Adieu, Christianah Ibironke Oshuntola, Classic Iyaniwura

Tunde Olusunle

 Except you have the luxury of a precursor from your family, or you previously cultivated concrete amities, residential accommodation for a new employee deployed to work in Lagos can be a palpable challenge. I was recruited by the primordial Daily Times of Nigeria Plc in 1990 when Yemi Ogunbiyi, the charismatic, visionary and stamina-imbued former university scholar was chief executive of the organisation. My letter of employment was dated April 1990 but didn’t get to me until four months later. Even at that I had every cause to be thankful that it finally came. What if it got missing in the hands of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) as was very plausible under the organisation’s virtual monopoly of mail distribution and courier services those days? I couldn’t wait to disengage from the services of the Kwara State government under which I had served in the four preceding years as a graduate teacher. So, Lagos, here I come!

I was a quasi-nomad during the first few months of resumption at the Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos complex of the erstwhile Daily Times. I stayed with a cousin in Idi-Araba and subsequently with Gbenga Ayeni my classmate and brother from our first day in the university who was already settled in the Daily Times. He was in the Lagos bureau of the London-based West Africa magazine which was owned by the Daily Times of Nigeria Plc. Such was the foresight of the iconic Babatunde Jose, first indigenous chief executive of the Daily Times octopus. I remember asking Ayeni during one of our exchanges whether the organisation was not bothered about the welfare of its personnel. Cruelly but matter-of-factly, he told me that so long as I diligently filed your copies, it wouldn’t matter to the newspaper behemoth whether I slept beneath Lagos bridges!

I reached out to my father in Ilorin who once told me he had a friend and former colleague in Lagos. My father had worked with Livestock Feeds Ltd which was a subsidiary of Pfizer Nigeria Ltd, from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. He was variously manager at the Kaduna and Benin City plants. Within the period, he had met Pastor Femi Oshuntola and both men developed a close relationship. They had both retired and settled variously in Ilorin and Lagos. I couldn’t continue living in Lagos like a “Fulani” herdsman so my father graciously gave me a note to his friend in Lagos and asked me to locate his friend.

I traced Baba Oshuntola’s place in Ifako-Ijaiye one of those evenings. Fortuitously, I met him. I introduced myself and handed over the note from my father to him. He pored through the correspondence and shook hands with me. He immediately called out to Mama Oshuntola his wife, introduced me and handed me over to her. The “handing over ceremony” had barely been completed when Mama called Jide and Bankole the two boys in the family. “He is your elder brother,” Mama told them. “He is the son of one of your father’s very close friends and works with the Daily Times. He will stay in your room for as long as he is with us so please tidy up the place and make it available.” And that was how I was taken in and integrated into the Oshuntola family. I participated in the daily family morning devotions and attended the Foursquare Gospel Church which was the family’s denomination.

As media practitioners our official schedules can be unpredictable. Technology was not as advanced those days as different from the pampering it has availed us in today’s world where we can do almost everything with our handheld devices. As a reporter or writer, you had to physically go after the story, interview your subjects and attend events from which you could derive your reports or essays. You wrote in longhand, secretaries in the newsrooms typed your copies, you proofread them, and in some instances you planned the pages as part of the newspaper production process. The open-ended process ensured you couldn’t place your hands on a specific closing time from work. As a young man, I also sat out with friends from time to time to have a few drinks and also take in some culinary ancillaries. The Oshuntolas understood my situation very well and never for once did they chastise me or lock me out. Rather, Mama’s worry would be about if I had had a meal all day or not.

My wife, Funmi and I were still in courtship and she worked with “CSS Bookshop Press” in Lagos. I introduced her to the Oshuntolas and she was wholly and totally embraced. She was accredited to Mama Oshuntola’s kitchen and she took turns with the ladies in the family at the time, Yemisi, Bunmi and Opeyemi to prepare meals for the family. A trained and retired nurse like my own mother, Mama Oshuntola operated the “Golden Mother Clinic and Maternity Centre” within the complex of the family house which was established in 1985. It remains the go-to medical facility in the Ifako-Ijaiye district on account of its uncompromising professionalism. To be sure, the very first child with which my family was blessed, was born into Mama Oshuntola’s arms! I was out there chasing what to write about when my wife fell into labour. By this time we had secured an apartment a whistling distance from the Oshuntolas. Once they got to know that my wife was feeling the pangs of birth, Baba Oshuntola quickly drove to our home to pick up my wife. Such unparalleled affection by the Oshuntola clan.

The good news was conveyed to me via land telephone which was the vogue those days while I was attending a meeting of the editorial board in Daily Times. I promptly obtained permission to go see my folks. I went straight to Mama Oshuntola’s office on arrival to thank her for her motherly kindness. She referred me straightaway to the private ward my wife and newborn were. “Go to that room,” she ordered, “Greet your wife and kiss her, take the baby in your arms and pray together as a blessed family.” If that was touching, then wait for the next. After complying with her guidance I returned to her office to ask for our bill. “You have no bill to settle,” she shocked me. “But quickly get across to your mother in Ilorin and your mother-in-law in Ibadan. Mother and child remain under my watch until I see one of the grandmas.” That was how conscientiously motherly, how generous in spirit she was.

On one of my cross-country tours prospecting for business opportunities, I experienced more bowel movements than normal. My driver had to pull over from the road on many occasions. I had a message to deliver to the Oshuntolas as I got into Lagos on that occasion so their residence was my first port of call and I planned to proceed to the hotel thereafter. I was welcomed by Mama Oshuntola who promptly took me to her office. “You look dehydrated, pale and fatigued,” she said as she checked my vitals. I told her my experience on the trip. Unknown to me, I was suffering from food poisoning. She summoned one of the senior hospital staff and I was taken to a VIP ward. My wrist watch and telephone were taken and handed over to Bankole as a drip was set up for me. I was monitored all through the night. That is the classic Mama Oshuntola.

Christianah Ibironke Oshuntola (nee Odeneye) was born on new year’s day, January 1, 1946 in Ijebu-Awa, Ijebu-Igbo local government area of Ogun State. She had her foundational education in primary and secondary schools in her home community. She was briefly a teacher in Aperin near Ibadan before crossing over to the Catholic Hospital, Oke-Agbo, Ijebu-Igbo as an auxiliary nurse in 1963. Committed to the pursuit of her dream nursing career, she attended the Nursing School in Eleiyele, Ibadan and completed her practical training at the Ijebu-Igbo General Hospital. Upon qualifying as a nurse and duly certificated, she worked at the Ikeja General Hospital, Lagos, between 1969 and 1970. She proceeded to the Island Maternity Hospital, Lagos for her midwifery training from 1970 to 1971.

She obtained a one-year “out-station” experience at the Ejirin Health Centre, Epe and returned to the General Hospital, Ikeja in 1972 and stayed on till 1979. Mama Oshuntola desired to impact her community with her knowledge and experience in healthcare provision. The Ifako-Ijaiye area was just developing and the visionary Mama Oshuntola reckoned that residents of the emergent district could do with proximal medical facilities as against more distant ones. For six years beginning from 1979 therefore, she garnered requisite insights in managing a private health concern by working at County Hospital, Ogba, Ikeja. In March 1985, her dream for a self-owned clinic came to fruition with the setting up of “Golden Mother Clinic and Maternity.” That name is the authentication of who she truly was, a mother with a heart of gold. The outfit will be 40 years in 2025.

Mama got wedded to Pastor Olufemi Oshuntola in 1966 and the union has been blessed with five children and many grandchildren, biological and adopted. Baba Oshuntola passed in 2013 and was interred in Oyo his hometown in Oyo State. Mama Oshuntola was as diligent in service to God as she was in her profession as a lifesaver. She was well-known at the local, zonal and district levels of the Foursquare Gospel Church. She was President of the Foursquare Women International, (FWI) for six years and was ordained a “Deaconess” for her good works. She was further promoted to the rank of “Elder” as she ascended higher leadership levels in the mission. Within her local community, Mama Oshuntola was President of the “Ifako Progressive Union,” (IPU) for 10 years.

Mama turned 78 on Monday January 1, 2024 and passed on a few weeks later. Her rites of passage have been scheduled for Thursday March 21 and Friday March 22, 2024 in Lagos. She was an incredibly generous, affectionate and inspirational matriarch. We will all miss her warmth, candour and earthiness. May her soul rest in the bosom of the Lord.

• Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors (FANA)

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