Dayo Keshi: My Secret as  Sweet Six-three

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My Husband Was Ladies’ Man

Classy and sweet at 63; cosmopolitan and suave as a grandma; intuitive and cultural as a globetrotter, she exudes the charisma of an Amazon. With a life spent in the shadow of a loving father, she grew up to become one of Nigeria’s unsung heroines of the country’s cultural renaissance. Devoted as a wife and doting as a mother, at the age of 63, she finds renewed essence in motherhood as a grandma. Dayo Keshi, a former Director General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, tells Adedayo Adejobi, about her intriguing romance with a young man she met at the University of Ibadan, her devotion to books and the arts and how she had gone around the world “60 seconds”

My Life at a Glance …

I’m married to Ambassador Keshi. We met at University of Ibadan. Long before that, I had known him – he was a sportsman. We dated, got married and now we have three children, four grandchildren and expecting many more. We are happily married. Young ones these days don’t want to have more than two children. In our days, we didn’t count children; we kept having till we can’t (have no more).

Professionally, my husband as a diplomat, made me experience the world. Because we were not allowed to work, I refused to be a sit-at-home wife and mom. The first eight years of my marriage, I followed him around to major continents of the world, and it exposed me to different cultures. Even though I wasn’t yet employed in the Culture Ministry, it was clear to me no culture is superior to the other.

We started the cultural experience in Togo, two hours by car. But the culture is different. The first time I didn’t remember to do my shopping, I dashed out by 12 o’clock to pick a few things and was shocked to learn they wouldn’t open till 2pm because like most French African countries, they go on break. The system shuts down between 12 to 2 pm so they go home to lunch or do whatever they want, and come back refreshed to take the rest of the day. It was strange to me. It was a small country and diplomatic community where everybody knew themselves and a fantastic place for us to start the diplomatic career. I think it was a good training ground for me as the wife of a diplomat because it helped me when I moved to other countries, I knew what I had to do. One thing I did was to look around for credible associations, integrate and mix with people.

My 40 Years of Romance…

We’ve been married for 40 years. I think it’s even the best part of my life because I’m 63. My husband is a politician and diplomat. He was a strong voice in students’ union politics. He has strong opinions. He calls a spade a spade; doesn’t condemn. He listens a lot to me, and I think those are the basic ingredients of a successful marriage. I know when to keep quiet as a woman. I thank God my children who‘ve been married are following our footsteps in terms of the relationship they have with their spouses and even their children. He’s a sports man, and was a ladies’ man with a strong following –mostly women. So, when he’s playing, you hear ‘Joe Keshi!’ They had a team that followed him, and I wasn’t cut out for that. So, I’d watch for a while and later either read a novel or would quietly leave. From day one, I made it clear when I told him, we were opposites and he said opposites attract. But when I saw he was persistent that he would want to spend the rest of his life with me, I looked at him and said let’s see how it goes. But I said, ‘What about the person you are dating? He said, ‘Who said I’m dating anyone? I’m a young man. I go to party, meet and dance with girls.’ I don’t like to party; so, he’d see me off and go partying.

In my life, growing up, my father was a strong force because my mother died when I was very young and he would constantly say, ‘Remember, whose child you are. You went to the University to get a degree, don’t come home with a husband. Bring the degree first.’ He was very strong in my life and so I could not date anybody until I was done with my degree. To date, my husband doesn’t like me saying we are opposite, yet we found a lot of common grounds between us. He gives his honest advice and I do the same, so we work well as a team. My husband and I grew up together, and whatever we have today, we both built together. I never had it like some women that their husbands were able to do everything, and I’m not envious of that. My husband is not a business person. He’s an 8 am -7 pm person. I support him and that’s how we saw our children through school. They didn’t get scholarship and we made sure they went to one of the best universities in the United States.

 

My Life as a Young Grandma..

It’s feels fantastic being a young grandma. It’s interesting being a grandmother. I don’t know what it is that makes me mellow down. My children look at me and say I didn’t allow them do any of the things I allow my grandchildren do. I say I will spoil them, you go and discipline them. I’m grandma and you are the parents. Unless it’s a very serious offence, then I can discipline. It’s so amazing the way children today know about everything. You can’t tell a lie to a child because they’ll Google it. They are more outspoken now than in our time. I do have a grandma and grandchildren time. We do a special activity where everybody must assemble. In December, we all come together and celebrate Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year. So far, I thank God it’s been going on for a long time. We play together; I encourage parents to spend time with each other so that the children will form a bond. I love my grandchildren and look forward to many more. It’s a culture that is well imbibed in Nigeria. Unfortunately, we don’t pay attention to that anymore. In African tradition and culture, everyone who is related to you by blood, is family. A lot of marriages didn’t collapse the way it’s happening now because the family unit was very strong with good orientation. Now, we are imbibing more of foreign western culture.

A Tale of Foreign Tongue…

If you visit China and can’t speak English they’ll bring an interpreter. But the main person in that meeting understands English very well. China makes no apologies for who they are. When in the ministry of culture, one of my portfolios was to increase Nigerian cultural bilateral relations. It was a fantastic job I did for 12 years. I retired as Director, Bilateral Cultural Relations after over 30 years in the ministry. Nigeria’s culture can become its biggest infrastructural gift to its people. It will affect lives of the grass roots and the rich. The truth is that people don’t understand what the creative industry is all about. The language, photographs, food, music are all part of the creative industry. Life, creation and everything around us is creativity. The depth of our various cultures shows that Nigeria is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. But have we really tapped into that wealth? We need to put square pegs in square holes and round pegs in round holes. There must be passion to drive creativity. I believe strongly that the growth of creative industry in Nigeria must be multifaceted. I firmly believe that if we want the creative industry to become the goldmine that Nigeria can tap into, then there will be a general change in attitude towards creativity.

I won’t tell you I’m a creative artist because I don’t draw, paint or weave baskets. But my appreciation of the arts is highly infectious, and that is what we need. When I move around, I appreciate good works of arts and I’m so delighted about the passion they bring to the industry. By virtue of my husband’s job and my own personal interest, anywhere I travel to, I go to see what makes their own culture rich and strong. To date, I have found that Nigeria has the strongest culture in the world. Culture should be totally divorced from our politics. Because a person does not belong to the right political party, he or she cannot head that cultural institution. It’s not done. Again, Nigeria belongs to everybody and it must work. I feel there is going to be a big boom in this sector sooner than later, and for me I just wish that we have the structure in place so that the boom will make Nigeria greater. For anything to grow, you need infrastructure in place. The biggest museums and art institutions in America, England, France and Germany are all from the private sector.

We Need Cultural Identity ..

Most of the time, people misconstrue what the creative industry is about. They limit it to entertainment. The misconception has stunted the growth in Nigeria, as most people relegate it to the background. I find that when you go to public places including the biggest office in the land, you don’t have the ambience of Nigerian works of art. Now people are beginning to appreciate it. If you walk into the Chinese embassy, you don’t need to be told you are there. We brought in the Nigerian ambience, whilst in the ministry titled, ‘Embellishment of Nigerian Missions Abroad’. We moved a lot of works of art to Nigerian embassies abroad. We didn’t cover all the embassies because of paucity of funds. In Nigeria, important offices should have works, books, and paintings talking about Nigeria. We should appreciate subtle Nigerian diplomacy instead of promoting Chinese diplomacy. It should involve private sectors and government. Once you work into a Nigerian office, you should see Nigerian creativity. Whilst I was in office, we opened two cultural centres in China and Brazil. A lot of work went into it. It was on that premise the Chinese got their cultural centre. Today, they have an existing culture in Abuja but ours is shut down in China – because due to lack of funding, political will, cultural diplomacy has been left out of the equation. But therein lies the future for people who are passionate about Nigeria’s creative industry. Government should create basic infrastructure and encourage public-private partnership.

 This Industry needs a lot of passion because even those we are working with don’t care much about your feelings. You must be thick-skinned and your eyes must be on the prize. I’ve been called all sorts of names like goat, lion and/or a ‘woman-man’. Some say they feel sorry for my husband. My husband feels I’m the best person on earth for him and I feel same way about him. My children adore the ground I walk on. I find my diplomat and political analyst-husband reading the arts pages, gathering information on creative industry and that gives me fulfillment. Nigeria has the most remarkable cultures in the world.

 My Secret as Sweet Six-three…

The secret is being brought up by a man who was very caring about his looks. He would say that it’s true that the garment doesn’t make a man, but wrong garment gives a wrong impression about the man. Some people might not know me, but they will see the way I look when I walk into a place, look at how I’m dressed and draw conclusions.