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In autobiography, Lediji reminisces about life of selfless service

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Most religious teachings say that the highest and most spiritual stage of human development — and the most worshipful one — is selfless service to others.

The book, Selfless Service: Reminiscences of a Modest Civil Servant and Cleric, presented at the Yoruba Tennis Club, Lagos, recently, is the eye of the camera through which you see Pa Idris Ola Lediju: A selfless being.

A committed and revered Muslim cleric despite having gone to a Christian Missionary School, his activities in Jamatul-Islamiyya of Nigeria, his

Imamship of Ikoyi/Victoria Island Jamat, among others, reveal a man whose total submission to the will of Allah has imbued in him, a duty to provide selfless service to humanity.

In 400 pages, he takes his readers through a journey of life, challenging them to do as the prophets and messengers of God, by transcending the self to the universal. He wants everybody to focus solely on activating his or her worship to God and become selfless and offer service to humanity.

The book has a foreword, epilogue, and prologue. It comprises 12 chapters set in chronological order from his roots and growing up in Lagos through his schooling and work-life to life after employment.

The author is candid and forthright. His sense of humour is also palpable. And this is one thing you must surely take away from this 97-year old cleric’s masterpiece on life and living. But he wouldn’t have been able to do this if not for his encounter with the Boy Scout Movement.

He explains: “Little did I realise that scouting was to be the fulcrum on which my future life was to revolve. I started by taking the scout promise, ‘to do my duty to God and my country and to help other people at all times and to obey the Scout Law’. The motto of Methodist Boys’ high school (MBHS), non sibis sed aliis, encouraged selflessness and the school created an arena for its demonstration by breeding the largest concentration of King’s scout in Lagos, in my time.”

Lediji continues, “another fascinating, albeit, beneficial hobby, is scouting in my early days was signaling, which involves transmission and reception of coded messages to and from distant places. It was this hobby that attracted me to join the Post and Telegraphs (P& T), a department of government, which provided the earlier public telecommunications services in Nigeria before the advent of NITEL, which in turn, preceded the dispensation of the GSM we see in the industry today.”

Without a doubt, the foregoing attitudes have significantly impacted his life and his approach to the practice of his faith and profession. “Fortunately, I found myself surrounded by vast opportunities for selfless service nationally and internationally some of which attracted personal acknowledgments from top government functionaries. The first prime minister of Nigeria, the late sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, for instance, personally acknowledged my effort at providing him with an emergency telephone service whilst he was in Bauchi during the unrest in the Western House of Assembly. I also received a commendation by the first indigenous governor-general of Nigeria, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, for my contribution to the development of telecommunications in Nigeria and for selfless services to scouting.”

The book is not all about the cleric’s selfless service to humanity. It is packed full of interesting anecdotes, facts, history, and lessons. Quite a few people around now have the history of Lagos in their palms like Lediju. He belongs to the generation of Lagosians who are steeped in the city’s history.

He offers an inexhaustible array of information, engaging stories, facts, and fictions to produce what is expressive and impressive for anybody interested in knowing what Lagos was.

He says: “Life in Lagos in my time was both exciting and memorable. The normal day started with the sound of a canon at about 5.30 am from Apapa Naval Dock simultaneously with a call to Fajr prayers from all nearby mosques. This was followed by a surge of pedestrian and vehicular traffic from Carter Bridge along Victoria Road (now Nnamdi Azikiwe Street and Broad Street converging at Tinubu Square and continuing towards the southern end of Broad Street where major elementary and secondary schools were situated. Another canon shot was fired from Apapa at 8:00 pm almost simultaneously with the Islamic call to the Isha prayers after which the children and respectful ladies and gentlemen retired to their homes. At 9 pm the Night Soil Train commenced its journey from Agarawu Square Enroute Faji market, Tokunbo Street to the junction of Bamgbose, and Lewis streets, through Igbosere Road and crossing behind the King’s College to Okokomaiko. The sounding of the siren of this train also signalled the end of all on-licenses trading in spirits and alcoholic beverages.”

Chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Lateef Olufemi Okunnu, said, “in the Lagos of old, there were no religious differences. Antagonism was foreign. Every family had a Christian, Muslim, and traditionalist. I wish Nigeria were like Lagos of old, what a great country it would have been.”

The former Deputy Governor of Lagos, Alhaja Sinatu Ojikutu, said, then “everything good started from Lagos. It was the melting pot and was accommodating. The Lagos we are seeing today is not our Lagos.”

In her review of the book, Dr. Nadu Denloye points out: “The level of detail – the names, dates, events, chronological order, pictures, supporting documents, etc point to journaling and the underlying discipline that comes with it, not to talk of the research and other efforts that have gone into the production of the book.”

According to Denloye, the book is a veritable goldmine for the student of the history of Nigeria and in particular that of telecommunications and the Boyʼs Scouts movement in Nigeria.


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