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The toast of St. Gregory’s College, Lagos

A tribute by Bashorun J.K. Randle I consider it a great privilege and special honour to be invited to propose the toast of St Gregory’s College, Lagos as it celebrates its 85th anniversary. The evidence of your longevity is unassailable.

However, what is of greater relevance is the awesomeness of the superlative achievements of the old boy’s (and girls) that have been taught by several generations of tutors, mostly Catholic clerics. To the best of my knowledge, the priests vastly outnumbered the nuns (as in nunc dimitis!!). They were exemplary in their commitment to the diligent pursuit of excellence, rigorous impartation of knowledge, the imposition of discipline and institutionalization of Catholicism.

It was an unrelenting endeavour and rewarding enterprise in the mouldings of character as the core value of all those who have had the privilege of going through the portals of this great citadel of knowledge via academic pursuits, sporting excellence combined with the occasional truancy, minimal youthful exuberance and negligible rascality – to balance the scorecard!!

At this juncture, I wish to acknowledge Monsignor Pedro Martins who regardless of the fact that he was my late father’s (Chief JK Randle) classmate at King’s College, Lagos decamped to Gregory’s College where he taught Science and Music with equal dexterity.

He has now attained the ripe old age of 103. The last time I visited him, he complained of a few aches and pains; memory lapses as well as difficulty in walking, hearing and speaking. We both agreed that the damage must have been done at St Gregory’s College!! Had he stayed within the confines of King’s College, he would still be smoking his pipe and roaring around Lagos on his BMX motorbike – creating fear and terror, among not only students but also their parents.

He was a terror but certainly not a terrorist!! I would also like to seize this opportunity to congratulate Chief C.S. Sankey, who following his attainment of the age of 90 gracefully retired as the President of the Old Boys Association. I join you all in wishing him a very happy retirement and many more years of good health. As for prosperity, he already has it in abundance.

Happy golfing, Sir. The old man certainly loves his golf. You must forgive me for the bout of coughing, gasping and exasperation that has suddenly overtaken me on learning that the new President of your Old Boys Association is Dr. John Abebe!! When he invited me to propose the toast of your beloved school which has become a national monument and institution of superior learning, I offered to accept the lesser punishment of going into voluntary exile!! My plea fell on deaf ears. To Gregorians, your college grounds, classrooms, chapel and dining hall may be sacred and sanctified, but to old boys of King’s College, it is enemy territory!! If I am still alive at the end of this reckless foray into misadventure which is not even covered by my “

All Risks Insurance Policy”, the glory belongs to St. Gregory – the saint not the college! Perhaps, I should remind you of what you already know. St Gregory is firmly and especially placed in the history of Catholicism and Christianity because it is on record that it was Pope St. Gregory, the Great, who sent St. Augustine to revive the mission of the church in Britain and to found the see of Canterbury.

Again, I undertake the dangerous risk of alerting you to what you already know – “Gregorians” are everywhere – Chartered Accountancy; Medicine; Law; judiciary; Engineering; Surveying; Architecture; Journalism; business; military; diplomacy; Royalty; clergy; etc. The only exception is perhaps “Boko Haram”. So far, none of the dreaded Islamic fundamentalists has claimed affinity with St Gregory’s College as part of their credentials or CV. Indeed, you have every reason to be proud of your old boys – especially Prof Bola Oyesiku who had been the toast of both CNN (“Inside Africa”) and BBC World Service for several weeks on account of his emergence as the current President of the American Society of Neurosurgeons.

This is indeed a big deal. Nothing beats it. It is a glorious expansion and extension of the American dream. I understand he had the best result in his year at your college – six “As” at “O level” before proceeding to Government College Ibadan for his “A Level” and thereafter to University of Ibadan where he again excelled. Permit me to digress by informing you that during the last United States presidential election, Mitt Romney went to exceptional lengths to conceal the fact that he briefly attended St Gregory’s College (perhaps a sister college in the United States of America). Anyway, he was so sure he would defeat the incumbent, Barak Obama that on the eve of the election he turned to his wife Ann Lois and confidently predicted: “By this time tomorrow, you will be sleeping with the President of the United States of America, the most powerful man in the world.”

He bragged. Lo and behold, when the result turned out to be an overwhelming victory for Obama, Mrs Romney turned to her husband and solemnly enquired: “Darling, is Barak Obama coming here for me or do I have to go over to the White House?”

Let me again emphasise that our nation owes St. Gregory’s College a huge debt of gratitude for the selfless service which its old boys have rendered with distinction and consumate panache. You must forgive me for being somewhat partial by commencing with Chief (Dr.) M.A. Majekodunmi who died at the ripe old age of 95 recently. He was my father’s cherished pal but he was also my most genuine friend. He was a brilliant scholar, erudite philosopher, astute businessman, and politician in addition to being an outstanding Minister of Health. He chose to hedge his bets by sending his first son, Olufemi and later Dapo, to St. Gregory’s College while the privilege of going to King’s College was reserved for Koye and Desmond.

I would also like to acknowledge the towering achievements of the late Chief J.K. Agbaje who I believe was a past president of your Old Boys Association. I am reliably informed that the only time he ever had a problem with Mama, (Mrs. Agbaje) who is still waxing strong, radiant and steadily marching towards 90, was when he banished all his sons – Jimi, Femi, and Segun to St. Gregory’s College!! She has reaped a bountiful harvest as all of her children have been outstanding in their chosen professions. Also, I understand our first indigenous Chief Justice, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola started off at St. Gregory’s Grammar School before proceeding to King’s College. That was the best judgment he ever delivered !! Sir Adetokunbo did not stop there.

At the earliest opportunity, he enrolled his first son Adenekan at King’s College and it was no surprise that in the fullness of time, the son followed his illustrious father to the Supreme Court without ever making a secret of his political conviction and leaning towards communism/socialism !! However, sitting right next to me today, is Justice Adenekan Ademola’s (JSC) son, Adeniyi who is already a High Court Judge in Abuja.

If for any reason he does not make it to the Supreme Court, it can only be on account of his attending St. Gregory’s College instead of King’s College! In the Duncan family, Professor J.T.K. Duncan is ex-King’s College but his three brothers Kwame, Ekow and Nana were conscripted into St. Gregory’s College. Similarly, Mr. Albert Lewis started off at Methodist Boys High School and finished at King’s College.

However, he chose to send his sons Akinwande and Abiodun, to St. Gregory’s College. My late godfather, Eng. Adeyemi O. Karunwi, attended King’s College but chose to send his only son, Adebiyi, to St. Gregory’s College. Permit me to add Chief (Dr.) Anthony Ani with whom I served for 25 years at KPMG Chartered Accountants, while he was the Senior Partner/Chairman. I make bold to say without any fear of contradiction that he never once directly or indirectly suborned me to engage in any action or inaction that was inconsistent with the ethos and ethics of the accountancy profession – honesty, accuracy and integrity.

I must, however, admit that I may have been guilty of imperfect judgment when I recommended Mr. Steve Oronsaye to be made a partner of our firm – entirely on merit. Alas, if I had been a little more diligent I would have detected that he was an old boy of St. Gregory’s College which would have earned him instant disqualification!! The rest is history as Steve has served both the accountancy profession and the civil service with distinction. Not only did he become the Head of the Civil Service, he is currently on the Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In the accountancy profession, we take great delight when those we have nurtured/mentored surpass us.

On another occasion, when a vacancy occurred at the Supreme Court and Lagos State was required to provide a candidate, I was one of those who enthusiastically supported the candidacy of Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, again entirely on merit plus the fact we believed that he was an old boy of King’s College. It was long after he had been sworn in that we realized our error.

Bode was at St. Gregory’s College. The Rhodes-Vivour on the King’s College Master Roll was his father. Well, doctors are allowed to bury their mistakes, lawyers send their errors to jail, but Chartered Accountants are occasionally allowed to correct their errors!! Regardless, I would like to re-assure Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour that we all have every reason to be proud of him – for his sound grasp of the law, his integrity and above all, his humility as well as his devotion to the highest ideals of the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. On a lighter note, when Bode was in school, he was an outstanding cricketer and athlete. The girls would not leave him alone.

These days, we cannot but marvel at how he is able to cope with those “superbad Gregorians” who insist that he is still one of them!! Gregorians deserve a special tribute for demonstrating that the collective good is far superior to individual success.

It has not gone unnoticed that they consistently strive to help each other rather than compete as rivals. This is a most endearing demonstration of generosity of spirit as well as maturity of the soul. In the same vein, perhaps, I should share with you what Mr. Raymond Ihembe, an old boy of Barewa College, Zaria feels very strongly about: “In addition to producing the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Barewa College has produced four presidents/heads of state of Nigeria – General Yakubu Gowon; General Murtala Muhammed; Alhaji Shehu Shagari; and Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, but none of them has ever been found guilty of corruption; or accumulation of vast wealth (or property) at the expense of the public.”

I plead with you, if there are any plans to install a “Gregorian” as the next President of Nigeria, you should please give sufficient advance notice to old boys of King’s College so that those of us who wish to exercise our right to go into voluntary exile may do so without having to declare how much money we are taking with us. Surely, the lawyers amongst us will accept that going by the “doctrine of necessity”, it amounts to double jeopardy to suffer in Nigeria where “Gregorians” hold sway and proceed to suffer all over again in exile – out of necessity. Let me share with you the encounter of a Harley Street doctor with a “Gregorian” who had a drinking problem, but somehow managed to hold down his job as a very senior diplomat.

The doctor went straight to the point: “According to your case note by Dr. Benjamin Ohaeri (a highly respected Gregorian), you are a hard drinker. The patient insisted: “Doctor, it is not hard at all. I start drinking in the morning and I finish at night.” As you know only too well. King’s College was founded in 1909 but St. Gregory’s College did not come into being until 1928.

I have gone through the list of the students of both colleges and I am intrigued to observe that in the Akerele family, the first generation – Dr. Oni Akerele and Dr. Flavious Abiola Akerele went to King’s College but in the next generation Dr. Lai Akerele; Chief Babs Akerele; Folabi Akerele; Babatunde Akerele, Jide Akerele, Edward Akerele, and others were drafted to St. Gregory’s College. Mr. Lydio Duro Emmanuel a devout Catholic, was a pioneer student at King’s College but for inexplicable reasons he chose to send his sons – Dr. Bosede Emmanuel; Chief Bode Emmanuel; Dotun, and Bobby to St. Gregory’s College. Similarly, Mr. J.J. Marinho, the no-nonsense magistrate was an old boy of King’s College but sent his sons – Afolabi, Akintunde, Ade and Tokunbo to St. Gregory’s College. Very strange.

Mind you, Mr. Marinho started off at St. Gregory’s Grammar School. Even more puzzling is why Mr. McGregor of Scottish descent, sent his first son, Architect J.S.K. McGregor to King’s College and then did a complete summersault by sending Oluyomi and Olusola to St. Gregory’s College. Was the old man annoyed with them and decided that St. Gregory’s College would serve them adequate punishment? As for those girls who sneaked into St. Gregory’s College (which was meant exclusively for boys) under the pretext that they were there only for academic pursuits in the “Sixth Form” (“A Level’s”), I have the list.

However, I have been forewarned: “Don’t go there”! As we say in Lagos: “Fi yen le”. I understand that Justice (Mrs.) Yetunde Idowu is one of them and it is not my intention to incur her wrath at the risk of being charged with contempt of court or contempt of St. Gregory’s College!! However, I hope I am permitted to add that the rivalry between King’s College and St. Gregory’s College had very little to do with academic pursuits, debating society or sports. Its genesis is rooted in girls!! Let us wind the tape back. In the old days, when the boys of St. Gregory’s College sought girlfriends, they only needed to ferret in their backyard – Holy Child College for girls with whom they shared a common fence.

As for King’s College boys, the girls of Queens College were their booty and exclusive preserve. However, somewhere along the line, the boys of St. Gregory’s College became “saucy and overbold”!! They broke bounds (and the boundary) by veering off to Queen’s College, first at Onikan and later at Yaba to “fly their collar”. It was enough to start a war!! That is a story for another day. All we are required to do today is to acknowledge that such war crimes may be forgotten but will never be forgiven. A case in point is that of Dr. John Abebe, President of the Old Boys of St. Gregory’s College. His wife of over 30 years is Dr. (Mrs.) Yemisi Abebe an old girl of Queen’s College. I understand that John’s ally in that endeavour was none other than our charming Mr. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour who would no doubt argue that the matter is clearly statute barred and does not deserve the attention of the Supreme Court which has far more pressing matters with which to contend.

Those sitting at my table may have noticed that both Prof Osato Giwa-Osagie (who is an old boy of King’s College, in addition to being an eminent gynaecologist) and myself have not tasted the food or drinks offered us. Our joint resolve is that we should wait for half an hour after Gregorians have eaten and drunk to their satisfaction.

If nothing untoward happens to them, we shall then feel free to eat and drink merrily!! Our exit strategy is to leave this hall alive and on our own feet. Please, accept my apologies for not staying until the end of this most enjoyable celebration. I have an urgent matter to deal with at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) where I am the Chairman and my Vice-Chairman on the Board of Trustees is also an old boy of King’s College. The only two “Gregorians” among us on the board are right now plotting a coup d’etat to topple both the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman!! Patricide; fratricide or infanticide? Perhaps, we underestimated the resentment of our selfless commitment towards sustaining and enhancing a world-class institution.

We may even have taken it for granted that come what may, old boys of King’s College and St. Gregory’s College would be on the same page. Clearly, this is the time for reflection. What is truly baffling is the allegation that Lagos State Government has targeted MUSON for special investigation over tax on account of the identity of its Chairman. Mean. Bizarre. Grotesque. If all else fails, perhaps we should heed the advice of the “Gregorian solicitor” who has counselled the adoption of “Jankara Tactics” – declare a state of emergency over the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON)!!

But we would need the consent (15 per cent of the market value of the property) of the Governor of Lagos State who is an Old Boy of Igbobi College and honourary old boy of both King’s College and St. Gregory’s College. I rest my case and urge you to drink to the toast of St. Gregory’s College as well as its old boys and girls as our national treasures.

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February 2016
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