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ARCHBISHOP FELIX ALABA JOB, THE RINGING VOICE

At 80, his voice still rings like in the 80s. Archbishop Emeritus Felix Alaba Job spoke with Mr Adedoyin Adekoya - and time stood still.

Good morning, Your Grace, it's nice meeting  you. I have heard so much about you, I remember the Daily Times days when we hear Archbishop Alaba Job, that was the big news. Another figure was … now Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie.

Archbishop Alaba Job: Those were the days, but we are not many now.  Thanks be to God.

Your voice  always shook the society, reverberating. I was then on the sub-desk at the  Daily Times.

The Daily Times - that one died.  Is it a natural death?

It was the handwork of some people in high places.

Who wanted to silence it, or buy it for themselves.

Your  Grace, your childhood days?

Eighty years ago, I was born to Mr Augustine and Mrs Hannah Moyeni  Job at Esure in Ijebu Mushin. Well, nobody can remember his own birth. You can only remember what happened after your birth. And so I lived with my parents and grandparents in Esure for some years before my father was transferred to Odogbolu in Ijebu-Remo. I followed him there in 1945-46. And it was at Odogbolu in 1946 that I entered the primary school, Infant One, in 1946. Almost half of the year before I went to the school, I felt I was a big boy. I knew A, B, D to gbi and A, B, C to Z and I didn't want to go to school.

My uncle was a teacher so I stayed with him within the same town. I started my Infant One in 1946 in St Paul's Anglican School in Odogbolu and I was given double promotion in that year.  I went to Infant 3 the following year. In 1948, my grandfather died at the age of 86 years and I had to return home with my father to Esure since he was the first born; we are of the royal family.  There, I went into St Peter Clavers Primary School where I did my Standard 2 to Standard 6.

Something peculiar happened in 1948; I went to school and I was registered but my classmates were making fun of me whenever I spoke my so-called Ijebu.               One day, I told my dad that if he heard that I fought in school he should know that the pupils were the ones that provoked me. I told him that they always laughed at me when I spoke.

 He asked, "What do you speak." 

I said Ijebu.

My father laughed and said, "You are not speaking ijebu, you are speaking Remo.

That was the first time I got to know that Remo and Ijebu are two different dialects.

That was peculiar.

Then, in my primary school at Esure, we went through everything. I was in the choir; I was invited from the choir to join the altar servers.  I rose to become the sacristan of the whole parish. The same thing in those days, the members did all the works that they could do to help the Mission. I remember getting punished for not coming to choir practice. The reason: my father supplied the wood for roofing the mission boys' quarters and I went to bring the wood from the farm and I was still punished for missing the choir practice. That was my father's work; not my own. We learnt discipline in practice and, academically, our headmaster was very good apart from composing plays for us to stage at home and abroad.

Abroad?

Yes, in Ibadan and Abeokuta. I remember one event in 1953. We went to stage a play in Abeokuta. The  title was "Obirin di fadaka." It was written by the headmaster.

Can you remember the name of the headmaster?

Yes, Mr Oredipe Hector. In fact, he had a grandson named after him who is a priest also. Paul Oredipe is a priest, he is the Rector of Seminary of All Saints, Uhielle in Ekpoma. Any way, we went to stage a play in Abeokuta, and we went round to solicit attendance, singing in the lorry. We went to my uncle MacJob, and there we sang to make sure that he visited. In those days, there were no television, radio or cellphone. We had arrived in the afternoon and we went round establishments, people and families. We were to carry seats from Ake Palace to Ake hall. I remember vividly one woman mounting a three- year-old child. She came round and told the Akodas, "A ma ki nf'omo onile se le, e de mu kan ninu awon eleyi." There was a classmate of mine, Florence. She would walk sluggishly but when it came to racing, she would win.  Because of her character, she was the last person as we carried seats. She did not want to go to the palace several times, so she put some chairs on her head and some on her arms in order to carry all she wanted to take at once.  That was why she was behind.  Hearing that "ama ki nfi omo onile sele" in the palace, my Idowu, my immediate elder sister, said, "Felix, let's go, and Florence was coming from behind.  The Akodas were coming from corridor, right and left, Florence threw the seats on her right and left hands at the men and bolted. It was like Tarzan; she acted like that. Words went round and one of our teachers taking Standard 6, Femi Coker, was angered. He is now a chief. He once contested for the presidency of this nation. He, some other teachers and my uncle MacJob told them off. They begged them and said they didn't know the woman who made the statement; she was inside the palace.

Another episode in my primary school days: our teachers and the headmaster had the rules particularly not speaking vernacular and constituted teachers into panels, that is not the exact word. We used to have a court on Fridays, last period, and if you had spoken vernacular or committed any other crime, there were sets of CIDs, lawyers. One of the CIDs was my classmate Henry who later became the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife. Henry, one day, caught me speaking vernacular, and said, "Felix." He brought out his book to write and I said, "Henry, don't you know who I am."  I was the QC at that time, the Queens Counsel, the chief prosecutor, and he begged me and immediately I called three senior students in Standard 6 like me to come and be witnesses. I thought Henry had forgotten all about it. I prosecuted all the offenders and when I told the jury that "all cases done your lordship" (the jury were teachers), the chief judge said, "There is still somebody on my list that you should call forward." The hall was asking who the person was and he said, "We now call Felix to the dock."

That day I had requested firewood from some of them, some to go and fetch water from the river and some to cut grass and now I was called to the dock.

 The chief judge said, "You have a right to get a lawyer."

 I said, "I will defend myself."

One teacher decided to prosecute me and I won the case.

That was a lie?

I didn't tell a lie, I said I wasn't speaking vernacular. I said I spoke the language the boy could understand. Do not speak vernacular is from Standard 1 to Standard 6. And this boy I was speaking to was in Infant 3. And I spoke the language the boy could understand. The language he could understand was vernacular. I argued the case and I won.

That was smart, a loophole?

If I were not a priest I would have been a lawyer.

And a successful one at that.

That was in brief my early childhood.

When did this idea of vocation come in?

God chooses.  It's not we choosing, it is God who calls those he wants. And I think that the call that came to me must have come as a fruit of the labour of my grandfather, my grandmother and my own parents because we were brought up strictly in the life of the Church. The reality is that Catholism came into Esure through my grandfather and two others who in 1903 decided to belong to the Catholic Church rather than the Anglican Church. My grandfather and his group said they had been reading the Bible and continued as Anglicans. He was baptised Job Kujero Osinbodu. And in 1903, three of them, himself, Messrs Barkin and Adeyingbo trekked to Lagos, a journey of three days from Esure, to go and bring a Catholic priest. Already in front of our house there was a pastor, a Briton, an Anglican pastor, and so he went to the pastor and gave him a piece of land near the marketplace, which was for the whole Ijebu-Imushin, not knowing that the place would become the main road to the East in future. In 1903, my grandfather, who said he could not just be reading the Bible and continue an Anglican, brought in a Catholic priest. Esure had become a parish since 1903, and the people started saying that "tani to le oyinbo kuro n'ilu? Jobu ni o, Jobu ni o." So when he got his first child, who happened to be my own father, they just recorded him as Augustine Job. It was when my grandfather died in 1948 that some members of the family started reverting to the old, original name, but some of his children said they had registered their establishments in the name of Job, and asked, "Why should you change it?"

What was the original name?

James Kujeiro Osinbodu (J.K.O.) and when he built his house in 1918, the doors were carved and they had different inscriptions on the doors. We little boys used to sing with the name.

He must be a wealthy man?

He was not too wealthy and he was not poor (laughter). On the four doors were Mabinuori  J.K.O.; Obadamilare  J.K.O.; Orijajuogunlo J.K.O. So we used to sing around with these; not knowing the meanings. He wanted to say I am victorious because I believe in God. So, to me, what he did and what my grandmother did, my father also did. If you failed to wake up for church in the morning, just two fingers on your buttocks.  His brother too and everybody, we went to church - and my mother. You remember the ground Calabar powder they used in those days, my mother would put the powder on my face; I didn't like it. Before getting to the church compound, I would try to rub it off having spat on my palm, but unfortunately I did not know that it was messy. The elderly women would later help me to clean it. I thought I was a big boy and needed no powder.

When we were young, during moonlight, no electricity in those days, we had long pavement in front of the house, we would sit and listen to stories and tales. My father would ask us "what will you be when you grow up?" Luckily, in fact, whatever we said at that time, we all turned out to become. My Idowu, immediate elder sister, said she would be a nurse, but when we came out of Standard Six she went to become a seamstress. She had even gained her freedom before going back to be a nurse. When Oluyoro started, she was one of the first set of students in that place. So, my dad used to ask us what we would like to be, but whenever it was my turn he would skip me over and call the next person.  I would say, "You have not called me, you have not asked me?"  And everybody would chorus, "Father." 

When I finished my Standard 6, he, my father, had three other brothers, younger ones, who were well to do and well placed in life. His immediate younger brother was a station master in the railways. He came home for Christmas holiday; the next one was the one who started a group of schools - MacJob. He had Macjob Grammar school, MacJob Commercial and MacJob Modern School. He was also at home for Christmas. The last son of my grandfather, Martin Job was a principal in a secondary school; they were all talking and I didn't know what they were talking about. I was in a mission house as a mission boy. They sent for me and I met them together; greeted them and prostrated. My father then said, "Ask him now which of us will you follow?" The one from the North said, "St John's College, that is the best college in the North, I will take you there." The second one said, "You know you started the primary school with me."  I looked at them and said, "Excuse me, sir, I am not going with any of you, sir."

You can imagine the bombshell. I didn't know how they had been discussing  with  their  brother.  They  wanted to take Felix, and Felix came in and threw cold  water  on  them. I  said, "Thank  you,  sir,  I am  going to the seminary. "Igba ti ariwo poju," I just said, "Thank you, sir.”

To be continued

 


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