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Saturday, 8 April 2017

All I’m Expecting Now Is For Jesus To Take Me Back Home – 100-Year-Old Nigerian Man

Former Federal Minister of Establishment, 100 yrs old Adepoju Akomolafe, in this interview with Punch's Olufemi Atoyebi, goes down memory lane:

How was your childhood like?I was born in Ido-Ekiti of the old Ekiti Province area of the then Western Region.

I was born to the family of Daniel Ashaolu and Dorcas Ajayi Akomolafe. My mother was from the royal family in Ijero-Ekiti and my father was also from a royal family in Ido. I belong to royal families in Ekiti and that was why I was named Adepoju.

My upbringing was helped by my maternal uncle, Samuel Kayode, who sent me to school. He was trained as a teacher in Oyo and he later became a headmaster of several schools in the city.

He brought me up and in fact, by the time I was finishing my primary school education, he was already a member of staff of Ondo Boys High School. He took me to the school but when I was in my fourth year, he left for another school and I had to leave also.

I took an entrance examination and was admitted at the then St Andrew’s College, Oyo. In 1939 when I finished from the school, I moved to Sabongida Ora in Edo State where I headed a school. That was where I met Comfort Ayodele Ahohare, a junior teacher in the school whom I later married.

Were your parents educated in any way?
My parents were not educated at all. My father was a farmer and my mother was engaged in petty trading. However, they were wonderful people. Their judgment on issues was a reflection of their brilliance.

Did you inherit farms and practise your father’s profession?
I did not inherit any farm when my father died. In fact, because I was educated, I was not introduced to farming at all.

What position do you occupy among your parents’ children?
Before I was born, my parents already had a child. I was the second in the family but the most educated. I helped those who came after me to have education.

Having been born on April 5, 1917, you are among a few people born at that time who are still alive. Did you think of living up to 100 years when you were young?
It is not my desire or my doing that I have lived to 100 years. I give glory to God. God is wonderful. My life has been a strange one and I will tell a story of why I hold that opinion about myself.

When I was a young boy growing up among my peers, I was sleeping one day and someone came to me and said he was Jesus Christ. He showed me how he became a human being and how he took sand and moulded it to the shape of human being and gave breath into it. He told me that that was how man was created in the image of God. He told me that after moulding me into the shape of a human being, He put me in the womb of a woman who became my mother. He said after I was born, He looked after me until I became an adult.

Can we say that this was a vision?
This was more than a vision. The voice and the message were very clear. They were direct.

You heard Jesus voice while sleeping?
Let me say clearly that Jesus Christ appeared to me clearly and spoke to me.

Can you remember the year this happened?
I was about five years old when Jesus appeared to me in my sleep.

The Southern and Northern protectorates were amalgamated in 1914 and you were born three years later. What can you remember about the noticeable happenings of that period?
I was too young to know such developments. But when the country gained independence in 1960, I was an active politician in Action Group which was led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I was an active party member and a passionate politician who grew up to become the first chairman of Ido-osi council area in 1955 and later a federal minister. I was an elected member of the federal parliament.

What can you say about the post-amalgamation era of the then Nigerians?
The popular mode of dressing among Nigerians at the time was shirt and trousers for the men and gown for the women. Probably this was so because of the colonial mentality of our people at the time. We wanted to be like the white men.

But much later in my younger years, Yoruba traditional clothing like ofi, alaari, sanyan and so on came back. They were mostly worn during traditional ceremonies.

You were a pioneer member of Awolowo’s party, the Action Group in the 1950s and 1960s. What kind of a person was the then Yoruba leader, Awolowo?
Because of my role as a significant member of the AG who held several positions, I was one of the closest associates of the late Awolowo.

His followers had great regard for him because he was sincere and upright. He was a hardworking individual who was transparent in everything he did. He showed me how to live a life of honesty, sincerity and dutifulness. I benefitted from being close to him and I will continue to respect him and I am sure anyone who was close to him or benefited from his people-oriented policies would feel the same way. His late son, Segun, was like him. I taught him in secondary school.

What was the reaction of your wife when you left teaching to join politics?
The politicians of that time were men of great honour and good character. They were not dubious and they did not exhibit brigandage and impunity that we see in today’s politics. Anyway, she had nothing to fear but to just follow what I was doing. She trusted me and knew that I was not joining the political class to illegally enrich myself because even as a politician, I was gainfully employed. I did not leave teaching at any time and up till today, I am still a teacher. A teacher never retires.

How would you compare the politics of your time with Nigeria’s modern day politics?
They are not the same in any way. In my time, politics was straightforward and honest, not the crafty things they do today which they refer to as politics. That is not politics.

AG was a straightforward party, same with the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon which the late Nnamdi Azikiwe led from the Eastern Nigeria.

AG was a Yoruba party and it gained prominence among the people. The NCNC was synonymous with the Igbo people. However, both parties had a few followers outside their traditional environment.

We often read of the constant rift between the two parties which also involved their leaders?
When it came to politics, Awolowo and Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa from the Northern Region were no friends. They fought from different angles for the good of their people. However, they united on common front for the good of Nigeria.

Awolowo, being a typical Yoruba man and being a respected educated man, respected people’s opinions. He listened to his followers to know what they wanted and he also liaised with other political leaders when it was important to do so. He was open so his followers trusted him. They trusted whatever direction he took them to.

Can we still have the kind of politics that existed in Nigeria in your days?
Certainly not again. This is because this country has developed to become a strange institution. The country is so mechanised because of the high level of education. Politics is now like a complex science. It is no longer as simple as it used to be in those days and this is caused by greed and selfish interest of the political class, especially the major players in the system. That day of good politics is gone. We practised politics because of what we wanted to give but today, politicians emerge because of what they want to take from the system.

Did you ever think Nigeria could be like this?
I never thought Nigeria would slide to this level. If anyone said it in those days, I would have told him that the curse would not come to pass. But here we are as a nation with no clear-cut vision and future. But we are a creation of God and He will not leave us.

Can you ascribe the present state of the nation to a particular reason?
Like I said, the leaders are there because of what they could take from the system. They have nothing to contribute to its growth. They are greedy.

Was there something like Boko Haram or militants in your youthful days?
These are direct products of poor leadership. It is a thing of sadness to hear that someone kidnaps children or kills people like they do nowadays. It’s the height of inhumanity.

Before you became a politician, you practised as a teacher and according to you, you are still one. What difference can you draw from education of your time and now?
In my days as a teacher and foundation principal of Ekiti Parapo High School, Ado-Ekiti, the life of total devotion to whatever we did reflected in the then education system.

These days, people work for what they can get but we worked for what we could give. The education of that time was of greater quality when compared to what we have today. We had little but with dignity and readiness to give out. When you live a modest life like we did and like some of us are still living, you will have contentment and peace.

When you were growing up, we had people like Awolowo, Azikiwe and other notable Nigerians who studied abroad in order to gain exposure beyond classroom education. Did you ever consider doing the same?
I studied in Nigeria and studying abroad was not of any importance to me at the time. Anyway, I studied through correspondence system to degree level and mycertificate was awarded from the UK. That was the system at the time. But you can talk of the quality on offer then and the contribution that some of us who did not go abroad for further studies made to national growth.

At 100 years, what kind of change are you experiencing within you?
At my present age, life no longer means anything to me because people are not straight forward, honest and helpful. There is no longer comfort in the world. All I am expecting from any minute from now is for Jesus Christ to take me back home.

Where are your children?
Eventually and unfortunately, I became a polygamist. I have many children and my joy is that they are all doing well in their chosen professions. Among my children are medical doctors, engineers, appeal court judges and so on. The baby of the family is a lawyer.

I no longer draw salary from any source but I have enough to spend because my children place me on a good salary. They are many but I sacrificed my comfort to train them very well and Jesus helped me to achieve that target.

What lesson did you repeatedly give them?
I taught them to know God, live peaceful life, help others and appreciate what they have; these were lessons that shaped their lives.

You talked about life no longer having any meaning. Having lived this far, are you a satisfied person?
Oh, definitely yes. I have lived a happy life despite the odds and challenges associated with it. Yes, I am a happy old man.

You once headed the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Autonomous Board of Management between 1976 and 1979. What was your experience like at the time?It was like any other assignment I did as a nation builder. The money I was paid was not in any way commensurate with what I was doing but like in other roles I had performed, I was happy to do it for mankind.

I ensured that the hospital was placed in the position in the whole of the Eastern Nigeria. Today, the hospital is enjoying that legacy.

Can you remember your first salary and how you spent it?My first salary was 15 shillings. I gave my parents part of it as a Yoruba man and every month, I gave them money and they prayed for me.

Where are your friends?
I did not have friends that I could take things from, what I had were friends that took from me. Because of old age, I no longer see them or remember many of them.

One of the early messages of congratulations on your centenary celebration is from former president Olusegun Obasanjo. How did you meet him?
Politics brought us together. We became friends because he is a reliable person, honest and loyal to his friends.

People say he is tough but that is because he is straight -forward and honest. We first met around 1973 but I cannot recollect the event that linked us. I am now an old man with short memory, I can’t remember some details.

Did any of your children take to politics?
None of my children is in politics. They are busy in their professions. Today’s politicians don’t have a job because they hide behind politics to take what they want.

Do you still listen to news?I still listen to news but I don’t allow the news to spoil my mood. What I hear today is not what we were used to hearing in my days.

Today, the executive arm and the legislative arms in Nigeria are always at loggerheads. As a member of the old federal parliament, was it like this in those days?
In our time, both arms worked for the good of the people and not for selfish gain. We disagreed but for the good of the people.

Can you remember when you built the house you live in now?
It is over 50 years now. It was actually built in 1963.

I noticed that the furniture and other finishing are of the old era. Are you conservative in nature?
There is nothing in my house that is of modern age. I love and cherish my style and I want it that way. I made my bed many years ago and I am still using it. I am comfortable with those things.

What is your diet like at 100?
I eat normal food like rice, beans, vegetable and fruit but in little quantity.

Is there any particular food you are missing?
As an Ekiti man, I like pounded yam but I cannot eat it again because of the difficulty in digestion.

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