Chief Raphael Ige Ibigbami is a retired Head of Department of Fine Arts of the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. The 80-year- old retired don shares his reminiscences with OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU
Where and when were you born?
I was born at Ire Ekiti on 25 May, 1938.
How did you know that was when you were born?
My father kept the date and I was baptized as an infant. I have my baptismal certificate.
Ire Ekiti, when you were born was a rural setting, how was growing up like?
Growing up was unlike nowadays; it was really a typical rural setting where children were very obedient to their parents; where the father would call the son, and the son would answer ‘Ee oo’, because there was nothing like ‘sir’ in those days.
I used to follow my father to the farm, because he was a farmer who cultivated yam, maize and cassava. Then a child’s capacity and prowess was measured by how many heaps he could make, hoe, dig or cultivate on the farm in a day. ‘Mo ti ko igba oran (ebe)’ (I have made 200 heaps); ‘mo ti ko ogorun oran (ebe)’ (I have cultivated 100 heaps); etc. That was the situation in those days. But I didn‘t keep long in that situation, because my father taught me the Yoruba and the English alphabets when I was very young.
Does that mean that your father was educated?
Yes, he was what you can call a self-educated person. I asked him this same question, since he was the only person who could read and write among his age mates. He was the ‘akowe’ (secretary/record keeper) of the ‘ajo’ (thrift group) in his church and of every society he was involved in and I asked him how he came about being educated and he said the sound made by books when being opened attracted him. So he went and bought the Yoruba alphabet book and started opening it same way, without even knowing how to read or write. Then somebody came from Lagos and saw him opening his book, and he enquired if he could read the book and he said no, and that person asked him to bring his book and taught him the Yoruba alphabet. He also taught him the English alphabet as well.
How was growing up like?
Growing up was interesting. Let me share this small story with you: the only time I can remember there was a fight between my mother and my father was when my father asked me, ‘What is 5 + 5?’ and I said 10 and he felt I should be able to manipulate, and he asked, ‘What of 6 + 4?’ I didn’t know it and he was enraged and he gave me a slap and I fell down. My mother took a bunch of broom and hit him. Since that day, I know that 6 + 4 is also 10. And this story I told you, I had told all my children. I will never forget the day I knew that 6 + 4 is 10. After that, I didn’t see them fight or quarrel. My mother was a very hard working woman, who used to weave my school uniform in her loom. In those days, there was no tape rule or any measurement gauge, but they would use the hand, the gap between the thumb and the first finger as a token of measurement.
When did you start schooling?
I started schooling at the age of four, in 1942, when it was very unusual in those days. My starting schooling was accidental and incidental. I was playing with the sand with one of my mates and somebody threw a stone. Accidentally, the stone hit my mate in the forehead and he started bleeding; then my father came to pick me from the place, saying that ‘I will not allow anybody to break my child’s head.’
I remember again that he took me to a barber who shaved my head and he gave me to somebody, who was already schooling and said If you were going to school on Monday, take this child along with you.
That was how I started school and I was the smallest in my class, both in age and stature. Then the teacher followed me home and asked my father to pay my school fees, which was usually called ‘owo quarter’ and my father said, ‘But I just sent him there to be playing with you people.’ And the teacher responded, ‘He is more brilliant than all the children he met in school.’ So my father gave him the money and how much are we talking about here? Eight pence! That was how I started school and that was also how I started coming first in the class every time.
And in those days, primary school used to be for 10 years – four years for the elementary/beginners, which they used to call ‘alakobere’ and six years for the standard cadre.
I finished Standard 6 in 1953 and I was ‘located’ to become a teacher. I was the smallest in stature and the youngest in age then among the teachers and my appellation was ‘Tisa Kekere’ – Small Teacher.
My mother took me to one of her cousins, Mrs Juliana Abe, to be living with her, because her house was very close to the school where I taught.
Can you remember the schools/institutions you attended and the dates?
My primary school was Saint Gregory’s Catholic School, Ire Ekiti and I also attended the Teachers’ Grade Three Certificate course. I was always coming tops of my class. I am not boasting, but it was God’s gift and my father’s encouragement. I attended Saint Augustine Teachers’ College Oye Ekiti for my Grade Three Certificate. I finished and I was located to Ijare in 1963, but before then, our English tutor, we called them tutors in those days, called me and said that the Rev Father said that with my brilliance I would not need to move from Grade Three to Grade Two, but that I should go and write my GCE.
I had never heard about that before then. He obtained the form for me, filled it and I wrote it and passed. In those days, you would just apply to a higher institution the moment you got your requirements, especially when you had your GCE. So I applied to four institutions: the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I was admitted to read Chemistry; the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), I can’t remember the course I was admitted to read in Ife; Ahmadu Bello Uiversity, Zaria, where I was admitted to read Fine Art and then I also got admitted for the National Certificate in Education. I was cash strapped but one mistress in my town, Mrs Abejide, said if I could go to Zaria, where her husband was doing Fine Arts I would get funds. That was how I ended up in Zaria to read Fine Arts. I can’t remember the year now, but I remember that when I finished, I was given scholarship to do my Masters degree and I was the first person to do Masters in Fine Arts in ABU and I was also offered employment as a Graduate Assistant.
I can’t really remember the dates now, because my memory is waning.
When you completed your Masters’ degree, where did you work?
I came down to the University of Ife, in Ile Ife in 1972 and my first daughter, though not my first child, Adebola, was born in Ile Ife. At that time, my father was with me; he was sick and I brought him to Ife for treatment. But he later died.
From OAU, where else did you work?
I didn’t work anywhere else. I was in the Fine Arts department of the University of Ife, as it was then known. I started the Ceramic Department, a section of the Fine Arts department. But there was some sort of jealousy in the department, because I was rising steadily in the department. I quickly became the head of the department and an Associate Professor.
Incidentally, I used to keep accurate dates. I had started my PhD programme, I had finished the course work and was getting ready to do the thesis when in 1991, I was asked to go. I was retired, after 19 years in the university. When I joined the university, one of my uncles rented an apartment or me in Mokola Street and I am still living in Mokola till date, because I put up my own building in Mokola.
Why did you choose Fine Arts as a course and teaching as a profession?
I chose Fine Arts because of financial constraints. My choosing Fine Arts was accidental and incidental. And my choosing teaching, remember that before I gained admission into the university, I had taught in many schools, so it came naturally when I finished to continue from where I had stopped.
When did you get married?
December 31, 1969.
Was the date deliberate or planned?
It was planned.
How did you meet your spouse?
We met when she was teaching at Igbara Oke, St Joseph’s Grammar School and I was also teaching at Anglican Grammar School, Igbara Oke. When we met, we didn’t know we were going to marry.
(Mama takes over the narrative) We met at Igbara Oke in 1965 and we were both not really serious about the relationship. But later in 1967, a classmate of mine in Saint Helen’s College, Ondo, saw his picture and said, ‘Egbon Ibigbami ree’ (This is Uncle Ibigbami) and I asked if she knew him and she said yes and I never knew he was going to tell him about me and that we were in the same dormitory at St Helen’s together. It was after that encounter that he too came back to search for me and today, it is history.
What really endeared you to her?
Look at her face. She is very beautiful. And I have eyes for good things and that is why I am a Fine Artist.
How many children do you have?
God blessed me with nine children, five boys and four girls. I have six children from my first wife and three children from my second wife, who unfortunately died in 1994. And my lovely wife had since then carried on the work of raising all the children.
How was life while in active service?
Life was very interesting. My mind was always on the work and also in helping my people. I brought so many of my people to Ife here to secure employment and some of them are still here.
You retired about 27 years ago, how is life in retirement?
Life in retirement is very enjoyable and interesting. Life is enjoyable when you are living with a good wife. In fact I don’t call her my wife, she is my mother. There was a song I composed for her and it goes thus: Esther Aderemi pele, iyawo mi t’o dara, olufe b’oju wo mi oro re wa l’okan mi. Ni too to, ni t’ododo, eyi mo so ninu ife mi l’o ti wa. (Hello, Esther Aderemi, my good wife; my love, look at me, you are on my mind. Truly and honestly, all I have said are from the depth of my love).
How would you compare life during your time with what obtains now?
I am never a politician. I was about to be drawn into politics. It started from councillorship in those days. I was almost always at home and my people wanted me as a councillor. There were three sections in my home town, but somebody just rose up and said it was not my section’s turn, that it was his own section’s turn. They agreed to hold a mini election, with five delegates from each section, making 15. His section’s five delegates gave him their votes and mine also gave me their votes, so, we had to now slug it out for the five votes of the remaining section. One woman from the neutral section was his relative, so she naturally gave my opponent her vote and I got the remaining four votes. The election ended with nine to six votes in my favour. But something struck my mind and I relinquished the office to him, asking him to go ahead since he was so much interested; he went in and was there for just four months before the military struck and that was the end of his own journey, but since then, I have never been interested in politics.
How would you compare people’s attitude to work during your time and now?
In those days, we were always very serious with our work, but, some people did not; but the current get-rich-quick syndrome among workers today was not there then, people were contented with their salary and the salary then, as small as it was, could do a lot of things in those days. I moved into this house in December 1975 and same year, I erected a building in my home town. I remember a time we went home and in my father’s house, there was nowhere for me and my wife to put up in and I quickly put up a new building behind my father’s house.
Where were you during Nigeria’s independence?
I was a ‘Tisa Kekere’ then. There was an independence song then, but I have forgotten it now. But independence was a big national feast, with school children sing and dancing.
Have your hopes for our country and people at independence been met?
My answer is yes and no. Yes, we became independent, but no, because the independence was polluted by the people who should have made it enjoyable to all of us, and turned it to personal inheritance on a platter of gold. Politicians are now very rich, some richer than their states, and as such make people to be jealous of them and once they get there, they don’t want to leave. In those days, you scarcely hear anything like millionaire, not to talk of billionaire, or to mention money in millions.
What is your favourite food then and now?
My favourite food has always been pounded yam, then and even now.
How did you unwind during your younger days?
In those days, when I was young, we used to play in the evening under the moon. We also use to play ‘ayo’ but in those days, you must not play it in the night. The feast in my place was Ogun festival, I am from Ile Ogun and we must know how to greet and extol the god of iron.
Did you listen to music, dance or go to parties?
I listened to music very well, but I didn’t go to parties. Yes, I dance, but only in my house.
What were your favourite tunes, artistes and dance steps?
My father was the chairman of the juju band in my home town and I can still recall some of the great tunes of the time. I also grew up to become the secretary of the ‘kokoma’ music group in home town.
What were your hobbies then and now?
Farming was my hobby then. But now, I just wake up, eat and then I used to go to the church, but since I fell sick, I can’t move freely about again, but the reverend father comes to the house at least once in a month to administer the Holy Communion on me.
What challenges did you face while growing up, in your work life and at retirement?
We used to believe that there was hatred in the home. But I really don’t want to talk much about that now but that was a sad story. And I think it was God’s plan that I should leave Oye Ekiti for Ijare, because since I left, it was like I have lost touch with those evil people; because they didn’t know where I am. And I also believe that it was God’s plan that I should go to Zaria, because they did not know where Zaria was, they only knew that I was in the university, but where? They didn’t know. I was there when I got married to my wife and when I had my first child.
As a teacher, I would say no challenges, but as a lecturer, I was rising rapidly, and some people were not happy about it until the retirement came in 1991.
At retirement, well, old age is setting in and nobody wants to die, but I’m not afraid of death, because I have good children who are taking very good care of me.
I don’t have any regrets, to the glory of God!
What is your advice to the younger generation?
The younger generations, face your studies, do your work diligently and avoid bad company, because bad company corrupts good manner. Many youths today are what they are because of bad companies.
Which is the happiest day of your life?
The day I had my first child, because my mates were already married and had children. This is why my own children are younger than my mates’ children. And my first child got into the university at the age of 14, passing with seven distinctions and one credit. And that was the pattern for all my children.
And which day would you say is the saddest?
The day I lost my father. I remember when I bought my first car in 1972, a brand new Datsun Station Wagon, at N4,500 only. People were rejoicing with me at home, and my father sat in and my father sat in his parlour weeping! I went to him and said, ‘Baba, don’t worry, if money can take care of one’s father, I will take care of you.’ The only time he entered that car was when I took him to the hospital.
Are you your father’s first child?
Yes, by virtue of the fact that those born before me didn’t survive. My mother gave birth to 13 children, but remained only three. And my mother loved me and God allowed me to take care of her.
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