At his youthful best, he was upwardly mobile. He would change jobs at will, not only within a country but across continents – he had once changed job from Europe to Africa. Filled with zest and intelligence, he was every employer’s delight. Vivacious, humble and hardworking, he’s lived life with purpose despite its vicissitudes. No longer young but still with that imaginative and inventive mind, if one wants a lesson of contentment in life and attitude of gratitude to God, Engr. Tayo Akinnibosun, would be in a better opposition to teach such. Jovial, humorous and active, he is still smart as an octogenarian. This, he attributes to the grace of God and self-discipline. Born in Ondo Town in Ondo State, he had the best life could offer as a young man. And even at his old age, he still hopes for a better Nigeria. Akinnibosun who turned 80 recently, tells Funke Olaode about the first time he visited Warri and Lagos, the many jobs he did and how he took a plunge by leaving the United Kingdom for Nigeria and how he lost his livelihood in the heat of the June 12, 1993 presidential election presumably won by MKO Abiola
• I Am My Mother’s Only Child
Iwas the only child of my mother
I thank God for good health and vibrancy at my age. I was born on January 30, 1930, in Ondo town in Ondo State. By the time I was born my father was a produce buyer and my mother was a trader. I am the only child of my mother; of course, my father married several wives and had many children. I coped very well amongst my half-siblings and my father played a big role in presiding over his family and didn’t experience the intrigues of polygamy. One would have thought that being an only child, I would be pampered. I wasn’t really pampered as my parents didn’t spare the rod. But I never lacked as my father had enough to feed us. My father was a disciplinarian and we looked up to him as a role model. He was the commander-in-chief of his household and his decision was final. And for those who wanted to display their rascality among us (the children), he had a cane tucked in the corner of his room. This always put us in check. And of course, it really shaped our character.
Growing up in Ondo
Ondo was a primitive setting when I was born. There was no electricity and many basic social amenities were absent. We were happy with our environment because that was the situation we met on ground. Again, you don’t miss what you don’t have or know about. We grew up with native light called ‘fitila’. Later on, lanterns were introduced and those who couldn’t afford lantern stuck to the native lamp. As time went on, gas lamp was introduced. So it was a gradual process to civilization. It was exciting and memorable the day I saw electricity for the first time. It was like a miracle. I think it was at Hussey College in Warri in the present-day Delta State.
I once got beaten for getting intoxicated
It was a strict upbringing and we dared not disobey our fathers in those days and this put our rascality in check. What I couldn’t display in rascality I diverted it to sports as I was very active and fairly good at it. I ran short distance races; I did 100 and 200 yards and sometimes up to 450 yards. In the jumps, I did high jump, long jump, etc. There was a particular prank that landed us in trouble. I, my half-brother and a cousin who was staying with us got drunk and we were severely dealt with. I remember a day my father hosted his friends. As children, we were curious about the green bottle they had been drinking and the cigarette they were smoking. We decided to taste the remnants in the bottles and glasses. It wasn’t particularly tasteful. Nonetheless, we carried on and in the process we got intoxicated and when my father found out he didn’t spare the rod at all.
Going to Hussey College was my first time outside Ondo
I began my primary education at the age of seven at AnSarudeen Primary School, Ondo. It was exciting for me having stayed at home running errands. It was a different life and experience completely. We were taken to school by our elder brothers. I spent almost seven years there and took common entrance examination to various colleges and Hussey College was one of them. Ondo Boys School was in existence and Christ School in Ado-Ekiti was also popular. But when I was to go to secondary school I was allowed to take entrance examination to two places: Hussey College Warri and Ondo Boys’ High School. Fortunately, I passed and was offered admission into both schools. My father wanted me to go to Ondo Boys’ High School instead of Hussey College. I wept bitterly when my father raised that suggestion. Why did I weep? Because as of that time, I hadn’t stepped out of Ondo Town since I was born. I was about 14 years old then. I tried to convince my father that Ondo Boys’ High School was a good school and Hussey College too was good that I preferred Hussey College. I kept weeping and the same day my father gave it a second thought and called me that he had approved my going to Warri. This was in 1950. My joy knew no bounds as I journeyed out of Ondo for the first time. For me, it was an adventure. I loved it and was naturally happy. Hussey College was a mini Nigeria as pupils came from all over Nigeria. I was in the boarding house with a couple of other boys. Senior Augustus Ikomi from Sapele was there. There was Imadojemu; there were people like Aroloyes. One of them, Oba Fredrick Aroloye, is now the paramount ruler of Idanre in Ondo State. It was boys’ only when I was there and it was during my last year in the college that two girls were brought in. It was the introduction of the opposite sex into Hussey College. I entered Hussey College in 1950 and left in 1956.
Seeking for greener pasture in Lagos
After my sojourn at Hussey College where I obtained my West African Examination Council (WAEC), I came down to Lagos to look for employment. Prior to that time, I had visited Lagos and was amazed at the level of development going on. This encouraged me to look for greener pasture after my education in Warri. I got my first job in Account Department of Post and Telegraph (P&T) on Broad Street, Lagos. I was engaged as a dispatch clerk. I was earning Eight Pounds and 10 Shillings. My job was very easy and after mastering the job I found that I had enough time at hand. I spent about two years there. I was there when I saw newspaper advertisement looking for technical assistant in the Nigerian Railways. I applied and was employed. This was more interesting and challenging for me. I spent four years in the establishment and travelled to the United Kingdom for further studies. I first studied for a year in a polytechnic before moving to Poplar Technical College where I studied Mechanical Engineering. I was blown away when I got to England. It was a completely new environment. You know I had been used to seeing black people all my life.
My inquisitiveness as a child influenced me into engineering
My stint in the Nigerian Railways might have probably influenced my going into engineering. But as a child, I had always shown interest and inquisitiveness about the way simple things work. I was in the research laboratory of the Nigerian Railways doing metabological analysis. And of course, we had photography department whereby we developed photographs of some damaged components of railways. We went under the microscope to find out.
Surviving in the UK
I didn’t go to the United Kingdom on scholarship. It was my personal effort because while I was working in Nigeria I saved a lot of money that assisted me when I decided to further my studies abroad. I lived with my friend, the (now) late Chief Bayode Ajayi who happened to be my friend at Hussey College. We were sleeping in the same room when I was in Lagos. I stayed with him in the UK for some time before I got my own apartment. I was also lucky to have got a job less than four days after I arrived in the Great Britain. I was strolling outside when I saw a signboard with Employment Bureau written on it. I hadn’t heard about it before so I walked in to make an enquiry whether they could help me secure an employment. Immediately they interviewed me and directed me to a particular company around Trafalgar Square in Central London. I went to the company the following morning where I was interviewed and they asked me to start work the following Monday. They told me my salary. I asked, ‘Can’t it be more than that?’ The person who interviewed me consulted his senior, came back and they added to what they had offered me before with an instruction to keep my mouth shut about it. This is a Johnny Just Come (JJC) who hadn’t had any job experience asking for more. That was how I began another phase of life in Britain. I was employed as a supervisor in a departmental store. I immersed myself into what the country had to offer. I was combining the job with my studies. I actually changed jobs several times including working in a company where I produced spare parts for machines. I later landed a big one outside London.
Expanding my tentacles in London
I left the company and got another job with Standard Telephones and Cables outside London – Basildon; it was one of the newly created towns to decongest London. By then I had already been married and moved with my wife who was a nurse. I had two children in England but unfortunately I lost my first daughter. The surviving one in London is a lawyer now. I was still with this company in Britain when I saw another newspaper advertisement for a job in Nigeria. I applied and was interviewed. I was employed to one of the subsidiaries of UAC Group in Ilorin, Philip Morris, as a factory manager. I had only spent few months with them when I saw another newspaper advertisement from a company in Ikeja. I came for the interview and passed. Again, I was employed. I came back to Lagos to assume duty. However, I didn’t work in the company eventually because before my resumption date, the Civil War which was going on in Nigeria ended and the person who was the factory manager as of that time went back to the company that he was ready to come back. The managing director of the company, a white man was kind enough to look for an alternative job for me amongst his circle of friends in the industry. That was how I went into Tower Aluminum on Oba Akran Road in Ikeja also as a factory manager. I worked in this company for some time until I resigned and moved into a smaller company. It was a furniture manufacturing company. I eventually retired from this company at over 60 to become my own boss.
Becoming my own boss…producing wine
Having traversed different companies, I felt the time had come for me to be on my own. While I was in Britain, I joined the Basildon Brewers Association. We were making beers and wines. In those days, if I had a party I would brew beer in kegs. I was making wines in big jars. So I saw this as an opportunity to re-awaken that passion for making beer and wine. I was already doing it as a hobby and was already ordering what I needed abroad while majority of raw materials were sourced in Nigeria. It was doing well in the market until the June 12, 1993 crisis broke out. The election result of the would-be President, MKO Abiola, was annulled. That dealt a devastating blow on my business and I haven’t recovered from that shock because it affected my means of livelihood. The seed I had sown was already growing and all of a sudden it was cut off. Most of the traders who were patronising me usually did business on credit. There was a time I went to the Federal Palace Hotel and saw an empty bottle of my wine in their trash bin. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, the election drove most of my customers away and many went with my money.
Meeting my wife in London
I met my wife, Kofoworola Awujo (now late), in Britain where she was studying nursing. She was a native of Ondo town. Our meeting was a mere coincidence because I wasn’t looking for a town girl. We met at a party in England and asked for her particulars and she agreed. Soon after we met, she had made up her mind to further her studies as a medical doctor. And within a short time of meeting she travelled to North England, Newcastle. We started communicating through telephone. There was a time I went to Newcastle to meet her. After chatting for some time she pretended as if she was reading a novel on her bed. But looking closely I found that she was actually reading the novel upside down. This gave me a confirmation that she was actually thinking about me and the relationship would work. I eventually persuaded her to come back to London and she agreed and the relationship flourished. My family in Ondo decided to come to her family in Lagos where they were based to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. It was smooth sailing because we are from the same town and both families knew each other. We eventually got married in England in 1963.
My wife battled sickle cell anemia for 75 years…
My wife was a very pretty and brilliant lady who battled sickle cell anemia for 75 years. She attended Methodist Girls’ High School, Lagos and the ailment was diagnosed while she was in secondary school. She was told she had to look after herself properly. In fact, they told her usually people with such condition don’t live beyond the age of 40. By the time we started courtship I didn’t know anything about her condition. She opened up when the marriage issue came up. She asked me, ‘Tayo, would you be able to look after me properly?’ I said I would and promised to do my best. I get emotional when I remember that moment. That she lived up to 75 years was the Lord’s doing. I didn’t back out of the relationship and I tried my best and we lived together for 50 years and blessed with children who are doing well in their endeavours. One of my children is lawyer and is based abroad. Another one is an estate surveyor,; one is also a pharmacist and the last one studied Business Administration at Owo Polytechnic.
Fulfilling life’s aspiration…
No man fulfils all life’s aspirations. In our case, Nigeria’s situation has not enabled many people to attain the level they would have attained in life. I remember by the time I tendered my letter of notice of resignation in England, the personnel manager called me to his office the following day and asked me why I resigned. I told him that I wanted to go back to my country because I didn’t come to Britain to come and settle down. This was a company that took me out of London and settled me in a newly built house and got everything new because it was a new town and all the facility was installed. The man said I should go and reconsider my position because he said he knew what was happening all over Africa. This was in the 60s. My mind was already made up to come back home. That was how I left England. The experience is better imagined; the Civil War and all the crises that we are still battling till today. All in all, I am grateful to God for sparing my life to attain the age of 80. My next move is to be of service to God and humanity.