Last Saturday, a good man went home went six feet under, covered by the warm and cold earth of his native Ijebu-Jesha, Osun State. The good man is Pa Isaiah Fadeyibi, 84, my brother, father figure, teacher and mentor. While I mourn him, I thank God for such a good man, the good life he lived and the values I imbibed from him as a kid growing up under his tutelage. Happily, he read my “Press Clips” tribute four years ago when he turned 80, titled THE MAN WHO MOULDED ME. What I wrote four years ago still stands as my tribute and gratitude:
How else can I say thank you to the man who took me under his wings as a 7-year-old kid, trained me and gave me the foundation to be who I am today? How else than to write a column, a column of gratitude to Pa Isaiah Lee Fadeyibi, the man who moulded me, guided me, shaped me, poured his spirit inside my vessel and made me who I am today. He clocked 80 on July 20, which explains why I am paying this tribute.
He is to me what Alhaji Sanusi Dantata was to Aliko Dangote, one of the richest men on earth. Dangote says of his uncle Sanusi Dantata: “As a kid who didn’t know his left from right, I was under his tutelage. I was almost like a tabular rasa, an empty vessel of sorts. And he poured his business wizardry into me. He poured everything into me. He made me who I am.”
For me, Pa Isaiah Fadeyibi is my own Sanusi Dantata—my elder brother, my teacher, my mentor, the man without whom I probably “would not have been where I am today or who I am,” if I may borrow from Dangote, the billionaire.
Like most kids, I was a rascal. And my rascality was becoming a source of concern to my parents. To save me from myself, my father decided to send me away to live with his nephew, a 24-year-old elementary school teacher posted to Aboso, some 18 kilometres away from Tarkwa in Western Ghana where I was born. My father brought him up. Now, it was his turn to bring me up too. Looking back, it was the best decision ever. From the rascal I used to be, I transformed into a sad, quiet, obedient boy surrounded by books and solitude. As a teacher, Brother Isaiah (or Brother Lee) had a library filled with books enclosed in a glass showcase. In my loneliness, all I could do was to take solace in devouring those books. Book after book, my eyes opened to the beauty and the magical wonders of literature. Page after page, I embarked on a literary expedition in the world of fantasy along with the characters in the books. I read books like the Three Musketeers by Alex Dumas, Tell Freedom and Mine Boy, two books by the South African writer Peter Abrahams. I read Allan Paton’s Cry The Beloved Country. I read Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes. I read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I read the Ghanaian poet Benebengo Blay who first inspired my poetry writing. I read so many other books whose titles I cannot remember now. But my childhood favorite was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
I became a teacher’s son. And a teacher’s son was expected to excel at school. He made me to work hard. In the night, while preparing for his exams, he would wake me up to join him in studying. He kept his cane at arm’s length in case I dozed off.
Feeling homesick, one day, I escaped from his “enclave” and “stowed away” in a bus to meet my parents. On getting home, my father ensured that I was put on another bus and returned that same night. Meanwhile, Brother Lee had set up a search team which combed every nook and corner of Aboso looking for me. My return was one big relief. Luckily I was not punished.
Oh, I remember those musical years of my youth. In our house were packed the school’s musical instrument. I seized the opportunity to teach myself how to play the flute and the trumpet. Every night, the sound of my trumpet would echo through the town. One night, Brother Lee heard me blowing the trumpet. He was so impressed that he made me play at the morning assembly. It was one proud moment for him. Today, if you find me listening to Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Christian Scott and a host of Jazz trumpeters, this was where it all began. I lived in a world of music and books. Brother Lee’s books helped me a lot. It opened the doors for academic excellence and double promotions. My essays were read aloud in class. At prize-giving days, I was garlanded with prizes. From a teacher, Brother Lee became the headmaster of Anglican Middle School in the goldmine town of Prestea. And wherever he was transferred, I followed him. In 1965, I passed the Common Entrance exam to go to Sekondi College at a younger age without completing my middle school. And there, I suffered an academic setback. I wasn’t doing well in my first year. Eventually I was expelled along with 35 other poor-performing students. We were blown away by the “Monsoon wind,” to use the school jargon for such expulsions. I was to be sent back to complete my unfinished middle school but Brother Isaiah waded in and mercifully found me another college: Axim Secondary School where I was admitted after passing a test. And there, the Good Lord turned my situation around and I began to find my groove again and excel in academics to the point where I even won a prize in Fante language of Western Ghana, beating the Ghanaians in their own language.
Then the Ghanaian government came with their Aliens-Must-Go Order. My parents all left but Brother Lee stayed behind to ensure that I finished my School Cert exams which I passed in Grade 2. From Ghana, he followed me to Nigeria, to my hometown Ijebu-Jesha where I did my Higher School Certificate and had the best result to the glory of God. From there, I went to the University of Lagos to study Mass Communication and passed out in 1977. And the rest is history.
Ever since my father died in November 11, 1984, I have known no other father than my brother, Pa Isaiah Fadeyibi now 80. I wanted a lavish party for him, but he opted for something sober which was characteristic him. We joined him at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Ijebu-Jesha for a special thanksgiving service to God. In church, he was praised for his service to God. A garland was put around his neck for being a Sunday school teacher who dedicated his life to teaching children to fear God and to imbibe good values.
I am writing this column to thank you sir, and to thank all teachers and all mentors without whom we won’t be who we are and where we are today. Even if no one rewards you here on earth, your reward is in heaven. Be consoled by Matthew 5:12 which says: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”