Mrs. Margaret Murray-Bruce clocks 95 next week Tuesday. In her yet to be published biography, Mama and Papa, a Legacy Alive, her fifth son, Senator Ben Murray-Murray waxes lyrical on a mother like no other, the product of heavenly Jerusalem. Excerpts by Nduka Nwosu
My earliest experience with her was when my allowance was fixed at three pence and for some reason my father would give me my three pence on a Friday when I was at Our Lady’s Primary School Yaba Lagos. It did not make any sense. Why give a child his allowance on a Friday? Why not give me the allowance on a Monday so that I can enjoy my money?
You give me the money on a Friday, I buy ice cream and I am broke for six days. I only got my pocket money on Fridays. So, one Friday I collected my three pence and mama called me to a meeting and said she would like to talk to me. She said: “You know Ben you are a spendthrift? I do not like the way you are spending money. You have to save.” I exclaimed: “What! The three pence is only for ice cream.”
I was only eight years old. I said how can I save with three pence for my ice cream. I said Mama when I get older, I will save. She said: “Save for the rainy day. I replied: “Mama it is raining already; there are thunderstorms everywhere.” That was my first argument; I continued: “Don’t worry when I get older, I’ll have a lot of three pence to save. Don’t worry mama; I’ll look after you.” She always thought I was a spendthrift, that I always gave things away. She was not happy with me at all.
I remember when I set up Silverbird and I said to Michael: “Look you are the chief executive of Domino Stores; let us make a deal. You run Silverbird; I will run Domino. We have been running the same company for too long. Let us do sometimes different.” Mama said: “No, no, you are too kind; you will give everything away. You will give the whole store away. All the goods will be given free of charge to everybody.” I asked: “What type of logic is that?”
Michael and papa thought it was a clever idea; mama said no that I would dash everything away. So, I did not become the MD of Domino Stores, Michael did not become the President of Silverbird Productions. Beyond that, years went by; mama was always so caring and loving and sweet. When I started paying attention to her was when my father died. These days I spend some time talking to her; we spend a lot of time together. There are so many of us. Growing up it was the girls that were closest to her, not the boys, the girls, maybe including Willie, maybe Michael.
However, as time went on, that was in the past ten years, I became incredibly close to her. She became the love of my life to the point where in the last eight years of my wife’s life, every time we were together, I would take pictures with my mum, not even my wife. It never occurred to me my wife would leave us so soon. That was how close I was to mama. We were always together; we were always talking; she was telling me stories. Nigeria was a top of the topic because she told me she went to Saint Mary’s and we should go to see the school, that she lived in Ikoyi with her dad as a child; it is incredibly sad we have not been able to do that.
She kept telling me about the Second World War and how the British soldiers were all over Lagos and how they had lights out and drills. She said there was a bunker opposite Saint Mary’s because the colonial government felt the Germans were going to bomb Nigeria; and to be on guard there were troops everywhere. She told me about racism in Nigeria which I never knew happened.
She said she was serving the nuns and saw the white and black nuns kept separately. She did not understand it was racism; the whites and the blacks did not mix; she said she was raised in the Catholic Church.
She witnessed racism in London when my father went on an overseas training with Dr. Christopher Abebe, who later became the UAC Chairman. Here in London, all the wives were together and would use the same bus and if they were at the bus stop waiting, a bus would approach the bus stop and upon seeing the black wives at the bus stop, would move on without stopping. They did not stop to pick up black people. They looked for other alternatives such as the train service.
We became very close. She told her story of how she met papa and they got married and their numerous travels. We bonded; once or twice a week we spent a couple of hours talking and I regret not recording her. My wife is gone, my daughter is in America, so mama is the only girl friend I have now. I spend a lot of time with her, and I enjoy speaking with her.
Talking to her reminds me of my conversations with President Olusegun Obasanjo who I always quiz about the past, like his exchange of baton with the Black Scorpion Col. Adekunle Fajuyi as the Commander of the Third Marine Commando, what happened when he hired this minister or fired the other one, what happened when he ran the country in his first incarnation as Head of State and later as President. I have read all of Obasanjo’s books, which is why I am happy a book on my mum is in the works.
Basically, talking to my mum is like talking to Obasanjo because Obasanjo is a phenomenal historian with a great memory. Mama loves travelling; she travelled round the world with papa, and she is still travelling. Mama is a historian and storyteller.
Mama has travelled round the country and is able to tell what life was like then and now. She loves the markets; many of the women love seeing her. She travelled round the country with papa, and she has graphic descriptions of what Nigeria was like in those days.
Mama comes to see me regularly; she loves hanging out with me. During her 90th birthday sea cruise to Mexico, she was always at the night club listening to music and concerts; she does not sleep, she likes to have a good time; she likes to be on the roll. And I said you know I am learning from you because you are almost 95; you want to go to a night club; you want to go to a concert; you want to go to a beauty pageant whether it is Mr. Nigeria or the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) beauty pageant, you want to have a good time; you want to be around young people; you ask questions. You talk to people. Hey when I am 95, I want to be like that because what else can you ask for.
Any Sunday she is with me, and my friends come around, they say to me that they would like to do that to their mums. They say hey, you celebrate your mum every week, we would like to go home and celebrate our mums. Your mum is not always here forever, I tell my friends; while she is here, make the most of what you have. Since the loss of my wife, the presence of my mother has had an added importance to me.
She is very smart, very smart I mean; she is good at educating people; she understands the world; she understands politics; she reads the newspapers, watches the television, and knows what is happening at the Vatican and around the Pope; she knows what is happening around the country and what Buhari is doing.
Aso Rock guest
She was the guest of the Villa for one week when Stella Obasanjo was around. She was with Stella’s parents. She would wake up to see the giraffes and the buffaloes, the animal life at the Villa. She has had a great life. She enjoys her children, always praying for us. We are always in touch with her. I speak for myself.
My kids are spectacularly in love with her. My wife loved her and all I can say is that I love my mum but more importantly I want everybody to appreciate their mothers. I do not want to know what the reason is but do not fight your mother.
My mum like my dad, has minimum need for material things. She just wants to be happy. What does she need the material things for? My father did not like material things; my mother does not like material things. I am not crazy about material things just like my brothers and sisters. My wife’s attitude to material things was even worse. That is a good trait.
I did not have a wife you would threaten with money or some material value and say if you do not do this or that I would not buy you things. She would rather burst out laughing; you could not threaten her; you could not threaten my wife; it was impossible.
I had a wife I could not threaten with money; she had no interest. I had a mother whose compensation had nothing to do with money. You either love her or you do not love her.
I want my mum to be the happiest mum in the world. Whatever time she has left, I want to spend it with her.
Mama’s kindness is beyond the ordinary. She gives everything away because she does not need much. She does not need a bank account because all her kids are there for her and whatever she needs she gets; whatever she gets she gives away.
Mama has an incredibly good health, which something must be responsible for. She has a great memory; she has a magnificent work ethic; she is always incredibly happy; she loves to laugh; she is a fun-mum with no inhibition gap and no conversation gap when you have any conversation with her.
My father was poor working with UAC, earning two thousand pounds. By the time he retired, his salary was nothing to talk about. On retirement, Chief Shonekan was the Legal Adviser and Chief Christopher Abebe was Chairman. As part of his retirement benefits, he was asked to go with a couple of ailing stores with the mandate to revive them and keep the UAC flag flying in some other territory.
That was how he got Domino Stores and life improved for those of us who were born after that. As chairman of UAC, I visited regularly Chief Ernest Shonekan who later succeeded President Ibrahim Babangida as Head of the Interim National Government, asking questions why Kingsway Stores collapsed, and he talked about the thefts and other issues that led to the shutdown.
I loved Shonekan and enjoyed my conversations with him. I often accused him on why he has not authored a book on why UAC, one of the greatest conglomerates in Nigeria and Africa at a point, became an afterthought, because UAC is my legacy. My father during his career was the manager of Kingsway Stores. My father is gone, Abebe is gone, just like many chief executives of UAC.
The only person who has something authentic and authoritative to document on UAC is Chief Shonekan. I loved all my dad’s friends-Chief Shonekan, Chief Abebe et al. From a historical perspective you cannot talk of the growth of Corporate Nigeria and its complex problems without doing an investigation regarding the fall of UAC, Leventis Stores, and the collapse of Leventis United, UTC, PZ, Chellarams, Kewalrams, and other industries in that milieu.
We need to do a book on why these huge organisations have either collapsed or taken a backseat as players in Corporate Nigeria. Domino Stores succeeded because it was very personalised. I worked for Domino Stores as a child at the Customer Service Department Yaba branch.
My dad was an extremely strict guy raised by the Catholic church as a student with a potential for the priesthood. Talking to him was like talking to a priest, extremely strict, very regimented on the one hand; on the other hand, he was a fantastic father because he liked to sing; he liked to dance and sing.
My father taught me never to look down on anybody. I was 10 years old at Yaba. He said: “Ben, look at that child over there; he could be Nigeria’s next President,” as if he knew Goodluck would show up someday. He continued: “The difference between you and him is the circumstance of his birth. It is not that he is stupid or that he is a fool. He is simply poor; his parents are poor but don’t put him down.” I replied: “Thank you daddy.”
I have an affinity with my staff and people who work around me because the difference between them and me is the opportunity that came our way in a poorly, and badly managed country where the opportunity for citizens to grow or for the nation to be great has been wasted. A well-managed country offers opportunities for greatness.
I am glad the Nigerian artistes’ community honoured me during my 60th birthday celebration. I am grateful to God to have been used in helping to make the difference in their lives. They came to honour me and did not get paid for their performance. It was incredibly wonderful. I am glad my mum was there and enjoyed every bit of the night as always. She was there for my 50th birthday with Stella Obasanjo while for my 60th, she was there with President Goodluck Jonathan.
I wish mama long life, good health, happiness, a smile on her face; peaceful mien, hugging me and kissing me every day like a little baby. What else will I give or wish a 95-year-old mother than to wish her happiness?