High Chief Olufemi Bolaji Thomas-Jaji is the traditional head of Alade/Allen Community in Ikeja, Lagos, and a real estate mogul cum hotelier, both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. He speaks with SEGUN KASALI on his background and life generally.
Wasiu Ayinde has been your friend from a very young age, growing up at Olowogbowo, Lagos.
Yes. We have been friends since we were between nine and 10 years up till now. Right from childhood, we knew he was going to be great. I recall his first time playing was at the naming ceremony of one of our friends’ mother. They called on Barrister (Sikiru Ayinde) to play for them and we were just watching from the back. So, we just told K1, let’s go and get something, so you play for us as well since it is the naming ceremony of our friend’s mother.
Was he rascally in those days?
No, Wasiu was a gentleman and a very soft person who we always take advantage of. You see if Wasiu does not know you, he does not know you and does not want to talk to you. If we are four in this room now and Wasiu comes in here, knowing only me, it is only me he would greet. He won’t greet others and they would say he is showing off. But that is his own behaviour. He has been a very intelligent guy from his youthful days. He knows so many things. But you won’t understand him if you are not close to him.
Some people who are not close to Wasiu Ayinde don’t know him. Wasiu Ayinde is a very, very generous person. People say he is pompous and all that, but they still listen to his music. But you would know that he is a very good man if you are his friend. There is no amount of money he cannot give you.
Any memorable event with him?
I remember one in London. That was during General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, when his wife was given a title in Kenya. So, the embassy called me that they wanted Wasiu Ayinde to play in London. I had to call him urgently to play for our dear head of state’s wife. So, he came. They gave us a hall to use on Oxford Street and we were running round, since the show was for 4.00 p.m. The wife of Kenya’s president was coming with the late Maryam Babangida, including ambassadors, but we had no stage.
How did you manage the situation?
Both of us had to carry woods on our heads on Oxford Street, London (laughs). We used hammer to nail the woods together to make a stage before they came. And thank God it was an event of the decade.
Were you also gentle like Wasiu growing up and why going abroad at 19?
I was tough then. My parents believed that going abroad would quell my toughness. That was why I was sent abroad. I was always fighting at school and all that. When you are in secondary school in Nigeria, you would go for inter-house sports and competitions like the principal’s cup and so on. I was involved in two or three of those fight that time that they had to invite my parents for a meeting from the school.
Was it that bad?
During the principal’s cup, we, Ansar’udeen played against Ahmadiyya at UAC in Surulere, and we won 2-1. At that time, Ahmadiyya was very troublesome. So, we knew that if we beat them, they were going to fight us. So, we were set for them already. Because of this, we started fighting them before they could think of starting and they had to run. And the two principals were there. So, they said I was the one who caused the problem.
True, I was. I had decided that we were going to attack them that day, because they always did that to us every time we met and whenever they did, we always had to run from UAC to Randle Avenue. So, this time around, we organised ourselves.
We blocked all their escape routes (laughs). We set all our boys there that whenever they want to pass, they should attack them, because we knew they would always attack anybody they played with. So, we decided that very day that this is our territory and that we were Surulere boys. We also had a meeting with Ansar’udeen High School, which was also in Surulere and that of Isolo too for the fight against Ahmadiyya because we knew what they could do going by precedents. I was the chairman of the supporters’ club. That was why they said I was the one who championed the fight against the other school. They called my parents and they decided that I was not going to have my university education in Nigeria.
Just like that?
I had no choice as you know that children of those days had to listen to our parents unlike nowadays that you can say I am old enough to decide where I want to go. Then, they decided what to do. My father was a rich man and that was why he could take that decision to take me abroad as well as my mother. As of that time, we normally collect money from the Central Bank. They usually sent our school fees to us before demanding.
You must have been over-pampered
Ah! Not at all o. You cannot do that with them. If you did anything wrong, they would let you have it. If right, they would congratulate you. You must make sure that you study hard. I don’t joke with education because my parents were very tough on education, especially my father and if you come home with a result, for example and you came third in your class, he would smack you.
I recall that my position was fifth in class three and I was beaten. And that was when we were still spending 50k coin. He told me to hold the coin with my middle finger and I would be sweating. So, from there, you have got to make sure that your position is between first and third.
And before our final examination in class five, I was either first or second. Thank God that I am still alive and now a grandfather. I am the first son and I have four younger siblings from my mother. I am number 17 of my father’s children. But in all, my father had 20 wives and 49 children.
And you are not toeing your father’s path?
You see, life is changing everyday because during that time, they believed that was one of the ways you could show off, that is by having many wives and children. But that has changed, even some people don’t want to have a wife let alone children. During my own time, I saw what my father went through. In our time, he had seven wives at a time. But what is importantly is that everyone was and is still united. If this wife is cooking today, everyone of us would take our plates there to collect food. There was no rivalry because you would not even know who is who. I recall that whatever my father did for the first wife, he did same for the other wives too. We were staying at Olowogbowo that time.
You, Alhaji Wasiu and other friends must have rocked the area.
We had stretch jeans, canvass and Copperfield shirt. If you don’t buy Copperfield shirt, they believed you are nobody. So, we had to go to Balogun to buy the shirt, while those who could not afford Copperfield would buy Keyside which was behind Leventis. If you were going out then, they would look at your shirt to know if it was Copperfield or not. It was very expensive then. You could buy one short for about N250 and there were some trousers you could buy for N1,000.
How did you woo ladies then?
Ah! That time, you are okay once you had one girlfriend. Not today that you have so many women. Unlike now, you had to write letters before you could have one. We wrote love letters. I still invited my girlfriend to the United Kingdom when I got there. She was my first love and we started going out at 15. I remember it was my first school fee sent to me from home that I used in bringing her to the United Kingdom. So, she came down to the United Kingdom on my invite, but things did not work out.
I had people financing me, but she did not. While I was in school, she was not doing anything. And by the time I came back, she would start nagging. She wanted to go to the university as well, but I could not afford it, as I was not the one financing my schooling. She was at the teachers’ training college here in Nigeria before coming to the United Kingdom.
I invited her for a visitation, not to come and stay. But she said she was not going back. For two weeks, I begged her to return to Nigeria, but she insisted she was only given three months’ visa. But I kept telling her to go back else she won’t be able to get visa again. I told her it is either she changed from visiting visa to student visa or go back to Nigeria. She decided to stay though she did not have money to go to school. And every time, there was argument upon argument between us over it. When I could not withstand it anymore, I moved from London to Kent.
How was your new school?
It was tough because I was the only black guy in the school and it was very, very tough because people don’t like to associate with you as they were looking at me as if I was from heaven (laughs). Some people would come to me and ask ‘why is your skin like this?’ Later, we had another two black students, and that was more than good news (laughs). Even to marry my wife that time, her parents went against it to the extent that we had to leave that area to have our marriage in London.
I just told people then I changed my school because my father could afford it. How much was dollar to one pound? It was about one dollar to N2.
Despite the racism that time, you end up with a white woman as wife, how was that?
Yes, because she was the only one who felt for me. She was sitting next to me in class. If one wanted to bully me, she would face him and that was how she was protecting me amongst the whites in the school then. I remember when we, the three black students in the university went to a pub for a drink, as soon as we entered, some skinned-head white guys came to us and said we must get out, as we were not allowed to drink there. So, one of my friends (Shola) faced that one but they beat the hell out of us. We were beaten like robbers. Like 20 people against me.
It was serious beating to the extent that none of us could go to school for almost one month. So, we did not go to their pubs anymore. We would just buy from the little store and drink somewhere whenever we wanted to until more black students started join the school. Shola invited some of his friends from London and another 18 students joined us then. So, we formed our own group and they started respecting us as well.
Was she there when you were beaten?
Yes, she was. She was just crying, but could not do anything because they kept pushing her. Then, there was no phone. So, she ran to call some of her people and the siblings came down, and that was how we escaped. Who do you want to report to? Nobody.
I always believed that I was tough until I got there, then I knew I wasn’t (laughs). Nothing like rascality, when one person is faced by 20 people (laughs). They would beat the rascality out of you. In a foreign land that I did not even know anybody. You can’t do anything because they were too many; we couldn’t plan a reprisal. We were on their land. We would just go our way when they bullied us.
And your in-laws?
My wife made up her mind that I would not have such an experience again if she was with me. So, we both went clubbing in London. After clubbing, we stayed at a friend’s house and that was how the love story started and we decided to get married.
There was a day I went to meet her parents, but they did not want to see me at all. They just did not want to see me. They said they don’t want that monkey here (laughs). We never backed down because we loved each other. We got married in East London and she went back to tell them that we were married. She showed the certificate and they stopped talking to her. That was the situation until she got pregnant before they accepted us. The mother came down to where we were staying when she had a baby. She did not have a choice than to accept me because monkeys have become two. My wife had another monkey for them and that was how we started getting used to one another. And God blessed us with five children, though normally white people don’t want to have more than one or two.
That must have been another trouble again?
She just made up her mind to do whatever I wanted. I told her that my parents had many children and you whites don’t usually have many children. But, she promised me anything I wanted to the extent that if I had wanted 20, she would have given me. You can see how we loved and still love each other. After the first and second one, her parents started argument again. She had the third, fourth and fifth. Her parents started serious fight (laughs). But after the fifth one, we stopped.