Ashafa Ajibola Erogbogbo: What I’ll Tell God If I See Him

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“I am not afraid of death” he simply tells you. And also believes if he dies today, he is going to heaven. Then he quickly reminds you that even on earth “I am in paradise because as a being, what your paradise will look like you will know when you are on earth.” Without doubt, his life is a lesson in contentment and godliness. Alhaji Ashafa Ajibola Erogbogbo was born on May 28th, 1926. He is 90 years old.  He is principled, courageos and jolly good fellow, whose penchant for quality education has  impacted generations. He is not only integrity personified but also imbued with sterling qualities such as honesty, fairness, empathy and justice with a sense of humour that is second to none. Though he has weathered many storms in life, a retrospective glance reveals one or two regrets. If there is anything that gives him satisfaction, it  is children who have made him proud in their various endeavours. He tells Funke Olaode about his life and view of death


Borno in Ikorodu

Iwas  born on Friday, May 28, 1926, in Ikorodu to Alhaji Sulaiman Erogbogbo of Adegorusen Compound, Ita Agbodo via Ajina Square, Ikorodu and Alhaja Alimotu Erogbogbo (nee Bello Solebo of Ita-Elewa Square).  Ikorodu, Lagos State of blessed memory.  My mother had only three children and I am the eldest of them. We had a girl in-between. They are all dead. I am the only one alive. By the time I was born my father was a tailor and my mother was a trader. She was a dealer with GBO, SOA in Lagos. She was trading in Nigerian goods such as tobacco, cottons, cigarette and miscellaneous goods. My mother also plied her trade in Mushin and Agege markets every five days. She was more or less the local Kingsway in Ishaga Town because when people wanted to celebrate they used to come to my mother to buy cartons of biscuit, cigarettes, sweets and soft drinks. I grew up at Ishaga town in the present Oshodi/Isolo local government area.  She was also a hair dresser because after displaying her wares by 12 noon she would begin to plait hair for her clients. She was such a hard-working woman.

My mother made me who I am

I grew up under the tutelage of an enterprising mother who would not spare the rod and spoil the child. She was a disciplinarian. I remember at the age 10 in 1936, I wanted to ride a bicycle then called “Inarobo”. She was sitting in the living room with my father and the senior wife when I requested for a shilling. She simply drove me away. Then she had some petty cash on her bed in the room. I wanted to take the requested shilling when she saw me and started shouting “Ashafa ole!” “Ashafa ole!” She could pamper me as the only surviving child of her mother but she would not. I was told her mother had 11 children and she was number 10 and the only survivor. I jumped out of the house and ran to my maternal grandmother’s house which was about 200 meters to report how her daughter (my mother) had embarrassed me. My grandmother was very annoyed and gave me the money to go and ride the bicycle. By the time I came back around 4 ‘0 clock in the evening, she (my grandmother) had prepared meal for me with fresh fish, I ate and was satisfied. When it was getting dark I was contemplating going back to my father’s house because my grandmother kept a whole room for idols. I was afraid of these idols and couldn’t sleep there. So I went to my father’s house at Ajina compound in Ikorodu to sleep. The following morning I explained to my father the harsh treatment meted to me by my mother. Of course, my father pleaded with me and asked me not to be annoyed that my mother wanted me to be disciplined and wise. Honestly, I am enjoying the discipline till today. Wherever I worked, I used to remember the discipline inculcated in me by my mother who was very hard-working, honest, and hated anything that is unfair. She believed in equity, justice and fairness.  How can I forget this woman who made me a landlord   when my hope was nearly dashed? She gave me a piece of land and also gave me money when the person I gave 800 pounds to purchase iron doors for my property at Surulere ran away. I was so frustrated that I nearly abandoned the project. But she came to visit me where I was staying in Ikeja then, pleaded and encouraged me. She gave me more money to start the building again. I would never forget this woman because she made me what I am today. She was a generous and caring woman

I saw electricity for the first time in 1937

There was no electricity when I was growing in Ishaga.  I saw electricity for the first time when I visited my eldest brother who was living on Lagos Island in 1937 when I was 11 years old. When I came back to Ishaga, I told my people my experience that the people in Lagos got their lights by scratching the wall.

I was a cool child
I was a cool and  obedient child. My father was a disciplinarian who would not want me to join my colleagues who were playing draft and ludo. He told us it was something forbidden. I didn’t go near it until when I grew up and realised that there was nothing attached to it, that he just wanted to discipline me. Today, I owe him  to the way he had brought me up.

My childhood dream was to be a customs officer
I had my primary education at Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Lagos from 1938-1942 and completed my secondary education at Eko Boys’ High School, Lagos from 1943 to 1949. I later secured Cambridge School Leaving Certificate in 1949. While in school, I was a senior prefect and chairman of the Senior Literary/Debating Society of the school in the same year. My childhood aspiration was to become a customs officer because my eldest brother with whom I was staying was working along Balogun Street. When I went to pick his lunch box in the evening, I used to see customs officers in uniform riding bicycles or walking along Balogun Street. I was fascinated by their uniform. When I was leaving Eko Boys’ High School in 1949, labour officers came to interview us and when they asked me where I would like to work, I said I would like to be a customs officer.  In January 1950, I secured appointment with government Printing Press, Broad Street, Lagos as compositor. By November 1951, I went on departmental transfer to department of customs and Excise as a customs officer. I realised that ambition but it was short-lived because I only spent three years.  By the end of May 1954, I resigned my appointment and joined Shell Company of Nigeria Limited as Shell Aviation Supervisor at a junior staff level. Between 1954 and 1963, I rose through the ranks and got promoted to senior staff level in Kaduna as Sales Representatives in November 1963. In April 1964, I was transferred to Benin in Edo State on promotion and served as District Manager covering Edo, Delta, Burutu, and Escravos in the riverine areas. I was transferred to Lagos in September 1966 and assumed duty at the Lagos International Airport, Ikeja, as Shell Aviation Superintendent, preparatory for promotion as Aviation Manager at the company’s head office in Marina, Lagos. For this purpose, I attended Shell BP Aviation Service Seminar at Nairobi, Kenya in September 1967. The seminar was organised for Shell BP organisations in Africa including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria, among others. I represented Nigeria. I worked as Aviation Superintendent at the Muritala Muhammed Internationla Airport, Ikeja, Lagos until August 1968 when I retired and opted for private business.  I had a wonderful time in Shell. My career was fulfilling because I joined as a junior staff and by dint of hard work, dedication and commitment to duty, I rose through the ranks to become the District Manager in Benin from 1964 to 1966.

Becoming my own boss
After leaving Shell in 1968, I floated a company under a trade name Yomi Mercantile Company. I made up my mind at age 42 to go into private business. I remember while I was in secondary school I had developed interest in importing goods. Under this company I was importing second hand goods from Hamburg in Germany. I visited Athens in Greece. The business yielded good results at a time.  I did it for a while until the business was no longer profitable. I quit and retired into private life by diversifying into real estate for commercial purposes. Eventually, I have settled in my home town in Ikorodu.

My best moment
My best moment was May 25th, 1952, when I got married to my wife, Shadia Abeke Erogbogbo from Alamutu family of Abeokuta in Ogun State.  I found her very interesting, I dated her for about two years before she agreed to be my wife. I was happy the day she said yes to my marriage proposal. I met my wife at a funfair at Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Alakoro, Lagos. I had never met her before. When she was leaving the place I was trailing her. I tried to call her but she did not even bother to answer me. I followed her as far as Idumota bus stop she just entered the bus and went away. My friend who accompanied me to the funfair was not happy that I was wasting my time running after a girl. He was making fun of me that I should have allowed a bus to crush me because of a girl. I didn’t even know that my wife was a teacher at that time. Fortunately for me, she made enquiry from two of her students and they talked glowingly about me as a good man. She later wrote a letter to me. That was how the relationship started and led to marriage in 1952. We have been married for 64 years and I have no regrets. The union has produced promising children who have contributed and are still contributing immensely to the development of Lagos State and Nigeria at large.

My saddest moment

The saddest moment of my life was the day I lost my junior brother, Rasheed Erogbogbo. He was in Britain for 21 years and we left no stone unturned to bring him back to Lagos. And after spending seven years in Nigeria he died through a road accident. I was very sad. He had four children at that time and I also had four children who were his children’s contemporaries. I was wondering how I was going to cope with the responsibility of caring for eight children. But the gracious God helped me and all the eight children and others that I had later are big people today. My eldest child is Mrs.  Kofo Kassim who retired as an accountant under Lagos State government, Mr. Omar Abayomi Erogbogbo is a businessman, Rotimi is based in United States and one of his sons (my grandson) Folarin Ashafa Erogbogbo is now a professor. He came for my 90th birthday and his junior brother is also an engineer. Mrs. Ajoke Gbeleyi, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Mrs. Mojisola Dewunmi-Williams, Mr. Olushola Erogbogbo, Ms. Yetunde Erogbogbo and Barr. Folake Erogbogbo. I have numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

My quiet moment
What goes through my mind at all times is the fear of God. I usually wonder about people who commit atrocities because they don’t believe that God exists. This worries me. I am also worried about looters who looted government treasury and render Nigeria poor. I believe they don’t have the fear of God and eventually they will regret their actions.

Life has been fair to me
Reflecting on my 90 years of existence, I would say providence has been very fair to me. Although I have weathered many storms of life, but at the end of the day I am happy that I came out triumphant. And my secret of longevity? I don’t think I have any. Being active, agile with my faculty intact is by the grace of God. Again, I have my own adopted rules: I live a very simple life. I don’t drink, I don’t womanise, and I am a Muslim who is committed to five times daily prayers.

I am not afraid of death

If I die today, there is no doubt I know I will go to paradise because I have adhered to the tenets of God. I can even tell you now that I am in paradise because as a being, what your paradise will look like you will know when you are on earth. Paradise means comfort while the hell is a Greek word meaning punishment. So it is what you do on earth that will determine where you will go.  And if there were to be another world, I would still choose the same family lineage, I would like to repeat what I have done in life. But if it is possible to see God I would tell Him I am not going back to earth again because I have seen enough. There are many wicked people in this world.

I am fulfilled
I don’t think anybody’s aspirations can be fulfilled hundred per cent. I thank God for what He has done for me. I am quite satisfied for what I have achieved thus far. I have wonderful children and at 90 I am still alive in good health. Nevertheless, one still has one or two regrets. I believe a life without any ups and downs can’t appreciate the worth or mightiness of God. If one’s life is all rosy you won’t be wise as bad sides of life make you wise. And if you are optimistic you will know that there will be light at the end of a dark tunnel.