By Ebun Sessou
The Matriarch of Ajayi Family, Madam Christiana Ozofu Ajayi celebrated her 89th birthday in Lagos recently. In this interview with WW, she speaks at length about her life’s journey, the challenges while growing up and how they were surmounted. Excerpt:
Briefly, take us through your background?
I was born into the family of Yaya royal family in Igarra town,Akoko-Edo local government area ,Edo State in the year 1929. My father earn himself the title Akpeji’ a great royal son of the land. I had my primary education as one of the privileged few, whose parents could afford to send to school. Although, I had to stop schooling to take care of my siblings who were barely at the infant stage of life, as the first born of the family my parents especially my father had high hopes and expected so much from me.
I had to tidy my younger ones for school, grind pepper, go to farm, I was responsible for so many things at home, this made me so hard working and ready to take up challenges. I also took good care of my mother. I am a regular caller at the Anglican church, where I was born, I’m a church person until now because I have believe so much in God.
I got married to late Chief Jacob Sanu Ajayi, the Oshemdase of Igarra in Edo state, many of my siblings for whom I forfeited my education are now heads of companies. I dropped out of school for my younger siblings and today one of them, Mrs. Adeleke, is a consultant in a reputable Corporate firm. Although, I am beautiful, I got betrothed to my husband early in life and he has been a loving and caring husband until his death. He insisted on making me a housewife to take care of the home front, this I coped with for so long and became somewhat an authority, there are no amount of stress I had that would make me transfer aggression, maybe it was due to my upbringing really.
Challenges are basic pillars of life, how did you pull through to this ripe age of 89?
I am an optimist with very deep belief in God, I know that perseverance is key, yes challenges will come but they end up making one strong, I don’t celebrate challenges by complaining or murmuring I rather face them as they come and at the end becomes victorious.
Growing up, what was your early life like?
When I was young I had my hand in so many things, I learnt sowing even before I got married , I know much about tie and dye ‘adire’and Aso Oke and many of my relatives do place order for it and I supply them the quantity ordered, very quality fabric for the festivities and celebrations, peradventure, I continued my academic pursuit, I might have been an industrialist because my sense of industry is huge, even at 89 my memories as still quite alert, I reach out to relatives, far and near, my children, grandchildren across the globe at least once in a while to know about their welfare.
I celebrate people a lot, I keep records about good memories of my loved ones and people with whom I have relationship, if you check my shelf, you will see programmes of events held to signal one feat or more achieved by my children and in-law, I am liberal and selfless, I am a blunt person who says the truth always caring not whose ox is gored. Though, I am a full time house wife and the first among the three wives of my late husband, I had the privilege of moving across Nigeria with him while he was working at the African Petroleum AP then; from Igarra to Lagos to Kano and later to Warri. My stay in Warri was however, longer than in other places because when he retired from service he came back to Igarra leaving me behind. I later joined him in Igarra before his demise. After that I have stayed with my daughters at Benin and now with one of them who is a staff of University of Benin, UNIBEN.
What is the secret of your healthy lifestyle at 89?
I am a joy mixer, I don’t keep malice, even as a woman, the two other wives my husband had knew so well that I am tolerant, I and my late husband are good at helping people even those we really have no direct link, we trained so many, I have seven surviving children all doing well in their different fields, with 19 grand children, God has been so faithful to me and seeing them thrive brings me lots of joy. We accommodate lots of people and that informs why you see many of them here, even my biological children barely knows many of them, but they see me as their mother having impacted them positively while growing up. That is the secret of my wellness.
What is your favorite food and what turns you off?
I don’t like proud people; my best food is Oka and vegetable soup. What are those things you had never wished to encounter that later came to be? I don’t like referring to this but my senior daughter’s death really hurt me but I assume God knows best, because she was my confidante with whom I share many similarities. I hardly discuss my issues with friends, I rather take it to God and he has been there for me all the while, in all I am grateful.
How has it been, having your daughter-in-laws especially the Director General, Lagos International Trade Fair, Mrs Lucy Ajayi, in your family?
Lucy is a darling, she has come to fill that gap my late daughter left, she really is a darling, very comely and enterprising, I mean she also was instrumental towards having this birthday party celebrated but I invited many and they all teamed up to make it grand for me, from the house to the church and reception, it was awesome. I share a lot with Lucy because she is also my amiable daughter and I know she and her husband and all his siblings would continually remain blessed.
Mama as a repertoire of what life has thought you, what lessons do you want young women to learn?
Life is filled with many challenges but they should know that it is not meant to mar but make them. Growing up my routine chores were routed from home to farm, laziness is really not virtue, they should eschew laziness and embrace hard-work, women are doing fine all over the world now like my sister, Mrs. Adeleke, a renowned geologist with NNPC rose to a very high position due to hard work and being focused all women can be great not minding the visible obstacles they might have, I for one has impacted many because my live really is built around them. Being an octogenarian who has seen many political dispensations in Nigeria’s evolution, will you say our politics is any semblance of.
What obtains in your youthful years?
In my family we have no political background, we are the churchy type, all we know about politics were the names of major players, like late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, politics is really not our style, I cannot say really if the past politics and politicians are better than those of this era, because politicians back then have to grapple with conditions and situations that varies, we are now in the space age and that of computer, back then there were no telephones, though we feel life was easier compare to now, I can’t say one is better than the other, but that the politicians back then were lot’s more honest, it was just as difficult as it is now for those ones doing politics then.