasons behind my journey abroad.
Can you recall your life in the UK, especially what you did for a living?
Don’t forget that I had a mission in the UK, which was to develop myself after my secondary education at the Kiriji Memorial College, Igbajo in 1959. To develop myself meant I needed to study further. And to study further also meant I needed to work and work very hard because I had no sponsor. In the light of this, I took my destiny into my hand from the day of my arrival and committed everything I had to actualize my dream.
What exactly were you doing?
I sought and got a job first in a factory and later a bank. I got a job at British Savings Bank where I gathered a lot of experiences as machine operator. Unlike in the factory where I wore an over all, I was in shirt and tie in the bank. Though the pay was slightly lower than what I earned in the factory, it was a job which afforded me better opportunity. During that period, I was attending evening classes first at Tottenham College, London where I had Ordinary National Certificate in Building Engineering. Later I proceeded to Hammersmith College, London and had my Higher National Certificate in Structural Engineering. The two certificates are equivalent of what we call OND and HND here. As a matter of fact, they also ran OND and HND up there. The difference was that ONC and HNC were reserved for evening classes’ students. Full time students bag OND and HND.
Were you married before you travelled or in the UK?
I was not married before I left the country but my parents performed necessary marriage rites in Nigeria after which my wife joined me in UK? A friend was coming to Nigeria and I made arrangement with him to obtain her passport. They both joined me, and I started my life as a married man. We had our first born thereafter. We had our second about two months before we returned to Nigeria.
Was there any challenge that the new status brought to you in foreign land?
There was no serious challenge because the system was favourable. I was working and earning a living with reasonable savings. There was no problem.
Can you recall your return to Nigeria and what happened at the airport?
It was not airport. It was sea port at Apapa. We came by water and it was a tortuous journey, having a stopover at every French speaking West African country before we finally landed in Apapa. I recall seeing my family members including my mother who could not contain her excitement as she was rolling on the floor for seeing me again after almost 10 years.
Why did you return to Nigeria when you should have stay back and further develop yourself?
Don’t forget we are talking of Nigeria of the 60s. Staying back did not cross the mind of many of us who were studying there. We had a bigger picture of our country and also had assurance of greater future. Unfortunately, when I returned, there was no job. I was staying in my uncle’s place in Surulere. I later had my own two-bedroom flat because I wanted to carry my responsibilities and faced the reality of life. My uncle was not happy but I made him to see reason for my decision.
It is unbelievable that there was no job then.
It was during the civil war. The job available in places I went were reserved for the Igbos who had gone home because of the war. The thought was to reserve the job for them hoping they would return.
How did you survive that condition?
I eventually got one with Omisore and Afolabi Partners Consulting Engineers. The office was in the Western House, Marina. They interviewed me and found out that I attended the same college they attended in UK. They picked interest in me but could not offer me a full time job. Another company on the same Western House building, the company owned by a son of the late Ooni of Ife, Oba AdesojiAderemi, gave me a better offer.
As the Owa of Igbajo, how can you describe your reign?
To God be the glory that I am still alive today because I faced health challenge. But I am happy today that I have overcome it. That challenge made me to have stronger faith in God. It was during the period developments I desired came to the town. Igbajo Polytechnic, for instance, is our pride today. The school is currently ranked 25 in the country, which is a good one.
Can you, therefore, say you are fulfilled?
If I say I am not fulfilled, I am an ingrate. God has been so merciful seeing me attaining 80 years.
Specifically, what do you think aided your long life?
My strong faith in God helps me a lot. I am a Christian of Baptist denomination. I rose through all ranks from childhood till today. I am a deacon. My experience has taught me that there is nothing anybody can do without the consent of God. God owns everything.