That his mother was concerned when told by a village prophet that her son would fly around the world, shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. This must have been some time in the 1930s or early 1940s. Add stark illiteracy to that and one may begin to understand her concerns when it appeared she was being told her son might be a male witch! From that point onwards, mama agba as she was fondly called kept a watchful eye on her son, discreetly observing his every move. The benefits of education cannot be overemphasized not just because you become better informed but because it enables you to imagine and conceptualize the impossible. It then goes further to equip you with the knowledge and discipline to make the impossible possible.
Indeed, the young man did end up flying all over the world. In addition to his sojourn to the UK as a Federal Government sponsored scholar, where he bagged his first Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and then a second Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, both at Exeter University, he later traversed the world as a representative of his country. He traveled the Americas, most of Europe and even the Far East, often leading Federal Government delegations either as the Divisional Head of the Economic Council or at different times as the Permanent Secretary, Internal Affairs ministry or as the Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office (the office responsible for coordinating the administration and implementing cabinet policy). He served through the Gowon and Murtala Mohammed administrations and retired a year into Obasanjo’s military regime. This village boy of yesterday also served on the United Nations Technical Assistance Committee from 1962 to 1964, as Nigeria’s representative. It was during one of his numerous official trips that the government of the then communist nation, Czechoslovakia, tried to recruit him as an agent; or a spy, if you will. Towards the end of his career, he took a sabbatical and spent a year (1975-1976) at Oxford University’s Queen Elizabeth House, honouring their invitation as a Visiting Fellow. So the man of God’s prophecy when Sam was still a village boy that he would travel the world, certainly came to pass and to his mother’s relief, it wasn’t because he was a witch as she had feared all the while. It was a good thing she lived long enough to witness this and to recount what she had been told many decades earlier. Mother and son got the chance to have a good laugh over this.
Samuel, who passed away 10 years ago (April 21st, 2013) was a great man. Not because he rose to the pinnacle of his chosen career but because during the course of his life he touched so many lives. Truth be told, our transient achievements mean nothing to God as we are all equal before Him. I read in a Christian daily manual some time ago something that really pressed this home for me and it said, “your name in heaven is not based on your fame on earth”. Deep down I think most of us know this but it’s often easy to forget.
Born in a rather remote Ekiti state village, Ipoti-Ekiti of late Colonel Ariyo and more recently, Yinka Ayefele fame, Samuel also known as Babfemi was the elder brother to Pa Michael, Pa Philip and Ma Abi and a younger brother to Ma Omoniyepe. I dare say he was the original grass to grace hero with no shoes. Sorry o President Jona! Indeed, Pa Samuel gave and gave and gave of himself until there was nothing else to give. In the estimation of many, after Jesus Himself, he was neighbourly love personified. As the story goes, when he eventually became the proud owner of his first pair of shoes, it turned out to be a bitter-sweet experience for him. Sweet because he finally no longer had to walk the streets barefoot but tinged with a little sadness because of how bad he felt that his best friend would still walk the dusty village streets unshod. He remedied this the only way he knew how. Whenever they were together he would give his friend one shoe while he would wear the other. So the two friends would hit the town wearing one shoe each! As ludicrous as this sounds, that was the heart of the man. Always looking to make others happy and often moved to tears when he saw the anguish of the less fortunate.
‘I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” – Lily Tomlin
Pa Samuel and his children had many a feud because he had turned his home into a commune of sorts. At any given time there were no less than twenty people living under his roof. The highest recorded was twenty seven! People he sheltered, educated and fed day and night. Though it took a while, his children eventually came to realise that being able to give and doing so was what made life worth living for him and if they truly wanted the best for him, they should allow him to live his life the way he deemed fit. They lost count of the number of people, relatives and otherwise who passed through his house. And any attempt to count the number of people whose education he sponsored, would be an equally futile exercise. Some came to public knowledge only when the beneficiaries got the chance to tell their story at his Service of Songs and Wakekeep ceremonies. Many more will remain unknown.
One story in particular struck me. A lady at Pa Samuel’s Service of Songs recalled how in his usual jocular manner, he once engaged her in a conversation. Pa Samuel served on the board of a Secondary school in Lagos called Western College. It was owned by his long time friend and kinsman, Chief J.K Adewunmi of blessed memory. During a visit to the school, he met this said woman who was a teacher there. After throwing in a few jokes here and there he proceeded to ask her about her ambitions and her educational background. Upon her reply, he promised right there and then to finance the 2nd degree that she had long wanted to undertake but for the paucity of funds. Until that fateful day, they had never met but that really didn’t matter, just as ethnicity, religion and all other considerations were also of no consequence to him. All he knew was, here was a human being like himself who had a need and being a person who believed very much that everyone should be given a chance to fulfill his or her potential, decided to do the needful. As far as he was concerned he wasn’t doing a favour, he was only doing the needful. He understood perfectly that he was a mere vessel and not the source of a single blessing. In fact he knew from the depth of his being that his own blessings hung on yielding to God’s direction to meet the needs of others.
His children were incredulous when he decided to send his long serving driver’s daughter to Babcock High School and further on to the prestigious Babcock University. They found it difficult to understand why he couldn’t send her to a decent enough public school instead. As it happens, the girl, a driver’s daughter, passed out with a First Class in Accountancy. Yet another of Nigeria’s brightest who could have easily fallen through the cracks if it wasn’t for someone’s loving intervention. Pa Samuel’s children later felt so proud of their dad who saw more wisdom in listening to the voice of God than that of man.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit” – Nelson Henderson.
God didn’t give you what you think you have or own for yourself only, be it money, intellect, certain talents or skills. No, He entrusted you with them so you can be a blessing to humanity, to your neighbour. That is the true meaning of Good Success.
“When I chased after money, I never had enough. When I got my life on Purpose and focused on giving of myself and everything that arrives into my life, then I was prosperous” – Wayne Dyer.
As should be expected of someone who lived as long as he did, the late Pa Samuel certainly endured his own fair share of tragedies. He tragically lost his eldest sister on a day of celebration, his wedding day. True to her stoic self, his mother betrayed no obvious sign of there being anything amiss on that day and managed to keep mum about it for several days. A few decades later tragedy struck again when he lost his first wife Esther to a debilitating illness, just as his glorious career was taking off and they were about to start enjoying the fruits of their labour. Several decades after that, he lost his second wife, Comfort too. The merciless hands of death were not done yet as in his old age he lost his beloved first child Bola (Mrs Oyelese) and her amiable son, Kunle (his grandson), just a few months apart. But you know what? He faithfully absorbed it all with his ever famous words, “that’s how God wants it”. A literal translation from Yoruba. His uncommon faith was his strength and it never let him down. It’s funny because whenever his children faced the unenviable task of relating unpalatable news to him, they would strategise endlessly on how best to break the news, conscious of the potential repercussions due to his age. However, he never failed to surprise them and always ended up being the one consoling them instead. I guess he had seen it all. More importantly however, his faith in God and His ultimate plans were simply never in doubt.
On the 21st of April, 2013 and at a grand old age of 91, we lost you daddy. We, your children, were still not quite ready to let you go. I guess we were never going to be. Telling us with absolute assurance that you were all set did little to comfort us. Lovingly yet sternly you trained us back then, to become people of character, integrity and compassion in a world and society very different to the one we know now. Then was a world where such was still greatly valued. I readily confess to sporting a few bruises because of this, as I try to make my own way through this perilous world. Yet, I will remain eternally grateful to you for ingraining in me a deep resolve to do my own little bit to make a difference. Thank you dad.
Samuel Babafemi Akande, or Pa SB as you were so fondly called, we remember you today. Sun re o (sleep well). Love, your son, Dapo.