“In his humiliation his judgment was taken away; and who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth” – Acts 8 verse 33.
He died unsung, unloved, unmourned. It matters little if this tribute was not written and there is a remote possibility that any of his relations will ever come across this article. It has taken months of vacillation to approach the keyboard and bow to daily memories of a friend, beyond a friend, indeed a benefactor who played his role in my upbringing without waiting to profit from his action. He was God-sent.
Inalende Ibadan was a crucible of a sort in mid-seventies with mud houses clustered window to window. The panoramic view accommodated Ode-Olo, a typical Ibadan market servicing the local community. It was a natural atmosphere for peer gathering especially for young boys and girls mostly living with parents and guardians to develop into birds of the same feathers and soul mates.
That was the setup when I arrived Ibadan to commence work in Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) where I was employed as a result of my Uncle’s influence as a cleaner. For me it was a sudden transformation into a white-collar status after I have lived on the street for years eventually becoming a jack of all trade. Bricklaying, log ferrying, pushy carting, baking, hawking various stuff and endless odd jobs found their ways into my profile of painful growth.
I was living with my Uncle and his family, sharing his modest accommodation and Alhaji Yusuf, Raufu’s father was our landlord. Alhaji as we all called him, made his fortune as a contractor in Bida Niger State. He was a man of mean, tough mien and grit visage who came to Ibadan during Muslim festivities. Alhaji was also the eldest amongst his siblings who had their houses contiguous to his, probably as a result of common ownership of the land. This explained why his nephews and nieces milled around our house especially in the evenings to exchange jokes and played under the moon light. His former wife had four children for him, namely, Bisi the eldest, Raufu, Sule and the youngest, a girl I cannot now recollect her name. Alhaji married another woman and the family moved on without much fuss.
However, tragedy found its way into the calendar of every member of Alhaji’s family. Such painful tragedies that made the community to shudder. While he was held in high regard and respect by the community, everyone could see pains etched double marks on his face. He spoke with belligerence and rarely smiled, this countenance could be of nothing but sorrow of heart from life’s vicissitudes. Beside the modest house, the reward of his diligence in business was seen in a four-story modern building on the main road which brighten the sky even till today. The size and quality of the finishing of the edifice attracted corporate tenants who raised the profile of the building. But the sheer magnitude of serial tragedies visited on the family dwarfed his achievements.
In due time, Bisi the eldest got married to her heartthrob with plumb and pageantry and settled down with a good job to butt. Along the line some marital issues plucked her out of the peace of her home and she returned to her father’s house. While the entire compound was awaiting the resolution of quarrel with the husband, she started manifesting signs of insanity. Unfortunately with the mother banished from Alhaji’s house, there was little care from relations for her mental problem. With time her case degenerated into full madness and she left home for the streets, scavenging for survival with no help in sight. She had harrowing experience and went on this journey without return while those who knew her regaled with tales of sorrow about Bisi living as a mad woman. The last I heard was that she was presumed dead after no one could trace her whereabouts in a long time. May she find peace and rest in the bosom of her Maker.
Sule went on to complete his secondary education and eventually learnt electrical/electronic trade. Armed with his certificate, he relocated to Abuja and started a family with decent earnings. Such a lovely gentleman and complete contrast to his father, I recall our social escapades and occasional Fuji dance in Alhaji’s parlour. Very sad, Sule succumbed to a sudden but premature death and left a young family and blossoming career.
The youngest of their mother’s siblings, a girl went blind as a teenager and your guess is as good as mine on how far she can make progress in life. She became by default a gory sight and caricature, which triggered endless emotion each time she was led around the compound. How the two eyes went blind remained an unresolved mystery to everyone. Lord have mercy!
And now to the man in focus, RAUFU a.k.a. AJAGA. Except for a light pigment in complexion, he was every bit a chip off the old block as his father was written all over him. Energetic, brash, loud and self-conceited, he had a swagger around him and springboard on his steps as he moved about without any apology. When Raufu was in the house, both young and old must be conscious of his presence. He held no prisoner and his personal interests became law, overriding other considerations. A few mundane things held his attraction such as reveling over Lam Adesina (former governor of Oyo State, now late), his principal at Lagelu Grammar School. For him, Lam as he was fondly eulogized could have emanated from another planet and it suited him nobody challenged his judgment. He was also fond of the iconic Apala musician, late Ayinla Omowura, egun magaji and the ‘lord’ of motor parks. His concentration, singing and dancing to Omowura was legendary and woe betide anyone who disturbed his pleasure. Another interest was his uncanny love for the military and his preference for force. This story was a few years before democracy returned to Nigeria in 1979. A handful of us who admired him were hoping he would pursue his military love by enlisting in the army and settle down to a career. His only place of regular visit was Sabo in Mokola where he fraternized with the Hausa community; the squint in his eyes hinted if he had a choice, he would have come into this world as a Fulani or Hausa man. Only Lukman and yours truly were in his kitchen cabinet and he would calm down when provoked at our intervention.
And then came my big break. A management staff in my office who has always been a source of encouragement bought Wesley College form for my academic progress. I passed the entrance exams and interviews and got admitted to train as a Grade 2 Teacher. The story of that academic journey is better told on another day. There was a tradition of scrambling for the GCE O Level form in the second year in order to obtain qualification for university admission. Tried as hard as I could, I was not able to source for the money. It was looking like I might spend a full year teaching after graduation before I could attempt the exams. A day before GCE form deadline, I got information through the school porter I had a visitor. He turned out to be Raufu on his first visit at Elekuro campus in Ibadan. Not given to embellishing conversation, he handed N35 to me, the cost of 5 GCE O levels papers. It was a Sunday and first thing on Monday the last day, I took an exeat to obtain the forms of registration. In due time, I did the exams, cleared my 5 papers and eventually got admission to study Accounting in the University of Ilorin. All my other laurels and achievements were made possible based on this foundation. Raufu gave out a little seed at a time no one could determine its outcome. This singular act wrote his name in gold.
Years have passed and waters have flown under the bridge when I visited my Uncle at Inalende. Enquiries about ‘Ajaga’ always ended with consternation. While it was a task to sustain a conversation with him, I had considered several options on suitable job and type of assistance to offer him a different worldview but his agenda kept him away from the world. As a recluse keeping to himself without any attachment, Raufu allotted a flat as his accommodation on the penthouse of the new building and it became his refuge. Then one day, I was shattered when informed that Raufu died in his stronghold and his decomposed body was not found until after several days. His peculiar passion, ambitions, secrets, family mysteries et al died with him. His death completed the long list of tragedies shrouded in secrecy which befell his family over the years. I am not sure when his father passed away but humanly speaking, the old man will be justified for being inconsolable.
Raufu ‘Ajaga’ Yusuf appeared like an elephant to the proverbial blind men. Charles Horngren, a professional author in his tribute to his former teacher concluded that, “for those who know him, no word is necessary; for those who do not know him, no word is sufficient”. Raufu is in that mold, a good man who played his divinely assigned role for another life to be fulfilled. Only God knows whether his gesture towards me was not an isolated case.
Brother, continue to rest and find succor in the bosom of God. Adieu.
Olayinka, a former chief executive of a public company, wrote from Lagos