Time Out With Strange 'Lecturer' Who Speaks To Indifferent Flowers

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Ajibola Amzat

HIS dressing was clean enough, conservative though. Like those teachers of old raised on values of neatness and modesty and sheer unpretentiousness. This morning, he sported a native dress made from lace materials, with a matching cap resting on a mass of thick hair. The jutting part of the hair was strewn with gray strands. But his chin was shorn of hair growth. An evidence of good time spent on shaving.

His pair of black shoes appeared to have been carefully polished before leaving home. Now, a speck of thin dust has settled as a result of his long walk from Bariga to the University of Lagos campus. Still, he looks good enough to meet with Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.

But Taiwo Olaniyan is a strange man. For a long time, he has been resuming almost on daily basis at the Akoka Campus of the university to teach trimmed flowers at the back of Senate Building. And he does this work with dedication of old-world teachers: he resumes early and starts the business promptly. In his world, it appears there is no room for late coming. His surreal classroom is always exceptionally quiet because his 'students' are mute foliage - buds, petals, stalks and all. And Mr. Olaniyan is an adroit teacher too who knows how to deliver his lecture to that unique group of green leaves. He speaks to them in mutterings and whispering gibberish. If you are not one of his audiences, you need to get real close to filter out the sound.

But getting close to a man who speaks to the unseeing spirits of flowers could mean trouble. So, most students in the university don't like to come near him. At distance, many sit in wonderment beholding a man who speaks passionately to flowers for hours, yet dresses so well. Certainly, the man is unwell. Usually, he carries a black nylon bag, which he never lets out of sight. Attempting to know what is inside the bag could put the man on edge, or so it appears.

However, Olaniyan has never shown a streak of violence to any man. In fact, he is lamb-like. At least, he is not like another strange man, popularly known as professor who once chose Unilag Gate as his favourite spot to settle during the day. The professor would wail like Fulani cattle undergoing branding exercise all day long. Sometimes, he would begin to gallop like a warhorse at full throttle making people to scamper to safe distance.

At another time, he is a bible-thumping pastor, preaching with the gusto of an Aladura evangelist. This he does more on Sundays. But when another mischievous spirit takes possession of him, Oladejo waxes lewd lyrics in a voice loud enough to make everyone on the road give him right of passage. More often than not, he would stand at the University Gate cursing and raining invectives on prominent academic members of staff of the university. And he knows them all by their first names. Some Unilag residents said he was once a lecturer in the Distant Learning Institute (DLI) before he lost his mind.

But the flower 'lecturer' is not like that. Strange he is; but he is never vicious, the students said. Adebare Durotoye, a university staff whose office is at the Senate Building near Olaniyan's favourite spot, said: "No, he is never violent, he only comes, talks to these flowers for a long period and leaves. Sometimes, he sits among the students. But he would never participate in their discussions. He speaks only to himself."

Mr. Durotoye attested to the regular neatness of the man. Sometimes, he wears a well-ironed shirt and trousers accompanied by a matching necktie. And he could wear one type of clothe for days, but it never appears rumpled or dirty. Each day, he looks spick and span in them.

Yet, apart from seeing him coming every day to perform his pedagogical function, no one seems to know anything else about this man.

But who is this man? What is his history? Where are his relations? I reporter attempted to speak to him, but he bade me to keep quiet as he was still talking to the flowers - and later to empty space.

Realizing his response was polite enough, I took quick shots of his postures as he carried on. And when the teaching ended, we had the following conversation:

The Guardian: Sir, what is your name?

The man: My name? My name is I, Superior His Excellency Taiwo Omojuomo Samuel Olaniyan.

The Guardian: Could you tell me more about yourself, the school you attended and where you work now?

The man: I had two modern school certificates in 1969 from Local Authority Secondary Modern School. The first certificate has been stolen. I had another one in Ipele Owo. I was alone who passed. I later attended Imade College, Owo. I left due to financial constraints so I did not complete the school. Later on, I went to the Army. We were almost 4,000 who went for the training, I was alone who passed the examination in Zaria. After the course, I was posted to 19 Mechanised Battalion, Akure. Two weeks after, the army was looking for a brilliant person, I was being nominated. I was sent to another course. In 1980, I sat for GCE, cleared three credits, two passes. In 1982, I cleared five papers. So the Army sent me on another course ACE1 that is equivalent to Ph.D degree. Even our lecturers who were teaching the course did not have the certificate, I was the only one who has the certificate.

Later, I was sent to 145 battalion at Ekitipupa. Posted to 2nd Mechanised Division in Ibadan. Even at the Signal Training School, I was the only one who passed the exam and got Signal certificate.

The Guardian: What do you do now? Are you still in the military?

The Man: Military? A haha. What is today's date? Yesterday was military regime. This is civil regime. Haven't you been hearing my name? I, superior Excellence Taiwo Omojuomo Samuel Olaniyan. When I was briefing the Unilag personnel, were you not there? Now when I was addressing Unilag personnel, I think you were there. Didn't you hear my voice? I am as a staff here. I am a staff in the university. Although I am chairman Nigeria Military Commission Secretariat, Ikoyi. Also Unilag Centre. Also the president of the country.

The Guardian: Are you saying you are the president of the country?

The man: I am coming, just bear with me (he snapped). I, His Excellency Superior President Taiwo Omojomo Samuel Olaniyan. Chairman, Nigeria Military Commission Secretariat Lagos. Also Unilag Centre, at the same time Chairman AOU, that is chairman in the continent.

The Guardian: Where is your family?

The Man: Hope nothing? My children are here. My wife is here. One of them graduated last year but on retardation, he is repeating. I have four children. Three are males, one is a female. My wife is in the university here, she graduated last year but on retardation.

The Guardian: Where do you live?

The Man: Hope nothing? Is this your first time of being in Unilag? Who are you? A Nigerian journalist or self-journalist. Are you not Ojo Adegboro.

The Guardian: I am not Ojo Adegboro. I am Ajibola Amzat.

The man: That is all. It seems to me, I recognize you. Bygone where I am living. I have given you detail, if you want to know where I live go to Nigeria Police State Headquarters to verify. You may be detained. If you tell lies, you will be detained. That is all.

The Guardian: Who do you lecture here?

The man: Just dey go. You see me mentioned Unilag Centre, you are still asking me who I lecture. You are likely to be a fake journalist or anything of sort. If you are caught, you will spend 100 years in jail. Nobody will forgive you. Don't play away your time. Ok.

Now, does this sound like a case of impairment of reasoning power characterised by difficulty in expressing logical ideas in speech? The condition, which psychiatrists refer to as paralogia. You bet it does. But the flower 'lecturer' would not let me go yet. He gave me a long lecture on how to be a good journalist. On how to avoid trouble of the state security. But all the while, he spoke almost quietly. At this point, some students were already getting curious. They had been curiously eager to hear the man speak loud. And here he was, speaking to someone. They wanted to hear him too. But like two conspirators, we both left the students behind gaping. I went into the Senate Building, while Mr. Olaniyan sauntered away towards the Art Block.

Two weeks after our first conversation, I paid him another visit at the same spot. But he didn't recognize me again. He never remembered having any conversation with a journalist. In fact, I was a total stranger. We greeted anyway, and I went my way down to a corner where I could watch him without getting in his hair. Still, his dressing was prim and proper. His hair was well combed - like a distinguished professor's.

That day, he sat for long at his usual spot. About three hours or so later, he decided to leave the campus. His footfall was normal as he strolled. He was never too fast, and not too slow. Just a steady thud on the sidewalk; almost endless as he trekked towards the university gate. On the way, many more students passed him by. No one seemed to give him any curious stare for he was so conventional in appearance. His respectable exterior could only give him off as just another lecturer. But this is one strange lecturer who speaks to indifferent flowers. The man who lives in two worlds.


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