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Polygamy nearly ruined my life – Shittu

Olayiwola Shittu is a frontline freight forwarder and the chairman of Skelas Group, Chirman, Publicity Committee of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) He worked with Nigerian Postal Service, then P & T after a little stint with Lever Brothers.

Providence later took him to Warri where he worked with the Nigeria Port Authority for 11 years. Beyound his experience in Freight business, he spoke to us on his background, how his dream for early education was aborted and why he will never take a second wife. Enjoy it

How has your growing up shaped your perception of life?

I was born into a polygamous family about sixty years ago. My dad had three wives, we were 22 but only16 are alive now. You’ll also know that in a polygamous family, priority are not given to first born, in most family. But you know if they had taken care of the front runner, the front runner should have in turn taken care of others.

Olayiwola Shittu... You can’t see the dance of a masquerade if you don’t move around
Olayiwola Shittu... You can’t see the dance of a masquerade if you don’t move around

It is an experience I’ll never forget and I wish I’d never been born into a polygamous home. Again, the economy and the social dynamics do not even encourage the practice of polygamy. Four children well trained is better than 100 children untrained.

I had an aborted dream when I left  Epe Grammar School, Epe, in 1970. I was to go to Michigan State University in 1972. There was a tragic incidence that aborted that dream as a result of death in the family, and my people felt that being the first born I should stay back, which I did.

I worked with Nigerian Postal Service, then P & T after a little stint with Lever Brothers. I left Nigeria Postal Service in 1972 and then started my journey to the unknown. I found myself in Warri where I was employed into the Nigeria Port Authority in 1973.

I stayed there for 11 years. There I also had another bitter experience that aborted my education. I applied for a study leave to study in Ibadan.  The  study leave was without pay and because I needed the money to carry on, the dream was aborted again.

At NPA, I was involved in Union activities and made some enemies. Among them was the then National President of the Union. I never waivered, I put in my papers to NPA and got my service withdrawn. By 1984, I started the journey again, before that, I’d served in all the ports in Delta. Sapele, Warri, Burutu, Koko, etc.

So, in 1984, I moved to Port Harcourt. There I established Skelas Limited which today has become the Skelas Group. While in Port Harcourt, I met some of my friends who also influenced me greatly. The ups and downs and incidentally what I learnt there for 25 years, have put me in good stead.

I do not naturally think as a Yoruba man, I think more as a Nigerian. My perception of life is that you could be my brother. If your father was to be my father, I’ll answer your surname. So what is good for me is good for him.

How have your experiences as a child influenced you as a father?

Well during the war, I was still a student in Epe, I can tell you that the first day I saw a soldier on the street, I didn’t go home for that day. We were all at a distance admiring these well tailored soldiers matching along the streets. I told myself I wanted to be a soldier, but you know childhood dreams are not always realised. There was a care-free attitude with very little to survive.

My old man with three wives was not a poor man by any standard.  But then, a lot has changed, the internet and ITC has changed the life pattern of so many people. I had to buy my last born a lap-top when he was 10. But for me, I got my first wrist watch when I was doing my secondary school certificate examination. It was a gift from my dad. Now, we’re in a modern world.

I remember when I was in primary school, we’d to walk about 5 kilometres to go get water. I walked to school and back throughout my secondary school days. If you compare that with what we have now, where kids had to fly to school for resumption, it is a whole lot of difference.

You said you’ll never be a polygamist. What informed your decision?

The most bitter experience I had in that regard was the gang-up by my step mothers against my educational interest.  They prevailed on my dad that he did not have to invest in the first son. It was very parochial, and myopic, they thought that probably if my dad invested so much in the first son, there will not be enough to invest in their own children.

And the old man naturally wanted to please everybody. It never went down well with me and my mother and I’ll never forget it. I was ambitious, ready for education. And what I could not get in my early years are what I stretched my hands to do for others. I’ve so many children, not my four biological children, but children that need a helping hand.

That bitter experience showed that if my father had only my mother, who had the first, second, third and fourth child of the family, the story would have been different.   The  second wife whose first born was the same age mate of the fourth child of my mum said that all of us should wait for her child to come of age before we get anything and the father who was in love fell for that.

You know the actions of parents impact so much on the future of children. Anybody who wants to go polygamous, I wish him luck. Afterall, people refer to the case of Abiola that it was a good story.  Religiously, if you’re a Muslim and a polygamist, there are conditions but how many people have been able to meet the conditions. I can tell you that all my friends today who are polygamists grumble quietly to us, I am happier today with one wife.

But your dad was also a happy man?

It is relative, happiness towards his children might not be what he felt within. I can tell you honestly he regretted before he died. On a one-on-one discussion, he told me if he had known, that was very instructive.

You said also that your dream to go abroad to study was aborted, how did it happen?

Yes, I was about 22 and that was before my father died. But I’d put that behind me.

What did you intend to go there to read?

I intended to go there to read Petroleum Engineering. But I am happy, even among my school mate, who today are technocrats and top gurus in Houston, somehow, I also believe that happiness is relative depending on what you are looking at.

They have the knowledge and experience. They are of course well learned. But also, I didn’t go to sleep, I decided to educate myself. I may not be Dr. Olayiwola Shittu, but I’m a doctor. when it comes to enjoyment of life.

Taking you back to the days of rivalry when your step mothers convinced your dad that your education had to wait. What was the reaction of your mother?

She was helpless, but she struggled and looked for some money for me. She gave me 30 Shillings. After my primary school, I tried to go to a ‘Modern School’. But for me to proceed to Epe Grammar School was by the grace of my mum and it caused a bitter row in the house, and I saw my mother wept, with the feelings that nothing will stop me from going to  school.

After me, no other was able to go to school. None from my mum. I have to say that all of them are happy because we tried to help ourselves.

What did you learn from your dad?

My father was large-hearted. When I was growing up, I thought I was number 19 in my father’s house because there were 18 people living with us. Children of relations and friends under his roof even with his three wives. That time I was thinking I was number 19, I never knew I was the first born. I gained that from him for carrying people along. I loved him for that.

What was your experience in NPA?

I was one of the frontliners. I was involved in trade union activities.  When I was in Warri, I attended all courses and it helped to shape my knowledge. I worked hard and had some money. I bought the first car for my dad as a young man.

What was his reaction when you bought a car for him in view of the fact that he did not give you the opportunity to go to school?

You see, that doesn’t bother them. Life to the average polygamous Yoruba man is that it is God that trains children.
What about your step mothers, what were their reactions when life became rosy?

They are all beneficiaries, even up till today. My mother is gone but they are the mothers I have and they are happy nobody talked about the past again, even their own children are also beneficiaries. It is because you wanted to know and also to serve as a lesson to the younger ones who believe in polygamy.

How did you meet your wife?

I was fortunate to meet my present wife in Warri who was also brought up in the West. Today, I can tell you I don’t wish I’d marry somebody else because of the happiness that came into my life.

We met through a friend in Warri. I was amazed when I heard her spoke Yoruba with her friend. Something just struck me that she might be my wife. But it took us five years before we got married, not because we were not sure but because we felt we were not ripe. We felt there was no need to hurriedly get married.

What was her reaction when you proposed to her?

She fell in love, but definitely you know women, they have to put up some resistance. I really don’t wish I married elsewhere or another person.

How do you relax?

I enjoy staying at home, I can stay at home for three days with my family. I have everything that gives me happiness.

Do you often take your wife out?

Yeah, we’re one, we do that but what are we going to look for when we have them.

Do you relax with music?

I like all music, including Urhobo music. Even if I don’t understand what they say, I like the rhythms. But the one that relaxes me is country music.

The same goes for your wife?

Yes, but the quarrel is usually that it is too loud.


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