—Oluwafunso twin brothers on the wonders and mysteries of twins
BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
Kehinde Williams Oluwafunso and Taiwo Johnson Oluwafunso are always an interviewer’s delight. Household names both in Nigeria, where they have for many years bore on their shoulders the welfare of indigent twins children, and across Africa whose length and breadth they have traversed in their unfettered determination to reconstruct the image of the continent before the entire world, the identical twin brothers are a phenomenon.
Kehinde and Taiwo clocked 50 last November. In celebration of their life journey, the brothers, who are married to a set of twin sisters and live in the same house, disclose plans to launch a book entitled ‘Twins: The Mysteries and Wonders,’ among other things in this interview. Enjoy!
You were 50 last November. What has life taught you these past years?
TAIWO: It’s been quite a journey, but thank God our father taught us the essence of hard work, determination and tolerance. He handed us three legacies: prayer, fear of God and love for others. Life has also taught us a lot of lessons. It has taught us to turn lemons into lemonades and we’ve been able to pursue our goals without looking back. So, right now, we can say we’re celebrating life at 50.
Actually, when we were born, being twins, our father was worried about our fate and was almost going to be deceived by a herbalist before God intervened through a team of evangelists who ministered to our parents and made them jettison the idea of following the herbalist’s instruction. We’ve had a lot of God’s interventions in our lives. We also have a very loving mother who sacrificed her time for us. She was a secretary, but had to yield to our father’s advice and stayed at home to take care of us.
What was childhood like for you both?
KEHINDE: Very memorable. We were born in Mushin area of Lagos at a time when the area boasted of nice landscapes, friendly neighbours, good schools and environment for everyone. We had our primary school education there, but proceeded to Ibadan for our secondary school education because our father felt we needed to be reconnected to our roots. So, we were at Akanran Grammar School in a very remote village in Ibadan for five years even though we had grown up as Lagos boys.
How true is it that twins have magical powers through which they bring good and evil on anyone, at will?
TAIWO: It’s not magical. Let me tell you something. When we went to Ibadan for secondary school, most villagers idolised us. There was a day we were called out of the house to come meet a group of aged women who wanted to see us. By the time we came out, they all went down on their knees and later gave us money with the belief that they will make good profits in their businesses.
One day also, a farmer met us on his way from farm and gave us his basket full of yams, saying he must do so because we are not ordinary and must eat from the produce from his farm. It was then we realised there are certain myths surrounding the birth of twins.
KEHINDE: So many things are mysterious about twins. For example, if I travel and sustain an injury, once I call my brother, it turns out that he also feels pain on the same part of his body.
TAIWO: There was also a day he lost his wedding ring while we were on a trip and incidentally, I woke up the next day to find that mine was no longer where I kept it beside my bed. So, we eventually had to buy another set together. So many mysterious things have happened to us and these have also inspired us to write a book entitled ‘Twins: The Mysteries and Wonders,’ which we will be launched in March, with a lecture to be given by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode—all in celebration of our lives at 50.
Life as PANAFEST representatives
We’ve not been on the payroll of any government but we’ve done so much for Nigeria and cannot afford not to celebrate these feats, especially as Pan-African Festival, PANAFEST’s representatives in Nigeria.
PANAFEST is the biggest festival platform that brings Africans together—both from the Diaspora— to discuss issues pertinent to the progress of the continent. In fact, by virtue of our work at PANAFEST, this year, over 20 black Americans are coming to Nigeria on the PANAFEST platform (through which we’ve also met with global leaders), just like many had come in the past. So, we’ve been able to change the mindsets of many people concerning this country. Nigerians are not all bad people—the world should know this. Our challenge is basically bad leadership, but we thank God for a few that are setting the pace.
I understand you both live together with your wives and children; have you ever lived apart?
KEHINDE: The first and last time we were separated was when we had to go to higher institution for the first time, and we greatly regretted it. Our plan was to go to same school but JAMB didn’t let that happen because either of us failed it at different times. We had to eventually go to different schools when our father became angry at our refusal to go to different schools. So, I attended Lagos State College of Education, while my brother attended Ibadan Polytechnic. That was the first and last time we ever lived apart and like I said, and we regretted it because it affected us academically. Luckily, we both eventually gained admission to Lagos State University, where we studied Social Administration at the Department of Sociology.
What was the inspiration behind Twins Action-Aid International, which you founded many years ago?
TAIWO: In 1993, the incident that changed the course of our lives occurred. We were involved in a motor accident in which my brother was badly injured in one of his legs and was in hospital for 18 months. While at Igbobi Hospital in Lagos, we saw an abandoned set of twins. We later realised the babies were picked up by a Good Samaritan along Mushin railway line. We began to wonder what would make a woman abandon such lovely-looking babies and then we discovered that for many parents, catering for twins can be extremely difficult. Then, we realised we were actually lucky to have had loving parents even though they weren’t particularly wealthy. So, this led to the formation of Twins Action-Aid International.
…and what does the organisation do?
TAIWO: What we do under Twins Action-Aid International is give succour to less-privileged twins. We also try to make indigent parents understand one does not need a house full of money to successfully raise twin children. Also, these children can bring good luck to their families.
KEHINDE: For example, our parents were poor before our birth. But when we came, things started looking up for them. As much as possible, we tried, in the early days of the foundation, to discourage the habit of mothers using twins as reason for street begging. We were vigorously involved in campaigns. You see these women under the scorching sun, begging for alms with twins in their hands. Such lifestyle greatly endangers the lives of children and Twins Action-Aid International is grossly against it.
How would you measure its success so far?
TAIWO: The foundation has been able to stem the tide of twins being used for street begging. Secondly, a lot of twins have benefited from our medical support programme. We’ve also set up a lot of twins’ mothers in business through micro-credit schemes. Local governments also refer some of these indigent women to us.
We have ties with some Iyalojas (market women leaders), who assist them to secure free shops in major markets while we empower them with start-up funds, with support from good-spirited Nigerians. The Lagos State government has also been very supportive. Helping people makes us feel fulfilled; it gives us joy.
It’s easier for friends to work together than it is for siblings; how have you coped with working and living together?
KEHINDE: The tie between my twin brother and I is very strong; I believe it is more spiritual than physical. Money cannot come between us. I don’t really blame people like Peter and Paul of P-Square fame, who once went apart. This is because, women would have separated my twin and I. We actually started off in life dating different ladies, before we eventually had to marry twin sisters.
…and was that why you chose to marry twin sisters?
TAIWO: Actually, it was never our plan to do so. But in the 1990s, on our first day of meeting with a set of twin brothers from a very popular family in Abeokuta at an event, they just dragged us to a corner and said: “If you want to get married, make sure you marry another set of twins like yourselves.” Later, we visited their house and discovered that their wives were like day and night. When we saw that, we realised we were also headed for the same problem because our girlfriends actually fought the first day they met each other. One said the other did not address her as aunty. My brother’s girl also later accused him of divulging her secrets to me, while mine accused me of being too close to my brother.
Apart from women, hasn’t money caused trouble between you?
KEHINDE: It can never. In our house, we have a room called the “mad room” where we go to argue each time we have any argument. After that, we settle down to make constructive criticisms and, at the end, we adopt the idea that is most superior. We then go to another room, our “boardroom,” where we evaluate those ideas and, from there, we go to the “prayer room,” where we give it to God.
What I’m saying in essence is that as a set of twins, you must be very careful about a lot of things, especially money and women. Today, I don’t think any woman can come between me and my twin brother—not even our wives. We give thanks to God that our wives have added value to our lives. In all, we’ll advise twins to ensure their spouses are best of friends even if not blood-related.
But how did you meet these twin sisters to whom you’re married?
TAIWO: It was by divine arrangement. Our foundation annually organises an event called “Twins Festival.” It’s a day for celebrating twins and for each edition we have different state governments send in their twin delegates. In 2003, the then governor of Kwara State, Olusola Saraki, sent delegates, including his own twin children—and our wives were part of that delegation. They were looking simple and tender.
Kehinde actually saw them in his dream prior to that day. When he saw them in reality, he came to tell me and we took interest in the girls. God soon confirmed it after prayers, because at that time we were in another relationship. The first day we went to visit them in their home, they were also wearing the attire they wore in that dream.