“Eyin Ni Iwe Wa: You Are Our Epistle”
By President Olusegun Obasanjo
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At the Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta, Centenary Celebrations
January 18, 2023, Abeokuta, Ogun State
All of us who are here are related to Baptist Boys High School, BBHS, Abeokuta in one form or the other. I therefore say, ‘Eku Odu, Eku Iyedun’. Happy Centenary Anniversary!
For an institution that has existed for one hundred years and in which you spent only five years, just one twentieth of the period of existence of the School, what can you say, what should you say, should you go over the history of the School, or cover just the period you were in the School? Looking at the essential landmarks in the growth of the School will be interesting but will that be enough? So is zeroing on the celebrities and men of distinction that the School has produced but that also will be a tip of the iceberg.
But to wrap it all up, I have chosen to share with you “Eyin Ni Iwe Wa”, You Are Our Epistle, which was a favourite topic to address us as students by that distinguished old student of the School and the first African indeed Nigerian Principal of the School – E. L. Akisanya. Let me first dispense with the meaning of Epistle as contained in my dictionary as any of the letters in the New Testament of the Bible written by the first set of people who followed Christ or a long and very important letter on a very serious subject – Going by the last part of the definition, we as students of BBHS were and are and will continue to be very important letters and message on very serious subject of life and living.
Let me begin with – Why BBHS and BBHS, Abeokuta?
The Baptists particularly the American Southern Baptist Convention Group came out of the 16th Century Christian Reformation ideals, belief and ethos of:
Justification by Faith;
Priesthood of Believers;
Baptism of Believers by Immersion only.
They started in Europe and spread westwards to North America. The Baptists came to West Africa in 1848 and to Nigeria, in fact, to Abeokuta in 1950 when Thomas Jefferson Bowen visited Abeokuta and was also the founder of Baptist Parish within Nigeria. Those early missionaries came for evangelism but quickly realised that education would be a veritable instrument of evangelisation.
They brought education and evangelism together. By 1915, the Nigeria Baptist Association with Rev. Patterson as a missionary in Nigeria had decided to establish schools as part of evangelisation in Lagos and Abeokuta. The delay in moving on the project was caused partly by the 1st World War which raged from 1914 to 1918 and partly by the issue of land. However, by 1922, the land issue was settled and the School formally began in 1923, one hundred years ago.
It was an act of faith, hope, love and courage. These are four essential ingredients of growth, progress and success and, over the last one hundred years, BBHS Abeokuta had achieved three of the ingredients – Growth in number of students from the paltry number of students that began the class of 1923 to 2,481 in the two schools on the same site at Oke-Saje including the Mission School today; progress in physical expansion, Christian education, moral training, evangelism and spirituality; and growth and progress have come together to culminate in the success that BBHS Abeokuta has achieved today among mission schools of its kind including those that are much older. I will come back to the issue of success later but it is important to note here that the success was once referred to by a distinguished Nigerian historian and eminent professor and academician, J. F. Ade Ajayi as ‘accidents’. “Happy and glorious accidents”, I did say on that occasion, “and may such accidents continue to be the lot of BBHS, my dear alma mater”.
At the beginning, land was acquired and Egunya hill was allocated by Alake and Egba Government Secretary, Adegboyega Edun, which was an Oro shrine and worship place of other gods. The sum of £1.13.6sh was paid for the land. Tradition had it that some people believed that the School was doomed to failure having dared to tread where strong powerful and courageous men in the locality feared to look at let alone tread. Rev. S. G. Pinnock led and developed the School physically, educationally, religiously and evangelically for a couple of years before Rev. Patterson took over from Rev. Barrick. He led and directed the affairs of the School for 20 years before he departed for home.
The School from inception admitted students into High Primary Classes – Standards III and IV. By 1944, over twenty years after its establishment, BBHS admitted students into Standard V which was at that time the beginning of Secondary School. The Founding Principal in 1923 was Rev. S. G. Pinnock who left after one year. Rev. G. A Barrick took over in 1924 and on ground of sickness, returned home within one year while the most senior African teacher, Mr. J. L. Aloba temporarily stood in until Rev. I. N. Patterson took over in 1925. Patterson’s era lasted for twenty years until 1944 as I said earlier. Those twenty years were glorious years of physical development of the School. The physical stood out by itself. The H building stood out and uniquely on the hill and no other building compared with it in Abeokuta at that time.
On the occasion of the formal opening of the School on January 23, 1923, all the four Obas in Abeokuta were present: Oba Ladapo Ademola II, the Alake of Abeokuta; Oba Suberu Adedamola I, the Osile of Oke-Ona; Oba Adeosun I, the Agura of Gbagura; and Oba Dosunmu Amororo I, the Olowu of Owu. Oba Ladipo Ademola II. It was a splendid occasion.
With the departure of Rev. Patterson came another period of lack of continuity in leadership of the School. Although the most senior African teacher was appointed Headmaster, it was non-executive and fairly little administrative responsibility. Headmasters went from Mr. James Aloba to Gabriel Ogunsola, to Mr. S. A. Lawoyin and to Mr. E. L. Akisanya. But the relative quick turnover of Principals who were Chief Executive Officers began from Rev. Ray Porter Ingram to Rev. Homer Brown to short oversight responsibility by Miss Susan Anderson, a female missionary at the Baptist Girls’ School, Idi Aba, Abeokuta, appointed as Manager while Mr. S. A. Lawoyin as Headmaster carried on day-to-day administration between Ingram era and Brown era. The appointment of Rev. Bannie Theodore Griffin from 1946 to 1953 brought substantial continuity and stability. Before I stop on the key missionary architects of the fortune of BBHS, Abeokuta, I will like to point out one major achievement of the School in 1927 when the School for the first time presented students for the Government Standard VI Examinations. Among successful candidates were S. B. Abiola, J. J. Ogunremi, E. O. Akingbala, T. T. Amos, S. B. Sodeinde, Tijani Lawal, D. O. Onifade, Ogunseye, A. O. Olurebi and E. L. Akisanya. I had the fortune of meeting and interacting with most of these pacesetters in my life: Akingbala was the Pastor of 1st Baptist Church in Kaduna when I became a young military officer in Kaduna; Chief Olurebi was my Headmaster when I was at Owu Baptist Day School; J. J. Ogunremi was a Deacon in Owu Baptist Church, Principal of Baptist Modern School and the father of my classmate, Kayode Ogunremi. Chief S. B. Abiola was from a neighbouring village, Idi-Aga to our own village, Ibogun Olaogun. Mr. E. L. Akisanya was the Headmaster when I entered BBHS and later Acting Principal and later the Principal and, in fact, the first African to be so appointed. The distinguishing common factors among the first set of students of BBHS is their character and their attribute as Baptists with fear of God in their service of humanity and God. They were in every sense the Epistle of BBHS in all the places I happened to have met them and observed them. They were all exemplary.
I must also add other distinguished old boys who were contemporaries of the first set earlier mentioned or immediately following them. Among these were Chief D. S. Adegbenro, Minister of Land and then Minister of Local Government and later Premier of Western Region for a short period; Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was the first Premier of Western Region; Professor Bolaji Idowu, who was the first Nigerian President of the Methodist Church of Nigeria; Chief Duro Oluyemi, the first Principal of African Church Grammar School, Abeokuta; and his immediate successor, Prince Gbogboade. I will be fairly correct to say African Church Grammar School Abeokuta is almost a child of BBHS. To that list we must add Professor Lambo, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and the Deputy Director-General of WHO; Chief Samuel Sogbein, the Minister in the Western Region; Dr. Soleye, former Minister of Finance; Prince Bola Ajibola, former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and Judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague; and Chief M. Ola Yusuf with distinguished career at John Holt. Today, there are distinguished old boys in all walks of life, i.e., private sector, academia, military and paramilitary, civil society, traditional rulership, etc. Such is the present President of Old Boys Association of BBHS, Prof. Kayode Oyesiku. I believe that I must not be too forgetful to leave out yours truly, the son of Obasanjo, a modest war-victorious General and former Military Head of State and former President of Nigeria. Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the first communication industry millionaire in Nigeria and the acclaimed winner of the 1993 Presidential election who was in a class by himself. If not for Nigerian bad belle, M.K.O. Abiola would have been President and with me as President, we would have needed one more old student of BBHS to be President for us to permanently locate it in BBHS after three times. And that is a challenge for up-and-coming generations of old boys. I must not leave out people like Chief Dada who, after working at FAO, came to work with me as Minister of State, Agriculture, and Funsho Kupolokun, who worked with me distinguishingly as Group Managing Director of NNPC. At the State level, I must not forget Gbenga Daniel as Governor of Ogun State. I must not leave out the traditional rulers like Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, the Alake of Egbaland; Oba Adegboyega Dosunmu, the late Olowu of Owu Kingdom; and Oba Olufemi Omolade, the Olubara of Ibara, my personal friend and classmate who robbed of me of my cherished groundnut when we were in School.
The School’s performance in sports and games particularly against Abeokuta Grammar School normally led to healthy competitions and exchanges without violence. Some old boys who had done the School great in sports and athletic competitions were Erinle and Jolaoso at international level.
With this galaxy of men and leaders which BBHS Abeokuta has produced for Nigeria, we, collectively and individually as beneficiaries owe the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA, a debt of gratitude for their Great Commission work which had yielded great fruit in the vineyard of God. Once again, in acknowledging those great early missionaries who brought Baptist Mission to Nigeria, Rev. Bowen; the great pioneer head of BBHS, Rev. Pinnock; his great successor, Rev. Patterson and the last American missionary head, Rev. B. T. Griffin; and the first Nigerian Principal, Mr. E. L. Akisanya under whose tutelage I grew to become what I am today. Please rise up for us to observe one minute silence in honour and in memory of these great servants of God who had made great contributions to our lives and to the development of Nigeria.
What I have said about the first Thirty years of the School is not what I personally witnessed and they can be regarded as hearsay as they happened before I entered the School. From 1952, I became a participant in a way. I was admitted by Rev. B. T. Griffin. Within a year or so, he handed over to Mr. E. L. Akisanya as Acting Principal and Rev. Griffin became the Bursary/Treasurer of the School. What humility! At the time, the mission had embarked on Nigerianisation process. When I was admitted to the School, we had no single Nigerian university graduate among our teachers before Chief Omitade joined about two years later and became the Vice-Principal. Rev. Ford taught Biology along with Rev. Harper. Most of our teachers were Grade II teachers or those who had left secondary schools and were teaching as a stop-gap. Among those teachers were S. A. Tinubu, T. A. Adubi, J. Adenuga, J. Popoola, Mamora, Ilesanmi and Alao. What these teachers lacked in university education they made up for in enthusiasm, commitment, devotion to duty and fear of God. When Chief Sogbein completed his degree from Ibadan, he joined us in BBHS with his friend, Mr. Ekaette, who did not make his final examinations at Ibadan and Chief Sogbein was the second graduate teacher that taught me in the School. Mr. Ekaette with his inter BA taught us English. Chief Otunla came from Manchester University and then we started studying Physics and Chemistry as we should. Like teachers, like students. We got as much as they could give and we supplemented with self-effort and hard work.
But more importantly were the morning devotions and especially when led by Mr. E. L. Akisanya who knew the name of every student in the School. He had made us to easily remembered topics like “You are our Epistle” (Eyin Ni Iwe Wa) to make us conscious of our duties and conduct as representatives and ambassadors of the School wherever we go. Or, “remember the child of whom you are” (Ranti omo eni ti iwo nse). Again, reminding us always of our character and conduct. We could proudly say BBHS with education plus. And for me, it stood me in good stead throughout my life” so far. Without BBHS, I would not have been what I am. Once again, I am grateful to those that I have mentioned and seniors, classmates and juniors that I had the opportunity to interact with while in the BBHS. I also want to appreciate all the teachers that taught in BBHS from inception until I was admitted to the School and all those who have taught and are teaching since I left until today. Let me congratulate all students who had passed through the portals of BBHS posthumously and those who are alive no matter whether they are products of Oke Egunya or Oke-Saje, they are the same. As Mr. E. L. Akisanya would say, “We have a good heritage (A wa ni ogun rere)”. Let us preserve it and pass it on in perpetuity. What all these great products of BBHS have in common is godly virtue inculcated in them by the School. That was education plus. We carry it to anywhere we go as epistle written by BBHS to our families, our communities, our States, our country, and our continent of Africa and indeed our world. We must impact with humility, honesty, integrity, wisdom, courage, competence and fear of God – these must continue to be our characteristics and our attributes to make a change for good wherever we are. We must be different.
In conclusion, the class of 1979/84 had beautifully constructed the gate and road into the School. They also granted me the pleasure of making financial contribution to that laudable effort. They had offered to name the road after me for which I thanked them but I had craved their indulgence and to which they have agreed to name the road after E. L. Akisanya and the road becomes E. L. Akisanya Road and the gate E. L. Akisanya Gate. I wish you all happy anniversary and many happy returns for BBHS, Abeokuta, and for all of us to see many more anniversaries.
God bless you all.
Please let us sing the School anthem.
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