I Have Stumbled and Fallen On Many Occasions, But Here I Am Today
Outgoing and outspoken; that’s Olajumoke Simplice, the third female and 13th President of The Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, CITN. Simplice is an embodiment of talent sustained by grace and doggedness. At 72, her mantra is “age is just a number.” One distinguishing feature of this pleasing personality is her zero tolerance for contempt and injustice. Interestingly, these weaknesses have literally turned out to be a rod with which she is able to break glass ceilings. Simplice is still breaking more. In this interview with OMOLABAKE FASOGBON, the CITN President shares her harrowing and heartening experiences in her more than seven decades on earth and her tall dream to become a star actress, amongst others
Although born with a silver spoon, Olajumoke Simplice was not trained as one. Simplice’s trajectory is such that draws questions upon questions. For instance, she missed out on the day she was supposed to write her first common entrance examination because she was busy watching the performance of a masquerade on the street. That sounds absurd, right? But No! It was simply divine, according to the tax guru.
As a child, Simplice was a trouble maker, highly exuberant, innovative with pranks and of course, packs a rare intelligence that follows her to adulthood. As a matter of fact, she cherishes this period of her life the most and she would not mind a repeat if possible.
Those days were in Lafiaji specifically at Onikan in Lagos, where the grandmother of three unreservedly savoured with the likes of Akintola Odutola, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Fela Kuti, Tokunbo Mario and Ladi Akintola.
Feeling more relaxed and at home, she relishes the period thus: “I could recall those days when my siblings and others would go to school; I would be left alone at home crying. When I didn’t allow my parents to rest, I was taken to one lesson at King George Street, called kindergarten in those days. It was from the lesson that I learnt how to talk and how to behave.
“I also recall that at Christmas, our teachers will dress us up in paper which we also used for decoration and many other things. I later left there to attend a formal school – Araromi Baptist Primary School which was the same school that my siblings attended. In fact, those days were still very much in memory just like yesterday and that tells that one should not underestimate the brain of children”.
Showing more zeal to bare her experience during her days of naivety, she continued: “I happen to be the third child of five children but the naughtiest and most stubborn. My father worked with the Ministry of Communication and my mother, a Nurse. Both of them were not always at home, so we spent most time with our grandmother.
“I really gave my parent and grandmother a tough time. It was that place they asked us not to go that I would go or what they asked us not to do that I would do. Everything about me then was Tomboyish. I could climb any tree to pluck fruits. As flexible as Guava tree is, I would climb to the level where I could to pluck the fruit.
“I remember, there was a time that my grandfather was looking for me while hiding his cane at the back, I quickly ran on top of the mango tree to hide. So, when he left, I jumped down but unfortunately my leg landed on a very sharp object that was how I was caught. Despite the pain on my leg, having landed on a sharp object, my grandfather still beat me. I also recall how I would go for swimming anytime I was coming back from school which was not allowed.
“I remember I used to fight a lot then, even when I was not the one being attacked. I fought most especially when I felt that someone was being cheated. I would intervene without being invited. I remember I once slapped my Principal for misbehaving, in fact, I beat him up. I then packed my things, left the school and never returned. I attended several secondary schools before I completed secondary education and this was because of my no-nonsense nature. But believe me, all of these experiences contributed to shaping me into a better person as I advanced in age and status. Looking back, I enjoyed every bit of my childhood.”
Absorbed in the session, she diverted a bit to how she almost missed university education for luxury. “You know, after my secondary school education, I went to work at Central Bank Library and while I was there, I was called for a scholarship interview, which I won. But you know since I was working with the Central Bank, I was carried away with the pay and good life and since the letter of scholarship read that I should inform them anytime I got to school, I felt I could go to school anytime. Therefore, going to school was never in my itinerary. One of my directors then (Dr. A. A Adekunle) sighted the letter and wondered why I had not enrolled in school. Then he called me and said, “Simplice, this is January, if by September you don’t get admission, I will sack you.” The threat hit me so hard, I was pained because I was seriously enjoying Central Bank and didn’t want to leave. But I heeded and started processing my admission to Ahmadu Bello University.
“When I look back at my journey in life today, I feel some terrible hands have been pushing me to do something, but sincerely, I’m not regretful because somehow, they toughened me and taught me different lessons.”
Simplice shares some of the lessons just as she also spares some admonition saying, “In life, I’ve learnt that things are not always what they seem to be. I’ve learnt to look beyond the obvious because someone you considered an enemy might actually be a friend. In life, you have to be rugged and selfless, but in being selfless, you have to guard yourself too. My advice to people is for them to learn from negative experiences and improve on positive ones. Finally, leave God to order your steps. Like I have mentioned earlier, I have fallen and stumbled on many occasions, but here I am today, because I’m rugged”.
Indeed, Simplice’ lifestyle as a juvenile defied her background but her parent, grandparent and community prevented her from going haywire as she confessed. “You see, despite that people looked at us as rich man’s children, we were not treated as such at home because the cane was always ready for us when we misbehaved. Despite that we had house help, my grandmother would tell us that the house help was for her and not for the children. If you were not there when the cooking was done, automatically, there was no food for you.
In those days, my grandmother would make us blend pepper manually instead of using electric pepper grinding machine. She also ensured that the boys among us carry out household chores. In fact, in my street then, we had a kind of community upbringing because you belong to every family on that street. If you did anything wrong, any member of a family on our street could discipline you and your parents wouldn’t say anything.
I still remember when Fela Anikulapo came back from England with his Kooler Lobitos band and we will all go and sit down to listen to his music. Meanwhile, Fela had an uncle then on the street that used to give us chocolate and biscuits. Everyone called him “Uncle”, so anytime we misbehaved at home, our parent would go and report us to Uncle and ask him not to give us chocolate as a result. I mean, we were raised by our parents and the community we found ourselves. We really enjoyed this and I really wished that this kind of community development of a child be restored in the society”.
A note on Simplice childhood would be incomplete without capturing her exploits in one of Nigeria’s monuments, the Race Course, now known as Tafawa Balewa Square. Pretty much interested in this episode, she gets nostalgic as she recounts the memory, “Oh my God, I rocked Race Course when it was still Race Course. Race Course of those days was very beautiful. It was not what we have today. I’m talking about those days when politicians, business moguls and the creme de la creme of the society visited to bet on horse race. I mean serious betting o! We used to go there to watch not just race but to also catch a glimpse of important people visiting and also walk around to feel the aesthetics of the monument, as there was free access then.
“On Sundays, the whole family would go there for picnic. We would play Ludo and other games and spend time with family members. One other thing I enjoyed was how I joined my peers to sweep KJV Stadium now called Mobolaji Johnson Sports Arena in Onikan, in exchange for a ticket anytime there was going to be a match. You know, after sweeping, we would be given a VIP ticket to watch the match and then we would come in majestically to watch the match and be posing like a VIP, not knowing that we had come earlier to sweep the place.”
Though she is today a renowned tax professional, the decision to be one was taken later in life and as a last resort as she had always wanted a career in acting. “The opportunity for Taxation came when I had to leave my job as an Assistant Accountant in a fishing firm in 1982. The challenge was that I had only one child and I wanted more children, yet I worked almost every day, including weekends. So, I met a friend of mine, Prof. Teju Somorin, now Dean School of Postgraduate Studies, Caleb University, who was then an Inspector of Taxes at the then Federal Board of Inland Revenue (FBIR), now FIRS. She encouraged me to join the civil service. She specifically talked about the Inland Revenue as being a good place to work even though the pay wasn’t high. That was how I secured a job in Inland Revenue through one of my lecturers in Ahmadu Bello University who was then the Economic Adviser to Shehu Shagari and a friend to the then Chairman of FIRS. You know then, our lecturers were like our friends and not these days when lecturers victimised students. Whatever I am today as a tax person, FIRS was the Foundation. No doubt, I enjoyed every bit I spent in FIRS. Although, it got to a point due to restlessness in my spirit and search for higher pay, I wanted to get a job in the bank. But I placed myself on a condition that If I could get a staff quarters in Ikoyi, even if they won’t pay me salaries for three years; I wouldn’t leave and somehow, I got one, so I decided to stay even though I had already commenced the process of working in the bank. Funny enough, I was already planning to resign in FIRS and resume at the bank when I received my letter of allocation to the quarters.”
Coincidentally, taking a career in taxation happened to be her highest point in life coupled with when she had her son. She speaks about motherhood experience thus, “I was 29 years old and in my final year in the University when I had my son who is now a lawyer. I think that was during the period of Ali Must Go Protest. I did not fall sick for one day during my pregnancy. The period happened to be the healthiest period of my life till date. I didn’t have headache or any sign to show that I was pregnant. What about when I was to have the child, it was so easy. I remember I was conversing with the nurse, the nurse said push and I was still asking her how I was going to push and before I knew it, the baby came out. The nurse was forced to tell me that I shouldn’t expect similar experience on subsequent pregnancies as child bearing doesn’t come that easy. Anytime, I look at the child, I’m always happy”.
Studying the way and life of Simplice from teen hood especially being a boyish girl, one couldn’t have imagined that she could be melted especially by an opposite sex. So, when this reporter asked her how did the lucky man manage to get through to her; beaming, she responded: “My story with men ehn, hmm! (heaves a sigh) You see, I’m like a stupid lover. When I fall in love, I fall in love completely and when things fall apart, I fall it apart completely. I got involved with a man on my street who came back from England. We loved each other so he wanted me to follow him to England and I told him to let me finish school first but the condition didn’t go well with him.
“He went back to England and after about three to four years, he married somebody else but he still came back to me saying stories as usual and I fell. That was how I had my son at my final year in the university and it was really a fantastic relationship, but somewhere along the line, we had issues. I had to walk out of the relationship. I had another fantastic relationship; that one too went bad and I was forced to leave the marriage despite how I tried to endure. Though, we are no longer together as couple but we are on talking terms. As a matter of fact, he still called me last week. We are still good friends.”
Asked what happened after the relationship, she exclaimed: “I didn’t remarry o! Remarry ke, Nooo! I just got fed up and I conditioned my mind to shut men out. Asked If men were not coming, she replied, “Why not, occasionally, men came, and I sized them up and see if it’s workable or not (bursts out laughing). By April, I will be 72 and even at that age, I still get advances from men, even younger boys will come and I will tell them that I’m old enough to be their mother and even grandmother. Although, women don’t like revealing their age but I’m always very proud to tell my age anywhere.”
Before answering another question, she quickly added, “And , I still enjoy flattery from my contemporaries and those a bit older than me. Which woman doesn’t enjoy being flattered (laughs out loudly). In fact, I still get gifts from men and boys conveying all sort of flattery messages like ‘with love from, this is for you with love in appreciation that you are so fine’, amongst many others.”
Although, she could be tough with some quirky traits, she holds more with the philosophy of her father who is rather soft. “My father is the other side of me, except that he is also outspoken because in my house, we learn how to sorosoke (speak out your mind). He approaches life so simple and he preaches same. For instance, no matter how I offended him then, he would never beat me, he would rather sit me down and talk to me but trust my mother, and she gave me the toughest beating. Haa! She beat me o, she’s still very much alive. I recall that my father was forced to beat me once and that was because I pushed him to the wall but even at that, he came back to apologise. That day, I vowed I will not beat any of my children, but trust me, I couldn’t fulfill the vow o. There was also a time my husband misbehaved, when I was expecting my father to fume, guess what he said, ‘Leave him alone, he is a man. Let him enjoy his life, he will come back home’.
Ever wonder what is behind her Anita Baker cut signature? Indeed, she enjoys the flattery that comes with the looks and not just the simplicity and comfort. She said: “All my life, I’ve loved to be natural. Even as a teenager, I never applied make-up. The only thing artificial about me then was may be my Afro wig. God really blessed me with a very long and luxuriant hair, but I made up my mind that when I turned 60, I would cut it because I didn’t want to start going to hairdresser to retouch and face the stress of making hair. In fact, I hate the idea of visiting hairdresser and being placed under dryer for a long period. So, when it was time to cut the hair, many, including my family members, and my stylist begged me not to cut the hair. So one day, I summoned courage and went straight to a barber shop to have the hair cut. I requested specifically for Anita Baker because I loved the style, and ever since, I’ve been pleased with myself.”
Just like her journey to the tax profession was not premeditated, so also was her engagement with CITN. And while joining CITN, becoming the Institute President was the last thing on her mind as she said: “CITN started in 1982 which was the same year I joined Inland Revenue. My first posting at Inland Revenue was to the International Tax Division, the then Chairman insisted that I had to join CITN which was then called Association of professional Accountants and Administrators. When it started, there was no fund on ground to run the institute, so we had to come up with different strategies to make money. I was very instrumental in this regard. Until about six years ago, I was not thinking about becoming the President. I started noticing politics and all that in the council, which I couldn’t fold my hands as I so detest that. I had thought we had planned succession by seniority in council but that rule was about to be bent with politics, so I fought to say that won’t happen in my lifetime, except if the person whose turn it is refused to take the office. That was when I woke up and said even me, I will join the council and the rest is history today”.
As a go-getter and game changer that she is, she has not disappointed in a short time that she steered the affairs of CITN and after she might have left the office in June, she said: “I would want to be remembered for bringing the institute to a better limelight, that I have taken the Institute to the doorstep of whoever wants to learn or build capacity in taxation and for the surgical restructuring that have positively affected the Institute.”
As an outgoing person, her options for relaxation are not surprising: “I love parties o, and I love to dance too, I dance to both spiritual and secular songs as situations demand. I also love to sing, I hardly pray but I praise. Then I love to swim even till date. I swim most especially when I travel out.”
For the Isale Eko bred accountant, accepting political role will amount to betraying her principle. She exclaimed: “Politics? Nooooo! What for? I’m not eying any political seat and I won’t even consider accepting any appointment if it comes my way.”
Does that mean she’s unwilling to give her talent to the country? She clarifies: “I will rather serve by being an activist. You know I’m an outspoken person and accepting political role means that I will step on toes. I can’t see anything bad and close my eyes. I will sorosoke (speak loud). So it is better for me to contribute from my background. I can freely criticise in the media.”