Vanessa Obioha reports that the recent birthday celebration of the matriarch of the Otedola family, Lady Christine Doja Otedola, in Odoragunshin, Epe, Lagos, which pooled prominent personalities, was a memorable one that spoke volumes of her modesty and philanthropy
Perhaps it was the exotic cars that passed through the quiet roads or the direction signs that lined up strategic positions from Epe town to the sleeping town of Odoragunshin. The atmosphere that Sunday morning in the Otedola’s homestead was filled with jubilation.
It was how the villagers stopped, stared in awe and then hurried to join others for the special occasion. Some saw an opportunity to mingle with bigwigs they only read in newspapers or watch on TV. But beyond the frenzied mood was an air of admiration for the woman whom many have abandoned a good night’s sleep and travelled thousands of kilometres to fete with.
In Odoragunshin, Lady Christine Doja Otedola’s name is mentioned in glowing terms. Not necessarily because she was the former First Lady of Lagos State or the mother of the renowned billionaire and philanthropist Femi Otedola. Lady Doja is known mainly for her Christian values, charity and dedication to her community development. Therefore, as she marked her 90th birthday, both the old and young, Christians and Muslims thronged St Peter’s Catholic Church to celebrate with her.
Highly secured due to the number of dignitaries in attendance, the ambience in the church was frenzied. Traffic management officials paced the streets, directing motorists to the venue as some parts of the main road were blocked. Gaining entry into the new church premises entailed thorough screening. Inside, canopies were erected to accommodate the teeming guests while a gigantic screen was provided for viewing.
Protocol officers were on their feet, ensuring that all went as planned. Each dignitary’s arrival caused a frenzy. For instance, when the Governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu arrived, both his security personnel and entourage caused a stir. It became more intense when the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi arrived shortly after. Both men exchanged pleasantries for a while as a throng of photographers aggressively clicked their cameras to get a better shot of the two.
Under one of the canopies at the back of the church sat Lady Doja. She was wearing a brown dry lace with aso-oke. A beehive of photographers struggled to get a glimpse of her as she was surrounded by reverend sisters and others. At one corner of the courtyard stood the choir who, having rehearsed thoroughly, were waiting for the choirmaster to shout ‘Action’.
Lady Doja’s modest appearance spoke volumes of her simplicity. In fact, she could have easily passed as a guest at the party but the nonagenarian is known for her decorousness. This much was said by the officiating ministers during the service who spoke loftily of her dedication to the vineyard of God and philanthropy.
Born April 3, 1932, in Ijebu, Ogun State, Lady Doja has lived a life of community and service. She lost her mother at the age of three and her father did not remarry till she was 10 years. After her mother’s death, she lived with her paternal grandmother who took care of her until she left for boarding school.
She met her husband the late Michael Otedola while teaching at Ijebu Ode Grammar School. They had six children, three sons and three daughters. They are Ayokunle, Femi, Rotimi, Tola, Lola and Olumuyiwa.
Between 1965 and 1982, Lady Doja was the Chief caterer of the University of Lagos. Her efficiency and generosity earned her the moniker Madam Efficiency. Not one who encourages waste, Lady Doja was loved by the students for she gave the leftover food to those who could not afford the meal ticket.
In 1992 when her late husband Michael was elected as the ninth governor of Lagos, it took her three months to accept his new reality and blessed him. Her reluctance stemmed from her love for a quiet life. She did not want the hassles that came from occupying such a lofty position. Nevertheless, she remained supportive such that when her husband was overthrown during the coup that brought in the late military ruler General Sani Abacha, Lady Doja did not throw a tantrum.
As the First Lady of Lagos, Lady Doja’s impact was felt in the state. She explored every part of the state and was involved in development programmes notably Better Life.
However, one of the traits that distinguished Lady Doja is her dedication to the community she lives in. Not a few residents of the Odoragunshin community have benefited from her largesse. What intrigued most people was her accommodation for all, irrespective of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, at the church service, Muslims were among the guests who came to fete with her. Special consideration was also given to them since it was the Ramadan period. She was known for three values: community, Christianity and charity.
Lady Doja made it a tradition to always give a special gift on her birthdays. This year she carried out a grand gesture: building a new church for her community.
A devoted catholic, the matriarch of the Otedola family was known for her prophecies. On one occasion, she recalled in a documentary reel, she had a vision that she would live up to 90 years. At first, it seemed unreal but given her faith, she vowed to build a new church for the community if the vision came to pass. But Lady Doja did not wait till she clocked 90. By May 29, 2020, she laid the foundation. Therefore, her birthday celebration doubled as a dedication of the new church.
The procession started from the old church to the new church where the ribbon was cut off and guests entered the new place of worship. Sitting on a large piece of land, the new church is spacious and decorated to depict the tradition of the Catholic church with murals of the Son of Man and disciples on the walls.
The over two-hour service was filled with praise for Lady Doja. According to the officiating ministers, she has raised her children in the spirit of philanthropy as exemplified in the life of Femi. She was particularly lauded for building the church as the old one was already decrepit and in need of space.
While most of the dignitaries like the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo attended only the church service, the reception was a gathering of the most important and revered personalities in the country. They included former President Olusegun Obasanjo; former Senate President Bukola Saraki and his wife, Toyin; former governor of Anambra State and presidential aspirant Peter Obi; Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo; wealthy businessman and philanthropist Aliko Dangote; businessman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Wale Babalakin; President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina; former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu; CEO of Oando Plc, Wale Tinubu; Founder EbonyLife TV, Mo Abudu; among others.
For the reception, the Otedolas threw it all to give a befitting and grand occasion. From the catering to the ushering, no stone was left unturned. Ushers were brought in to perform different tasks. From assigning seats to guests to taking their meal requests and even ensuring that the place was spick-and-span. If one should drop food on the table, an usher was already nearby to dispose of it before one could blink.
The hall was colourfully decorated with balloons and other aesthetic materials to give it a regal look. Assorted food and drinks flowed like an endless river. Indeed, guests had no reason to complain as everything was taken care of.
Hosted by musician Dare Art Alade, Lady Doja was ushered in by her family members and friends. This time, she had changed to a blue lace with a blue and white aso-oke. As she advanced to the stage where her son Rotimi and his Afrinero band were playing, the crowd surged around her. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the woman who gave birth to the billionaire businessman.
Interestingly, Femi never left her side. Be it when they were together on stage with his other siblings or when she rose to dance to DJ Cuppy’s songs or King Sunny Ade’s, Femi stood by her like a protector, a guardian angel. No doubt, the love between the two was evidently strong.
When Lady Doja finally settled down, she was dazzled by her grandchildren’s music performances. Taking the stage first was DJ Cuppy, accompanied by a group of dancers.
As she danced and deejayed, the camera often panned to Lady Doja. In one of those moments, she was caught doing a sign of the cross as she shook her head and smiled. Perhaps in admiration for her granddaughter. At one point, she stood up and walked to the stage where she danced to her songs. Taking a cue from her grandmother’s appreciation, Cuppy performed a sampled version of Prince Nico Mbarga’s popular song ‘Sweet Mother’. Of course, her performance could not be complete without hailing her father with her ‘Gelato’ song.
Tolani, another musician from Femi’s loins took the stage next. Although her songs were not as upbeat as Cuppy’s, she still got applause and kiss from her grandmother.
The next time Lady Doja got to her feet was when the family longtime favourite King Sunny Ade mounted the stage with his band. He opened his set with a medley of worship songs which Lady Doja danced gracefully to.
The Otedolas put a dramatic spin on the birthday cake when it descended from the heavens. While many expected the cake to be on a table, the three-layer cake was suspended on the roof of the canopy and slowly descended on the table. The chairman of the occasion, former governor of Ogun State, Olusegun Osoba did the toast and cutting of the cake, while declaring more years added to her life during his speech.
As the sun began to set and guests gradually left the party to return to their respective homes, Odoragunshin was still bubbling. Some of the residents were still trying to find their way to the venue. After all, it was Lady Doja’s party and given her generosity and status, the celebration will not be ending soon.