Always dressed to the nines, Mama Jadesola Oluwemimo’s sparkling white teeth betray her age. Her polished and radiant skin cuts the image of a woman in her 60s. The tinge of tintinnabulation in her voice echoes the tone of a nightingale. Her persona is a delight. Her graceful gait, turning caducity into youthfulness, presents a woman in her prime except that she was born in 1932. Mama Jadesola Oluwemimo’s photographic memory is enviable. At 88, she’s a matriarch full of life. From the lineage of Abraham Onigbanjo of Lagos Island, Mama signposts humility, modesty and ingenuity as revealed in this interview with Funke Olaode
LIFE HAS TREATED ME FAIRLY
Life is full of ups and downs and if you can endure you will be an overcomer. For me, at 88, I have no regrets about life because it has treated me fairly. It has been a blissful life surrounded by a loving husband and wonderful children. So far, it is being good and I give glory to God. I thank God for my life because I faced tribulations in my life trajectory. I had some challenges, I mean intrigues that are associated with family and marriage. For instance, how to manage various in-laws from mother-in-law to the extended family. It was not easy at the early stage of my early life and later, my marital life. I endured and God didn’t allow it to consume me.
I WAS BORN INTO ABRAHAM ONIGBANJO’S FAMILY OF LAGOS ISLAND
I was born on March 23, 1932, at No. 2, Varon Lane on Lagos Island into the family of Abraham Onigbanjo, who happens to be my grandfather. He hailed from the Olowoogbowo Area, Ita Kose of Lagos Island. In fact, the popular masquerade in my family was Gelede. By the time I was born, my father, Abraham Babatunde was working at the railway as a mechanical engineer while my grandfather, Abraham Onigbanjo was an auctioneer. Unfortunately, I had a faint recollection of my mother because she died at the age of 32 years leaving behind six children of 5 girls; two are twins and a boy. I didn’t know when my mother passed away because I was already living with my paternal aunt, the late Mrs. Theodora Onitiri. I was five years when I was taken to the Onitiris. The usual norms in those days children were easily given out to relations as there was this belief that they would be properly brought up. I was with the Onitiris where I had all my education before being my own boss.
LIVING WITH RELATIONS WAS A SCHOOL
I began the phase of my life at age five when I was sent to live with a paternal auntie at No. 2 Hotonu Street, Lagos Island (Koro Agbede). Mr. Oni, Yeside Dawodu and Mr. Onitiri were all living in the same compound. The experience wasn’t palatable. It was a polygamous setting. That house was a school on its own because of intrigues that are usually associated with polygamy. Sincerely, I learned so many things and endured so many things with my aunt. The sprawling compound which extends to the adjacent Street at 14, Makanju Lane, was a little world on its own, bristling with activities from dawn to dust. I worship at African Church Cathedral Bethel, Lagos. Our Sunday school teachers, led by the late Hector Adeboye Thomas were strict disciplinarians. Though they rarely use the cane, they were quite adapted to twisting ears and almost twisted my ears out of their sockets. Prof. Onitiri’s uncle, Emmanuel Onitiri, one of the elders of the African Church, had his own little world at the Makanju end of the compound. Morning prayers were held in Emmanuel Onitiri’s living room, quite early and we dread being woken up so early for the event. A hymn would be sung, there was Bible reading and prayers, all led by Mr. Onitiri. The working day began with each of us facing his or her appointed tasks.
EARLY EDUCATION AND DESIRE TO BE A BUSINESS TYCOON
I began my early education at St. Paul Primary School on Breadfruit Street at age five in 1937. I spent five years and later proceeded to Ireti Girls’ High School on Lagos Island where Mrs. Bucknor was the headmistress. It was a wonderful experience for me to have been enrolled in school. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish my secondary education because it had always been my childhood dream to be a business tycoon. But I read it to the level that I could raise my head high. When I left Ireti Girls High School, I dabbled into business executing contracts. Again, my guardians were business people. They had so many things in the compound. They supplied bread, guinea fowl and chicken. In a way, they spurred that entrepreneurship in me which helped me when I launched out fully to be on my own. I dabbled into business supplying eggs to Kingsway Store and Leventis. I was a young housewife when I lost my guardian, Mrs. Theodora Onitiri and father. They both had a motor accident in 1968 on Lagos-Shagamu Expressway. My father died on December 22 and my auntie died on December 24 in 1968. It was a tragic and devastating year for me.
MEETING MY HUSBAND
I met my husband (now deceased), Meshach Emiola Ibidapo in Lagos. He was a contractor with a track record of excellence. He made a mark and left his foot on the sand of time as a successful man. He was part of the crew that constructed Murtala Mohammed International Airport Road in the 60s and also part of the team that constructed Tafawa Balewa Square and Ahmadu Bello Way where Silver Bird Galleria and Nigeria Television Authority are situated. I met my husband while he was working with Barclay’s Bank, Lagos in late 1949 when I was around 17 years. I used to supply the Kingsway Store. In those days, bankers working with the English bank must dress corporately. The Barclay’s Bank was known all over the world and the other Bank such as The Bank of British West Africa now called First Bank. Dressing well was part of the total package and Berkley’s bank started it. In the morning before they entered the banking hall, they would parade themselves and we would be looking at them. It was during this show of fashion parade that he sighted me and would not let go.
THE ‘CHASE’ THAT PRECEDED THE MARRIAGE
Having made up his mind to ‘chase’ me, he actually walked into my house to ask for my hand in marriage. It was love at first sight. He told me that he wanted to marry me that it was not a boyfriend and girlfriend thing. Whenever he wanted to see me, and in order not to incur the wrath of my guardians, we had coded words that we used to communicate. He would say, ‘Jadesola, emi mi, owo re lowa. Mo fe fe e ni’ meaning, Jadesola, my heart is in your hand I want to marry you. He would whistle and I will peep through the window and he would come in. I was convinced right from the outset that he meant business. We courted for almost two years and I said if you were ready, come and see my guardians. And above all, God sealed the deal for us.
MY HUSBAND WAS REFERRED TO AS A MAN FROM THE HINTERLAND
When it was time for me to get married to my husband, Emiola Meshack Ibidapo, there was opposition from my family because they didn’t want me to marry an ‘ara-Oke’, a man from the hinterland. My late husband is from Owo in Ondo State and my families are Lagosians; the Normal Williams, the Ayubas, the Onitiris, the Onigbanjos and so on. There was this general belief that the ara-oke didn’t keep to one wife. So there was opposition. But his uncle J.O Okunrinboye, who had been in Lagos for several years and was a big man, waded into it. Other individuals intervened: there was another uncle of his, Magistrate Ojomo, and a man who occupied a position equivalent to a permanent secretary. Luckily for me, one of my guardians came to my rescue with the assurance that I was getting married to the right man and into the right family.
Everything pointed to the fact that he was a genuine man so I didn’t give up. We eventually got married on January 1951 when I was 19. After I got married in 1951, my husband said I shouldn’t do any work and become a full housewife. I have been a housewife in the past 69 years. After some time, I was into petty trading in my house because the entrepreneurial spirit was still burning. I had two housemaids. Whether my husband put some money down or not I must get something done.
BEING A SUPPORTIVE WIFE IN TIMES OF TRAVAILS
We were married for 67 years until he died two years ago. He was a caring, loving and good husband to me and a wonderful father to my seven children (four boys and three girls) who responded to the training. My first son is a retired pilot, I have medical doctors, a lawyer, a professor, Ibiyemi ‘Tunji-Bello and a computer analyst. Life is not a bed of roses, we had our challenges but I stood by him and I supported him when he was down just to ensure that our children go to school. I was a supportive wife when my husband lost his job. I engaged in all manners of petty trading to keep my family afloat. I fried baked beans, I was into hair-dressing, I was selling cooked beans. I didn’t abandon him and my home. I endured until he got his job back and financial normalcy returned to my household. Looking back I cannot thank God enough for His mercies over my family. They are all works of God that nobody can challenge. God has been kind that I don’t have any regret. I have learnt so many lessons from this life. Some of my friends would say, ‘what are you still doing with that man?’. But I didn’t listen to them because one thing about life is knowing what you want. Marriage is not a bed of roses. It takes perseverance, love, tolerance to be able to sustain your home. For me, wives should love their husbands. Be humble, be respectful, and be content with what you have. Don’t compare yourselves with others.
MY HUSBAND IS UNFORGETTABLE AND IRREPLACEABLE
I lost my husband two years ago. I still miss him. He is an unforgettable and irreplaceable husband. I remember him every day as a good man. I have a nickname for him. I call him ‘Emi mi’ my heart. He was a generous, loving and caring man. He loved me so much that he said I would not die before him that I would bury him. So if there were to be another world, I will marry him all over again.
I AM NOT AFRAID OF DEATH
At 88 and having seen it all I am not afraid of death. If it comes today I will go gladly to meet my maker. I have embraced God right from childhood as my all in all. Being raised in Christian Faith also helped my life trajectory. It helped to keep me in check not to derail against all odds. There is nothing in this world that is more than God Almighty. If one follows Him wholeheartedly, he will not only direct your path, He will also make your way smooth.