Pa (rev.) Lapese Ladipo: Memories Of A Mountaineer.
"Arise O sons of the Mountaineers,
Sing praises to the Lord,
And shout for joy with one accord,
with voice from far and near
Remember now that glorious day at Oke Are's gate,
when we first came and shout for
Deo Et Patraire."
- The Ibadan Grammar School Anthem.
"The past will always affect me and I will keep that in mind while remembering that how it played out, is only my starting point, not my final destination." - Chelsea Manning
"I know for certain that we never lose the people that we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing our lives have been enriched by having shared their love."
- Leo Buscaglia
Fifteen years ago on December 26, he passed on, but refused to die. Before he passed on, he had made sure, never to die. He had made sure to live on. He had made sure to live in my heart, just like the hearts of thousands of others that went through him. He had paid the price. He had made the sacrifice. He had done the needful. Yes, fifteen years ago, Pa (Rev.) Lapese Ladipo, my own Lap Lad, our own Lap Lad, my Principal at Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan, Nigeria, passed on to the great beyond, without dying.
To Pa Lapese Ladipo, I owe a lot of debt of gratitude. With him, I spent only one year at Ibadan Grammar School, before I crossed to the Great Ife. It was a one year that was bigger and more valuable than a lifetime. It was an impactful one year. It was a year when the architectural design of my psyche was meticulously redrawn. It was a year when my blurred understanding of my journey was cleared off and made more perspicacious.
Like an innocuous guardian angel, that was invincible, but whose overwhelming gracious presence could not be ignored, Lap Lad's inured subtle counseling, cocooned in gentle but crunchy conversations pacified the pangs resulting from the impediments of my polygamous family. His efforts were attenuating and considerably mitigating.
Yes, coming to Ibadan Grammar School, was propelled by my unceasing determination to extricate myself from the intrigues of polygamy that was set to ruin my dream. While I sulked that going to do a Higher School Certificate (HSC) robbed me of another year after staying at home the previous year doing nothing, I recognized that it was the only chance I had. I was very upset that three good years had been needlessly added to my journey when I was taken away from my grandparents and brought to Ibadan without being put in school to continue my education. With HSC, I agonized that another two years were added.
"I've never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don't understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now." - Sophia Loren
Pa Lapese Ladipo, my Principal, our own Lap Lad, was a God sent in all ramifications. He taught me many life lessons. He exorcized bitterness from my mind and consciousness. He built in me, a new hope and new confidence and a new attitude. He taught me how to appropriate adversities, enmities, disagreements, criticisms, oppositions and impediments into adrenaline to pump myself up and further empower myself, to becoming formidably fiercer and stronger in pursuit of my convictions and my goals. He taught me how to fight ferociously without having to keep malice. He taught me how to forgive while not treating with levity, any lessons of and from the experience.
On my first day at Ibadan Grammar School, all the HSC students of both the Art and Science classes were gathered together into the Art Class after the morning devotion. Lap Lad, like an imperial king holding court was presiding. He had walked in slowly and majestically, gracefully measuring his impinging steps, while the concrete floor of the classroom let out a joyful groan every time he took a step, his hands, casually folded behind his back.
His eyes darting calculatingly, pierced through the gathering with an undivided focus akin to that measuring and determining the genuineness, value and quality of an emerald stone. Exuding a cool and calm mien, Lap Lad's authority, daring in its discharge of its pulsating aura, was alluringly unmistakable. He was like a lion marking out his territory, precocious about his power and prowess, with its possible consequences that need no annunciation, should that territory be violated. The respect he commanded, felt by all that were present, went without saying; and it was all encompassing.
A handful of the teachers were there with him. We were given a pep talk and asked to introduce ourselves. You mentioned your name and the high school you attended for your West African School Certificate (WASC). After each introduction, a round of applause was given to each person. The introduction revealed whence the students have come to be gathered there. It brought to your attention the make up of those with whom you would be mixing.
As each new student introduced himself, I found out that majority of the students paid more attention to the names of the school attended by the student than to his name. There were students from Baptist Academy (Bapstacad), Eko Boys High School, St. Finbarr's, College, all in Lagos. There were students from the Olivet's Baptist High Schools of Oyo, Iwo and Ede. There were students from Atakumosa High School, Osu - Ilesa. There were students from GCI, that is Government College, Ibadan, as well as Ibadan Boys High School, Lagelu Grammar School, Adekile Grammar School and other famous schools.
And then, it was my turn. I introduced myself and informed that I attended Cherubim and Seraphim High School, Ilesa. There was silence. It was like in the middle of the night. Some of them had smirk on their faces, with their heads bent awkwardly as if under the yoke of heavy loads. Some faces contorted into unevenness like a road under construction and shaped like a snake in flight. If a pin had dropped, its sound would have been deafening. Everyone was staring at each other. It was like, "Which School is that?" Obviously, many have never heard of the existence of such school, of which I was a product of its fifth set. They were so lost in what seemed to be their bewilderment that they all forgot to give me the mandatory round of applause!
Then, Lap Lad intervened. He told them to give me my own round of applause. They did. And the fun continued. That was not the end of the matter, though. It was just the beginning. I was not bullied in any way. We all got along very well. As to be expected from students, many of my classmates made fun of me concerning my High School and we all laughed about it several times. I let them know that my High School was a great one and that it was because they were "too local" that they didn't get to know about a great school such as Cherubim and Seraphim High School, Ilesa.
I could not escape the apron of my trajectory. It was woven around my consciousness as a necklace to remind me of my journey through the challenges of a manacling polygamous family. In seeking extrication, I became driven. I was thirsty. I was hungry. I was impatient. I was determined to do my best. I was focused on doing well and getting out. I knew my target was to gain admission into the University. I worked hard. I chose as my friends those who had fire in their bellies like me. It availed me access to the needed books since I couldn't afford many of them. Apart from being actively involved in the School soccer team, with Mr. Awoseyi as our coach, I didn't have much time for anything else.
I fell in love with "Grammar" instinctively and instantaneously. Its History and preeminence in the context of a great City like Ibadan created curiosity in me. Despite my indigence, every moment I was spending in that school was rewarding and satiating. Ibadan Grammar School, thrown into what used to be a semi thick forest then, was perched on that lonely hill, detached from the closest residences. It was accessible through that fairly busy, but dusty road (now tarred) that hits a T – junction immediately after that bridge that connected it with the hustle and bustle of Molete. As Yejide Girls Grammar School beckons you into its bosom on the left, the pull of “Grammar,” as Ibadan Grammar School was, and is still fondly called, was much more forceful to the right.
The beaten road, inconveniently comfortable in its dusty and snaky comport, holding out shining hope for hundreds of pupils, as it groans palpably, put in strenuous efforts to gradually elevate to a higher level. As the elevation audaciously endures, the snaky, dusty road, laboriously grunts its restrained enthusiasm, as it methodically metamorphosed into a mini- mountain. That mini - mountain, on which Ibadan Grammar School sits, that which it calls its permanent abode, with its animating topography encapsulated in its captivating natural features, pales in comparison to Oke Aare, the mountain place of its birth. Yes, Mount Aare, the origin of the name Mountaineers for all the alumni. It was an experience that was metastasized by the inspirational involvement of Lap Lad with me.
I was always in the school very punctually, courtesy of Oluwatosin Bamgbose, who always insisted that his Mom's driver, picked me up on daily basis without fail. Tosin died several years ago at the young age of 49. May his blessed soul continue to rest in peace. Amen. I often arrived at school usually between 6.45 am and 7.00am. But there was never a single day that Lap Lad was not already walking around the school premises on my arrival. It was like he slept in his office to keep guard on the school. Or that he never even slept at all. Being a Mountaineer himself, as we call every alumnus of Ibadan Grammar School, could have been responsible for this kind of dedication and commitment.
But evidently, it was more than being an alumnus. It was just a way of life for him to give his best as he had done in the previous schools where he served as the Principal. Attestations to this abound. I have no reason to doubt the fact that being a Principal of his old school must have given him added joy, pride and sense of fulfillment, but his style had been consistent and unwavering all through his career.
My punctuality brought me closer to him and created the opportunity for him to know more about me. He spent usually between seven and ten minutes every time he engaged me. He asked questions. He probed. He saw through. He discovered. He then advised. He counseled. He taught. He nourished. He encouraged. He inspired. He gave hope. He pointed out possibilities. By and with all these, he empowered me. He imbued me with determination. He oiled the engine of my drive. The memories of my beginning, he brightened; and he opened the vistas of my horizon for me to contemplate, appreciate and appropriate.
At the end of that year, during the prize giving ceremony, he had called attention to my experience on my first day in Ibadan Grammar School, when hitherto, no one ever heard of my Cherubim and Seraphim High School, Ilesa. After I won the Prizes as Best Student in all my three subjects that I took, he mused that certainly now, everyone was aware that there was a Cherubim and Seraphim High School existing, to the cheering laughter of the guests.
He had told me, in one of our cherished private conversations, that if he was not aware of my complaints that my educational trajectory have been unnecessarily, intermittently delayed for five years, and my burning subsisting desire to gain admission into a University, he would have prevailed on me to conclude my A Level at Ibadan Grammar School. He admitted and expressed understanding of my psychological need to want to be in the University. He congratulated me, expressed his support for my decision to move on to Great Ife, and gave me his blessings.
Though, I only spent one year under his tutelage, it was like a life time to me. Lap Lad intervention at this point in my life was monumental. He made me a happy Mountaineer. He turned me into an enormously proud Alumnus of Ìbàdàn Grammar School. Pa Ladipo, our own Lap Lad, was more than a teacher. He was more than my Principal. He was a life builder. He was a mentor. He was a pathfinder. He was light through darkness. He was a stabilizer. He was a cleanser of epic proportions. He was calm, cool and collected in his approach. He was gentle but firm. He was kind, considerate and caring. Disciplined. Disciplinarian. Endearing. He commanded respect. He exuded mellifluous but unmistakable authority. He was consummate. He was inimitable. Impeccable. Classy. Polished. Perfect. And peerless.
No amount of money could have bought the inestimable lessons Lap Lad had given me. With the benefit of hindsight, I had come to believe that my trajectory toured through "Grammar" as part of a divine plan. I thank God almighty for this. I am enormously grateful to Lap Lad for his providential role. And I thank my father and my stepmothers for their being the unwitting causal factors for this fateful detour.
I am very sure that my experience was just one out of so many that went through Lap Lad. He gave me enriching life memories. He made me into a happy warrior in life. I have no doubt that when he passed on, on December 26, 2003, he was a happy and fulfilled man. Men like Pa Lapese Ladipo never die. They rise and show every morning like the sun does from the East. They remain as constant as the Northern Star in our hearts. They live on through these kinds of memories. They live on through the work of their hands as guided by their hearts and convictions and their kindness. Like Bruce Lee once said, "The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering." Our own Lap Lad, more than met this expectation. He lived a life worth remembering.
May the Lord, God almighty grant his immediate family members and all of us, his other children scattered all over the surface of the Earth, the fortitude to bear his absence. Amen.
I am enormously consoled by the words of an American singer - songswriter, Robert Allen Zimmerman, also known as "Bob Dylan." I have taken to heart his words which enjoined thus: "Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them." Yes, we might not be able to "relive all our memories," but many of them remain so "vivid" that they're "heartwarming."