26th May, 2011
My fatherâ€™s profile may not read like that of our political heroes, national and world leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Leopold Senghor or even local warlords like Are Onakakanfo, Basorun Gaa or Alaafin Aole, but his incomplex exploits are of subtle historical significance to the rediscovery and rebuilding of our inflecting national values. Though it is true that it is only a relevant man, an accomplished man, a man whose life is full of eventful and epochal episodes that becomes the hero of history, by providence or divine manipulation, my father had forced himself into historical reckoning with the way he chose to come to this world and the way he chose to leave it.
Significantly, Emmanuel Abiodun Thomas the son of Akinwande and Kayinola Thomas was born in Lagos on December 26, 1929 which was a Boxing Day, he died on the dot of May 1, 2011 which was a Workerâ€™s Day and he would be buried tomorrow, May 27, which is Childrenâ€™s Day. What further evidence does one need before concluding that a man who started his life without comets has ended it with a historical statement?
Pa Abiodun Thomas, started his life in a suburb at Olowogbowo area in Lagos Island having attended St. Paulâ€™s Breadfruit Primary School, Lagos between 1935 and 1941. Later, he moved to his fatherâ€™s house at 8/10 Richards Lane also in Lagos Island before it was demolished along with other houses in Oluwole, Breadfruit, Ita Akanni, Balogun, Idita, some parts of Ofin and â€œIta Martinâ€. This was when the then Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB) now Lagos State Development Property Corporation (LSDPC) reclaimed the whole area for rehousing estate.
All affected house owners were therefore relocated and re-settled in Surulere attractively dubbed â€˜New Lagosâ€™. These new settlements sprawled over such areas like Hogan Bassey, Ile Gogoro, Barracks, Bank Olemo, Akerele, Shitta, Benson, Paddington, Milo, Love Garden, Iletunmi, Iyun, Ilelogo, Ibukun, Onitana, Onitolo, Ifelodun, Olumegbon, Suenu and many others. This was in November 1957.
Before moving to New Lagos, Abiodun Thomas who trained as an electrician after the first primary school leaving certificate, was very popular in the neighbourhood. Because of the nature of his job, he had the convenience of going into many homes to carry out electrical repairs. He capitalised on this leverage in the neighbourhood to â€œbaseâ€ (their language then for toasting) some of the beautiful girls while pretending to be doing electrical repairs. It was during one of such forays that he met an Ita Akanni girl called Faosat Aroyewun my own mother. But it was while he kept badgering this guileless girl that the LEDB came with the bulldozers. However, my motherâ€™s house in Ita Akanni was also affected. Thus, fate took the two of them to Surulere where they continued their â€œchasing gameâ€. It is curious to note that in 1957, when the â€œchasing gameâ€ commenced, my father was 28 years old while my mother was just 15 years.
My father later married two other wives namely Ladun Martins (a.k.a. Salome of the I.K. Dairo fame) and Adenike Adeleye, the one who lived with him till his death.
Having fully settled in Surulere, Abiodun Thomas joined Zappas Transport Limited, a Greek Company in 1958. He was a conductor with the company until 1960/1961 when the Lagos Municipal Council took over the company. It was known then as Lagos Municipal Transport Service (LMTS). With the creation of Lagos State in 1967, the Mobolaji Johnson administration took it over and later changed the name to Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) to reflect this take-over. Though some of the workers then were laid off, Abiodun Thomas was retained because of his hard work and the good recommendations made about him in the handing over notes by the council officials. The state government even went further to promote him to the position of a â€œcheckerâ€. A â€˜checkerâ€™ was responsible for the inspection of tickets issued to passengers by the conductors. This was a challenging responsibility for my father who had limited education but with the formal training given to him and other freshers by the corporation he was able to cope with this new challenge.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was stiff competition even among the few existing transport companies in Lagos State namely Benson, Oshinowo (Iya Layi), Charity (a popular Molue outfit). But the Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) was still well patronised because of the discipline of its staff and the organization and efficiency of the corporation. This reflected largely in the orderliness of the boarding process. As early as 4:30am, parents would send their children to queue on their behalf at different bus stations while they were still having their bath. It was fun for children then and there was no fear of any kind because Lagos was safe to a large extent at that time. Despite being run by the government, the workers were dedicated, hard-working, committed and honest. These indeed were some of the qualities required from the staff at the point of entry and I make bold to say that my father had them all. He was a conscientious worker reporting for work as early as 3:30am since it was his responsibility to allocate buses to drivers at his depot in Yaba, before he was moved to Olowu in Lagos Island. In those days, passengers who forgot or lost valuable items in the bus could use their tickets to trace such items and in most cases, such items were recovered. This enhanced the reputation and integrity of both the staff and the corporation.
Though the corporation overcame the Scania Scandal which gave it the name â€œOku Ekoâ€, from that moment the corporationâ€™s decline had gradually begun. This was the scandal involving Chief Adisa Akinloye. One thing that excited my father before his death was the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Coincidentally, the BRT corridor passes through the frontage of his house in Western Avenue (now Funsho Williams Avenue). As it was his habit for many years, he would sit in front of his house watching the buses drive to and fro and reminiscing on his days with the LSTC.
Though my father wanted his children to live a very disciplined life and to be hard-working, his approach to discipline was showy. It was so awfully dramatic that our neighbours turned my father to community headmaster by inviting him to help flagellate their wilful children. The number of horse-whips (Koboko) my father had exceeded the number of children in the house. In no time, koboko became a collectorâ€™s item in our house. Despite all this, my father was very caring, loving and friendly. He took care of all our needs including our education despite his meagre salary. He was there for us all.
My fatherâ€™s spirituality lacked the profundity of Pentecostalism but definitely no where near atheism and pharisaism. At best, we can call his own kind of faith, fatalism. He was an informal Christian not given to long prayer sessions and vigils. He was of the conviction that if a man refrained from wickedness and all forms of iniquity, his prayers would always be answered. He was a committed church member and a regular church goer, in fact, the Otun Baba Ijo of the African Bethel Church and also a Past President of the Men Improvement society of the Church and an honourable member of YMCA. When I started playing organ for the church in 1974, my father was very proud of me. He became more elated when I became the Church Organist in 1977. You could see the joy of fatherhood on his face every Sunday when I mounted the organ. On his sick bed, he had a new attitude towards prayers and Bible reading and this acted as a kind of complementary medicine to his orthodox treatment.
My fatherâ€™s social life was also inspiring. He was an average man who had friends among the movers and shakers of the society. Some of them include Chief Ernest Shonekan, (former Head of Interim National Government), Oba Bayo Adejumo, a Patron of the Island Club, the Late Chief Debo Akande, Victor Odofin Bello, Idowu Ladipo, owner of the popular Motel Bonanza, The Benjamin brothers, the Derby brothers, and Adeboye Brown. They had a forum called Monday Club which they started way back in Lagos Island circa 1955. They continued in Surulere using our house as their meeting venue every Monday.
Let me end this tribute this way: When my father died, I sent an SMS out to all my friends informing them of the death. One of them replied me immediately with suspect jubilation: â€œWelcome to the Club. You are not even ashamed that you still have a father at over 50. I lost my own at the age of 9.â€ For Godâ€™s sake, what kind of rascal is this guy who rather than show some respect to the dead, was busy welcoming me to the Club of fatherless elements as if they had been waiting for my fatherâ€™s death long ago? By the way, when did matter of life and death become an issue of mathematical arrangement? Anyway, I am proud that God did not kill my own father at 9. Let everybody carry his own cross. I will miss my father and likewise my other siblings.
May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
â€¢Dapo Thomas was an aide to former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.