At 91, Pa David Bolaji Ajayi had already surpassed threescore-and-ten, the proverbial 70 years of wisdom, when he answered the final call. On January 1, 2017, when our patriarch left us, Pa Ajayi was no doubt a fulfilled man both in material and spiritual sense. Specifically, he was a father, grandfather, great-grandfather and devout Christian but, above all, Pa Ajayi was a teacher by nature and training. To him, shaping lives was a life-long passion and he undertook it with missionary zeal, whether as a classroom teacher, school principal or community leader.
Significantly, the mustard seed was sown at Ilesha, at that time a rustic and serene settlement, where the young David was born on September 27, 1926, in present-day Osun State. Largely, the community was an agrarian society but his parents were traders. However, instead of taking after them, the young lad was enrolled into St. Saviour’s Anglican School, Ipoti, Ekiti, in 1933. Thereafter, Pa Ajayi’s odyssey with Western education began, starting as a pupil, a pupil-teacher, a full-fledged teacher, a tutor of several secondary schools and a school administrator par excellence.
After elementary school, young David returned to his native Ilesha in January 1940, where he continued primary school at Apostolic Central School, Oke-Oye. By 1944, he had passed his Standard Six examination with flying colours but David encountered inclement weather in his flight to greater academic heights. Specifically, he passed Ilesha Grammar School entry examinations but couldn’t take up the admission because his parents were financially handicapped. However, this setback neither dampened his thirst for education nor terminated his academic ascendance. In the interim, Ajayi took up a job as a pupil-teacher at St. Saviour’s African School at Ikirun, where he combined work and private studies. Eventually, he qualified as a Grade III Teacher at Apostolic Teachers Training College.
At that time, a Grade III certificate was enough to earn one a middle class life but Ajayi’s sights were on something higher. From 1952 to 1954, he left the comfort zone of his Yoruba enclave and went to Government Teachers Training College Abraka, located in present-day Delta State. Thereafter, Mr. Ajayi was posted to Apostolic Central School, Aroya Otawo. In spite of his relative comfort, Mr. Ajayi’s desire for more knowledge propelled him to study privately, and he bagged five credits in the GCE O/Levels exams. Buoyed by that success, the restless young man studied for his A/Levels, burning the midnight candle, so that his efforts and sacrifice were crowned with success as he passed three subjects.
In 1958, Mr. Ajayi bagged a Teachers Grade II certificate; with that laurel and his GCE A/Level result, he was more than qualified for a senior service position. Instead, Mr. Ajayi preferred teaching and the Apostolic Church Authority transferred him to its secondary school as a tutor. However, he was not done yet as, in 1958, he passed a Practical Teaching Test, which was conducted by the Western Region government, earning him a Teachers Grade I certificate. Thereafter, Mr. Ajayi went to Nigerian College of Arts and Science in Zaria. In 1960, he obtained his Teacher’s Professional Certificate, making him a qualified teacher. Armed with that, Mr. Ajayi gunned for the Ivory Tower and got admission into both University of Nigeria Nsukka and Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. He opted for the latter and spent three years at the first university in West Africa. In 1964, he returned from Fourah Bay with a bachelor of arts degree in English.
Upon his return, Mr. Ajayi didn’t go about looking for the so-called greener pastures. To the amazement of many, he went back to the Apostlic Teachers College in Ilesha, the same school that he was transferred to when he passed his GCE A/Levels. However, three years later, the school was closed and Mr. Ajayi had to move to Agbole Grammar School, Ede, in 1967 as principal. In 1974, Mr. Ajayi entered the service of the Federal Ministry of Education and was posted to Federal Government College, Odogbolu. Three years later and two days to his 51st birthday, Mr. Ajayi was transferred to Command Secondary School, Kaduna, as the pioneer principal.
Perhaps, it was at Command Secondary School, more than anywhere else, that Mr. Ajayi brought his wealth of experience, vast knowledge and native African wisdom to bear on his students. First, the 75 pioneer students that he started with came from all parts of Nigeria. Second, Ajayi was middle-aged but his energy had not waned. Third, he had all the requisite teaching certification as well as practical experience for the job. Above all, the students were aged between 11 and 15 years and were in the impressionable age bracket. Combined, these factors coalesced into a father-children bond and Ajayi lived up to his paternal responsibility.
Significantly, the principal didn’t achieve this by happenstance but by a conscious effort from day one, when the pioneers resumed on September 20, 1977. Surprisingly, within a few hours, Mr. Ajayi had learnt the names of a few students. Before the end of first term, he knew everyone by name as well as his or her character traits. Similarly, the principal knew most parents and in quiet moments, usually during visiting days, he gave wise counsel on their ward’s deficiencies. Not surprising, Mr. Ajayi knew all these because he was a hands-on administrator who was virtually living with the students. As principal, Mr. Ajayi also taught Oral English and Literature. Similarly, he made frequent visits to the dining hall and sampled the students’ meals. In addition, Mr. Ajayi also played the detective as he sometimes went round the school incognito and wrote down names of noisemakers during night preps and lightouts. In fact, he matched voices to names with precision!
Mr. Ajayi never spared the rod. At that time, erring students were often flogged publicly during morning assemblies and this was often preceded by a long sermon. In particular, he used proverbs, anecdotes and stories to goad toward better traits or restrain his students from anti-social behavior. For instance, he used to say “hard work doesn’t kill, its overindulgence that does,’’ usually when he wanted students to do manual labour. If he wanted a particular policy or programme scrapped, the principal prefaced his reversal with the wise quip, “the white man who made the pencil also made the eraser.’’
However, in spite of his no-nonsense stand, Mr. Ajayi was like a genial father who merely exercised tough love so that his children could excel. Ironically, he was transferred to Command Secondary School Lagos, almost a year before the pioneers left Command Secondary School, Kaduna. In a way, he sowed the seeds, nurtured the tendrils but didn’t see the fruits of his labour, let alone eat from it. But the greatest tribute to Mr. Ajayi is that he met kids in September 1977 and, four years later, he moulded them into young adults who could hold their own anywhere.
•Musa wrote on behalf of 1982 set of Command Secondary School, Kaduna