Mrs. Eno-Edet Traore (3rd left) cutting her 80th birthday cake, flanked by children and grandchildren

Mrs. Eno-Edet Traore, the only surviving sister of Nigeria’s first indigenous Inspector General of Police late Louis Edet, marked her 80th birthday on November 26. In this interview with Ikenna Ekwerike, she spoke about her youth, the secret of her longevity, among others  

Where were you born?

First of all, my name is Eno-EdetTraore; Traore is my husband’s name and Edet is my family name. I was born in Duke Town in Calabar, Cross River State in 1937 on this day, 26 November, 1937.

How was growing up like?

Well, I came from a polygamous home. My father was polygamous because he was a chief of the community and he was also in the Native Court; one of the judges in the Native Court that was set up by the Colonial Masters. He was polygamous but I never saw him with two wives under the same roof. It was one woman after the other, never two women; that was the funny thing about his own style of polygamy.

How did you relate with your parents and family?

My father was EdetEssien; he was the father of the first indigenous Inspector General of Police late Louis Edet. Among his children I’m number five, the last but one and the IG was number two. The IG was my elder brother; we had a more elderly brother who was a school principal at that time and the IG was the next and we had sisters in between. My mother’s name was IkwuoEkpe and she was from Bakassi, which is now part of Akwa Ibom. I was the only daughter of my mother, the only child in fact, so she was treating me like an egg. And it happened that my father, among all other children, was very fond of me. So he pushed me to go to school, he was very keen because as the chief, the other girls got married early and my father said I should not marry early. So he used to give me face cap to cover my face so that men will not see me; so that I will stay long in school. That’s funny about my father. And when he was actually on his dying bed he called all his children who were in Nigeria at that time – because the IG was abroad at the time. He called all of them and told them that they should keep me in school until am tired of going to school. He actually gave them that warning and then he breathed his last few hours after that. I was in secondary school by then; in Form Two.

Where did you school?

I schooled in Calabar Primary School and also in the Convent School; then we were the pioneer students of the Holy Child Secondary School. After that I went to WTC Enugu, it’s a teacher training institute. From there to the University of Lagos where I did French. While there, I had a French scholarship and we went to France. I got my Master’s degree in France. And I left here on the day of that first coup d’etat, 15th of January 1966 that was the day we were to go to France and it was a different story. Nobody knew what coup d’etat is and we were all asking what coup d’etat is and why is it that it is happening today that’s my turn to travel abroad. But in the end I left the country. I never came back till about 10 years after because I got married to a student in Toulouse in France; so I had my children there. And after that I went to my husband’s country before I returned to Nigeria. My husband is from Mauritania, the other end of West Africa.

Growing up, what were some of the things you did, either at home or in school that make you laugh each time you remember them now?

I was among the troublesome students, even in primary school: very noisy, very troublesome, very playful such that even when am not well, I cannot talk, and am not part of the troublemakers, the Reverend Sisters will call ‘Eno-Edet, I’m sure she is involved’ whereas I might be fast asleep and others are making noise. I was just among the troublesome people. But we were also among the most brilliant students, we passed our exams. So they liked us for that. But to keep us quiet and pin us down was a big problem. We were playful, troublesome, noisy; just the playful way.

Who were your best friends while growing up?

Ah! I can’t remember them now. But by the time we left UNILAG and went to France, the group I was with are the ones that I can remember and we still stay close up till now. Those are Professor Ade Ojo, Tony Adedoyin and some other ones who were not my classmates.

Which jobs did you first do after school and your experiences then?

Well, we were trained to be teachers so I was teaching French in my husband’s country in the secondary school. And then when they started the Polisario War between Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco over the Spanish Sahara, that’s why I decided to come back home because when there was Nigeria/Biafra War, I was not here and I didn’t like war situation where you have soldiers marching on the streets and you can’t find food to buy and so on. So I came back to Nigeria and I never went back.

How did you find your husband and how many children did you have?

As students: you know while we were students we mixed up at student parties, union meetings and so on. There’s interaction, socialisation among students from all over the world; students from all countries of the world. Toulouse is a very big University Centre; University of Toulouse in Southern France. Then we were also going to Paris for courses. My husband was a veterinary doctor. I have four children; two males and two females. They are all very big now. Their father was very intellectual minded, and political. He took active part in students’ politics and later in the country’s politics. He was in opposition politics; socialists ideology. So they were very intellectual minded. So our children grew up same way. They are all PhD holders.

What were your greatest marital challenges and how did you overcome them?

You know my husband was in politics, he buried himself in opposition politics to fight the system and it was not easy. My challenge was that he sort of neglected the home front, so all the four children were really on my head. So I had to take up that challenge and even when I left Mauritania and came back to Nigeria my children were my raison d’etre. So I made sure they continued schooling, I supported them. When I came back I worked in the bank, UBA. And I made sure I sponsored my children without minding whether their father was contributing or not. And he was being bashed by the regime in Mauritania: house arrest which was political and he refused to go on exile like other political oppositions would do like in Nigeria; you stay put. So I took up the challenge of making sure that all the children are well brought up and pursue their education vigorously. So today all my children are well qualified and doing just fine.

What food do you like most?

Ah! The food (laughs)… Every birthday I prepare my Calabar food we call ‘ekpang-nkukwo’. It’s a tedious meal, but that’s what I like, you don’t cook it every day. Every birthday I prepare it so it becomes a tradition now. All my family members in Lagos coming for my birthday know that ‘ekpang-nkukwo’ will be there.

At 80 you still look strong; what’s the secret of your longevity?

Well, the secret is that I eat healthy food, I exercise and I rest. They say good food, exercise and rest; those are the three major things to keep healthy and I don’t have any disease or illness bothering my organs. I go for my medical check-up in France once a year. And I keep fit by doing more sports from maintenance sports to intensive sports. And I try to drop my weight. Maintenance is to do sports thrice a week, then intensive is to increase that and reduce the quantity of food so with that I found that am even a lot more healthy, feel happier at 80 than when I was 70.

Generally, what are some of the challenges you have faced in life and how did you overcome them?

The challenges in Nigeria are the hardships that are imposed on us the populace by bad governments. That’s what I’d say because things you can take for granted like light, like water, like driving your car on a good road; all those ones are very stressful in this country because the governments in place have not been fair to us from decade to decade. They never cared about us: we have too much money and too little brain at the head that’s what we say. No nationalist orientation, they are too selfish and then now, they use religion and tribalism to scatter the people because of their selfishness, to keep the masses down. The people have problem living good lives whereas we have all the opportunities in this country to live better lives. One has to learn to overcome because if you allow it to weigh you down, you won’t live to 80.

What genre of music do you enjoy and who is your favourite artiste?

 Hahahaha! I’m not really one of those very fans of music and musicians. But before Fela died it didn’t even occur to me that Fela was a very famous musician. But after his death there were so many stories about him and that made me take interest in his music. But the truth is, am not a fan of music, I’d rather read novels, I like novels. I read novels a lot both from local and foreign authors. As at now, I’m reading the work by this lady, ChimamandaAdichie. I’ve read about three or four of her works. I find the young lady very fascinating. Otherwise, you know I studied Literature: I studied French and English Literature. So I read a lot of novels: Nigerian writers, Russian writers, English writers and French writers.

Are you a sports enthusiast?

Yes, I like sports. When I was in school I was participating in sports but I never won any prize. Swimming is my most loved sport. Up till now I swim a lot. Up till now I play golf, I go to gym, I do my bicycle, I do my little strength weight lifting, and then I do golf once a week, at least.

Presently, what’s your typical daily routine like?

 Actually I’ve scaled down my activities. You know, I used to run my hotel, a small boutique hotel at the International Airport Road. But now that am old and I don’t want anything to stress me, I closed it down then I let out the apartment for short let, long stay, that gives me less stress. So I supervise from time to time what’s going on there. Apart from that I go to the gym, go do my swimming at Ikoyi Club; I’m a life-member there now. And then I go for golf Fridays because it’s less crowded on Fridays.