Away from the glamour of public service, the Matriarch of the Otedola family, teacher and wife of the former Lagos State governor, Lady Doja Otedola leads a quiet and spiritual life. Having tapped from her childhood spent largely in mission schools and Catholicism, she desired a
quiet life and found it much after retirement. Memories of years gone by still ignite some sparks in her eyes as she
recounts parts of her life story that have shaped the past nine decades. Bayo Akinloye writes
Poise. Passion. Faith. Fulfillment. Those four words here are not the limit of her summation. She embodies humanity, simplicity and humility. There is more to her than meets the eye. She epitomises the existential elements of being human, with an illustrious life of giving, sacrificing and giving more — her eyes beam, undimmed by the frailty of old age and vicissitudes of life.
Decked in beautiful lace, blue beaded jewels in her ears, around her neck and wrist, and matching shawls, the Otedola matriarch beams with fulfillment and accomplishment. She illuminates the essence of a woman of substance with her resplendent smile and sun-filled face. With nine decades of existence, life seems to further unfold for Lady Christine Doja Otedola as she marks her nonagintennial.
Born on April 3, 1932, into a good Christian home, her late father, Emmanuel Onakomaiya, was from Ogbogbo, Ijebu, while her mother, Rachael Onakomaiya (nee Okubote), was from Oru, Ijebu. Her mother died on July 4, 1935 when she was just three years old. Her upbringing became the responsibility of the entire family: her father, grandmother, uncles and aunties. Her mother’s younger sister, the late Adedoyin Ogunmefun (nee Odubote), who remained in Ogbogbo to take care of her until she got married.
Her first call at school was at Baptist School, Ogbogbo. She and another pupil (Mrs Mosun Adesanya) were the only two girls in a class full of boys.
“The boys were full of antics and pranks, molesting us and giving us tough times. We resisted them vehemently,” she recalls.
She later attended the Baptist Girls School and Baptist Teacher’s Training College, both in Idi-Aba, Abeokuta.
“I was very anxious to further my education. When the opportunity came, I travelled to Great Britain,” she adds.
“I was admitted into the famous Regent Street Polytechnic, London, where I obtained a certificate in Catering, thus becoming a professional caterer.”
She met her husband, former Lagos governor, Sir Michael Agbolade Otedola. They got married after six years of courtship. She was baptised as a Catholic in July 1958 at St. Dominic’s Priory, Southampton Road, London.
“The Irish fathers and reverend sisters who prepared me for baptism were so nice and friendly. They made me imbibe Catholicism hook, line and sinker. I am very grateful to them. Her marriage was richly blessed with many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she says.
Her first job was teaching in a few Baptist schools in Ijebu-Ode. In 1965, she was employed as the chief caterer in the Catering Department of the University of Lagos. It was a fascinating experience.
“I displayed my commitment to excellence and professionalism in my service to the university, and this earned me the nickname ‘Madam Efficiency’ by students and staff alike,” says Lady Doja. “I retired from the university in 1982 in line with my earlier plan to leave the paid job when I reached the age of 50 years.”
There was another part of her life she found intriguing.
“I cannot but mention my experience as a governor’s wife. My husband ventured into politics in the early 1990s. To me, the outcome was a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly,” she narrates. “On the good side, it was an opportunity for contributing my quota to the development of my state, Lagos, in particular, and the country at large. I travelled to all the nooks and crannies of Lagos while at the same time crisscrossing the country. I interacted with many people from all walks of life, positively impacting their lives.”
She adds, “On the bad and ugly sides, politics denied me my freedom as well as my quiet and simple way of life. No wonder I took to the dance floor when the military took over power after only two years of our abode at Marina’s Governor’s Lodge. On to Odoragushin, we went!”
Her devotion to the church is evident in many church activities. She was a member of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) at St. Anthony’s Church, Gbaja, Surulere, Lagos. The late Monsignor Michael Olusesan was the parish priest then. She was also the chairman of the All Purposes Committee of the same church for four years, during which she organised the Annual Parish Harvest.
“I was also an active member of Ladies of Lumumba and president of Christian Mothers for years at St. Anthony’s, Gbaja. When the late Mrs Francisca Awolaja from Falomo Parish was the national president representing the Lagos Archdiocese, I was the vice president at the national level too,” she recalls.
“In addition to this, I remain to date, the patroness of the Catholic Frontliners Society of Saints Sebastian Cathedral Ijebu-Ode. At St. Peter’s Odoragushin, I was the choir mistress for years. I contributed to the spiritual and physical growth of St. Peter’s. Other churches were not left out. A good example was St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Itawo. At St. Peters, celebrating my birthday for some time now has brought something new.”
When she was 85 years old, she erected the Grotto in honour of Mother Mary, “my heavenly mother.”
“It was dedicated by Archbishop Alaba Job and the late Bishop Albert Ayinde Fasina. On May 19, 2020, the foundation of the new church was laid by Monsignor Philip Hoteyin, along with others,” she explains. Lady Doja, former First Lady of Lagos, single-handedly financed the construction of the newly completed ultra-modern auditorium for St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Odoragunshin, a complex to be dedicated and inaugurated as a place of worship today April 3.
“What next my Lord? You are my power. You are my strength. You are my light. You are my goodness. I have succeeded. I am contented: my happiness knows no bounds,” she points out. Her old wine can still taste better and sweeter.
A quintessential mother, she understands the value of her children in her life. With longevity, she has seen her children, her children’s children and the children of her children’s children. Her family is her joy and her world. It became her bounden duty to use the scriptures to nurture and tutor her offspring with deep reflection on Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it).
“To my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you have been wonderful to me. I am proud of each one of you,” the grateful nonagenarian says. “You have contributed, in no small measure, to my self-fulfilment. Thank you all.”
Lady Doja remains a communal individual with a deep-seated respect for the traditional institutions, especially in Epe. For many parts of her life, she has found solace in the tranquil Epe, and she knows where to turn in retrospection.
“My Obas and rulers in Epe Division, I have been one with you for the peaceful coexistence of all the people in our area. We thank God for the relative peace in all our communities,” says Lady Doja Otedola.
From far and wide, from captains of industries to political juggernauts, accolades have poured in on Lady Doja Otedola.
“I join all Nigerians and the people of Lagos State in congratulating you on your 90th birthday. I note your selfless service and charitable works to the people of Lagos state when you served as First Lady between 1992 and 1993 and years after this period,” notes Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. “In celebrating this milestone, I also recognise the many contributions you have made to the people of Epe, most recently the building and dedication of St. Peter’s Catholic Church. I wish you many more years in good health. Happy birthday!”
He is not alone in that thought.
“Dolapo and I are honoured to wish our dear mother a happy 90th birthday. We praise the Lord God almighty for the privilege and His grace by which you now fulfil your long-expressed heart’s desire and vow to build a befitting edifice, the St. Peter’s Catholic Church auditorium in Odoragunshin, Epe, for the worship of our Lord and continued propagation of the gospel,” states Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in his congratulatory message. “Your remarkable life of service to others through philanthropy has most certainly been imbibed by your children and grandchildren, whose reputation for promoting charitable causes is also well known.”
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his message, notes that Lady Doja’s life “has been a source of blessing and tremendous inspiration to many generations of Nigerians who came in contact with you, especially the womenfolk.” Obasanjo adds, “You are an exemplary patriot, and the record of your steady, consistent and beneficial influence as a dependable and worthy role model to the entire womenfolk and younger generations has been astonishingly remarkable. We, therefore, join you in thanking God for such a life spent in touching so many other lives positively.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, says: “It is noteworthy that on this occasion of Mama’s 90th birthday, we are also dedicating the ultra-modern auditorium for St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Odoragunshin…I wish Mama a very happy birthday. I wish her continued good health, joy and peace.”
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos shares a similar sentiment.
“The attainment of this milestone age is a testament to the great grace of God upon your life…It is on record that during your tenure as first lady, you brought motherhood to the Government House and extended your parenting passion to all personal staff assigned both to you and your husband, the late Sir Michael Otedola,” the Lagos governor. “On behalf of my family, the good government and the people of Lagos State, I congratulate you, ma, and wish you more fruitful years in sound health.”
Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote says, “As she attains the age of 90, I would like to join other well-wishers to congratulate Lady Doja Otedola and wish her a happy birthday, great wisdom, immeasurable peace, abundant health and many more years of fulfilment in her dedication to God.”
In his congratulatory message, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, described Lady Doja as a woman with vast experience and deep compassion. Gambari believes that as a nonagenarian, Lady Doja’s life could still be used in the service of humanity.
“It is my prayer that the Almighty keeps you in good health, so our society continues to benefit from your vast experience and deep compassion,” says Gambari, “especially in these trying times when voices like yours are needed to serve as a soothing and calming influence. Congratulations and happy birthday.”
Lady Doja’s life has been remarkable, “steeped in strong faith, a strong devotion to humanity and service to your community.”