The aged man sits, with his reflective gaze filled with decades gone by. The wrinkles on his time-worn face speak of time spent on farms. His warm smile evokes his first time in school at the age of 10. Gesticulating, he describes his first experience of city life; and how he was enthralled as a teenager. He has a lot of stories to tell. And, at 80, he scarcely forgets an episode that has shaped his existence. In the past, he had to hope against hopelessness. Today, his hopes are fulfilled and he is well satisfied with age. Today, Pa Joseph Obere recollects how wrestled with poverty and emerged champion with success. If you want to learn patience, industry and loyalty to one’s boss, you should take a cue from Pa Obere’s story. An indigene of Delta State and born on November 22, 1936 in Ogburode in Udu Local Government Area, Pa Obere enjoys good health and recalls his life’s drama amidst poverty and how he triumphed. He speaks with Funke Olaode about his poor parents, caring sister and how he got to have three wives and the man whom he said gave him a new life
My parents were peasant farmers
Iwas born on November 22, 1936 in Ogburode, Udu Local Government Area, in Delta State. By the time I was born, my parents were peasant farmers. My mother had two children before he married my father and later had three children for my father. Altogether, they both raised five children and I am the youngest. It was a mini-monogamous setting. But having parents who were peasant farmers did not make life easy for us. We had to struggle to survive. We used to go to farm to fish and tap rubbers. I was a little bit lucky because I escaped the village life in 1946 when I was about 10. I only knew about the existence of wonder of the world when I moved to Warri – there was no electricity and pipe-borne water in my village. It was a strange feeling when I saw electricity for the first time in Warri. I embraced it as part of modern civilization.
Starting school at age 10
My elder sister who was married to an Alaja man invited me to live with her in order to look after her own child. It was in Alaja that I first had an encounter with western education. My parents couldn’t send me to school back in the village. My staying with my sister was a blessing because she volunteered to send me to school. My sister was a very caring woman not only to me but to my other siblings. The husband was also good. I was elated the day I was enrolled as a pupil. I was committed to my studies because it was my only hope. I was always topping the class. I remember, in Primary Two, when I came second, I wept. I began school at age 10 at St. Barnabas Anglican Primary School, Ogburode in 1946. I didn’t complete my education there because I went to Warri. I completed my primary education at CMS Primary School. I would have been awarded a Standard Six certificate but (Obafemi) Awolowo’s new education policy that was introduced in 1954/55 put an end to that.
Lack of fund denied me of higher education
My parents as farmers were passionate about education but didn’t have the resources to train me. But one thing was clear even in the midst of poverty, I didn’t lose hope. When I had the opportunity to go to school, I immersed myself to what it could offer for me. I finished Primary Five and was awarded a primary school leaving certificate. I had ‘Grade A’ in my examinations. In fact, I sat for Common Entrance and passed but lack of money truncated my ambition to go further. While growing up the only ambition was to be a successful person. I didn’t know what medicine or engineering was all about. The only inspiration around us was going into priesthood and teaching. As far as I know many people became teachers not by choice but because it was the only thing (job) that was available.
Coming to Lagos in 1955
Having struggled to acquire primary education there was no hope that I would ever taste higher education. In 1955, I decided to seek greener pasture in Lagos at the age of 19. It was my first time in Lagos. I was astonished by the level of infrastructural development in the city. I was staying with my elder brother in Ebute-Metta. Since there was no opportunity to apply to any of the secondary schools around due to lack of fund, I decided to learn typing and shorthand.
How my path crossed Ibru’s
I was lucky; immediately after my training I secured a job under the watch of Olorogun Michael Ibru (now late). He needed a stenographer (a shorthand typist). I became Ibru’s private secretary. He was actually looking for a stenographer and my brother took me to him. I began work at Ibru Organisation in August 1956. It was an office work but I was engaged in various activities. He had just left UAC at that time to set up his business and he had a car but without a driver. The office then was at Shomolu (his family house). I would resume there in the morning, I would wash the car. There was no road to Shomolu by car at that time. The car was parked at Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbogbi. I would carry a bucket of water and walked to wash the car. I was doing everything but I was happy because apart from being my boss he was also a very caring man. So I didn’t mind doing all the chores. Olorogun Michael Ibru was exporting agricultural products when he started and we were looking for customers. In those days, you have to write letters (in form of a proposal) to countries looking for exporters in those countries. Some would respond while some would not reply our correspondences. We later moved from Shomolu to No. 40 Balogun Street on Lagos Island. That time also coincided with his frozen fishing business. He had a Ghanaian friend and it was through him that he went into the business.
We were storing at the West African Cold Store in Ijora Oloye opposite Seven-Up. As the business progressed, he acquired a place at Creek Road and built a cold store. From there, he moved to Ijora near the National Arts Theatre. The whole place was acquired by the Ibru including where the National Arts Theatre was later built. The place was later acquired by the Federal Government in 1977 to build the National Arts Theatre. Generally, Ibru was an ambitious man who had foresight that made him establish cold store and agricultural business. At one time, he was involved in the proposed metro line that didn’t see the light of day under the then Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. If that project had scaled through it would have helped Lagos and would have eased off all the traffic jam being experienced now. All the various companies that he ventured into were successful. We were importing tin tomatoes. As a matter of fact, he was the first that introduced it into the country. But his main concern was the fishing business because he wanted protein for the people and that was what drove him into the fishing business. When the frozen fish blossomed, he went into the wet fish (trawler). He would go to the West African sea to buy. The Russian ship couldn’t come to Apapa then and they had to stay in the middle of the sea to offload. This was around 1963. I am happy that I worked with an ambitious and forward-looking, successful man. I retired from the company in 2001 after 45 years as head of secretariat (administration).
What I learnt from Olorogun Ibru
How would I describe a boss who was like a big brother to me? Michael Ibru was a caring man. He liked to help people and I don’t see him making enmity with people. He was adventurous and that was why he prospered such as having Aero Contractor. Apart from his business acumen I learnt humility from him. He was a humble but great man. He was kind and took care of people. He took care of his family very well. He didn’t go beyond secondary school but he made sure that all his siblings were well trained. Ibru was like an umbrella to all. When I wanted to build my present house where I lived in Surulere he assisted me. That is the type of man he was – he was always willing to help. I will miss him because he was a man of humility, integrity and transparency.
Life after retirement
I have not been doing anything really. I am just enjoying life in good health. But I went into missionary work by joining the Christ Miracle Centre at Ijesha. I have always been a Christian. Sincerely, I wouldn’t say I was a good Christian prior to my encounter with the church. In fact, I got baptized in 1991 in the church. The founder passed away in 2008 and another man was elected to replace him and he too passed away. That was how the leadership mantle fell on me. It wasn’t my ambition or aim to take over. But I was called upon and here I am. Honestly, embracing God has really shaped my life. There was a time I had three wives. The senior one died in 2004. I parted ways with my second wife in 1976 due to irreconcilable differences. I married a third wife, Grace, who is living with me now. It was through this wonderful woman that I joined the church and my life has never remained the same.
Turning 80 was a good feeling
It was a good feeling turning 80 because by the grace of God I am in good health. I don’t feel any difference when the moment was approaching. You know every year people celebrate birthday including me but this one is significant. People attach so much importance to it because three scores and one is the biblical age and anything above that is by His grace.
I got married to my first wife who I met through her uncle at age 26 in 1962. I later married two other women. Honestly, polygamy is not an easy thing and if you decide to toe the path you must be a liar because you can’t please all at the same time. Somehow, I waded through it and today I am left with only one wife, Grace. I am blessed with children and I have played my role well. I never went beyond primary school. But I have been a good father to them all. I did the best I could in terms of giving them good education. My last child graduated from University of Manchester in 2014.
It’s been God all the way
Considering my life’s trajectory and the role played by providence I can say that I am a fulfilled man. Some of my contemporaries are dead and today I am still alive. From a primitive setting, God helped me through my late boss, Olorogun Michael lbru, to become somebody in life. His children are appreciative of the role I played under the tutelage of their father and they also look after me. So I have lived well.
I have no regrets
If one could turn back the hands of clock, there were things I would have loved to do differently. You know human beings are anxious and probably I would have found a way when I was much younger to further my education before children started coming. But it is too late now. All in all, I don’t have any regrets.