She was born on June 12, 1923 – not June 12, 1993. “What else could I ask for?” she asks with a tone of gratitude in her voice, as she sits gracefully in her apartment, with her aged eyes twinkling with memories. Well dressed, spick and span, you can hear her chuckle and see her face enlivens as she recalls her more than 90 years episodes on earth. What if death comes today? She smiles in response: “If I die today, I am very sure God will say ‘Welcome, my beloved servant’; because I have served Him without involving any other gods. And if death comes today, I am ready to go back to my creator.” It’s easy to conclude her life must have been a bed of roses. A beauty at her old age, she cuts the picture of a dynamic young woman filled with zest in her yester-years. Before her birth, she had already lost her father and just turning 24, she had become a widow with two little children to care for. Mrs. Comfort Abeni Ogunnaike, is far from being a pathetic soul – like an amazon, she has triumphed through the patches of life’s predicaments. Well travelled and deeply spiritual, she has learnt to live a life devoted to God. Mrs. Ogunnaike is a member of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church. Her devotion and selflessness have won her the highest honour of Mother Seraph of Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Worldwide. As she clocks 93 on Sunday, she speaks with Funke Olaode about the unforgettable role her mother played in her life, her love story and hope for the future
• I Became a Widow at the Age of 24
• My Second Marriage Was a Gift of Love
• At 93, I’ll Be Delighted to Live Two More Years…
Born in Agidingbi
Iwas born in Lagos on June 12, 1923 and grew up in Agidingbi. My parents hailed from Abeokuta, in Ogun State, in the then Western Region. My mother was trading in foodstuffs and used to travel to the North. As a trader, her base was Iddo Terminal on Lagos Island. I learnt that my father was a merchant trader. But unfortunately, he died before I was born. So I was raised by an enterprising mother who dotted on me like a mother hen. Growing up in Lagos of old was fun but all the social amenities you see around today were absent. Ikeja, Ogba, and Obanikoro areas were filled with bushes and they were referred to as villages. Lagos Island was in existence and as students we used to pass through Carter Bridge. All the GRAs and highbrow areas were not in existence. And of course, there was no electricity where I grew up. That was the situation I met on the ground. I didn’t feel bad about it because what you don’t have you don’t miss.
Living in Ebute Metta
My stay in Agidingbi was short-lived as I grew older my mother took me to Ebute Metta where I began my early education at Higher Elementary School on Abeokuta Street. It was a popular school founded by one Mrs. Ojelade. Honestly, my mother played a key role in my life and her influence on me was enormous. I remember after my primary school, I proceeded to Collegiate Girls’ High School on Lagos Island. My mother stood by me but as I was growing older, she gave marriage a shot again and married (one Mr.) Abayomi. I was 11 years old when my mother had another child, who became my younger sister – now late. She was the mother to former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Otunba Femi Pedro and his siblings. Unfortunately, my only sister died in February 1966. It was one of the saddest moments in my life. But together with my mother (Pedro’s grandmother) and the grace of God we took up the responsibility and today they are all accomplished individuals. The lesson I learnt really is that everything in this life has been written down (as fate). If not, it has been over 50 years that my only sister died leaving behind six children. And I am still living. Again, the six children she left behind and my own children are one – there is no discrimination. So looking at my life, everything about me is God.
Accused of Dating Teachers
Growing up as a child, I was neither rascally nor talkative. I was a calm and obedient child. And being an only child for years there was no space for me to display rascality. My mother always wanted me to succeed and gave me the opportunity to acquire formal education early in life, despite the fact that she was a trader. I remember in my time, before you could be admitted, your right hand must touch your left ear. But I scaled that hurdle. Of course, I was excited the day I started school. Education ‘opened’ my eyes; it broadened my horizon. You know education is a leveler that makes you at par with your successful contemporaries. It takes you far in life. You cannot be easily intimidated, humiliated or cheated because you know your right from your left. So I was committed to my studies. With modesty, I was a brilliant pupil. I remember in those days they used to give us our weekly results every Friday. And every time I was called to the stage, my classmates would chorus ‘as usual’. It was a mixed school and the boys would be grumbling that I was being awarded good grades because I was dating teachers in the school. I just ignored their side talks and concentrated on my performance as I saw them as distractors. I kept the flag flying until I left the school and proceeded to Collegiate Girls’ High School on Lagos Island. Initially, I wanted to go to Methodist Girls’ High School but I was not admitted. I was still ruminating on what to do when Collegiate Girls’ High School was opened. I and my classmates were offered admission as pioneer students. I finished from this school in 1939.
My ambition was to work in an office
I aspired to get the best education money could offer and even dreamt of either working in a private or government establishments. After secondary education, I was looking for a job but my guardian angel (my mother) prevailed on me to change my decision, encouraging me to go for a vocational training. She said it was better to have both formal and vocational education. According to her, if one fails at least I would have something to fall back on. This caring and strict disciplinarian woman was like a soothsayer who saw tomorrow. I took to her advice and enrolled with one popular seamstress of her time, one late Mrs. Aderibigbe, from whom I learnt tailoring.
I was diligent, committed and dedicated to the vocation. I know how to sew very well even up to today I have a sewing machine and can still cut materials and sew clothes. The fashion business flourished so well before I relocated with my husband, Ogunnaike (now late) to the North. I had a big fashion house with many apprentices. I also engaged in trading. I later abandoned my fashion business and became a cloth merchant dealing in school uniforms and sale of clothing materials, like guinea brocade, ankara and so on. I had shops in Oyingbo, Agege, Aswani, and Mushin. God blessed the work of my hands but I had many children to look after. And today, I have no regrets because they have all made me proud.
I am Christian Though My Mother’s Muslim
My mother was an Alhaja and all her lineage was Muslims. But my father was a Christian. In fact, he was a catechist in the Anglican Communion. When I was growing up my mother didn’t prevent me from practising Christianity. She was a very liberal woman and this also helped. I was worshipping at St. Jude’s Anglican Church but the day I visited Cherubim and Seraphim Church I was fascinated by their doctrines. This was between 1941 and 1942 when I was barely 20 years old. That was how I joined the denomination and became a member. Today, I am one of the highest authorities in the church. I have been a board member for almost 20 years now. The position has taken me to all the continents of the world. I am honoured and blessed to be a member of this living church. Although, there is a wrong notion about the church being a ‘spiritual’ church that believes so much in incense. I want to tell the whole world today that it is a living church where God dwells. Angels are delighted with incense as its fragrance goes straight to heaven. Incense is good if genuinely offered and not used as a ‘crowd puller’ as many do today.
My Quiet Moments
What goes through my mind at my quiet moments is happiness when I remember God’s mercies and grace over my life. I am grateful to God for giving me retentive memory as I can remember what happened 100 years ago with ease. Not only that, that I am alive and belong to a living church where I had and still continue to serve God wholeheartedly and with a clean heart is overwhelming.
I am Excited and Grateful
I feel excited and grateful to God for sparing my life. I am grateful and that is why if I die today I am very sure that God will say ‘Welcome, my beloved servant’ because I have served Him without involving any other gods. I am not saying that I am a saint but I know within me that I have played my part well in serving God. And if death comes today, I am ready to go back to my creator.
I was a Widow at 24
I have been married twice. I got married to my first husband, Okunseinde, in my early 20s and had two sons: Dr. Babajinmi Okunseinde and Dr. Olusola Okunseinde. I met this young man, dated briefly and later went our separate ways. As if we were destined to be together, our path crossed again in C and S Church. We revived our love life and got married on December 28, 1944. But it was a brief wedlock because he died in February 1947. I was barely 24 years old with two young children who were less than three years when he died. It was a sad experience, having grown up in Lagos where I had several suitors that I turned down. With his death I thought my whole world had crumbled. Some of my ex-suitors even mocked me and said, ‘Now that your husband is dead would you come back to us?’ I said over my dead body. Honestly, it was a humiliating experience.
A Gift of Love
I was still mourning my late husband when my second husband, Ogunnaike was transferred from Ibadan to Lagos and became a member of my church, Cherubim and Seraphim. He was a very smart and intelligent young man. He joined my late husband’s society in the church where he was a secretary before he died. Coincidentally, they were looking for a secretary and he volunteered. And when they (society members) wanted to send gifts to my newborn baby he (Ogunnaike) volunteered to bring the gifts to my house. Immediately this man sighted me he won’t let go as he insisted that he must marry me. He was nice to me and my two young children. We were still discussing marriage when he was transferred to the North. I saw him as an escape route from suitors who were like tormentors. And besides that, I saw in him a committed and caring family man. I married him and relocated with him to the North. We had 10 children (eight boys and two girls) and lost three at infancy. The remaining seven and my first two children are doing well in their various endeavours. I am eternally grateful to God.
Two More Years in Life
No man fulfills life’s aspirations as long as you are still breathing. You continue to aim high. It is God that has the time and season. If God can add another two more years I will thank and serve Him more. Nevertheless, life is full of ups and downs. There are sad moments but God’s grace in my life has overshadowed what I would have called my greatest regret. As said earlier, I have only two daughters and one of my girls died at age 64 in 2015. It was devastating for me but being a spiritual ‘Women’s Head’ of the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim Worldwide, I accepted my fate and moved on. But I take solace in the fact that my daughter still lives on because she left behind over 10 children and grandchildren. What else could I ask for? I am grateful to God for His grace and Mercies.