Chief Lucia Onabanjo At 90 Says: ‘I Am Contented Always’
From time to time, you hear the honks of vehicles and commercial motorcycles from the nearby busy roads.
“This is the house of your father”, said Chief (Mrs) Lucia Onabowale Onabanjo before granting this interview on Wednesday. The place was besieged by visitors, both black and white, who came to felicitate with her. Some came from as far as Germany to celebrate with her . They were all happy to dine and wine with Mama who is the women leader (Iya Ijo) of St. Sebastian Catholic Cathedral, Ijebu-Ode where she marked her birthday on Monday.
Asked how she feels about attaining the age of 90, she said: “I feel good. I eat good food. I am elegant. I serve the Lord in the way that I should. I was overwhelmed during the celebration on Monday. It was a beautiful day. I saw many people who I have not seen for a long time.”
She said her greatest achievement is knowing God and getting married to her husband, the first civilian governor of Ogun State, the late Olabisi Onabanjo.
“I had many suitors but I chose him because I knew he was a truthful man, well educated. My husband was very intelligent. He used to top his class at Baptist Academy, Lagos. I said to him: ‘I will be your girl friend.’ I fell in love with him and we got married.”
The marriage is blessed with two boys, two girls before the death of her first daughter, Victoria Adetoun Onabanjo which she said pained her. “She was my confidant. She loved me. She was in government. She was able to do what she could before she went to the Lord.”
Born in Ijebu-Ode, she said: “This is my town. I went to school in Lagos. I left Ijebu-Ode at the age of 10 under the Irish Sisters. They were nuns. I was trained under them. After sometime, I went to Teachers Training College in Yaba, Lagos. I was trained as a teacher. At the end of the training called Standard Six which is equivalent to a university now, application forms were sent to the school when I was passing out for us to apply for further studies.”
But she opted to be trained as a nurse at Lantoro, Abeokuta. “The Rev. Sister who was the principal in charge of the school, after going through my application form, said: ‘You are going to be a teacher.’
She later started her career as a teacher from one school to another until she eventually retired after putting in 22 years of active service. She said her husband at a time worked with a newspaper in Zaria. “I was there with him. I was teaching at a school in Tundunwada then. After a couple of years, we came back to Lagos. He continued practicing his journalism profession. I never complained about his work. Life has taught me to trust in God and to be honest.”
She laments that a lot has changed in the upbringing of children today. “I remember a cousin of ours who came to visit me. His wife came with their little son. I put aside four bottles of Amstel Malta so that I can give to them when they are going. This boy turned round and round and later took one of the bottles of the Amstel Malta, opened it and was drinking it. Her mother said ‘If I stop him, he will cry.’
“When we came into this world, the first noise that we made was ah ah ah. Crying that we had arrived. Therefore, I wonder what the world is turning to if a kid of six years will cry because his mother refused to give him what he wanted?”
She identified lack of education, lack of care as the source of the problem. “But good training starts from the home. If you don’t train a child from home, he or she will join bad company. Most of the parents of nowadays are not always at home. Both husband and wife have to go to work. That is the problem the government has created for us. If there is good food in the house, good work that people can do, parents will not be hustling.”
Onabanjo disclosed that she chose to be a teacher because she knew that after school hours, she would have the time to go home and stay with her children. She never regretted it. “At a time, one of the missionaries, one Rev. Sister came to my school where I was teaching in Surulere, Lagos then. That was the school where I retired after 22 years of teaching. She said: ‘I have good news for you. Because you are a hard worker, a disciplinarian, I have secured a scholarship for you to study in England for three years.
“I said no. And her eyes became very red. I said: ‘I can’t go to England for three years. My mother is an illiterate. My husband is a journalist. He doesn’t come home until about 10pm to 11 pm. If I go on scholarship, where will I leave my children! Who will look after them the way I want to look after them?’ And I never regretted the step that I took. Today, if I tell my children I want to see you in Ijebu-Ode tomorrow for an important talk, they will come. They know they are going to gain from my intelligence.”
She said that although some parents are doing their best to take good care of their children, most are a bit careless. “Some will say: ‘I don’t care, I am going to work.’ It is very tough for them to balance work and family but some of them manage to stress themselves to do that.
“Let us talk about Lagos. People are living very far from their working places. They have to wake up at about 5am to take a bus or to drive their cars to work. By the time they get home at 10 pm, they are very tired. Some won’t even eat well before they go to sleep.” She urged parents not to do the sort of work that will take them out of the home for long hours.
Onabanjo explained that the secret of longevity first of all depends on God and then individuals. “What you like to do may not suit your life. I take myself as an example. When I was in Lagos, I didn’t have friends except the few friends I had at work or in the church. I didn’t like anybody intruding into my home to tell me that my husband is not doing this and that. Leave that to me. I married him. I know how to handle that. I don’t listen to gossips about my home.”
Also, she is a lover of local staple foods such as rice and gari, with good soup and vegetables.
“I keep to that. I don’t eat outside much. Even when I was able to go to parties with people celebrating one thing or the other, when I leave the church, I come to the house and eat whatever I like however poor. That is my life and I am contented always. I don’t copy how people do their things.”
She disclosed that civilisation has added more to people’s problems. “They want to be like the other woman next door or the door after the next; not contended with what God has given to them. I want to be myself. You must have noticed that this is a very simple house. People used to ask me long ago, especially when my husband was alive: ‘Is this the only house you have?’ I live among rural people here. I appreciate them. What do you want to do with the wealth? This house was built a long time ago before my husband became the governor.”
She said that the first floor of the house has three rooms, the second floor has two rooms and a sitting room. “This year, I have never gone to the second floor. What I am going to do there? Except for visitors or the children whenever they come home. I stay in my room. I was with my husband in our room when he was alive. When he passed on, I remained in that room. I don’t need earthly things that will distract me from my home.”
She recalled that when her husband was in government, she focused her attention on his health. “I cooked his food, I supervised the washing of his clothes. After leaving the office, he came back home.
She is worried about the level of insecurity in the North eastern part of the country. “We pray for peace. Only God knows what will happen tomorrow. How did Boko Haram people manage to establish themselves in this country that every day you hear on the radio that Boko Haram has killed 20 or 100 people? Or they have taken away our children from the school.
“I know that the solution will come through good government. President Muhammadu Buhari must have made up his mind that when he gets there, he will bring about changes. That was his slogan, ‘Change.’ when he was campaigning”.