By DURO ADESEKO
Former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, has revealed some aspects of his life not known to the general public. Apart from being rascally, as a child, he was a great football player. Indeed, he was captain of his school’s team and he used to score great goals.
George told Saturday Sun that the trend continued in his secondary school days at Ijebu Ode Grammar School, now in Ogun State. By the time he got to Brentwood, London for his HSC on scholarship, he became a football hero. His schoolmates in Brentwood called him “our own Pele.”
As George recounted his early days in this interview, the excitement and the nostalgic feelings were visible, as his face glowed, underlining the joy of an eventful childhood.
What was your childhood like? Where did you school?
My father was a civil servant. After the World War 11, in which he participated as a soldier, he went into the civil service. So, I was born to a middle class family. My mother came from the Philips. Her father was Philips and her mother was Agaga Williams. My mother’s father was an Egba man, from Abeokuta. They were the upper class in those days. I was born into these two very well known family of Lagos. Growing up, I went to St. John’s School Aroloya, not St. Paul School, Aroloya, like Bola Tinubu told us. I was very rascally and football was the main focus for me.
You mean you played football as a young man?
I was well known as Kekere Onala. That was at our local Wembly. I played for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. That was the name of our club and this was in the 1950s. I remember we got to the final in the local football competition by clubs in Lagos. We had different clubs and there were team managers. There were owners of the club, who were managing us. They bought jerseys for us. I was the football captain.
What wing did you play?
I played outside right. I was playing No 7. My contemporaries, who are still alive, will confirm it.
Were you scoring goals?
I scored very good goals. I remember an occasion when we were to play in the final. I told the team manager that there was no chance in the world that I would not go for morning service and evening service too because I was a choirboy in the church. I kept the jerseys at home and, as I said earlier, I was the captain. I told the manager I could not tell my father. Our manager quietly went to my father, who never knew I was playing football. I tried to hide this from him. Each time we finished playing and we won, people would carry me shoulder high from Isale Gangan pass through Ipaye to Evans. Whenever we got to Smith Street, which was close to my house, I will tell them to drop me, so that my father, who would be in the sitting room looking out, would not see me being carried like that. I would then go through the back to enter the house.
Did you think your father would not want you to play football?
When the manager of our team went to him and told him that the competition was like real World Cup in the locality, my father did not give him an answer. He called me at night and first asked me what Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was about. I told him it was a football club in Isale Gangan. He then told me that one man visited him and said I was captain of the team. I confirmed that. He said the man told him we were now to play on a Sunday. I told him I had already told the manager I was not going to play. I tried to preempt my father. He asked if I were the captain, why wouldn’t I play? He said I could go to morning service since it was an evening match. Earlier, I was frightened. In fact, I was like a frightened jelly in the pod standing before him. Eventually, he was invited to be chairman of the occasion.
In 1959, we had entrance exams to secondary school and I ended up in Ijebu Ode Grammar School. I will never, ever forget the opportunity and the privilege to have attended that school.
Were you also playing for the school team?
I did. I played the same right wing. I wasn’t captain because I was small in stature. However, we had some good boys at that time. There were Tunde Disu, who later became a national coach and Laloko, who was also a coach later. We were all in the same class. Tunde was the youngest of us all. Tunde played in my team, in the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Laloko was my classmate in primary school. Apart from football, I was also noted for debating and well known in academics. I was rascally in primary school, not very serious. But it was a different ball game when we got to secondary school. We were being patterned and being controlled. We had the rules of as students living in the school hostel.
Could you tell us what these patterns were? Did you have a senior you served?
Yes. I had my school fathers and we slept in bunkers. When I also became the senior, I also had the junior ones serving me. You know today, my school sons are no longer kids. They are now in their 50s and some in their 60s.
Were you ever made to walk on your knees?
Oh yes, but I was careful, being a popular footballer and a good debater. Without being immodest, after the first year in school, I was second to nobody. I was very well known in Debating Society all over Ijebu land at that time. That would be in the early 1960s to 1964. My school had a link with a British school and we had an exchange programme in which the best two students were sent to do A’ levels. So, my good friend, Sola Oduku, who is a Deacon, now, had the privilege to represent the school in Britain.
Which school is this?
Brentwood School, in Essex, London. It is an extended part of London now. But it was on the outskirt of London at that time. That was where we went at very young age. We finished our school certificate examination in 1964 and in January 1965 we went to England.
Was it on scholarship?
It was on scholarship. It was an opportunity to go to a grammar school for Higher School Certificate in England. You are sharpened and your mind becomes razor sharp. We had teachings and the approach of sciences and all that in an English school, as compared to ours made a whole lot of difference. So, it was an opportunity to have been so exposed so early in life. I also played football for the school in England. I quit playing football before I went into playing squash, which is the second part of how people would know Bode George. I was a very ardent squash player in Lagos. That was during my military days. At that time, squash was like a religion to me and we developed the squash in the Navy. We managed to get people to build two more standard squash courts at the Navy town. I am sure they are still there till today. I stopped playing football in my second year in the university because my eyes were failing. You can’t wear eyeglasses playing football.
What year was this?
That was in 1967.
How did the two of you who got scholarship adjust to life in Brentwood, especially as teenagers in those days?
I read Engineering. So, my A’ level subjects were pure Mathematics, applied Mathematics and Physics. History, as a subject, was a subsidiary. Mathematics, anywhere you are in the world, is the same thing. If we had gone into the literary class, you will be surprised that children pick up accents faster than adults. Of course, in the class, Y equals MX +C, straight-line equation. Whether you are in the North Pole or South Pole, Y=MX+C is Y=MX+C. Even if it is explaining it in calculus or whatever, and calculus was my best subject. There was also Applied Mathematics. Whatever the teacher is saying you will understand because you are following something that is logical reasoning, which is mathematics.
Physics is the same universally. You would have read your books and you would come to explain the Newton laws of motion. Everybody continues in a state of rest until an impressed force acts upon it. If you sit in the car, if it is going, the moment the man slams on the break, you know, you jerk forward. Those are the laws of Newton. In whatever language you say it, those laws you cannot turn them over. You cannot be like a Jagaban.
How did you adjust to the language, food, weather and the culture?
When we came there, we were first surprised. We went on a Lufthansa Airline on January 15, 1965. It was in the middle of winter. My father made me a very nice suit. We landed first in Frankfurt. We had to go to the arrival hall. As we came out, I noticed smoke coming out of my mouth and nose. (Laughter). We were shivering and I asked Sola, what the hell was all that? It was like everybody was smoking cigarette. We went in there and we sat there.
After the announcement, we boarded again. So when we landed at Heathrow Airport, we heard our names on the public address. We were looking round and wandering who knew us there. We forgot that it was the normal thing. The announcement said Olabode George and Olusola Oduko should report at the desk so and so. We wandered who knew us there.
We went down there and those from the school met with us. We were teenagers.
They brought sweater topcoats for us. So, in the car, it was warm. It was very comfortable and snow was falling like hell. We had never seen snow before then. It was rain we knew. When we got to the school, they took us to schoolhouse. We were so tired and we went into our room. By the time we got to school, they had eaten, but the tutor who came to pick us made sure we ate somewhere before getting to the school. We ate potatoes and other things and it was very strange to us. We managed to eat and we didn’t complain.
In the morning, it was still dark. We got up. But it was still dark. You know in winter, it is usually dark till about 8am. The housemaster would come round and wake everybody up. He would say: Wake up, rise up and shine. You must have a shower and do some other things. Everybody would go to the dining hall to eat. The whole school had to eat together. That included the headmasters and the teachers. You know here, if you want to eat you eat one food to your satisfaction. But there, you take bits of different food. If you don’t finish your own on the table, everybody else would be waiting for you. When they brought the first one, we thought that was the only thing and we were hungry. Everybody was waiting and watching as if to say what are you thinking of doing? By the time they brought others we were filled up. But that was the first day.
We got to the class and they introduced us and we were all wearing the winter uniform and we went out for devotion. Those who had letters got them because the letters were distributed. If there were instructions, they gave the instructions. Of course, as senior students, HSC class had their study rooms. It was a school that had all kinds of nationalities.
So there was no question of colour discrimination?
No. I remember when we went to play football. The whole town came saying their Pele had arrived. They called me Pele.
What were school fees like in those days, at primary, secondary and university levels?
You know Lagos was not under Western Region. In the Western Region, it was free Compulsory Universal Education. Lagos used to pay peanuts. We were like a territory, like Abuja used to be. We didn’t pay much. My parents never complained about school fees. In secondary schools too, those who could not afford arranged for some kind of bursary or scholarships. Now they say there’s free education. Now, the same man that they are calling their leader, that they are following his policies, the government of Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola increased university fees from N25, 000 to N250, 000. Where is the opportunity for either indigent students or students from poor parents? How would they ever get educated? A sizeable amount of the money is being stolen. They should stop parading themselves as apostles of Papa Obafemi Awolowo. They are not progressing. They are retrogressing.
In my time at the university, I was an active student politician. I led a team to the then governor of Lagos, Mobolaji Johnson, who is my in-law because he married my cousin; his wife was Miss Aganga Williams. I remember the Attorney General of Lagos then was then Pa Bankole Oki. Then we had Pa Adeniran Ogunsanya in charge of education. When we got there, we said we are students from Lagos and we wanted to see the governor. When they heard Bode George and this Johnson and others, they looked at us and knew we were children of friends. They asked what our mission was and we said that Western Region had free education, bursary and scholarship, why not us. That was 1967-68. They listened to us because Lagos has just been created. We needed either bursary or scholarship. I led the team. Dr. Femi Anibaba was among us. The late Banasco and some others were members. They listened to us and said we were the leaders of tomorrow.
You mean you were allowed to see the governor?
Yes. We saw the governor (Mobolaji Johnson). He promised that they would look into it. He saw us. We were not afraid. Before we knew it, he set up a scholarship board. We applied, went for interview and got scholarships. At that time if you couldn’t get full scholarship, you got bursary. It is either your tuition would be taken care of or lodging. You can see government was deliberately educating its populace. Awolowo used to say that education was a right and not a privilege. Education makes people easy to rule but difficult to enslave. That is why today, people from the West have much education. I am happy there is surge from other zones of the country for education. There must be a deliberate policy on education. Duly elected government must support the poor people. Look at Barack Obama today; his opponents said what was his business with the poor people and the middle class? As far as they are concerned, life starts and ends at the top echelon of the society. The American people also decided that the middle class and the poor must have a chance. That is what gave him the mandate. He said the middle class must be sustained.
Parents of Tinubu and Fashola are not from the top echelon. Why are they forgetting the downtrodden? That was why I was so angry with Fashola when he was dealing with those people riding okada. He could call them for meetings and find a solution to the problem. That is the act of governance. He is not running a military government. The electorate are his bosses. Why is Fashola crushing motorcycles? What kind of nonsense is that? One day the people would ask: what did you do Mr. Machine Crusher?