Pa Komolafe @ 90: Do To Others As You Want Them Do To You… That’s Secret Of My Longevity
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Mr. Isaac Olufemi Babatunde Komolafe lost his parents at the age of 12 and by divine providence was raised by the brother of ace trumpeter and highlife king, Dr. Victor Olaiya. They both grew up in the Eastern part of Nigeria and it was Pa Komolafe, who introduced Victor to the trumpet. While celebrating 90th birthday, Pa. Komolafe spoke to TUNDE AKINGBADE on his early life, reason for his longevity while reflecting on Nigeria’s quest for unity. Excerpts:
Where were you born?
I was born in Calabar in the present Cross River State. You are from Ikole, in Ekiti State. How did your parents get to Calabar?
My father and mother left home, Ikole, out of youthful exuberance. They wanted to know what was happening by moving around. They went to the East and settled in Calabar, got married and started having children.
They got their first issue, a female and later, God brought me in. I became the third child and the first son.
Then in the East, my father got a job as a prison warden. And that was what he was doing when my mother died, when I was five. The responsibility for the children became that of my father alone. So, when the strain was getting too much, my father moved from Calabar to Enugu; and when in Enugu, the strain became so severe, my father died. My sister then became my guardian.
You mean she was old enough to get married?
Yes, you know my father died when I was 12. She got married and her husband volunteered to take care of me. From there, I became the responsibility of my sister. The husband moved to Onitsha with her and I also moved with them. They were coming nearer home.
Then I started school. I was in one school called CMS Entrance School, Onitsha. Then I did my elementary and primary school and I came out when I passed my Standard Six.
What year was that?
That was 1941. Standard Six then was very good and well —rated. So my sister was getting ready for me to go and start teaching and for her to be collecting monthly pay. Then I said to her, there was one person that was very close to our father from Ijesha-Isu too, this person is by name S.O Rotimi. So, during December, I said to my sister, would you let me go and say hello to him and tell him that I had finished my primary school education; and also spend the Christmas with him, and I will come back and start teaching. My sister said it was okay. So I went. When I got there and this old man saw me, he was full of emotion and he asked me; ‘what do you intend to do now?’ I said; ‘I want to teach.’ So he called one of his friends, this man was a transporter, he said they should look for school for me around Owerri. So, they went around and they said there used to be one Government College at Owerri. They said, late entrance test would come up in about three-four days. Then I went for the late entrance and I passed it. So I was admitted to that Government Secondary School. Not long after, there was an epidemic in that school.; it was ordered closed. I was in Junior Class Two when that happened.
What was the disease that caused the epidemic?
It was small pox. But S.O Rotimi, my father’s friend said that my school career should not be stopped. Then he phoned his own brother to see if I could be admitted into St Patrick’s College Calabar. And then luckily, I went for the examination and I passed. I was admitted into the school. It was there I completed my college course and I did the Senior Cambridge exams there. When I was in school, I was a footballer, and a cricketer. I also played Hockey.
Again, there was a newspaper publication by the Nigeria Railways that they wanted to employ people. Nigeria Railway used to have the best football team in this country then, so, I went for the interview and the first thing they did was to bring a football and said we should show we are footballers. That was how they picked me. I was posted to Apapa Wharf. There, I became more of a footballer than a Nigerian Railway staff. After about three years there, there was a call for application for scholarship from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group. I applied and was picked to go and do Mechanical Engineering in England. When I was awarded this scholarship, it was like a dream. Within two months, the papers were ready and they said we should get ready to move to London.
What year was that?
It was 1953. I did my course in Mechanical Engineering in Chelsea. And I went through and came out with a Second Class degree. When I left there, I went to the people who take care of government students in that country, to tell them that I had finished and was looking for a job. Then they asked if I was one of their staff? The people said they awarded me scholarship and I studied in England for five years and now I have finished and had the mind to ask them to look for a job! I said that I just thought it was normal after my schooling to let them know I had finished. They said if I can’t go to look for job myself, I should stay there. There used to be a place in England, where people go to look for job, then I went there, and I was lucky to be picked by Shell Darzy.
Shell Darzy. That is what metamorphosed into Shell Company. It was Shell Darzy before it became Shell Company. At Shell, I was posted to Port Harcourt. There, I was posted from London to report in Port Harcourt. Then, from there, I started work. I came back to meet my wife, because she couldn’t come to meet me in England since I went on scholarship. We went together to Port Harcourt and we started living as husband and wife. Then we had the first child, later the second one. Then the Action Group people woke up from their slumber. And they started saying; all these people that we have awarded scholarship, where are they? Have they not come back? Then they went and got hold of my late cousin, Daniel Olaiya, who was then in Lagos, to tell them where I was; if not they would take him to court. So he phoned me in Port Harcourt and told me the whole story. Then I said he should please not be worried, and that I would report to the people. I obtained permission from work and I came to Lagos.
At the interview, when they wanted to embarrass me, I brought out documents, showed them that I came to report to them before in England when I finished, but that their people asked me to go and look for job; and that was what I did. Then they said I should go now. They gave me a direct employment and asked me to go and resign from Shell and I did just that. And when I did that, I came back. They posted me to Ibadan, which was the then headquarters of the Western Region in Ibadan.
What work were you doing in Ibadan?
They attached me to the Water Section of the Ministry of Works and Transport. I was in the Water Supply Department. When I was at Ibadan, I was told to go to Lagos to apply for a car. By the time I went to Lagos and came back and the approval for the car was made, they had already posted me to Akure. After I had collected the car, I headed for Akure. So Akure was my first station as the Technical Officer of the Ministry. I was at Akure, not long after that, I was posted to Ubiaja,
Then, I was posted to Oshogbo. From Oshogbo, I was brought back again to Ibadan because they then recognised Western Region headquarters was in Ibadan. Then, in 1984 or 85, I attained the age of retirement; and I was retired. Ever since, I have been a retired government pensioner. Now that it’s been regionalised or divided into states, I became the responsibility of Ekiti State government.
What is the secret of your longevity?
THE secret of my long life is that God gave me the tendency to live long and secondly, I resigned myself right from my infancy to my God and my Lord. I had no parents at the age of 12. I became an orphan; there was no father or mother who could tell me what to do or what not to do. So I accepted God in his totality as my father and my mother. Thirdly, I learnt to do to others what I would want them to do unto me.
You speak Ibo fluently?
Yes. I was born and brought up there.
In those days, during the colonial period, there was a lot of interaction. Why were we more united than now?
That was so because our coming together was not by law, it was by order. And for that to happen, there must be some guiding rules, things you must do, and things you must not do. It’s not law; it is order.
How did you know Dr. Victor Olaiya, the highlife king?
It was his brother, Mr. Olaiya who trained me. They are of the same father and mother.
So the Olaiya you mentioned earlier is his brother?
Yes, the other man was Mr. Rotimi who I said was from Ijesha-Isu. So what I am today came from the extension of the Rotimi and Olaiya families. This young man you call Dr. Victor Olaiya, I taught him how to play trumpet, because he was so close to me and we were together in the Eastern Region. We were all born and brought up in the Eastern Region. So, till today, we are close. When I was 80, he single handedly came to celebrate it with me in Lagos. I think the fear of my children this time around, is that, let them not allow this man to come and capture their father at this night that was why they rushed and took me down from Lagos before clocking 90, you know Ado Ekiti is nearer to my home town.
You used to play lawn tennis, I saw your pictures?
I played hockey, I played football, which was the highest of it all, and I played lawn tennis.
Did you win any medal?
Laurel? Well then it was not an issue of laurel because then, you had to do it because your people wanted you to do it, not that anybody recognised you.
You played for the love of the game?
Exactly, but not for money; and one made some great friends like Parry Osayande? Osanyande came into my life when I was at Ubiaja. He hails from that area. He was the DPO and when I was posted to Shagamu, he was also posted to Shagamu alongside with me. So that was number one. The other person, I still remember, is now my son, France. He’s France Emmanuel… and all my children know him and it’s been so accepted.
Can you give the names of your other children?
The first one is Rotimi, the next is Bamidele David, the next is Olatunji, and the next to Olatunji who lives in London is Muyiwa. The next one is Funmilayo. There is Tolulope, Oluwabunmi, Oluwasegun, Adejoke, Oluwabusola, Oluwagbemiga, Seun. Seun is the last born.
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