Comrade Owei Lakemfa.
By Owei Lakemfa.
The Principal of the Methodist Boys’ High School, MBHS, Lagos, my alma mater, Mr. David Famoroti, was a strict disciplinarian. He was called the ‘Governor’ because, like the military governors of the 1970s, his word was law.
There was an adult education school which ran on the premises in the evenings. It was to give adults, workers and other category of Nigerians who did not have the benefit of secondary school education, a chance to do so. Some students who attended regular schools also attended to re-sit for the secondary school leaving and upper school-leaving examinations. Surprisingly for this group of people, you would have expected that they would not be easily controlled in a school environment since they were adults and mostly, financially independent. But they were, and this was attributed to the Programme Coordinator, Mr. Oluwaranti Olusoga Olusijibomi Shoewu, who had structured the centre to cater for students from Form 1 to Upper Six classes.
He was a dark, slim man who walked briskly and always seemed to be in a hurry. He hardly acknowledged greetings as he seemed perpetually in a hurry. What we as boys could not fathom was how one man was able to pack so much work into a single day. Apart from being the Coordinator of the evening Adult Education School where he also taught science subjects, especially Physics, in the day, he was a senior teacher in MBHS. So if the MBHS resumed at 7.45am and this Adult Education school closed in the night, when was Mr. Shoewu resting? When was he leaving and returning home? How was he able to combine these with family life? We never knew, and were too young to ask.
To us, he was even tougher on matters of discipline than the Principal. Mr. Shoewu who was also an alumnus of the MBHS had no time for frivolities or ceremonies. When he acted as Principal, he would simply order an undisciplined student to be shown the gate. So we nicknamed him ‘Shoewu show him the gate.’ Despite this, he was warm and quite engaging in the classroom.
In teaching the students Surface Tension in Physics he began by telling them: “Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee due to surface tension and not a miracle.” One of my classmates, Jide Banjo recalls: “All of us did not understand till we checked our Physics text book which stated that surface tension is a force present within the surface layer of a liquid that causes the layer to behave as an elastic sheet and the force that supports insects walking on water or floating a needle on the surface of the water which is caused by the attraction between molecules of the liquid.” Mr. Shoewu was a contributor to the science textbook, “Integrated Science”.
He later became the Principal of Gaskiya College, Lagos and returned to MBHS as the Principal from 1979 to 1981 before retiring from service in 1984.
As an adult, I met him in a number of fora, especially during our Old Boys’ meetings. The first times I encountered him at these meetings, I literary jumped up from my seat to greet him. He spoke little at those meetings and his contributions were usually on solutions.
When I became Publicity Secretary and later, National Secretary of the Old Boys’ Association in the late 1990s, we became close as he was always raising matters how we could assist the school, especially the students, to prepare for the West African School Certificate Examinations. Thus, I came to know Mr. Shoewu better; his was one of living and sacrificing for others. He lived the school motto which is rendered in Latin: ‘Non Sibi, Sed Aliis’, which literarily means: ‘Not For Us, But For Others’. The boys of MBHS were taught not to live for themselves but sacrifice their lives for other people, for greater humanity.
In 2000, Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, returned mission and private schools taken over by government in the 1970s, to their original owners. So, MBHS was returned to the Methodist Church. To reposition the school, the Church put together a team and Mr. Shoewu, in an uncommon move, agreed to be the Vice Principal of a school he had been the Principal two decades earlier.
In 2004, the Church reorganised MBHS and appointed Mr. Shoewu the Principal with a mandate to restructure, reform and reposition it. He mobilised the Old Boys and other friends of the school to carry out his mandate, pay backlog of salaries and clear all outstanding debts. With the MBHS becoming financially buoyant, the Church thought the school should assist it. But Mr. Shoewu resisted this; he insisted the funds of MBHS should be used for the school. Principled disagreements with the Church which was the proprietor, led to his removal in 2005.
However, when the school again started running into difficulties, the Methodist Church returned to Mr. Shoewu. This time, he agreed to be the Chairman of the Board of Governors. As Board Chairman, he volunteered to teach the students free. It was a lot of sacrifice if it is realised that he lived in the Akoka area of Lagos, and the MBHS is in the highbrow Victoria Island part of Lagos; an area which attracts lots of traffic jam. But the pensioner persisted, commuting over this long distance in the thick of the infamous Lagos traffic snare.
One of the most enduring legacies of Mr. Shoewu was that half a century after he left MBHS as Principal and years after retirement, he in the 2011/2012 Session returned as a volunteer teacher, to prepare and present 26 students for Physics at WASCE and all scored A1 (Excellent) in the examinations! He also taught and presented 17 students for Further Mathematics and 16 had distinction and credit while the 17 scored a pass. He was then 73 years old.
Many Old Boys appreciated his sacrifices. When one of them, Mr. Ayodele Martins, a lawyer renovated the school’s Physics Laboratory in 2011 to mark his 50th birthday, he named it after Mr. Shoewu for his dedication to the school and humanity.
At the March 14, 2020 MBHS Old Boys Quarterly meeting in Lagos, Mr. Shoewu came in a wheelchair. It was like a celebration as the Boys present swarmed around the education icon taking photographs with him. It turned out to be a sort of farewell. When his demise on July 10, 2020 at 81 was announced, a lot of Old Boys like Dr. Daniel Olukoya, founder of the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries, rallied to give him a befitting burial.
I was, like thousands of Nigerians, privileged to drink from his fountain of knowledge and wisdom.