OXFORD GRADUATE LOST MENTAL BALANCE FOR 30 YEARS AFTER FAMILY DESERTED HIM
The moving story of Olujide Ajibade Ojo-Ade Johnson aptly describes an unfortunate man tossed here and there by an evil wind. He started very well in life and prepared well for a bright future he dreamt passionately of. But he was, at the middle of the journey, caught unawares by the circumstances of life, which capsized his boat and ensured that everything came crashing. He was plunged in a 30-year wilderness before he regained himself barely two years ago.
At a time most of his mates in his clan were restricted to helping their parents in their farms, Johnson found luck in western education and soon became the first to win a golden British Council scholarship to study in the Oxford University, United Kingdom. His parents, relations and well-wishers rejoiced greatly. He left for the UK and like the legendary Shakespearean saying, he came, saw and conquered, there.
After successfully completing two degrees in Law and International Relations, he got married to a wealthy, charming and brilliant white lady who bore him three beautiful girls. Indeed, fortune had so smiled on him that it appeared the sky wouldn't be his limit in achieving success. But tragedy suddenly struck. One sad day, his wife sued him on flimsy grounds. He lost the case and lost everything. He was ripped of his wife, three girls and his hard-earned wealth. Disillusioned, he planned to return to his fatherland but was terribly broke.
His parents in Nigeria had to finance his trip back home in February 1978. Once in Nigeria, he became a shadow of his former self. He withdrew from the world around him. He refused eating and talking to anyone. He was just staring at everyone, everywhere and everything. He literally lost his senses and found solace in drinking and smoking, and soon created a wide gap between himself and the world around him.
Concerned relations soon began to pester his parents to try traditional means to solve his predicament. But his father, the late Josiah Adekunle Johnson, who was a cleric, refused to toe other lines except fasting and praying as a Christian.
For 30 years, Johnson remained inconsequential, insignificant. He refused to re-marry and move on. He was always expressing his love for his white woman and three little girls. He was always telling everyone he met in Iwo, his town in Osun State, about his lovely kids and adorable wife in London, sometimes displaying their pictures to them. He was always furnishing whoever cares to listen, with interesting details of the love life he had shared with Anne Slater (Johnson), his ex-wife, Adeola, the eldest daughter, Tolu and Anne, the youngest.
He used to talk about his polished education at the Oxford University where he had read International Relations and later called to the Queen's Chamber of Commerce where he had also served as a public relations officer. Johnson sounded ridiculous to his listeners with accounts of his childhood pranks with such eminent Nigerians as Femi Falana, renowned lawyer and activist, present Oba of Ibadan, among others. He recalled also that the late Gani Fawehinmi and Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu were his colleagues in Oxford. The veracity of the accounts was what anybody would not readily ascertain as the persons he mentioned have generational gaps in between.
Clad in suits early in the morning, looking elegant, gripping his tobacco pipe in between the lips and holding his walking stick with a cowboy hat to match, Baba Londoner as he was fondly hailed, walked gallantly round the streets of Iwo, doing nothing except talking to people, drinking and smoking. Those were his dark days.
Saturday Sun visited Johnson in his hometown recently and he told his life story himself, detailing what every other Iwo indigene had relayed.
He began: 'I was born some 76 years ago. I had both primary and secondary education here in Nigeria. After this I won the British scholarship to study International Relations in Oxford University in the United Kingdom. And then I studied law as a second degree. I was married to Anne Slater in the London court. A lawyer was our witness. I was in England for almost 20 years before tragedy struck.
'I met my wife at Maryward Institute in Oxford. We were colleagues at the parliament. The story of my love life is very personal but I will share it with you. I think she was charmed by the brilliant way I contributed to discussions in the class then. Because if she was to consider our different social class, I was not fit for her. She was from a very wealthy Briton family. There was another lady who was also drawn to me. Then, I used to foot our bills whenever the three of us went to the canteen. Soon, I began to pay for only hers and mine. So, the other lady was discouraged. Then we soon became close friends. She saw me as a very kind hearted chap. Even my lecturer was equally interested in her but we devised a means by which we kept him in the dark about our intimacy so that he wouldn't create a problem for us.
We later got married in a London court. This was because the two of us were professionals. So, there has to be a professional as witness. My wife had two degrees from Nothingam University, an MSC in Philosophy and BA in Classics. She had five advances. At that time you could be admitted for a combine honours in the university if you have five advances. She and her father spoke seven European languages – English, German, and Spanish, among others. Her father was an international banker. I think he was working at the World Bank at the time John Kennedy was the American Ambassador to Paris.
He had an institute in Geneva and I was even one of the directors of the institution before things fell apart. My wife's name is Anne Johnson (nee Slater), my wife was born in London, and their family house is in Wembley.
I schooled in London and the American Chamber of Commerce. There I did BA in Law. I also taught international law and parliament today at the institution in London.
I had eminent Nigerians such as Femi Falana as classmate in the Holy Trinity Grammar School in Benin. Femi was my classmate from primary one to four. I want you to tell Femi that I want to see him; I don't want to be lonely in the palace. Femi was from Ekiti and a very brilliant student then. Our principal was also from Isan Ekiti then. Femi was from a humble family. Femi's surname then was actually Fajana but our principal changed it to Falana. He just said jokingly one day that ifa oja na, ifa lana ni. (Meaning ifa did not found road but he created it.)
I used to meet Gani Fawehinmi of the CMS Grammar School whenever our school and theirs had anything to do together. I knew him as a very brilliant friend too.
Johnson could not hold back tears when he talked about the tragedy that separated him from his family. He barely mentioned it and quickly pushed it aside as if it would hurt. He, however, managed to say that he has reunited with them: 'You see just like a British title holder would not have to re-marry if he had anything separating him and his family or wife. I have never thought of remarrying for the 30 long years I got separated from my family. But we are reunited now. I know my daughters' birthdays, February and March. But I don't want them to come to Nigeria because you know, this world is really wicked. The experience I have had is very unpalatable. People do not want me alive. And I often ask: Is it criminal to be alive?
Anyone that you are greater than would hate you. When you are successful, people envy you and want to pull you down. I am now the oldest in our royal family of Mogbede. My father died a long time ago. He was the chairman of this local government from 1979-1984. My mother also died recently. She was 93. My other relations are in Lagos. They come here to see me regularly.'
But how the man who had lived in the nadir of his life for 30 years just bounced back like a bolt out of the blues is still a surprise to many that know him.
Trust the locals for conjuring superstition to answer to all things. They readily told Saturday Sun unofficially that it was just a little after his mother passed on not long ago that the man like someone waking up from a deep slumber came back to himself.
With tongue in cheek, the body language is that what must have pinned this bright Oxford product down might not be far from his immediate family, and immediately such person left the shores, he came back to normalcy.
The veracity of the claim was put to test as Saturday Sun asked Johnson if he felt his predicament had any connection with the late mother. The question did not come to him unawares as he readily interjected: 'That is too far from the mark. My mother was a good woman. She loved me so much and never compromised her good intentions like every normal mother for me. She was like my strength and I would not suggest anything out of the normal from her against my life.
'Despite all that happened to me, I am a successful man. I am fulfilled. I am able-bodied. And all I do now is to receive visitors and give advice to politicians. I am also entitled to pension and gratuity from the British government although; I haven't found a trusted person to do that for me. I have been duped several times. Now, I have learnt to be selective and cautious in making friends. If I had not studied you properly I would not have spoken to you. We were about 100 who came back from England. Many of us have died. There was Kusamotu, Fatai and others. I have not considered going back to England because I am too tired to do so. I am 76 years old. My life has described the saying in Yoruba that he who the gods have not killed, no one can murder. I am writing my autobiography.'
Asked about what he plans for his future, Johnson proudly declared: 'I want to live for 130 years God willing. So, I don't run around for anything. I go to church – the Gospel Baptist Church of Baba Atilade here in Iwo. I like to be free with people. I am still very young. So, I am a chief adviser to all people.
Johnson's cousin who resides in Lagos was also contacted by Saturday Sun . He is Mr. Yemi Adetona. He also confirmed that efforts have been made to reunite Johnson and his family in London. According to him, two of his daughters are already married to Nigerian men from Ondo State. Said he: 'Baba's (Johnson) story is indeed a touchy one. He was in the wilderness for more than 30 years as a result of the shock effect of the sudden separation from his family. We never knew he could survive it. But he did. It is indeed a miracle. He didn't re-marry. In fact, he never thought of it. We learnt that his wife had told his daughters that he is dead.
So, they never bothered to look for him. If he told you he has been communicating to them, well I don't know about that because it is possible he has not been telling us everything. I think he has become really careful now about everything because of what he has experienced. That is only natural. I am sure if his daughters in England read this story they would really know the truth. And maybe their mother, who has abandoned him all these years would forgive him and reunite fully with him.'