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POOLU OLATOYE (1949-2014) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Buki Oluwadiya   
Apr 08, 2014 at 02:11 PM

I am gradually coming to terms with the fact that Poolu (officially Paul Olatoye) has now physically separated from this earth, leaving his physical body to be buried to enrich his Okemesi home and heath. As we all await the family announcement of the funeral arrangements, I feel urged to share a few recollections from my encounters with someone I admirably describe as a "self-made" man.

Early beginnings
I cannot remember exactly, when our friendship started but we clearly started drifting towards each other in our final year at St. Michael's Primary School, Okemesi. Indeed, it is also difficult to for me to explain why we drifted towards each other because, at that time, we appeared to have opposite tendencies: he was tall, had a big frame but was relative quiet and studious. I, on the other hand was very tiny but with a big mouth and always getting into fighting frays with those who, at the time, thought they could oppress us (myself and my co-collaborator, Debisi Adeoye) with their height and big frame....he was not one of them.

Even at such a tender age, Poolu had this egalitarian outlook and the desire to seek succour for the poor. At that time, it was usual to celebrate the Harvest ("Ikore") as a big feast in most of the homes of the Christians in Okemesi, particularly the St Michael Anglican Community. Each child, after the Church, will usually go back home, after the Church for a big feast. As a Rice producing community, it was one of those occasions when we feasted on Rice, which was a delicacy, primarily reserved for Christmas. In our final year, Poolu, initiated a "pooling" idea which worked wonders and, as I understand later, was adopted by many Sets after us. His idea was that some of our classmates were unable to afford the feast after the Church and therefore suggested that we should team up to enable everyone to partake of the festivities. His idea was that we moved from one family to the other and eat whatever was placed before us. We started the eating feast from his house in Odo Ese, moving therefrom to the homes of our Classmates in the adjacent streets of Odowo and Itio....in any case by the time we were approaching Odobi, my home and Debisi's, we were all so full that we had to share the food with other children in the neighbourhood. Thus, without raising any special fund nor making any extra efforts by our families, we all had full load of satisfaction and shared!

Academic competition tend to draw people apart in our days but that's not the case with Poolu. We used to have weekly Tests and the results were usually announced at the weekly assemblies on Fridays. Johnson Omilabu came to join us as a final year student when his (Johnson) brother was posted to teach in Okemesi. There was therefore a keen competition for the first, second and third position in our class among Poolu, Johnson and myself. My recollection was that Poolu, led the class more often than the two of us but till he passed away, he never accepted this and on the contrary, he claimed it was me that led the class more often. Any time this argument started and I wanted to call anyone of our classmates, this self-effacing man will dodge.....Now your going ahead of me has confirmed I was right all along!

The "Self-made Man"
Some of us moved straight from the Primary School (St Michael's) to the Secondary School and thereon to the University. The path that Paul had to take was long and tortuous. He could not immediately enter a secondary school, not because he was not a good student. Indeed, as I have mentioned before now, he was simply one of the best in our class. Fate and circumstances made it difficult for Poolu to join us in the secondary school and in the University in Nigeria. He took his circumstances and fate calmly and admirably, not grudging nor envious of anyone unlike some of our other classmates. He related to everyone like in the past and possibly drew strength, courage and determination to overcome the temporary barrier that blocked his ways.....and that is where the story started. Paul disappeared for some years and, at a time, when telecommunication was a rarity, many of us lost touch with him, only for us to understand that Poolu had moved over to the United States of America. The full details of his journey to the USA is a story for another day but suffice it to say that he left Nigeria with a camera, got himself to Ivory Coast, with no papers nor relations and no knowledge of French. He picked up the French language on the street, got conversant with it, found his way to France and thereon to the USA, again with no relations nor friends to meet. Paul undauntedly adjusted himself to the harsh realities of living in America and worked assiduously until he obtained a Masters Degree in Engineering!

Community Engagements
I guess Poolu decided that he would spare as many people as he could possibly assist, the ordeal that he went through. He therefore set out early to ease the way for a number of his siblings and later some friends and relations to join him in the USA. I am sure his nature and his experience brought that strong determination to help the poor and oppressed and I am not therefore surprised that he had a pervasive influence on the setting up of the Olatoye Family Foundation which has, within, a few years of its existence awarded scholarships for students and funded other worthy causes, the most recent and ongoing project being Street naming in Okemesi.

Political Engagement
I am sure a number of Paul's political associates will have a lot to say here. I must, however, confess, that this remained a point where we differed till he died. As we were growing, making friends and taking different paths, each person, at a time, would come to adopt patterns and attributes which tend to become and habit and make one person to be different from the other. Unknown to me, Paul had always been active in partisan politics which does not sit quite well with me. Therefore, when he suddenly called one day, when he arrived from the USA, requesting me to come over to Okemesi as he wanted to participate in politics, he was pained, when I turned him down. He and a number of our mutual friends in Okemesi accuse me and a group of us in our Club of living in utopia and allowing a number of unworthy candidates to take the lead in the political life of Okemesi as we did not wish to be involved in partisan politics. In retrospect, he may be right after all!

Poolu, Poolu, Poolu, the earthly school has closed and ended for you. No longer the nagging worries and physical pain. You now have the vast Kingdom of your Creator to engage yourself. Please make sure that you continue to devote yourself to upbuilding and ennobling engagements, which is part of your spirit. Bring this to full blossom and soar aloft, my mate and friend!
Buki Oluwadiya

User Comments

Comment by fatobas on 2014-04-09 19:49:58
I met Paul Olatoye in 1984 less than one year in USA, I found myself in the valley of death, seriously sick. Here he was in the waiting room at the hospital where I was being operated for hours with the mother of my first daughter. He called off from his work to make sure things were ok. Last time! I saw him was about 2weeks ago, hale and hearty talking to his daughter, son in-law and his grand children, shockingly that was the last time! April 2013, when I came to Nigeria for my sister's burial, he was always checking on me until I boarded the plane. Adieu a great man who cared about peoples' welfare. May his soul rest in perfect peace.  
Ilesanmi Adu-Fatoba 
Columbus, OH

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