A Picnic, a Disc Jockey and a Romance Tale Born in Primary School

26 Jan 2013

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Madam Emily Sijuwola Komolafe had a childhood typical for persons born in pre-independence Nigeria - a life lived mostly in the village without access to any of the facilities now taken for granted. But providence gave her a father that saw a compelling need and who infact had the means to educate his children Komolafe, 70 years today, relives her early years as a teacher and friendship with a fellow primary school pupil who would later become her husband. She spoke to Funke Olaode

Growing up in a polygamous setting…
Iwas born in Ilesa in the present Osun State into the family of late Pa Daniel Olumuyiwa Ogunbiyi (the late Baba Ijo of St. Peter’s Anglican Church Isona, Ilesa) and late Madam Janet Tinuade Ogunbiyi, a princess of the Atayero dynasty in Ilesa on January 26, 1943. In those days, most men were mainly preoccupied with farming and trading. My parents were traders. My father was trading in all kind of wares such as ankara, school uniforms, shoes and men’s wears.  My father only had little formal education because he stopped at Standard 3. My mother on the other hand was later exposed to western education through the children and she too could read and write later. I come from a polygamous setting with several wives and many children. You know it was a sign of affluence and wealth those days. My mother was the fourth wife and had five children and I am her first child. Surprisingly, it was a smooth sailing dwelling in that kind of a setting. My father was lucky because he was a Christian and brought us up in a Christian way. Also, it was a norm that all his wives went to church. And because of the Christian background he was able to keep the wives together in unity. The children loved one another and it is still well pronounced till today.

The parental influence on us was enormous especially in the area of education. My father ensured that all of us went to school. Despite the huge population of his children, my father loved education because he didn’t acquire much and he saw the advantage. The second son was a high court judge before he died. He trained all of us and at least all the children had access to a formal education and none was left behind. The least we have in the house was secondary modern school of those days while the women had Teachers Grade 11, school certificate, and HND. For instance, the four siblings behind me are all graduates. This, no doubt has really helped us to become what we are today. 

Growing up in Ilesa…
It was fun growing up in Ilesa in the then Western Region as a child under the watchful eyes of my grandmother. I was born there and grew up there and didn’t even know if other places existed or there was life anywhere. I grew up to meet electricity and those who could afford electricity could connect it to their homes. When I was a toddler there was none in our house and as I grew older, we had electricity in our compound. Like I said, I grew up with my grandmother and in a way, I was pampered. She was nonetheless a strong woman who would not spare the rod and spoil the child. She was a no-nonsense woman and I knew when to draw the line. She was also of the Apostolic faith and exposed me to God early. She was also trading in food stuff and also sold cooked food. There was plenty to eat and drink and I never lacked as a kid. In a way, it was a privileged beginning.

Childhood memories…
I have never been to the hospital in my life until age 12 when I was rushed to the hospital and I was admitted. It was high fever. My grandmother was so worried. Also, I remember I am a very quiet and calm girl which even earned me a nickname among my father’s wives, “shy lady”. If we were in a place and the noise was too much I would leave the place immediately.  I think it is a reflection of my personality and I exhibit it naturally. And talking about pranks, I tried to run away from it because I hated cane. This kept me away from displaying any youthful exuberance that could earn me a severe beating.

I met my husband on my first day in school…
I began my early education at age seven in January 1950. And prior to that, I was at home eating and playing and running little errands for my grandmother and older women in the house. I was very excited the day I was taken to school. You know I had looked forward to it and it was like a dream come true. In fact, that was the first day I met the man who later became my husband 15 years later. I was seven years old and innocent, but something just drew him to me as a kid. He was about three years older but I was in the same class with him and his younger brother. And as children we were just playing around. That was how I began another phase of life at St.  Peter’s Anglican School, Isona Ilesa. It was exciting because it was a different setting from my house. I met many children from different homes. I spent seven years in that school. I started in class one and two (which was an equivalent of nursery these days) and later moved gradually from Standard One to Four. I was in Standard Four when the Universal Basic Education under the later Obafemi Awolowo was introduced in 1955. And those of us in Standard Four were automatically promoted to Standard Five. Later on, Standard Five and Six did the same examinations together. Instead of spending eight years in primary school, the free education of Obafemi Awolowo shortened it to seven years. After completing my primary education, I moved to Anglican Girls’ School, Ilesa, where I spent three years. From there, I moved to United Missionary College (UMC), Oke-Ado, Ibadan, Oyo State, between 1961 and 1963 where I obtained Teachers Grade 11 Certificate. Having grown up in a business setting, one would have thought I would pitch my tent with trading or be a business woman. But I loved teaching and even as a student I used to organise tutorial for my classmates. It was from there that I picked interest in teaching. Again, teachers then were highly respected. After my training at UMC, I was posted as a teacher to the Anglican Secondary Modern School, Ogbomoso in Oyo State from January 1964 to August 1965. My husband left Nigeria in 1966 to England for further studies. Before his departure, we got married at the marriage registry in Osogbo on September 18, 1965.

Moving to England…
I joined my husband in England in 1966 and enrolled at South West London College where I spent four years and I obtained Higher National Diploma in business administration. I also registered for and passed the final examinations of Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators (CIS&A). As a student, I was having children and at the same time schooling. But determination was the key that kept me going. After my studies, I worked for sometime and decided to come back to Nigeria. I was fed up with the cold. My parents were worried and the cold was at the extreme. I left my husband in England and came back with the kids in 1974. And within six months my husband came home. Ironically, I didn’t pick my career (teaching) where I stopped because I applied to the federal government and I was given an appointment. I joined the federal civil service in January 1975 in the administrative department. I started with the federal ministry of education at Ikoyi where I spent two years. I was later posted to the National Universities Commission and spent another two years. I worked in various ministries such as ministry of health, works and finally retired from the ministry of petroleum in 2003. Honestly, it has been a fulfilling career. Although the duties I was given in the ministry were challenging, but the spirit of patriotism and commitment kept me going. For instance, when the ministries were moved to Abuja in the early ‘90s, I was one of the first set that moved in 1997 and I was there until I retired. I was shuttling between Lagos and Abuja. I was lucky that my three children had all grown up and two of them were married and the third one was already in the university and the end of her youth service year coincided with my retirement and we both came back to Lagos the same day. So in the past 10 years, I have been running my own business. I also use my time for church work. I am a layreader in the Anglican fold.

Becoming a mother was my happiest moment…
I have had several best moments but the day I became a mother in 1967 was significant. My low moment was the health challenge I had between February and May last year. I thought the end was near. I went to the hospital, did series of test and the doctors found nothing. The Bible says in the world we will have tribulations; but we should be of good courage because He has conquered. I was worried and I challenged God and said “God, look at me and pay me back with what I have done for you. If you make me whole I will serve you and come nearer the more”. And God in his infinite mercies redeemed me and made me whole.

Swept off her feet…
Like I said earlier, I met my husband as a kid but there was nothing attached. At times, if I ran past their house I would branch and greet them. He would see me off to my house.  We also belonged to the same society in the church. We continued our platonic relationship like that until I came back from Teachers Training College for Easter holidays and he was already teaching at Secondary Modern School, Ipetu. I remember the church society used to organise picnics where all of us would converge. On that particular picnic, my husband was the disc jockey. After we had danced and eaten this man told me his intention. He was seeing me off when he just stopped and said: “Do you know something has been bothering me; I would like you to marry me”. I said no because I thought we were related. He left it at that and I went back to school in Ibadan. Honestly, I didn’t know his stuff until the day he acted as a disc jockey at the Easter picnic and I was blown away by his speech, jokes and the way he organised the whole thing. When I came back from school this guy kept on coming to my house and my parents liked him. Eventually things worked out and we got married in 1965. The marriage is blessed with three children. By the grace of God we have played our role well over our children who are doing well in their endeavours. The first one studied administration, the only son studied mechanical engineering and the baby of the family is also a graduate.

Secret of enduring marriage…
Marriage is not a bed of roses because it involves two people from two different backgrounds. For us, what has kept us in the past 47 years is understanding, tolerance, trust, love, spirit of forgiveness and togetherness.  For me, a couple should be able to understand each other and even if there is any disagreement, settle it without getting a third party involved. Marriage is like a wrinkled cloth, if you place an iron on it, it will be straightened. I still lay emphasis on understanding because with it love will come naturally. And once you love your spouse there is nothing he does even if it hurts, you will find a place in your heart to forgive him.

Imbibing contentment…
I thank God for keeping me in good health right from my childhood. I was always content with whatever I had or was given. I don’t envy people or get jealous of people’s achievements. As I grew older, I imbibed the spirit of contentment. The Bible says Godliness with contentment is a great gain. Again, I have been lucky in the home front. My husband has not stressed me having been married for over 47 years. I thank God for the kind of man and children God gave me. None of them has stressed me in any way. And considering the journey through life, I think most of my life aspirations have been fulfilled. I prayed to God to give me children and He did. I prayed for a home and a house and He gave me one. What else can one ask for? He has been a faithful God.

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