Gregorians are not the only champions (1)

It was getting close to midnight on Saturday, April 30, 2020 and there we were by the poolside at Heidi Court, Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, savouring what some of us suspected could be “the last of the summer wine” or more appropriately the final moments of our connection with civilisation – in terms of tranquillity, order, decorum and conviviality.

The last piece of the puzzle was the front page of the day’s “The Nation” newspaper, which carried the bold headline: “We are neglected, two Lagos slums cry out for help.”

The rest of the report should be of interest to the President of the World Bank, Mr. David Malpass and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Anthonio Guterres as well as Dr. (Mrs) Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

“Over 60 percent of the residents of Lagos are poor and live in the over 100 slums and informal settlements scattered across the city. They lack water sanitation and other basic services. This makes them particularly vulnerable during a health crisis. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHS) defines a slum as a wide range of low-income settlements and/or poor human living conditions, which include the vast informal settlements that are quickly becoming the most visual expression of urban poverty. This is also the case in other cities in Nigeria, where the growth rate of urban population is faster than economic growth, which increasingly out paces health and social services.

Their leader said his people are unhappy because they have not felt the impact of Government adding that his people have resigned themselves to fate after years of seeking the government’s attention without success.

We have been begging them for a very long time to connect us with the water in Mile 12, but nothing has happened.

We don’t have water to drink and we wonder if we have a government. We only depend on vendors for potable water which goes for N100 for a keg of 25 litres. How do we cope with that? This is a community that has Government officials. This is Lagos State not anywhere else?” he said.

From the front page of “ThisDay” newspaper we learn that the police are bored with chasing rapists, kidnappers, arsonists, fraudsters, money ritualists, terrorists, etc. Instead the headline delivers a startling revelation: “Police quiz Ekiti Pastor who charged church members N310,000 fare to heaven.”

With perfect timing, our hostess the ever-charming Heidi is checking to make double sure that we take a second helping of the delicious food and plentiful supply of exotic wine plus more. The spirits are on special duty to chase melancholy, despair and guilt.

Suddenly, the celebrant (her 87-year-old husband who is the other half of 50 years of blissful marriage), Professor Theo Ogunbiyi is summoned to cut his birthday cake. Rather than agonise over whether there is enough room for 87 candles on the cake, the eminent retired surgeon demands a knife and with clinical precision proceeds to slice the cake with a little assistance from his beloved wife. Hovering in the background is their son, Michael, who is ever so eager to ensure that we are all having a great time. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Then it was time for boisterous singing of “Happy Birthday” followed by a somewhat dodgy rendition of “He Is A Jolly Good Fellow.”

The cheer-leader was none other than Richard Akerele (a “Gregorian) whose father Dr. Oni Akerele was my father’s (Chief J.K. Randle) classmate at King’s College. Actually, it was Dr. Akerele who founded “Egbe Omo Oduduwa” in London in 1948, when he lived at 52, Messina Avenue, Kilburn, and Chief Obafemi was the indefatigable Secretary. Richard’s wife, elder is both Italian and Nigerian.

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From the celebrant’s speech, it was evident that the guest list had been deliberately pruned down to the “usual suspects” – family, friends and close associates. Out of the blues, I was invited to propose the toast of the celebrant. As is often the case, the best speeches are the ones we never get to make !!

It has been a turbulent week with terrorists on a rampage and kidnappers pursuing their own perverted version of “equal opportunities” – men, women, and children. Apart from bombing trains, they attacked military barracks in Kaduna and its environs. The line between “soft” and “hard” targets has become blurred. The American National Academy of Sciences delivered a sombre message in the midst of carnage and turmoil:

“Terrorists seek to provoke their adversaries into a reaction, preferably an overreaction.”

We are not talking science but anarchy and chaos. Let us get on with the business at hand – a toast to one of nature’s finest specimens. He attended St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, and that makes him a “Gregorian” before proceeding to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, where he studied medicine and specialised in surgery.

Seated next to the “Birthday Boy” is none other than his soul brother, Chief Olabode Emanuel, a Chartered Accountant who is also a Gregorian. This is double jeopardy !! Ten days earlier he celebrated his own 87th birthday – in London. Now, there is a problem. How do you propose the toast of one Gregorian to the exclusion of the other Gregorians (including Mr. Olusola McGregor, the Quantity Surveyor whose family house was next door to the Ogunbiyi’s on Bamgbose Street, Lagos)?

The least I can do is to acknowledge that the Gregorians have done a superlative job of rescuing their school from ruin and set it on the path to becoming a national treasure. It has become the stuff of folklore.

From being a Catholic school that had delivered a ceaseless stream of high achievers to Nigeria – in law, medicine, civil service, banking, military etc it was seized by a vengeful Governor of Lagos. The classrooms became overcrowded and the hapless teachers were devastated by rapidly diminishing morale and escalating indiscipline. It was a dreadful nightmare and colossal disaster. King’s College, Lagos suffered a similar fate. Its toilets became a festering eyesore.

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