Whether as individuals, a people, an organisation or the moving minds behind an institution, we have some days that are special to us. For some, such special days could be any or a combination of dates or days such as a birthday! For others, it could be wedding anniversary, date of employment, the day we achieved a great feat in academics or career, or even as a nation. But that’s not all. Such memorable days could also be when we lost loved ones or things dear to our hearts.
For us as a nation, we celebrate our Independence Anniversary on October 1st of every year. Whenever, we celebrate our independence anniversary, people often ask: what is there to celebrate? But I say despite the heavy clouds and atmosphere of doom and gloom, there is so much to celebrate. I say this because every year that Nigeria celebrates her independence anniversary, there is a sense in which I feel I am also celebrating. I feel the month of October is not just about the month of Nigeria’s Independence but also the month of my birth. So, whenever we celebrate Nigeria’s Independence on the 1st of October, for me, it is usually a two-day affair because the very next day – the 2nd of October – is my birthday.
So, if you ask me what is there to celebrate? I would say there is much to celebrate and be thankful for. God’s mercies, love and faithfulness are new every morning. Last year, it was my 40th birthday. And just like yesterday, another 365 days have passed. God has indeed been merciful!
Since I broke through my mother’s umbilical cord, the faithful and invisible hands of God has kept me. That little boy that was born in the late 70s in the swampy area that was Mile 12 in present day Kosofe Local Government Area of Lagos State and had his primary and secondary education in Okun-Owa/Odogbolu, Odogbolu Local Government Area of Ogun State has grown to become an adult.
Often times when I see my children or people’s children going to school these days of creche and the like, I remember my first day in school in 1983/1984 at Moslem Primary School, Okun-Owa, Ogun State. I was barely five years old but with a strong desire to start school. The panel of teachers that interviewed me said I was too small. My right hand could not touch my left ear. So, they thought I was not grown enough to start school. But when they asked me questions, they were impressed with my responses. That was how they decided to give me provisional admission. That was how I began my primary education. I soon began to represent the school at competitions and went on to become the Head Boy of the school. Yes, I became the Head Boy in a Muslim school! As if that was not enough, Patience Ijisonwa, a girl from Delta State, was named the Head Girl. Both of us Christians from Delta State became the leaders in a Muslim school! Merit was the major consideration, not religion or where we hailed from, or whom we knew, or even our parents’ pockets. But it was not all sweet.
In 1985, after writing the third term examination, we went on the long holiday and decided to spend it with my late grandma who lived in Ogolonto area of Ikorodu. During the holiday, I suddenly began to feel some itching on my right hand. I scratched it. The itching soon turned into a boil. Before we knew it, it turned into a big wound and my right hand became heavy and swollen.
Alarmed at the turn of things, my grandma, who was a very strong prayer warrior of the Deeper Life Christian Church (may God bless her soul for leading me to know God early in life) became worried and had to take me back to my parents. She kept wondering, “how shall it be said that my grandson who came to spend his holiday with me…?”
To cut the long story short, I was taken back to Ijebu where a combination of orthodox medicine and prayers came to my rescue. Thanks to Alhaji Adebajo and Pastor Uzie for all their efforts. But in-between, I was told there were times the pains were so severe that I passed out. Although the scars of the wound are still on my right hand, I am grateful to God, I am here and alive today.
There is also another incident that I remember of my childhood that still sends jitters down my spine and rumbles me to the marrow. There was this man who was so quiet, gentle and easy-going. He would not talk to anyone. When you greet him, he would mumur or stutter at best. He had no wife and no child. But you would always see him carrying a bag that was always hung on his shoulder and firmly clutching a cutlass.
One fateful day, virtually everyone in the compound had gone out and I was playing round the house. I was at the back of our windows. Suddenly, I looked back and saw that this man from no where was quietly approaching me from behind. You could imagine how frightened I was. I screamed and ran like the Ben Johnson of those days. Till date, how the man with a cutlass firmly clutched in his hands, quietly opened the gate, entered the compound and got behind me is still a misery. Only God knows what he usually had in that bag that he was always carrying.
Fast forward to my years at Odogbolu Grammar School, Odogbolu. Between 1990 and 1995, I had some of the most amazing classmates ever. People like Seun Solesi, Akeem Abiodun (a.k.a Aro China), Adeniran Folorunsho, Tajudeen Bello, Sanya Oyefeso, Murtala Salau, Oyedola Delano, Oyibo Ememekwe, Azorondu Oyekwere, Bolajoko Mustapha, Idowu Odukoya, Rasheedat and Tunde Liadi, just to mention a few.
When we did our O’Level Examination in 1995, I recall that the whole Odogbolu was in total darkness. But we burnt the midnight candles and most of us came out in flying colours. May God bless the memories of our then no-nonse principal, Rev. ‘Femi Osituyo and teachers like Messrs Gabriel Oke, Oladapo, Emmanuel Ojo, for the early morning classes. Osituyo was a disciplinarian to the core. We had no choice than to be in school early for the 6a.m. to 8a.m. classes. If you missed it, at least twelve strokes of cane awaited you – always around your neck or on your back, or buttocks. In all, he strove to make us better.
In 1996, I got admitted into the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba-Ikeja, Lagos. Towards the end of the programme, issues of accreditation came up and the students took on the management and the board. Some of us backed out, wrote the final examination and left. A few of us stayed back and continued the struggle for accreditation. The school was shut for at least four years before it reopened and a few more years until it got the accreditation from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). For someone whose N7,080 or so tuition fees was paid with a loan, you could imagine my misery. The full story will be told some other time.
But, that was the situation until one fateful day in 1998, I saw an advertisement calling for applications at the defunct Fame magazine. I applied, went to write the test. During the oral interview, then Editor and General Editor, Mr. Niyi Akinsiju (now of Buhari Media Organization) and Alhaji Billy Adedamola (Managing Director of National Pilot) were surprised that I could write the way I did in the test without a certificate. He then said my case was a special one and offered to make me a freelancer. They told the then Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Mayor Akinpelu, of my case. The rest, as they say, is history.
I had other very interesting experiences working with Nkem Jibunoh, Steve Nwosu, Joy Anuforo, Mr. Onyekachi Nwosu of Harness & Alban; Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, Mr. Azeez Olaleye, Mr. Sunday Omoniyi, Mr. Niyi Adesina, the late Jude Isiguzo and host of others at The Nation newspaper.
It was while I was at The Nation that my very good friend, brother and benefactor, Comrade Tunde Oladunjoye, who was one of those that led us in the struggle for the accreditation of NIJ, recommended me to my boss and benefactor, Senator Buruji Kashamu, in 2009.
The following year, I got married to my beautiful wife, Glory. And the union has been blessed with exciting children. God has blessed us in leaps and bounds. He has caused us to continue to find favour with Him and men.
Looking back, I have got every reason to celebrate and thank God. In spite of all the challenges, the twists and turns, the rough edges and the near death situations, God has been faithful to me, to you and to us, as a family, a people and as a nation. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. Let’s look back and reflect. When we do, we would have answers to the question: ‘Why We Celebrate?’ The answer lies in appreciating the goodness, mercies and faithfulness of God. After all, the good book enjoins us to be thankful in everything, and in all circumstances! That is why we celebrate.