“I hate ingratitude more in a man than lying…or any taint of vice whose strong corruption inhabits our frail blood—William Shakespeare, 1564-1616.
It was the first and most likely the last birthday for me. Personally, I don’t like them. Each year, I have spent some money on a charity or to fund a project which I regard as socially useful instead of feeding the over-fed members of society. But, given my family’s history, I have successfully fended off attempts to make me celebrate 60; then 70. Early this year, a few kids (some are 50 years old now, but to me they remain my children) told me point blank that they intended to celebrate this one. They don’t want to wait for my funeral to show how much they cared. I was defeated. On June 8, 2019, in Lagos, the birthday celebration was held with the support of people too many to mention individually. But, I will do my best.
God always comes first in everything and to Him alone be the greatest glory. For a child not expected to live beyond the first week to turn 75 can only be attributed to Divine grace.
Next, I must mention the three human “gods” – the only three people on earth I cannot criticise and to whom I owe total respect. First, is our Mummy, Mrs (Chief) Victoria Olayinka Sobowale. Within weeks of joining the family she had made it clear that she was Mummy 2, not sister-in-law, to me. She has not stopped. And, she had been the pillar of support since I became Head of Family at the age of 46 in 1990. Together, we sent all the Sobowale kids to school and accumulated every degree the universities have to offer.
Uncle Sam, Publisher of VANGUARD, opened the pages of his papers to me and plucked me from obscurity and made it possible for me to feed myself till today. The benefits are simply immeasurable. I can never thank him enough.
Obong (Dr) Victor Attah, a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, was recommended to me by my Dad, who advised that I should search for a human role model, have faith in him and then I will appreciate better faith in God. It took almost 50 years before one of my cousins mentioned Attah’s name in a conversation. My search was almost ended; all that remained was to find the man and I will never leave him. I eventually found Obong Attah and this “worship” will only last when we depart this world. He is a wonderful person.
That said, I now turn to some of the important guests who took the trouble to attend the events. Protocol demands that I should start with former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, GCON, who was out of the country but who sent a representative. Atiku and I fought side by side during the Third Term saga of 2006-7. I admired his courage and still do. Thanks, Your Excellency. Alitua!!!
One former Minister, who might still return to office, was there. I knew about his world famous father through two of my brothers who were lawyers. To them, Nigeria has never produced another jurist like Minister’s Dad. The son is also a chip of the old block for integrity and hard work. Thanks Sir.
Former Delta State Governor James Ibori, was represented and I want to thank him for the struggle we undertook together with Attah to make 13 per cent derivation possible for oil-producing states. He stood firm when it mattered.
Before going to groups I must acknowledge the presence of Nigeria’s best photographer – Senior brother Sunmi Smart Cole – Babangida’s photographer. In our youth, we thought nobody could top Jackie Phillips – until Sunmi Smart Cole got behind the lenses and combined the science of photography with the touch of artists like Picasso. Every picture was a work of art with multiple stories to tell. I could have prostrated when he walked in clutching a walking stick for support. All for me! In fact, that sight convinced me that I was right to allow the kids to arrange the celebration. It was a most valuable gift! Money cannot buy that sort of thing.
My colleagues in the Media were well represented by VANGUARD staff. But special mention must be made of Muyiwa Adetiba and Eric Teniola, Old Igbobians, the trail-blazers who got me interested in media in the first instance. They have not led me astray. Media is a hallowed place; better than selling beer which made me financially comfortable but lacked spiritual content.
Old Igbobians were there. My oldest friend Tunde Fashina, former Managing Director of Eko International Bank, was in attendance. We started at St Peter’s Faji, Lagos Island; then continued to Igbobi College and went to the USA on different platforms. We have been friends ever since. Fash! I owe you a lot for staying all day. So were my classmates at Igbobi, Sir Segun George, KJW, Chief Engineer Oriyomi Benson, Capt (rtd) Fela Marsh, Navy Captain (rtd) Babalola Johnson, and two others I cannot now recollect. But, thanks all the same.
WAKA CLUB 1945 came in full force. Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Trustee, Professor Abisogun Leigh, OFR, Trustee Prince Rabiu Oluwa, Trustee/Chairman of the Executive Committee, Hon Bolaji Abosede, Trustee, immediate Past Chairman, Mr Babatunde Bajulaiye, Vice Chairman, Captain (rtd) Biodun Lisk-Carew, General Secretary Professor De Souza; Treasurer Mr Joseph, Social Secretary Prince Bode Ojabogun, Prince Babayale, as well as several friends and the ladies who came with them. I cannot thank them enough for the honour – even if not totally deserved.
MASSEY MORNING DAILY PRAYING BAND, MMDPB, my favourite charity was there from early morning till closing time. I don’t know how the old men and women, some over 80, found the energy to sustain them for so long. I pray for them always.
SPECIAL thanks are due to Dr Wale Babalakin, CON, who, despite his battles with universities’ staff nationwide, and AMCON/FAAN, still helped to cover some of the bills. Allah will reward him accordingly. He has guts; believe me.
AGBE-DAVIES FAMILY, my mother’s family, was also represented by several of my cousins who received the invitations late. Despite that, they came. Representing them were Alhaji Kola Abalagada, wo said the opening prayer; Mrs Fafowora (nee Agbe Davies), wife of Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, Comrade Agbe Davies and my dear Mama Arekete (nee Miss Mann); to mention a few…
SOBOWALE FAMILY was fully represented. Their contributions will always be appreciated. A jinx had been broken; a male child in the family had reached 60, 70 and now 75. I am setting new records which I hope somebody else will break. Four of our sons are now close to the elusive 60. They will reach it and bury the curse for ever. Henceforth, 60 will represent just another milestone in the long journey of our lives. But, it almost never happened. My life could have ended in the first week on earth. Read the true story below.
“DEAD BOYS DON’T PISS.”
Mr Alfred Sobowale.
Massey Children’s Hospital, Lagos Island.
May 16, 1944.
MY TRUE STORY @ 75
My father who started his life as the son of a Chief Imam, Muhammadu Sobowale, was the only surviving son of his father who buried many of his children at very early ages.
Daddy became a Christian when the British forced him to change his religion during World War II. He too had many children through his four wives. But only one child from each mother survived him. I was his third surviving son. And, like his father had buried five girls and three sons, before me. I could have been the nineth he would see off in his life. But, God had other plans.
I was born on May 8, 1944, after seven months pregnancy – a tiny premature. According to Daddy and my late Mummy, Arinola, I was kicking her so furiously on the night of May 7, she ran to Massey Children’s Hospital , Lagos Island, the next morning and labour was induced. Thereafter, I was placed in a makeshift incubator, barely breathing and the doctors sure that I would not survive more than a week. Members of MMDPB prayed round the clock.
Daddy was away on business in Jos and a messenger went for him. He arrived late on May 15 and was not allowed into the nursery.
Naming ceremony was scheduled for the next morning according to Yoruba tradition. It had to be in the hospital. Daddy was asked to give a name to his new son who was barely breathing.
He turned to my mother and asked: “Arinola, do you expect me to give a name to this dead child?”
Mummy Arinola: “He is not dead; he only breathes slowly.”
Daddy: “O.k. you can give him any name you like if he ever wakes up.”
Mummy: “Why don’t you pick him up and feel his heart beat?”
Daddy: “O.k. But if he is not alive, he is yours.”
So Daddy picked me up and brought me close to his right ear. Just then, the call of nature came and he felt a trickle of urine on his face. Suddenly, he exclaimed.
“He is alive!! Dead boys don’t piss!! He just pissed in my face.”
Later he pronounced that any boy who would kick his mother to get out at seven months and piss in his father’s face for proclaiming him dead will kick and piss on anybody who annoys him in life.
I was sick for the first three years of my life; just standing one step away from the grave. It is a miracle that I am alive today. Thank God, I have been extremely healthy ever since. Not only did I survive to bury my Dad, he even had a girl after me. Death of his kids stopped with me.
Father, as it turned out was not a prophet. I don’t kick anybody or piss on them. I have turned out to be the most gentle person anybody would ever meet.
I thank you all for coming. God will add to your blessings for the rest of your life and see you safely home.
June 8, 2019.
TBS Events Centre.
P.S. My father himself died at 52; he was the oldest of his siblings to die.