Tribute to Late Bishop Joseph Ajomo by Professor Dare Arokoyo
The Sower and a Seed: A Tribute to His Lordship Bishop Joseph Ajomo (RIP).
As we celebrate, once again, the life and times of His Lordship Joseph AJOMO, Bishop of Lokoja (of blessed memory), I have a compelling urge to recall the unforgettable experiences I was privileged to have had with this awesome Man of God in the course of my journey of life and how God used him to be my destiny facilitator.
The Rev Father Ajomo arrived St Augustine’s College Kabba in the fourth of the five years of secondary school education of my set. A young, ebullient, dashing, energetic priest, fresh from Germany after his doctorate program. He was teaching English Language and Christian Religious Studies before becoming the Principal. With the benefit of hindsight, and that’s just by the way, I wouldn’t be exaggerating by concluding that in those good old days, the quality of instruction, laboratory and library facilities, building infrastructure, staff dedication, student discipline and morality, and, above all, the central administration, rivalled existing standards in many universities of nowadays.
Like Joseph the biblical slave boy that found favor in the eyes of the Pharaoh, I became a beneficiary of the paternal instinct of Father Ajomo who gave me the kind of attention normally reserved for a biological son. I was a regular visitor to the revered mission house as well as to his family house in Ogori Magongo. He was a regular visitor to our house to fetch me for our numerous journeys in his sparkling Peugeot 404 saloon car. I was not a mass server yet I was almost always with him on his journeys outside Kabba town. I was a true Òmò Father! I remember when I remarked that I knew he was preparing me for priesthood. This was at Egbe Girls Secondary School during a weeklong extra mural coaching exercise. His reaction surprised me: no, he said. Why? I couldn’t be a priest because I was asking too many questions! Seeing how downcast I was by this judgement, he asked me not to worry, that the mustard seed that I was would blossom in my own way in the fullness of time. I didn’t know what that meant. But one ambition obsessed me and became my driving force – to impress Father Ajomo in my academic endeavors with the hope that would make him shift grounds, as it were. I can never forget a catalytic novel he gave me to read, The Distant Trumpet by Paul Horgan (or thereabout) with particular reference to an assertion by an American President: “If the son of my father could become a president, nothing can stop the son of your father from achieving his heart’s desire”. This became a motto engraved on my impressionable young mind, a propulsive force that ignited an ambition to outdo myself. For the first time, somebody told me I had value and I could move mountains if I so determined. That I could fly, that I could touch the sky, that I could turn the garbage of impediments on my way to fertilizer and use it to grow success, that the seed of greatness had been planted in me by a Maker who had never had the time to create the nobody that I thought I was, that I could squeeze water out of granite. And I started sprouting wings with which to soar like an eagle, abandoning my hitherto turkey mentality. I experienced an uprush of a subliminal mental force I never knew was lurking somewhere waiting to be galvanized by the force of hero worshipping.
Perhaps the most determining destiny intervention I ever experienced came after my set’s MOCK WASC exams in our terminal year in St Augustine’s College, just three months to the WASC exams proper. In those days, without scoring a grade one in your MOCK WASC exams, you couldn’t qualify for the HSC. And to score a grade one, you needed to have a credit in English and Maths. Unfortunately, Maths was my Achilles’s heel. I never got to know what my score in Maths was but I knew a credit pass was overambitious, certainly beyond my wildest expectation. We noticed an unusual delay in publishing the results and we guessed something was amiss. His Royal Highness, Oba Jerome Sunmonu, the late Olujumu of Ijumu, popularly known amongst students as Jommy, was then our History teacher and Vice Principal. He was unarguably one of the best and most dedicated I was lucky to have been tutored by. Jommy was an inspirational teacher, and it was he who trained my vocal organs for the diction of the Queen’s English. May his noble soul rest in peace. I got to learn from him that, of the four students pencilled down for grade one, one failed Maths and so had to be dropped. And that happened to be me! A development that distressed the Principal. In a dramatic turn of events, I (and a couple of other classmates) was summoned to the Principal’s office and made to undertake that I was going to pass Maths at WASC exams, a condition, I guess, for moderating my Maths score. To help me achieve this seemingly impossible task, Mr Kuncheria, our Indian bursar and Maths teacher, was to give me special coaching when others were out for games. How I fashioned out my own way of conquering Maths at least to escape being expelled from the HSC program is a dramatic story that might be useful for the younger ones in the same situation. In form five, I couldn’t as much as find the value of the third angle of a triangle if given the values of the other two! It was that bad. By a stroke of luck, eureka, I found it. I discovered that my problem wasn’t in form five but in form one. My failure to learn, in form one, the simple, unambiguous formula that the sum of the angles of a triangle equaled 180°, among other formulas governing the various branches of Maths, haunted me up to form five. I discovered that in my terminal year, I was building a castle in the air, a roof on a sandy foundation. Inspiration took me back to my form one Maths text book and it was a walkover. Conquering book one led to surmounting book two, three. Suffice it to say that my godfather intervened to save me and I managed to fulfill my promise to pass Maths at WASC, a feat that surprised especially my coach who had earlier expressed to the Principal his disappointment and frustration at my abandoning the coaching sessions and even the extension classes after the publication of MOCK results. He didn’t know that I had something up my sleeves! This case was a defining incident in my life, indeed, as the implication of failure to go to HSC, or dropping out of HSC was better imagined than experienced. It was a lesson in where there’s a will, there’s a way. Next episode, mother luck smiled at me again as my godfather was requested by the Igbira community to start the Igbira Community Sec. School, Gaminana, Okene. That was the first year of my sojourn at GSS Okene (now Abdul Aziz Attah Memorial College) where I had been admitted for my HSC program.
In my final year, it happened that I needed to pay six pounds as WAEC exam fees to write my HSC final exams which my scholarship (facilitated by the late philanthropist, Chief SM Fadile, another story for another day), didn’t cover. Father, after an unsuccessful trip to Kabba to raise the funds from my people, came to my hostel with six pounds being savings from his austere priestly allowance.
Thereafter, three months to my final exams, Father pulled me out of the school campus to the Catholic Mission house on the hill from where I was going with him daily to Gaminana, having taken up employment as the fourth pioneering teacher of the new school. I was earning while studying, a three-month head start advantage over my classmates! I moved back to school only to write my final exams and return to my job.
A payback day I cannot forget was our (GSS) valedictory, prize giving day. Father drove me to school as he was one of the special guests. Excitement was written on Father’s face when his mustard seed was called out to receive three of the four form/subject prizes, followed by the John F Kennedy Memorial Essay Prize, capped with the Abdul Azziz Attah Memorial Prize for the overall best student.
On our way back to the mission house on the hill, Father asked how it happened and I replied “the mustard seed”!
Subsequently, farsighted Father facilitated opening a bank account to deposit my cash prizes. I grew this with my monthly salaries not knowing this was another destiny project until I got admission to the University of Ibadan. Without these savings initiated by Father, I would most probably never have had university education! Somewhere along the line in the course of my university studies, I was again overwhelmed by financial distress. Once again, here was Father, from the blues, bringing Udoji Award package, reference my teaching stint in Gaminana, all the way to Ibadan. I still wonder how he knew how desperately I needed that life line. And just like in GSS Okene, I had the opportunity to reward him with the presentation of my letter of award of the students’ edition of the National Academic Award by the Federal Ministry of Education. He told me he had read it in the Punch and that that reminded him of how much I merited the Udoji Award!
My regret today is that Father passed on to eternal glory before the fullness of time to see his tiny mustard seed grow to full size as I inched up to the zenith of my academic career the way he predicted and labored towards. But I know there’s life after death and that the Rev Father Joseph Ajomo, late Lord Bishop of Lokoja, you are occupying your deserved resting place in the bosom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ of Nazareth in whose earthly vineyard you distinguished yourself as a worthy laborer and fisher of men. As a token of gratitude, I dedicate whatever modest achievement destiny has brought my way to you, my hero and ultimate role model. You were a candle in the wind that blew off too soon. But we have solace in the knowledge that the Lord recalled you to higher duties among the celestial Cherubim and Seraphim of Paradise. May you continue to rest in peace as you so much deserve, amen.