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Tribute to a Classic School Master

By Dr Bukar Usman

Mr. Joseph Oladejo Abolade (1938-2012) died on June 20, 2012 and was interred at his home town Ikirun, Osun State on July 20, 2012. He might not have been a public figure of note in his life time but he was a notable moulder of young men and women many of whom are today public figures of note. On this rested his greatness. He laid not his treasures in perishable things but secured them, those virtues our nation is in dire need of today-virtues of passionate dedication to duty, forthrightness, excellence, exemplary leadership and, professional contentment. He inscribed those virtues in the hearts and minds of many of his students now serving in different capacities across the nation.

    My classmates and I were fortunate to be one of those so uniquely touched by Mr. Abolade. He was one of our former tutors at King's College (KC), Lagos (1963 -1968). He was one of those people because of whom we look back at our alma mater with pride. But he was an exceptional school master; he was a humanist, and many of my school mates who had commented on his passage were unanimous in acknowledging that he was a truly "good man."

    Mr. Abolade was the head of a distinguished family of academicians and school administrators. While he taught at King's College, his spouse was the head of Queen's College (QC), Lagos. Those were two premier educational institutions renowned for moral and academic excellence in the country. Mr. Abolade went on to establish and head similar institutions across the country where he taught his students not only to master their subjects but also to subject themselves to discipline and self-control. After serving as a tutor at the Federal Government College Sokoto, (1969-1972), Mr. Abolade went on to serve at different times as the principal of four other Federal Government Colleges-those at Odogbolu (1973-1976), Enugu (1976-1980), Ijanikin (1980-1985) and Ilorin (1985-1989)-before moving on to the Ministry of Education to serve firstly as a Director of Education Planning and later Director Inspectorate, retiring from the Federal Service in 1998 in that capacity.

    As a clear demonstration of his family's devotion to child up-bringing, he died as the president of Child Lifeline, an NGO engaged in the rehabilitation of street children. Through that organization, he continued his penchant for community service even after retirement.

    On my personal relations with Mr. Abolade, I must say that since we parted in 1965, we did not meet again until about five years ago. Even then it was an accidental meeting at Hamdala Hotel Kaduna. I was in Kaduna on a social visit while he was there for a workshop on education. That encounter provided me the opportunity to express my gratitude for his contribution to my literary career. We never met again. I was told that he used to grace the meetings of the Ingots, our student association, at Prof Fetuga's residence at Magodo, where he happened to live. I was not fortunate to meet him there.

    Mr. Abolade's contribution to my post-retirement effort at book-writing came about also by chance. Ironically, it was after I read the tribute he wrote on our former principal, Dr Rex E. O. Akpofure, in 2003. I found not only the sentiments he expressed in the eulogy but also his mastery of the English Language quite touching. That was about the time I had written my autobiography. Still in manuscript, I felt that I must locate him to help me go through it. When I secured his phone number from one of our colleagues and called him, he was most obliged to grant my request. It was gratifying because we had not seen each other since 1965!

    I was not disappointed at the outcome. He did a thorough job. He edited it as if he was marking a school paper, and his feedback was like a report card on me. In a remark dated January 17, 2004, he said, "What I've done is to remove verbal blemishes and polish up the language where I've noticed inelegance or banality..." On the whole he said, "I've found the story of your life as narrated in the manuscript quite captivating. It's the portrait of a man with a sensitive mind, a sharp intellect and an acute sense of observation-a person with a mission and who is resolved to achieve that goal despite distractions, distress or disappointments." I think his life reflected these qualities more than mine.

    Mr. Abolade had a solid educational background. He began his educational career at Ibadan Grammar School (1952-1956) and attended Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone (1959-1962), Leeds University (1968-1969), University of Pittsburgh (1977) and University of Ibadan (1986-1987), harvesting in the process prizes and honours in history, Latin and essay-writing. After his Bachelor of Arts in 1962, he had a diploma in Teaching English in 1969 and attended educational management training in 1977 and 1987, where he bagged a master's degree.

    Mr. Abolade was a gifted, though unheralded, literary artist-a playwright and a poet. His compositions were always a delight to read. He was the literary editor of Aureol Mirror, a student magazine at Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone and editor-in-chief of the KC school magazine The Mermaid. He generously applied his poetic gifts in composing school songs for Federal Government Colleges at Ijanikin, Ilorin and Ipetumodu.

    Mr. Abolade was an initiator of environmental education in our schools. Through his membership of various official committees, numerous conference papers and private publications, he also contributed immensely in the formulation of policies on computer education, Nigerian book policy and the siting of Federal Government Colleges. A long-term examiner in English language for WAEC and GCE, he was also an authority on basic education, girl-child education, objective test and oral English. To crown it all, he was a member of the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction.

    To conclude this tribute, it is perhaps fitting to attempt to sketch Mr. Abolade's personality as gleaned from one of his publications Lenten Meditations in Verse (2008). He said, "The guiding hand of God has been evident in my life everyday and it goes without saying that He is the unerring potter while I am just the clay." He wrote about the transience of Life, peace and security and the joys of giving. In his "Personal Reflections", a collection of religious poems he wrote for each and every day of Lent in 2004, he said, "We were taught to see religion as a path to seeking and following God's will, not a weapon for dividing people. This is the legacy I have come to treasure." What a fitting lesson for us all at this season of sectarian challenges in our country.


July 21, 2012




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