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THE GUARDIAN
CONSCIENCE, NURTURED BY TRUTH
LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Saturday, December 14 2002

 

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American By Birth, Nigerian By Adoption.
BY CHRISTOPHER AGBOOLA AJAO

THE Reverend Theodore Griffin affectionately called 'The Principal' is known by other names. This 90-year old man of exceptional delicacy in a recent letter to me dated 23rd August 2002 apologized, "Sorry about my very poor long- hand. I've lost my typewriting touch."

Example is better than precept. He taught us to be decent, orderly, and percipient.

He was himself meticulous. His letter was on aerogramme paper and he ruled lines with a pencil, so that he could write along straight lines and not wobble. At an advanced age, it must have taken him great pains to get the letter out in his own hand-writing, an example of his style and values which he passed on to his students, at Baptist Boys' High School, up Egunya Hill now relocated to Oke Saje.

Further down the letter ,'The Principal' said "We read with great interest the copy of the press release of President Obasanjo's hosting of 50 old mates in Aso Rock. Next year is election year. Will he run again for the Presidency? Nigeria needs him to continue as her Head of State."

This from the pen of someone who left B.B.H.S. as Principal, 49 years ago and retired from Nigeria over 25 years ago, even still mindful of the school, his boys, and "the land of his adoption." For on arrival to Nigeria in April 1939, in his first sermon at the First Baptist Church Broad Street, Lagos, he declared as he was wont to do in a raised high-pitch voice: "I have come from America, the land of my birth to Nigeria, the land of my adoption." And he has been true to Nigeria his land of adoption.

It is significant and worthy of note, when BTG was writing his letter of 23rd August and was being mindful of his land of adoption and his old student President Obasanjo that unknown to him and unknown to us, President Obasanjo, was also thinking of him. The announcement of the award of a Nigerian National Honour in the Order of a Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) is evidence. It is a telling coincidence.

But 'the Principal' has kept in touch with what goes on here and I am not the only Old - Boy he communicates with. He corresponds regularly with Chief Gabriel Alawode, a retired publisher and former Commissioner in the defunct Western Region under Brigadier Rotimi's Military administration. In a conversation with the Principal when I visited USA in 1997, he mentioned Gabriel and quickly added; "I mean Gabriel Alawode, not the other Gabriel. You know there were many Gabriels at school. There were Gabriel Otunla, Gabriel Alawode and he went naming all the Gabriels at school in his time. He was following the progress of his boys and when we came to Popoola, he said" Ah! There were many Popoolas "and he named them Ilufoye (Chief retired in Offa), Wilson (Deacon still kicking in his Bodija residence) Kofo (former President and now Trustee of the Old Boys' Association) JA (retired Principal/Baptist Grammar School), at Idishin now relocated to Ilaro and Olugbade (retired Registrar OAU Ife), now in his Ife Road residence. In 1997 when this conversation took place, BTG was 85 years old. For decades, he had no contact with many of his boys, yet he could recall from memory, all the Gabriels and Popoolas who passed through his hands. I believe this as indicative of the mental alertness of this old man and his mindfulness and continuing interest in the career of the boys he brought up.

At school, he was officially recognized as "The Principal.' Our teachers and the senior boys used his initials 'BTG.' Behind his back and derived from his initials BT we called him 'Born For Trouble.' At Baptist Academy Lagos which was his first port of call as Teacher, Dr. T. Abayomi Oshin remembers that they called him 'Big Trouble. Whichever, whether Big Trouble' at Baptist Academy or 'Born for Trouble' at BBHS, he set the standard for orderliness, decency and being correct so high that the offender violating attracted to himself a lot of trouble. Old Boys Evangelist A.O. Togun (1946) Prof. Q.B.O. Anthonio (1948) Mr. Taiwo Kehinde (1949) Engr. Chief F.A.A. Taiwo (1950) Mr. Lawale Babalola (1951) Hon. Chief S.M. Afolabi (1953) and Hon. Chief Olugbolahan Ijaola (1954), can testify.

Rev. Griffin has all his days in Nigeria between Lagos and Abeokuta and served at the Baptist Academy Lagos and BBHS Abeokuta. But it is to BBHS that he was specially attached. My wife once staked out a claim as his former student but BTG welcomed her only as the spouse of an Old Boy. But she strengthened the claim in her own right having been a schoolgirl at the Baptist Academy Primary Section when Revd. Griffin was there. She told him her maiden name was Ajala. That set BTG off again in recall. "There were three of you Ajala girls who later went to Reagan" and he named the other Ajalas at the Baptist Academy Lagos between 1939 and 1946. Rev. Griffin then acknowledged her in her own right as a former student and that pleased her, in that it placed Baptist Academy Lagos and BBHS Abeokuta on equal footing. But little did she know. BTG called me aside and whispered conspiratorially. "Lagos a city - port, humid and noisy but BBHS Abeokuta is number one. The two men cackled loud and long. I replied; "Nulli Secundus" only when she hears or reads this will Ajike know what the joke was about. But this went to show the Revd. B.T. Griffin's love and his absolute absorption into life at Egunya Hill. He remained true to his land of adoption and the institution to which he had made his contribution.

Pace Setter In Nigerianization:

In the forties and fifties the clamour for Nigerianisation was high, Rev. Griffin voluntarily gave up his post as Principal in favour of a Nigerian to actualize the Nigerianization policy of his dream and prayers. There was no pressure on him at all. He saw very clearly what to do and he and his wife, Alice, did it. He vacated his principal's seat for the Late Deacon, E.L. Akinsanya. He went on furlough and resumed duty as 'Business Manager.' He felt it would not help his successor if he withdrew altogether, so he caused a room outside the Administration Block to be converted to the Business Manager's Office. He made it clear that he was not now the one in control. His new office was in the transition to Nigerianisation. Rev. B.T. Griffin and his wife Mrs. Alice Griffin proved that even though they were from American Deep South, they were American Missionaries with a difference. They were a couple who shared the earnest wish of colonial peoples everywhere for expression, freedom and political independence.

Perhaps it was part of God's design that one of the boys in the school at that time was Master Olusegun Obasanjo who a quarter of a century later gave up his post as Military Head of a State to accommodate a Civilian Head of State. It is conceivable that the example of B.T.G prompted and guided that school boy. In 1954, B.T.G. left Egunya Hill to return to Lagos as Business Manager of the Baptist Missions of Nigeria. He remained in that post until January 1978 when he returned to the land of his birth from his land of adoption. All these long years of retirement his heart has been with Nigeria and Nigerians. He has kept faith with us.

Crusader For Democracy:

In the dark days of Nigeria's Military rule, Revd. Griffin in far away Texas in the United States did not forget his land of adoption. He joined the teeming masses of people the world over in the crusade for its deliverance. He maintained personal contact by letters to his boys Obasanjo and Abiola when they were in prison. He remembered them in his prayer and his joy knew no bounds on the release of General Obasanjo. He did much more from his United State of American base than can be detailed here. Today his boys Chief S.M Afolabi former Hon. Minister of Internal Affairs and Mr. Tunji Oseni Special Assistant on Media Affairs to the Presidency and others are assisting President Obasanjo in steering the ship of state. One thing that worries me is how Rev. Griffin would take the news of the on-going attempt to impeach his old boy.

Let me illustrate this with an incident of 30 years ago. When BTG left BBHS Abeokuta, he was posted to Lagos as Business Manager of the Baptist Mission. He often had to go to the Secretariat and other government offices and banks along Broad Street. Repeatedly, he would meet a strange face who would greet him as 'The Principal.' Invariably, that made his day. He recounted these events as an eloquent testimony of the contribution of his boys to the country's development. No sermon or speech was complete without his mentioning an encounter with one of his boys. Old Boys in the audience would clap in applause 'Nulli Secundus,' it did not happen then, one day.

At that time, Lagos main prison was on Broad Street not far from Government Secretariat and offices or Revd. Griffin's office at the Baptist Academy complex. For those too young to know, the existence now of Prison Street is a surviving trace of that Penal Institution. Prisoners in uniform were often taken in groups by warders to perform labouring duties. Revd. Griffin often walked past these prisoners inwardly sorrowing that they had not gone to good schools. Then one day it happened. As the Revd. Griffin walked past a group one prisoner stepped out and saluted 'The Principal' BTG stopped bewildered. Perturbed, he surveyed him from head to toe. Feeling disgraced, he walked home muttering to himself. "One of my boys, the devil got him." It was enough to ruin his day. But on recounting the incident to Iya, it was Mrs. Alice Griffin who gave him words of comfort and raised his morale. Iya asked how many of his boys has the devil got. He answered one one. And Iya said BBHS did well if the devil got only boy out of many. Jesus himself had 12 disciples and the devil got one of them, Judas:

Thinking of this incident leads me to wonder how "The Principal would feel on learning of the attempt to impeach his old Boy President Obasanjo. Iya would perhaps come again to the rescue of her loving husband by reminding him that an attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton failed and it made democracy stronger.

Revd. B.T. Griffin, officially called 'The Principal' known by some as B.T.G. and others as 'Big Trouble' and 'Born For Trouble,' years ago became Principal Emeritus. Today has come another recognition by preferment as a Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I congratulate Revd. & Mrs. Griffin on this well deserved honour conferred by the land of their adoption. I felicitate with their sons Bennie Junior and Byron and their families.

This award by the President is in further development of our culture of appreciation and remembrance. Today it is to a teacher and I think all Nigerian teachers will bask in the reflected glory.

This example by the President is worthy of emulation as I hope we all shall in our own way remember and give honour and glory to these who taught us.

I salute you Sir, 'B.T.G.

 

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