September 8, 2022 0 By Fasholu Gabriel Oluwatobi

Beyond the ugly mask of vicissitudes emerges a figure, head above the tempest”

The man now known as S. Ola Ajimisan (a way of downplaying his English name, Stephen and foregrounding his native name, Ola) was born and christened Stephen Ola Ajimisan into the family of Late Prince Number Olorunsola Ajimisan of Ojabogun Kumapayi Ruling House of Ode-Etikan, Etikan Kingdom and Mrs Esther Semilola Ajimisan (nee Poroye/Olowofoyeku lineage of Mahintedo, Mahin Kingdom all in the present day Ilaje Constituency 2, Ilaje Local Government of Ondo State, South-Western Nigeria. His father was a sagacious and resourceful teacher, politician, community leader, a traditional nationalist and active front-liner of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). His father, sequel to his rich knowledge of the history and folklore of the people, was nicknamed by the 20th Olikan of Etikan, Oba C.M.O Ikuesan, as “the mobile encyclopedia”. He lost his father at a tender age of 2 and was left to be nurtured by nature and his mother.

At about 7, his mother sent him to her father (the maternal grandfather), Pa Johnson Arowosola Poroye of the Aganganjigan Omabuwa Ruling House of Mahin Kingdom, a retired principal, historian, humourist, hunter and fisherman who “initiated” him into the practice of tale-telling and writing at a very tender age. He had the first five (5) years of his elementary education under the guardianship of his maternal grandfather. “Grandpa’s Testament” is a reminiscence of the fatherly entreaties of his grandfather to him on his first day at a primary school in the heart of Ijebuland. He had a haphazard education sequel to the untimely death of his father. He first started his elementary education at St. Luke’s Anglican Primary School, Ode-Etikan and subsequently at Local Government Primary School, Alo, near Iwopin, in the present day Ogun Waterside Local Government Area of Ogun State.
He returned to his home soil, Ode-Etikan in furtherance of his elementary education in the fifth year. Soon afterwards, he left St. Luke’s Anglican Primary School which was his father’s alma mater, due to unforeseen vicissitudes and circumstances beyond his and his poor mother’s control and comprehension. He again enrolled at St. Philip’s Anglican Primary School, Ereke in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State where he eventually completed his elementary education. He later proceeded to Community Grammar School Zion Pepe, Ilaje Local Government where he had to trek at least, a mile before getting to school quotidian basis.

Stephen’s Story is a story of one who defies all odds to excel and did not allow his background to define or circumscribe him and how well he can go in life. At a very tender teenage age of 13, he became exposed to hard and child labour not because the mother willed it, but because he wished to be educated and the mother’s infrequent sources of income could not sufficiently feed foot his school bills and provide all the basic necessities of life for him. On weekends and even some week-days, he had to skip school and go to serve as an apprentice or casual labourer on building sites to raise his school fees and other miscellaneous expenses. Because of his fragile or feeble frame, most bricklayers and building contractors were unwilling to employ him or hire his service because they felt that his strength could not withstand the hard labour.

He had to prove to them not to define him by his physical feeble frame but based on the contents of his character and inner strength which was not manifestly decipherable on physical sight. His mother too, had to do menial jobs meant for men like helping people to weed their farms, selling of raffia and bamboo materials and selling firewood to feed and support his education and those of his other siblings since she was hell-bent on sending them to school, even with little or no external support. She said she could not sell her body for money but could do other legitimate menial jobs with which to fend for her children and give them the type of education that she could afford, including commercial load bearers. People soon nicknamed her “obinrin bi okunrin” which means a woman with masculine ardour and strength.
Against all odds and entreaties to send the physically fragile Stephen and his siblings to raise money for her through services such as apprenticeship in fishing boats or allow them to learn trades/skills to save herself of strain, drain, and stress of struggling alone like a tree pitched against the tide, she insisted on giving her children good education even if it meant selling her clothes and adornments which she did.

Stephen recounted how he returned from school one eventful afternoon, after the principal of his school had “designed” his back with “cruel whips” for his inability to pay his school fees on time and how he met “Maami” (as he and his siblings fondly call their mother), in negotiation with one Hausa man who was into buying and selling of old or antiquated jewelry. Before he knew the subject of their negotiation, the man had paid for the antiquated trinkets and jewelry and Maami had handed them to him. That afternoon, his mother, after having the knowledge of the macabre flogging of her fragile son sequel to his inability to raise the money that was not available, wept again after her husband’s death. She told Stephen that she was negotiating that “Mallam” so that she could pay his school fees, so that the fiendish principal and his cohorts would not flog you again tomorrow. This part of his “HIStory” had also inspired him to write the poems “Not Without Scars” and “Coat of Different Colours” dedicated to her (Maami’s) selfless sacrifice. “These poems are published in this collection in celebration, appreciation or perhaps I should say in memeorialisation of her dauntless courage, “masculine strength” and selflessness. Thus, sailing through the tempest of secondary education was not a tea party”. These words were the words of the poet recollected in nostalgic tranquility.

On completion of his secondary education, he was, by a “stroke of luck” or benevolence of Providence, employed as an auxiliary teacher in primary school. He later re-enrolled as an external student at Cherubim and Seraphim Academy, Ugbonla, Ilaje Local Government, Ondo State where he made all the requirements needed for the furtherance of his education. His initial desire was to study Law and become a professor in the profession. For financial constraints and lack of sponsorship, he had to veer into the study of English. He has always loved to teach at all levels and that he has achieved having taught in nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary levels. In writing career, he has always loved to be like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, T.S. Eliot, Wole Soyinka and Niyi Osundare and you would see in some poems in this collection how his “poeturgy” or has been greatly influenced by the creative styles and visions of some of these accomplished writers.

In pursuit of tertiary education, he tried his luck first at St. Augustine’s College of Education, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos from 2005-2006. Still not satisfied with studying for a degree in English at an affiliated private institution, he left St. Augustine’s and came to begin a bachelor’s degree programme in English at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, which he garnered, graduating as the best graduating student of his class in 2011. Sequel to his insatiable penchant for knowledge, Ola proceeded to the University of Ibadan for a Master of Arts’ Degree in Literature-in-English from 2015-2016. He joined the service of his alma mater, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State in 2019. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in Folkloric Literature, which he teaches alongside Creative Writing, African Literature, Literary Criticism and Theory.

On admission into Adekunle Ajasin University, he came under the direct tutelage of late Tayo Olafioye, Sola Owonibi, Busuyi Mekusi Omotayo Oloruntoba-Oju and other great teachers who further fascinated his crave for greater and refined creativity. As an undergraduate, his debutant single-piece poem, “Fioye’s Sermon” dedicated to Tayo Olafioye, the great poet and novelist was published in Verses from the Sun, the anthology of the Ondo State Chapter of the association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in 2010. He was a prominent member of the troupe from Akungba that thrilled and regaled the guests at the International Convention of ANA (Ondo State 2010) with the performance “Sourcing West”. Of tremendous influence was his fraternisation with Tosin Gbogi, who then was a senior colleague and the Editor-in-Chief of the departmental newsletter, Voice of NASELS, owned by the Department of English Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University. Ola Ajimisan, as he fondly wishes to be known and addressed, as a way of ideologically down-playing his English (baptismal) name Stephen, and foregrounding his native name Ola and merely abbreviating Stephen as ‘S’ initial has the following garlands to his chest:
Most Popular Fresher (2008)
Deputy Managing Editor of Voice of NASELS (2009)
Editor-in-Chief, Voice of NASELS (2010)
Campus Journalist of the Year (2010)
News Editor of Voice of NASELS (2011)
Best Graduating Student of the Year (2010/2011)

He has also rendered several selfless services to his community in different capacities. They include volunteering as a community teacher pro bono, thus teaching simultaneously at the primary and secondary school in his hometown, getting paid only for his service to the primary school. He also served as the confidential secretary, palace griot and palace chronicler to the 22nd Olikan of Etikan Kingdom, Oba Adeleke Adedoyin Oyetakin who also commissioned him to carry out meticulous documentation and propagation of the traditional heritages and major traditional proceedings of the kingdom’s festivals and palace activities as a means of root retrieval and consciousness re-awakening. The initiative which culminated into the adornment of the walls of the traditional square in his hometown with mural arts and historiographic facts was his brain child. In recognition of his brilliance and unfathomable resourcefulness as the palace chronicler and griot, the immediate past Olikan of Etikan, Oba Adeleke Adedoyin Oyetakin also commissioned him to compile the Ekiki(Oriki) of the four ruling houses of the kingdom in book form. That effort also begot the writing of a piece in this collection entitled “Ilaje”. During his tenure as the Secretary of the Parish Church Council (PCC) at St Luke’s Anglican Church, Ode-Etikan, he ensured the retrieval of many church’s documents by establishing a mini-archive for the church. He also contributed to progress of his home church by helping with the compilation of the history of the church, the advent of Christianity and the advent of western education in his kingdom. As a teacher at St. Luke’s Anglican Primary School, Ode-Etikan, he also established an archive that helped the school in the retrieval and preservation of ancient school documents. In 2016, when the school was marking 115th anniversary of the establishment of the school, Ola Ajimisan was also commissioned to design a centenary school badge which is what the school now uses. He also composed the new school anthem for the school before he left in 2019.

His robust knowledge of the folklore of his Ilaje people has gargantuan influence on his poetic vision and betokens the aesthetic beauty of his poetry. As a versatile figure, he is a chronicler, singer, drummer, oral artist/performer, folklorist, humourist, teacher, cultural apologist, loric nationalist, enthusiast, crusader against cultural imperialism and a compere. He has also worked as columnist with Centrepoint News, an online news outfit and the Assistant Editor of Humanism, a magazine founded by Hon Kolade Victor Akinjo, the national legislator representing Ilaje/Ese-Odo Federal Constituency at the National Assembly. Ola Ajimisan is a Christian and a recusant adherent of Anglicanism. He is married and blessed with fortunate and lovely kids.

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