The Camaraderie And The Freedom In GCI Surpassed That Of KC


Gbade Smith attended both Government College, Ibadan (GCI) and King’s College, Lagos (KC) at a time that both schools were the obvious best alternatives for any student from the Western part of the country. He left GCI to do his HSC in KC merely because of an incident in his last year in GCI.

According to Gbade Smith, whose surname was cool enough for his mates that they never bothered to give him any nickname but rather would add some suffixes whenever they so desired, it was due literally to a physical confrontation that he had with an over exuberant member of staff. “This man was in charge of compound work” explains Smithy, “and he came to find me on my bed during the time for games.

I explained to him that I was in bed because I was down with malaria; otherwise I would have joined others to be playing Cricket. He refused to accept my excuse but entered into arguments with me. He resorted to force me to get out of bed. And my resistance led to a wrestling match, which only ended when I escaped to the Principal’s house to report the matter”, explicated Smith.

He continues, “Chief JBO Ojo, the Principal asked his wife to take care of me and she did that for the next two days. When I got well, my mother got a hint of the development. Her reaction was to come to school and she had a hot argument with some teachers, including the Vice Principal, Mr. Oyetunji (Jamint), who was notorious for his high-handedness, in matters to do with students.

Jamint’s grouse was that I should not have contacted my mother and that my mother should not come and hold the school to ransom. But my mother threatened to take up the matter with the State Ministry of Education. It was then that Chiefy (that what the students called the amiable and fatherly Principal) came to her rescue to reveal that it was him that called my mother”. From that point on, despite the respect that she developed for the Principal, Smith and her mother made up their minds to get him another school for his HSC and KC was their first choice.

Fortunately, when the entrance examination for HSC came Smith was the only one of some of his classmates that applied for the admission that was selected and he went to KC. In KC, according to Smith, “I found that the camaraderie and freedom in GCI surpasses that of KC”. He explains that this was due to the constraint created by the size of KC, a college that is situated in the middle of Lagos with boundaries separated by 5 to 10 minutes’ stroll.

This was a far cry to the boundaries of GCI which were far enough for a marathon race. He explicates that “apart from this small size, KC boys were not so integrated; they were very stiff and were more concerned about the influence of their parents, whether he was once a government minister or not”. This was very surprising to Smith who was used to the GCI culture of self-discipline and decorum of a gentleman who had respect for everyone he encounters.

Smith had the timely opportunity to showcase his GCI culture in his new school when like all new entrants he was invited to entertain the older students; this was the tradition of KC. Part of the tradition was the penalty of drinking half a cup of water and salt if your entertainment was not considered good enough. It was not uncommon for KC boys to consider GCI boys as arrogant. That bias had already been created by the rivalry between the two schools and this albatross was already in the neck of Smith as the new students prepared for their task. Even two of his classmates warned him that he could earn a suspension for refusing to take the tradition seriously.

Bv then the 0 level results were out and Smith had one of the best results, aggregate 10, which added to the resentment they had for this GCI boy who appeared arrogant. And they were looking forward to bringing him down a step or two”. But Smith had his secret plan to surprise them. He had a friend, Kola Alakija, a day student, who lived in Keffi Street, close to the college, who was known for his controversies. He raised a baby python, which was nevertheless a gigantic snake. He advised his friend to use the opportunity of the tradition to frighten them with his pet and make a lasting impression in the school.

Smith was not afraid of snakes as a GCI boy was accustomed to the sight and ways of snakes, which they encountered frequently as they cut the large expanse of grass and trees in the big compound of the school they infrequently mischievously called Grass Cutting Institute (GCI). They made the snake go without food for a few days to make it weak and manageable. They put it in a basket, covered it with charcoal and then covered the whole basket.

When it was his turn to entertain the college, Smith requested that the lights be deemed. He lit a fire and then opened the basket. The python began to stretch out to its full length. Pandemonium broke out in the half-lit hall as they realized that a snake of enormous length which KC, Lagos boys, who were quartered in central Lagos Island, were probably seeing live for the first time, was being released into their midst by this boy from GCI. They had never seen anything like that before. They were expecting another entertainer on the piano, a singer, or someone who would recite a poem or any other creative thing. The hall emptied within 5 minutes. He was asked to “please leave the stage” and from then his name entered the record books of KC.

Thereafter his stay in KC became pleasant as he was welcomed into the exclusive debating club of the college and his fame spread around the schools in Lagos, including Queen’s College.

Smith had chosen GCI for his O levels because he already had two of his brothers (Yemi and Folarin) in the college. He and his friends from Lady Lak, Lekan Belo, Ricky Ajamajebi, and Kole Abe had been admitted and they soon made friends with Bolade Soremekun, Odude, Yomi Sobowale and Seyi Wright, also from schools in Lagos. He was daunted by the size of the hockey pitch but he didn’t like the food.

He was one of the junior boys that enjoyed their days as juniors in Field House, GCI, mainly because he had a foreknowledge of the ways of the boarding house from his big brothers, two of whom (Yemi and Folarin) were themselves popular students in the college before he joined them in 1968. Though not unnecessarily protective, they had informed him of the dynamics of Field House and how to avoid being in wrong places and “how to see around the corner”.

He knew how to spend time away from seniors who would bully one. He learned to be fruitfully occupied by playing sports. One of his best times, however, began when he joined the Dramatic Society and became a lighting coordinator, a role that gave him popularity with the senior students who needed him as a liaison with the girls from St. Annes, St. Louis and Queen’s School. This role was bolstered by the presence of a sister that attended Queen’s School. He frequented the SU meetings in Queen’s School and this made senior boys to seek him out to deliver letters for them. In return they treated him specially. He recalls how Nwasei and other senior boys allowed him to bolt out of the school with them to watch Woodstock for which he was also caught and punished by the authorities.

He recalls how he would coordinate the lightings during the drama with Dapo Abe as the Lighting Director; how they would deem the lights by applying filters of different colors. They would increase the intensity of the light and use high and low resistors to make the necessary adjustments to the electricity and thereby the illumination. Another factor that endeared him to senior boys was his ability to play Cricket.

“Famuyiwa and Akin-Deko loved me for my Cricket and for this they protected me from the oppressive tendencies of bullies like Egi. They checked these aspirants for prefect ship and would ask me to bring my books to study with them. I also participated in Swimming and would join them when we went to NIPOL. This extended my network to ISI and afforded me the physiotherapy that was useful treatment for the polio that I had, since I had learnt to swim before I came to GCI” clarified Smith.

“Both schools had a good influence on my latter years. Attending both GCI and KC gave me a good concept of higher institutions outside Nigeria. I ended up going to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for Architecture and later to Harvard for my MBA, explicated Smith. When he finished at RIBA, he practiced in London for over 5 years and came back to practice as the Managing Associate in Lanre Tawry Quaker (LTQ). In the next 4 years with LTQ he won international Architecture competitions for UN, UAC, Shell facilities, and the Water Corporation Head Office in Lagos.

He then partnered 3 others to start an Oil and Gas Services Company, Baker Marine. I was the Managing Director and that moved me away from Architecture to Engineering. It was this development that veered him into the political arena. This was the turbulent period of the Abacha regime. Smith found it expedient to be involved in the PENGASSAN strike that contributed to the fall of the regime. “Most of the meetings for the planning of the strike actions were in my office, revealed Smith”. And because his workers were on strike Chevron threatened to revoke their contracts. They gave the companies that Baker Marine brought from the US the jobs they had given to them.

Baker Marine took Chevron and these companies to court but it was these circumstances, similar to what gave him the impetus to leave GCI for KC that moved Smithy to go to Harvard for his MBA. “I saw that it was not enough to be a good professional, you needed to know how to manage actual controversies and conflicts and speak the financial language that would make it possible for me to overcome obstacles”, reasoned Smithy.

And it paid off for him because he discovered that the experience helped them in winning the case not just through the actions in the court room but by the negotiations, which he learned in the MBA class. Though they had won the arbitration in court, the lawyers of Chevron and others simply went to the Court of Appeal to upturn the case. However, Deji Sasegbon was able to pick a hole in the contract when he sighted the conditions for the temporary importation of the vessels which Smith’s company had brought into the country and were still being used by Chevron.

They simply went to the import licensees and requested to return the vessels. It was then that case had to be settled out of court, a plus for the management he had learnt at Harvard. He was later able to combine the two professions when he was offered an appointment with Mobil in the United States of America. He became a consultant for the UN with the mandate of bringing all their common premises under one umbrella. This required both trainings in planning and business.

Smith is a married man with 3 sons, made up of a set of twins and their younger brother. He confesses to a closer walk with God and a realization that the grace of God is responsible for using the polio that plagued him to draw his attention to God early enough in life.

Culled from Camaraderie - 1968 Set Golden Anniversary Publication

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