By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Chief Agnes Otobo-Ojehomon could pass for a spinster in her thirties but in reality, this beauty is a septuagenarian clocking 74 by July 2014. This is in spite of her share of life’s bitter pills weighty enough to make anyone age faster. An entrepreneur and philanthropist, Agnes who is MD/CEO of Babo Nigeria Limited, an Oyo-based firm adept in the importation of Italian furniture, ceramic tiles, bathroom and kitchen fittings, is also past Director and Club President of Zonta International. She presently sits on the Board of the West African Women Association- WAWA. Isoko-born Agnes shares her life experiences with Feminista. Enjoy!
You’re going to be 74 in July but your look absolutely seems in denial…
I think it’s all about upbringing. I was brought up in the northern part of Nigeria and over there, people do not carry burdens around like most people do in the south. Meaning, they do not dwell on the past but move on no matter what. I’m also lucky in the sense that I’m the last child in my family and consequently had good family support since I was a child, in marriage, in rough and good times. Also, we all grew up in love and unity. So, everything is discussed without issues to weigh one down. I also have a free spirit which therefore makes me happy always.
Can you tell us about this love-filled childhood of yours?
I was born in Uzere in Delta State but spent my early years in Ughelli where my elder brother was working as a court registrar because my father had died when I was three-month old. Somewhere along the line, I was sent to a boarding school, Saint Louis College, in Kano. I later taught there for a while before moving to Queen of Apostles College in Ibadan. I later went to Ado-Ekiti for a teachers’ training.
I was thereafter sent to England where I studied Library Science and got married later. I worked for a while in a library over there in England; this was around 1964. When I returned to Nigeria with my husband later on, I got a job as a Library Officer at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan. In all, I had a very passionate, loving childhood and till now, my people still treat me like a child.
But you’ll agree not everyone can live a peaceful life irrespective of family support, especially in this turbulent world…
Of course my peace of mind is not without hassle. I got married 1943 in England and I had a sweet and sour marriage like many other people. I however did not allow that to weigh me down; I moved on. But thank God the marriage produced a son who will be 50-year-old this year. From him, I have four grandchildren- three boys and one girl, all in England presently.
I have two step-daughters; I brought up one from age five and she is now married and is a banker while the other who works as a Chemical Engineer and is with her mother in Port-Harcourt. They are from different mothers though. Now, I understand I have two other step-sons from a very young girl who is now with my husband. Though we’ve been separated for so many years, there’s still cordiality and harmony.
You seem a very loving person; but why couldn’t your marriage stand the test of time?
It takes a broad-minded man to really understand me because I’m a warm and loving person, even to everybody. With that, you know, comes suspicion because most African men do not understand that you can have male friends. For that, they relate everything to sex. I was brought up in love and to be loved.
I had a lot of pregnancy challenges which put me on medical check frequently, but I was lucky to have the kind of job I had at the University of Ibadan. I actually had six traumatising miscarriages but God saw me through. I however had to leave the University of Ibadan when I needed to join my husband in Rome. This was before our separation.
It was when I returned to Nigeria that I went into business with acquired Italian ideas on fashion before diversifying later to furniture and others. My Italian boutique was the best in Ibadan at that time. The luck I had about 30 years ago while separating from my husband was that I was the one who built the house we were living in. Though living under same roof, we had been apart before separation. I didn’t have to start looking for where to go to because I was already in my house.
In six years you’ll be 80-year-old; what lessons have you garnered from life?
Everyone should learn to take life as it comes and learn to accept their situations. The inability to identify or accept your situation is what causes problems for a lot of people. I’m not going to blame my six miscarriages on anyone simply because my marriage did not work. My husband was looking for children and even after accepting two children from outside, I thought that will be it, but we are not God. As I say, there is no bitterness; I take life as it comes and I am better of that way.