Dr. Abiodun Laja (Jan. 7, 1950- May 26, 2019)
• Farewell To A Builder Of The Young
I was hit by the sad passing away of my former Proprietress, Dr. (Ms.) Abiodun Laja. I am a huge fan of this lady, not because she was founder of my Primary school, ABC Nurseryland Ikeja or because we both had our first child aged 19, but for her charisma and gait. She was also an astute businesswoman, a true amazon and a trailblazer. Strict and articulate, Ms. Laja made you proud of being under her tutelage.
Memories of ABC Nurseryland, Ikeja are priceless and unforgettable, it was a luxury school that gave me the foundation in Education I stand on today. Growing up with my legal practitioner father who was with the chambers of the late legal luminary, Chief FRA Williams and a mother who was a British trained nurse, my household was very English.
Just like Captain Von Trapp in the musical, Sound Of Music, dad had a way of whistling with his mouth to call any of his four children. He also had a special one for our mom, we all knew our whistle! Little wonder, ABC was the school we attended. At the time, it was the elite school. Children of the rich and famous, the powerful, the superstars, movers and shakers all attended ABC Nurseryland. It was elitist yet affordable, it must have been, because all four of us attended ABC even though my parents were average earners.
All pupils were treated the same way, never was there any discrimination. One time, one of the wives of a very rich man came to school to slap a teacher for disciplining her child, Ms. Laja rose to the teacher’s defence and called the parent’s bluff. No one would come and intimidate her staff; Dr. Laja was that passionate about people and her business. I looked up to her- she was a great role model and very motherly, too.
Located at Number 2 Odegbami Street, off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, with other branches in Ifako and Palmgrove. ABC was shut down years ago, I guess it was because she started Lekki British International School, however the name just won’t go away. If you take a bus from Ikeja to Ogba via Adeniyi Jones, you most certainly will pass through ABC bus stop. It has come to stay, forever.
We were always excited to go to school. For those of us who had never been out of the country, at the time, ABC Nurseryland was like England to us. A big thank you to my wonderful dad and most especially my late mom, who I’m sure must have thought, “well if I can’t take them to Britain I will give them British education in Nigeria fused with Nigerian culture and Christian ethos.” We had the (foreign) school bus, “Samco and snacks” for those who paid for it, swimming lessons (my mother never allowed us to go for that), music lessons with Mr. Koma (he also taught us most of the Christian hymns I know), costume parties, end of year carol, first introduction to Disney and Enid Blyton from a well stocked library. Our Ghananian teachers- Mr. Sarpong, Mr. Mensah, Mr. Minta, Mr. Appiah, and Mr. Ofori, were excellent. So were their Nigerian colleagues, Mrs Imaobong, Mr. Ososanya and Mrs C.A Dixon (headmistress), from whom Mr. Mensah took over from as headmaster.
Majek Fashek and Funmi Adams were some of the music superstars, at the time who shot their music videos at ABC. A Texaco advert was also shot there at some point. ABC gave me the opportunity at age 5 to feature in legendary artiste, Majek Fashek’s video for his hit song, Mama. I instantly became a star. We went on various exciting excursions too. ABC opened our young, delicate creative minds. ABC always celebrated our achievements and encouraged us to do more. I would come home daily to teach my family new songs, dance, art and craft… a variety of things I learned at school. It was simply magical! If only memories could play out like a video, I will watch and keep playing back for my daughter and cousins to enjoy.
I bumped into an ex-classmate, Toyosi Ashafa the other day. Prior to that day, I hadn’t seen her in 26 or so odd years, and she introduced me to her friend as “the one who was always first in school.” Thank God pilfering was not one of my many talents otherwise she could have introduced me as that lil’ thief in school.
I left a remarkable record at Primary school in 1991 at age nine, all thanks to the method of teaching and support from my family. First position all the time earned me double promotion twice. The only time I came third you would think something terrible had happened. My father used to give me money each time I came first and that was something I looked forward to. He opened a savings account for me at WEMA Bank, (hope I can get my millions after all these years) which was a big deal then.
Amongst my former school mates were Ayo Disi, Tosin and Toyosi Ashafa, Abiye Martins Yellow, Sobifa Joybell, Ayo Sofunde, Isimeme Iluobe, Fatima and Ayo Abiola, Fatima and Laila Musa, Osarhiemen Omorogbe, The Ndayakos (Hussein, Hassan, Kudu & Bagudu), Yusuf Belgore, Nonny Beckley Jones, Nike Ashade, Lola Birch, Anthea Esiri, Seyi Afolabi, Temitayo Adeniran, Margaret Ejiofor, Mobolaji Leigh, Akwugwo Ndudi Okehi , Blessing Odigie, Anwuli Ojukwu, Oje Egwaoje, Yewande Abisoye, Ade Adegeye, Benedict and Benedicta, Alice, Maxim, Andre and a host of others.
There was also Jerry the Chinese boy who loved taking out his denture and scaring everyone in class. If by chance any of you is reading this, apologies for not remembering some surnames, it’s almost 30 years. Kindly get in touch via social media, there is a Facebook page for ABC NURSERYLAND created by Rhiemen Omorogbe aka Phenom. Let’s pay our last respect to this enigma.
Dear Ms Laja, sadly you won’t be reading this. I was hoping to celebrate your 70th birthday with you next year but God Almighty, the Alpha and Omega decided otherwise. I want to thank you for the lovely memories. For being a second mother to many of us and shaping our young minds. For setting us on the right path in life. For heeding the call of God to set up these schools- ABC Nurseryland, Floral College & LEKKI British school… for giving it your all.
You have fought the good fight and won. I am very happy you died in Christ. I believe it was not a coincidence you chose to leave a day before Children’s Day in Nigeria, that is so you. Your passion for children was profound. Investment in children is investment in a Nation.
One of the songs we learnt at ABC goes thus, “When the sun is shining on the mountain, we are wishing ABC goodluck… goodluck, goodluck, we are wishing ABC goodluck”. The sun is shining brightly on your legacy, I am proud to be one of them. Your biological and non-biological children across the globe will continue shining and excelling for you. Sleep on beautiful mama, I love you.
• Deborah Ronke Apampa, Director at BEN TV UK, wrote from London