Lateef Adegbite and the King’s College connection
It is now ten years since Nigeria lost Dr. Lateef Oladimeji Adegbite, former University of Lagos Law teacher who rose to become Attorney-General of the old Western State, Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Seriki and Baba Adinni of Egbaland, Chairman, Nigeria Olympics Committee, Nigeria’s Representative on Commission on International Commercial Practice based in Paris, and Nigeria’s Alternate Member, International Court of Arbitration, also in Paris. A man of impeccable character and worthy scholarship, Dr. Adegbite selflessly and meritoriously served Nigeria, the Egba Community, the Muslim world, and International community in various leadership capacities.
Dr. Lateef Adegbite’s contributions to nation-building and community advancement, no doubt, constitute an indelible footprint on the sand of time. That explains why an occasion of the commemoration of his death is a good time for reflections on his life and times. The present piece seeks to take the reader on a historical excursion into his King’s College days. The primary purpose of the analytical engagement with that stage of his life is to underscore the noble path trodden by him to professional excellence and national prominence both of which earned him an enviable place in international consciousness.
While telling the Adegbite story, the present piece shall enumerate some of his co-travellers at King’s College, Lagos who, like him, had attained eminence and distinguished themselves through their performance as leading players in national development and international affairs. The rationale for such an approach was to ensure for the story both national and international appeal in the Nigerian context. The piece is unique in that it contains pieces of information significant part of which is seeing day light for the first time, having been culled from a hitherto unpublished authorized biography of Dr. Lateef Adegbite. It is therefore an orality with appreciable level of validity and reliability.
The author had been fortunate enough to have interviewed most of the distinguished Nigerians whose names feature in the piece as Young Adegbite’s school mates at King’s College. Pursuant to the realization of a considerable level credibility, rigour and trustworthiness of the data involved in the piece, the writer employed a number of measures which include his patient, painstaking, and prolonged engagement with some of them through repeated, careful, and meticulous observation as well as peer checking through which he relied on Dr. Lateef Adegbite himself who re-analysed the data with a view to ensuring that the biographer had handled the data correctly According to Guba Egon and Lincoln Yvonna (1989: 10), “this is the single most critical technique for establishing credibility”.
“Honey, called by any other name will still be sweet”. This was a characterization of Young Lateef Adegbite by Prince Kehinde Adeosun, a childhood friend of his who became a foremost Advertising mogul in Nigeria. According to him, that characterization is particularly true of Lateef Adegbite whose results in the entrance examinations as well as the interview were indeed a landmark in Nigeria. Young Lateef Adegbite was one of the four pupils awarded full scholarship’ in the country, at that absolutely competitive level. Prince Kehinde Adeosun who was interviewed by this writer in 1996, recalled that historic moment, in the following words, The excellent scholar in (Chief) Abdul-Lateef Adegbite manifested when we completed our primary education and took entrance examinations to secondary schools. He was the only person that passed to a Government College and he eventually went to King’s College while the rest of us went to other Grammar schools. That shows you that he was excellent and first among equals.
Following his excellence in the highly competitive examinations which featured several thousands of pupils from various parts of the country, in 1949, Young Adegbite became a celebrity as the Western Region took the pride in producing two of the four full scholars in the country for the year 1950, one from Abeokuta and the other from Ibadan. The four full scholars were his distinguished self, Abdur-Rauf Ayoade fiom lbadan, Christopher Udoh, a Kano-based Efik boy and Augustine Ania, a Kano-based lbo boy. He thereafter proceeded to King’s College, Lagos. Founded in 1909, the Colleges was the first Government secondary school established in Nigeria. The history of secondary education in the country dated back to 1859 when the C.M.S. opened their Grammar School in Lagos. Following that, the demand of some wealthy Sierra Leoneans and Gold coasters culminated directly in the opening of the Methodist Boys High School at Lagos in 1878.
The opening of the Hope-Waddel Institute, Calabar in 1895 also predated the establishment of a government secondary school as this did not materialise until 1909 when the King’s College, Lagos was founded. From time immemorial, secondary education in Nigeria was based on the English Grammar and public school system which was designed to facilitate the production of “gentlemen as well as clerks” and the recruitment” for training as dispensers and assistants of various kinds.”
Courses leading to the Oxford or Cambridge Overseas School Certificate Examinations were traditionally offered in most of the secondary schools. These examinations were overwhelmingly passed by the Nigerian candidates the privileged among whom were sent overseas for further studies where they qualified in most cases in one of the professions, law and medicine being the most popular because they were the most lucrative professions in the country.”
Being a celebrated full Government Scholar, Leteef Adegbite was received enthusiastically and treated with honour. Consequently, he began to make new friends some of whom later turned out to be as fond of him as some of his friends at Igbore St. Paul’s School, Abeokuta.
It is remarkable that he received all the benefits of the full opportunity provided at King’s College. In his own class were many brilliant students who have since contributed tremendously to the development of the larger Nigerian society.
One of his closest associates at that time was Christopher Oluwole Rotimi, who rose to become a Brigadier General in the Nigeria Army and later surfaced as Military Governor of the old Western State. There also was Dr. Adedewe Aderemi, a medical doctor and son of late Oba Adesoji Aderemi, who also served twice on the Cabinet of the old Western States; having been appointed first as Commissioner for Health and later as Commissioner for Finance.
Others in Adegbite’s class were: Ayo Binuje of Psychiatric Department and later, Professor of Medicine, University of Benin; Christopher Udo later Professor of Physical and Health Education Department, University of lbadan; Patrick Ibieziako later Professor in the Department of Medical Science, University of Ibadan, Thomas Adebayo, who later became a leading Quantity Surveyor as well as Femi Adenubi, who became a Professor of Dentistry at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi Araba, and Akin Agbolorungun, who later became a famous Professor.
Other classmates of his at King’s College who also became prominent in their various professions were Professor Femi Sowemimo of Surgery Department, who became Provost of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr. S. G. Ibekwe who rose to become a leading Industrial Chemist Among his seniors, however, others were Dr. Alex Ekwueme who rose to become Vice – President of Nigeria in the Second Republic as well as Chief P. C. Asiodu and famous Mr. Allison Akene Ayida, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, as well as Prof. L.O. Seriki who became a famous Engineer, as well as Alhaji Femi Okunnu (SAN).
Young Adegbite developed a wander-lust in humanities and not in science as he later chose the Legal and not Medical profession the two of them being the most lucrative areas in those days. He was probably influenced by his experiences in his final year in primary School when he acted Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and subsequently by his secondary school experience when his Geography teacher at Kings College, Mr J. N. Kellett, a Briton who used to call him “bush lawyer” and probably by a host of other factors.
King’s College, to Young Lateef Adegbite was a citadel of intellectualism meant for leadership preparation. The College modelled him for the future as he made meaningful use of all the opportunities there available to him in academic, sporting and other activities. He had the opportunities of collaborating with others in the founding of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria in 1954. Here, he proved himself a highly intelligent student possessing all the enviable qualities of a good leader. He was Deputy Chairman of the first ever Student Representative Council in this country. The Council had a parliament over which he later presided during his chairmanship of the body.
In the same token, he was appointed Head of Games which members constituted an independent cabinet in die Council. All these made a remarkable experience for Young Adegbite at King’s College. A, T. Mogaji, a Kings College mate and a close friend of his, once remarked that “Lateef Adegbite was highly intelligent and possessed leadership qualities.
He comfortably carried his followers along with him. Then we used to call him a “literary giant” because he was fidl of words, immensely gifted. He may not agree with you but would respect your views. So it was not surprising that he was always appointed a leader.’5
Young Adegbite was Secretary of King’s College Junior Literary and Debating Society from where he rose to become General-Secretary of King’s College Society which was the most prestigious organisation in Secondary Schools, in those days. This was the most senior debating organisation and Adegbite’s post had no chairman other than his humble self. He was also the Founder and Editor of a weekly Journal known as K. C. Weekly which took the form of handwritten scripts pasted on the giant notice board. In the same commendable way, he was Panes House Captain in Athletics represented King’s College in series of sporting competitions especially Athletics. Needless to place an emphasis on how prominent he was in the hockey game.
Young Lateef Adegbite was also Secretary and indeed, leader of the Thinkers’ Group. This was different from the Literary and Debating Society which was strictly meant for the junior classes as against the aforementioned King’s College Society which was the Senior Student version of the Literary and Debating Society. In as much as the King’s College Society was generally recognised as an elite club, the Thinkers’ Group was the supreme student organisation in the College at that time.
It should be pointed out that Young Adegbite was a dynamic leader and an exceptionally electrifying personality from his childhood days. And several experiences of his life attested to this remark. For instance, it is recalled that in the secondary schools of those days, there used to be in Lagos State Senior Secondary schools, Literary and Debating Societies. It is also recalled that as matter of principle and necessity, there was a Council of Secretaries which was an umbrella body for all the societies. The Council which was reputed for electing its officers from among brilliant students of enviable academic and moral standards, elected him Chairman of the Council of Secretaries, during the last quarter of 1953.
Early in 1954, King’s College invited Lagos schools to her Balloon Debate. Interestingly, among the key speakers at the Balloon Debate of the day was an outstanding student formally introduced as Lateef Adegbite. He had spoken eloquently to the admiration of all there present. King’s College indeed dominated the event as another impressive performance was made by another student of the College who incidentally was Young Lateef Adegbite’s deputy in the Literary and Debating Society. The brilliant young man was Claude Ake who later surfaced as a world-class Professor of Economics. May the Almighty be more merciful to Dr. Lateef Adegbite, a genial scholar, eminent lawyer, reputable leader, and distinguished Nigerian with impeccable character.
Rufai, Ph.D, (Curriculum, Pedagogy & Assessment) is former dean of Education, Sokoto State University and Education Consultant, Islamic Develoment Bank (IsDB), Jeddah.