18 May 2013

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Some May Have a Pleasant Tale About Polygamy, But All She Could Recall Was Constant Bickering

How Beatrice Nwabuego Mosindi’s experience boldly affirms the saying that a way naturally emerges once there is a sufficient will. She overcame a stubborn streak that often got her into trouble as a child, but a more compelling tale of doggedness was passing her City and Guilds exam after her dream of becoming a nurse was truncated by early marriage. Mosindi, 70 last month, retired from the Nigerian Ports Authority. She shares her life’s experiences in this encounter with Funke Olaode

A nomadic childhood…
I was born in Minna, Niger State, on April 3, 1943, but grew up in several states. My father, a polygamist, hailed from Akwukwu Igbo in Oshimili North Local Government of Delta State. He was a nurse superintendent when I was born. And as a para-medical staff he was always on frequent transfer and whenever he moved, the entire family went with him. He was in the North at a time. From there, he moved to Auchi in Edo. It was interesting living among different tribes. Nigeria was good and there was no discrimination. We stayed in Akure, Ondo State, and I had the opportunity to be among the school pupils selected to match to Oyemekun Area in Akure when Queen Elizabeth visited Nigeria in 1956. My father later left Akure for Kwale, his last base before I got married. My mum on the other hand was a petty trader. It wasn’t a pleasant experience growing up in a polygamous setting of two wives and   15 children. People often say that the intrigues associated with a polygamous setting was absent in their homes, but the reverse was the case in our polygamous setting where there were constant rivalry and unhealthy competition among the wives. It was worse on our side because my mother was the second wife and her children didn’t enjoy the best in terms of education. My mother had nine children. By the grace of God seven of my mother’s children are still around. We only lost one of my siblings. In a way, longevity runs in the family.

The bitter taste of polygamy…
I still dread polygamy even in my old age because of my challenges as a kid. The senior wife made it clear to my father that they were legally married and why should he marry another wife. Obviously, my mother’s presence was not welcome.  I learnt that my father decided to take another wife when the first wife couldn’t bear him a male child. So there was this envy and hatred of who was going to be the heir apparent. According to my mum, my stay in Minna, Niger State, as a child was short-lived due to a fight that ensued between my mum and the senior wife. I was about three years, still being cuddled by my mum when a fight broke out. The senior wife wanted to slap my mum and in the process slapped me. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back because my mother had to flee Minna with me when I became sickly due to the injury I sustained. For three years, my mother was running from one place to another looking for solution to my ailment. Despite the chaos in that setting I still learned one or two lessons. For instance, it was obvious that there was no love lost between the wives, which extended to the children. This taught me to mind my business, keep to myself at all time and not to intrude into other people’s affairs.

Marrying early…
As a child of a nursing superintendent we lived in government quarters where basic social amenities were present. There was water, electricity and life was good. The head of the family, my father was also a nice man who ensured that all the children had access to qualitative education. Most of us, are girls and people always challenged him not to invest in us that we are not valuable and all that, but he stood his ground that he would train us and he did. The first daughter was a matron when she retired, the second one was a banker, and one of them was a lawyer. He tried his best for his children but we (children) from his second wife didn’t enjoy much. This prompted me to marry early shortly after my secondary education.

Overcoming a stubborn streak…
I was nick-named a talkative by my mother’s friends. I was not only talkative, I was equally  troublesome and stubborn to the extent that I was never acquitted and discharged whenever a case was brought to the compound by the people with whom I had fought. This got me into trouble most of the time. I was lucky I had a father who didn’t believe in immediate judgment or caning. But he had a systematic way of driving that stubbornness away from you by reserving your punishment till night when there would not be a way of escape. I was lucky that I didn’t cross the red line. No one preached to me to put an end to my fighting but I preached to myself due to a scenario that I would never forget. There was a day I fought and broke a girl’s head at Auchi in the present Edo State. It wasn’t deliberate because a boy wronged me and I wanted to punish him. I wanted to hurl a stone at him, he ran and hid behind the girl and eventually the stone hit the poor girl. It was a scary sight and her parents came straight to my parents. My father was annoyed initially, but still came to my rescue by treating the girl in the hospital. That was the day I put an end to fighting and totally relinquished that stubbornness in me.

Having a father who was educated was an advantage in the sense that we started school early. And it wasn’t a big deal the day I was enrolled at St. Michael’s Primary School, Akure, in Ondo State at the age of seven in 1953. It was an era where your right hand had to touch your left ear before you could be admitted. My father was transferred to Auchi and I moved with them.

But I refused to stay for fear of being killed. So I joined my mother in our home town where I eventually finished my primary education. I was later enrolled at Secondary Modern School in my home town. I stopped in year three and got married at the age of 18. I remember I aspired to be educated and even dreamt of working before marriage. But the man just showed up from the blues. I loved him and when he proposed I agreed and we got married in 1961.

Reviving my dreams...
My childhood ambition was to be a nurse but I lost that because I didn’t have the requisite academic qualification. Most of my colleagues went for either teacher-training or nursing, but marriage truncated that dream. Though I was married I didn’t allow that dream to die. My husband, Nelson Nwange Mosindi, was a staff of Nigerian Ports Authority where he retired as a senior executive after 35 years. I was a permanent housewife for 17 years having children. But when things became difficult for both of us I knew I had to work. I picked up my secondary modern school certificate and applied to NPA in the catering department. I was employed as an assistant in the canteen where I worked under my junior ones. It was a challenge because sometimes they would mock me and say all sort of things. I didn’t allow this to undermine my goal and aspiration. It only spurred me to be a better person academically. Having  realized that my modern school certificate would not take me anywhere in a corporate setting like NPA, I decided to go back to school and registered for Hotel Management under City and Guilds Certificate which I passed. It was a good move because shortly after that I was promoted to the position of a senior supervisor. From there, I rose to assistant catering officer before I was retired in 1996 after 18 years. The management wanted younger persons to take over and some of us that were over 50 were asked to go.

Working under Bamanga Tukur - ‘Mr. Humility’…
I joined the Nigerian Ports Authority in 1977 during the era of the current Peoples Democratic Party national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. He was the managing director then. Calling him Mr. Humility was an understatement. I worked in the catering department and we were the caterers in charge of the canteens. I didn’t have direct contact with him but everybody talked about his humility and the fact he is a nice man. Although his office was upstairs and everybody saw him as the man at the helms of the affairs, but he didn’t carry it on his head. I remember when he wanted to enter the lift, some overzealous assistants would not allow anyone else to enter. But Bamanga Tukur would ask people gladly to join him in the lift upstairs. This endeared him to a lot of people.

Fulfilment in children’s attainments…
I have had several best moments but my best was looking after my children, to be better persons and expose them to the world of God. I am at my best when my children make me happy. I was the happiest moment when my first son travelled abroad to further his studies in marine engineering. He currently lives in Newcastle in England. I was elated because the feat I couldn’t reach my children are already surpassing it. My lowest moment is when my husband annoys me (laughs).
Being swept off her feet…
I met my husband for the first time when he came to the village on vacation. I was rounding off my modern school, he saw me and said he wanted to marry me. I turned down his proposal because I still wanted to continue my education. He didn’t say anything and just walked away quietly. He travelled back to Lagos and I thought that was the end. Surprisingly, this man showed up again and this time he wouldn’t let go. He went straight to my parents and asked for my hand in marriage. He performed all the necessary marriage rites and I went with him to Lagos. He was a very handsome man who became irresistible when he came back the second time. We lived together happily for 47 years until he passed away in 2008 at the age of 78. The marriage is blessed with nine children and I lost three of them. One of them a lady died at the age of 29. It wasn’t a pleasant experience losing an adult. I pray not to weep over any of my children again.

Life aspirations…
Life is full of ups and downs and the day you wake up as a being and claim you have seen it all, it means death is imminent. In my case, I have not fulfilled all. I live in my home and my children are taking good care of me. And I still receive my pension. I have a child who does not make me happy. I believe my God will touch him and make him a better person.

The thrill of being 70…
I feel elated turning 70 because I never envisaged that I would attain that age. As a child I was told I was sickly without any hope of survival. And while I was growing, I had a premonition that somebody was after my life and was always in constant fear that I may not see the next day. I eventually grew out of that fear and today I am alive. It is only God that can allay our fear and I am happy that He made me to triumph over the spirit of death.

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