I am Ojo Makanjuola Stephens, a native of Esa-Odo in Obokun Local Government area of Osun state Nigeria. I am an only child of my Mother; I did not know my Father.
He died when I was two years old. He fell from the palm tree they said. He was a palm wine tapper as well as a drinker. Stories has it that he usually drank half of his wine before getting to the market place, consequently he was always indebted those from whose hands he had collected money in advance. They say he was a good dancer and singer too, especially when he has had his fill of his produce.
Mama refused to remarry, she could not withstand another man that could turn out to be like Papa, and so she buried herself in her petty trading and hair braiding. She sells anything, most especially seasonal farm produce and domestic Animals, if you want to sell your domestic animals, contact my Mum; she knows who wants to buy as long as she gets a commission out of the deal.
I was her life; she lived for me even though she never pampered me. She showed me love and care within her lean resources. Mama would never borrow a Pin from anybody, she taught me contentment, her favorite watch word to me was “Remember the Son of whom you are”
She taught me to stand my ground in the presence of bullies, she told me never to weep when my mates try to cheat me or oppress me.
Whenever I got into a fight with my mate and I was over powered I wipe my tears before getting home while I concoct plan for a rematch.
I can fight with a particular person ten times until I take my pound of flesh except our paths do not cross while going to the stream, farm, the Market or School.
As a teenager, I had a small frame like my Mother so my peers were always trying to bully me, but that soon stopped when they realized that I never said die until I am dead.
My nick name then was “wa pa” some thought it meant to “be cool” but it was actually coined from “wa pa mi l’oni” meaning “you will kill me today” any bully that beats me must be ready for my trouble for I would trail him to his father’s house with stones and any imaginable weapon I could lay my hands on until his family members come to beg and appease me with gifts or money.
I was alone in the hostile world, no sibling to stand by me except my frail Mother.
My Mother was tagged “Iya oloju kan” the woman with one eye. I was her lone eye and she would any length to protect me.
When I turned twelve and in class one in the village grammar school, I started supporting my mother during the holidays by joining fellow teenagers to farm for money. About five to ten of us could collect a hectare of land to weed and cultivate for the land owner who guarantees our breakfast and lunch as well as pay for our service.
We also go to the plantation owners to look for Job from the fruit dealers that buy the harvest from an orange plantation or mango plantation.
Our Job was to climb the trees with sacks and pluck every ripe fruit on the tree and load it into Trucks that take the fruits to the northern part of the Country for sale.
Many times we had encountered snakes and hostile rodents on the trees and such encounters had led to the death and incapacitation of some of us. After such hectic jobs, we retire home at evenings after collecting our fees, we then freshen up and hit the street after eating super, super was mostly eaten between 5 pm to 6 pm. We then go about looking for fun and girls.
The problem then was that girls of our mate were looking at us as small boys; they would rather go with the older boys of class 3 and 4.
So we simply go round the Village noting which girl was seen hanging out with which boy.
The hang outs could be under fruit trees, by the passage between two mud houses or simply sitting together by the balcony of a house.
These we spread around the School the next day.
The proceeds of my labour I gave to mama as my meager contribution for housekeeping. My father owned no land, I heard he sold his portion of his family land long before he married mama.
The only legacy he left for me was some old palm trees scattered in his other brother’s farm lands but my mother never told me about it because she did not want me to turn out like him.
I still wondered what my mother saw in a man like my father, even though she never spoke ill of him to me, I knew she was not a happily married woman.
Mama is a feeble Woman, she has a small frame and not physically strong, she is thin and gaunt as a result of sickness and excessive fasting.
I used to wonder how someone with little to eat would indulge in marathon fasting. Mama could pray for eight hours nonstop. Many nights she does vigil praying till dawn, she does not shout or disturb anyone when she prays; she talks to her god alone. Her major prayer point was that God should protect her Son and make a success out of me.
It is only during such prayers that she tells God about her not wanting me to turn out a failure like my Father, she begs God not to visit the sins of my Father on me. I attended one of her vigils with her and I slept off mid way, I was bored because she kept telling God the same thing over and over, no wonder her prayers were so long, I used to wonder then if God was that patient.
My Mother’s problem started when she disobeyed her parent and married my Father.
She is from a devout Muslim family; her father was the Chief Imam at the village Mosque while her Mother was the “Iya Suna” head of the Muslim women, so you can imagine the reaction of her father when my Father and his palm wine drinkers went to seek for the daughter of an Imam in marriage.
They were chased off I heard. Islam and Alcohol is like water and oil.
Her parent never gave their consent even after I was conceived and my father went with his family members to beg again thinking the pregnancy would pacify her father, rather the news of the pregnancy enraged the old Imam and he cursed and disowned my mother publicly.
He did not forgive her amidst pleas from several reputable people in the Village till the death of him and his wife.
After his death, my mother remained a persona non grata in her father’s house, I am tagged a bastard there and I can only point a finger there and tell someone it is my grandfather’s house, it was so bad that if any of my mother’s relation sees me or my mother coming along their paths, they change course and follow another route. And the man that put my Mother through all of these did not stay around to take care of her and her Son.
We lived in a two room mud house with wooden doors and windows. Rusted and leaking Zinc as roofing sheets. The roof is supported with old and worn out Motor tyres and heavy stones to hold it down during rain storms, there is electricity in some parts of the Village but we were not that privileged to own a meter let alone tap electricity from the nearest neighbor that has electricity, this is because we could not spare the stipend to be paid monthly as NEPA bill.
Rumour also had it that my Mother could not remarry due to the curse placed on her by her late Father. My father’s tragic death was also ascribed to be as a result of her ill luck and bad omen. I was her only hope to tell the world that she was not under any curse since I am still alive.
Thus she became a staunch member of the Christ Apostolic Church and that automatically makes me a member too.
I was the drummer Boy of the Church’s Choir and I could sing and dance well too but my mother did not encourage me singing outside of the Church, it gave her bad memories even though she confessed that she loved the way I was the center of attraction when the church members danced to the alter to give offering or donations.
I would dance forward and backward and before you know it the person in front of me on the queue would be ten yards away while those behind me would be stationary and waiting for me to dance forward and allow them to move forward, I don’t do this deliberately though but I guessed it’s the spirit of dancing that runs in my Father’s blood. If anyone complements me that I dance like my Father, my mother was quick to rebuke such and say “My Son dance like David danced in the Bible” !
I graduated from Secondary School at the age of eighteen at the Community Grammar School Esa-Odo but my result was not fantastic. I got passes in English and Mathematics, I got credit passes in Yoruba and Christian religious knowledge and I failed fine remaining subjects. I had always known that the University was not for me so I was not serious about reading hard to go to one.
I just wanted to round up my secondary education and acquire the skill of Carpentry or Brick laying. My only ambition then was to rebuild our house, I never thought of leaving the Village because in all my life I had never entered a vehicle that traveled as far as thirty minutes.
So I attached myself to Baba Miko, his name is actually Michael. He was the most popular Brick layer in the Village and has built lots of houses in the Village for People that live in the Cities and only come home during holidays or festivals like burial ceremonies of their relations or on Esa-Odo day celebration. We started going to work together so I could perfect on the skills I had already acquired while growing up and indulging in several menial jobs. I knew a little of everything called work. I only needed experience to become a specialist.
It was while working at the site of an Army officer resident in Lagos but building a Duplex in the village that I got wind of the news that the Army was recruiting and interested Candidates should go to the Barracks at Ede and obtain the Recruitment Form.
I told Baba Miko I was interested and he allowed me to travel to Ede the next day to obtain the form. That was the first day I actually traveled out of Esa- Odo. I went in the Company of another Boy from Ijebu-Jesha that was a co laborer, he knew his way around Ede.
I returned from Ede and joined Baba Miko at the Site and with his assistance, we got the form signed by our Kabiesi (Local Village head) Oba Adewale Adesankan. I also went to Obokun local Government Headquarters the next day to obtain the signature of the Chairman as well as get my certificate of origin letter.
After a week of running around and updating the form, I went back to Ede to submit the form and was surprised to see that the recruitment screening exercise was starting same day.
There were so many youths present there with their sports attire and file jackets containing copies of their credentials. I hurriedly made copies of my credentials at a kiosk nearby and ran towards the office to see if I would be fortunate to submit my form.
Na wetin? A Soldier asked me as I arrived at the reception panting
Good morning Sir! I said: I want to submit my form sir! I just dey travel come from my village, and I dey hear say na today the thing dey start!
Shut up! Give me the form! Oya go and join others outside: the Soldier commanded.
I joined the crowd of youths well kitted in sports attire and canvas shoes to match, I was wearing a Buba and sokoto with a bath room Slippers, I looked out of place.