The brave heart of Apata widows
THEY are ‘sisters’, but from different states. One is from Delta, the other is from Ekiti and the third is from Ondo. They are bound by marriage. Twenty years after, the widows of Simeon Apata – Gladys Ify, Margaret Olayinka and Margaret Folajogun – opened up to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on the last moment of their husband, saying, “the death created a big vacuum in their lives.”
TWILIGHT was closing in, as the hour for the NTA News arrived and the scene around the house of Simeon Olaosebikan Apata seemed in keeping with the sombre mood of the country since the undeclared winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election was arrested after the famous Epetedo declaration.
Apata was in his bedroom upstairs, sharing fatherly love with his new born baby, while he awaited the broadcast. The minutes ticked and ticked. And just, as the January 8, 1995 night closed in over the house, assasins struck. Simeon was just 50 when he was killed. He was fit and healthy at the time.
The beginning of the year, in fact, brought pains, misery and agony to the home of SO Apata, who was getting set for the unveiling of the landmarking white building, which occupied a large area on Ire Akari road, Isolo…
This afternoon, the warm welcome of the Apata widows, who are executive directors of Apata Memorial Schools, was followed by the sound of a key turning several times in the lock. Greetings exchanged again, as they opened the pages of their lives, which only, were half-written, but with all forms of adjectives and innuendos to describe the man, who inhabited their lives, or perhaps, the man whose life they inhabited before his early transition.
What they have, however, learnt is that there is no appropriate way to deal with such a grief than being united as a family.
Ify painted a word picture of the atmosphere on a leaden January evening, saying: “The assasins had met his son downstair, and asked the boy to lead them to his father’s room.”
The first wife pauses, fixing a gaze on this writer with an expression that combines intelligence and detachment.
“The boy, however, jumped to the other building, knowing that they were gun men. But this did not deter them. They entered and saw the man as if in the act of rising from the bed to gun them, perhaps, chase them away as he’d always done,” she reveals.
But after the ex-military man collapsed following gunshots, paramedics couldn’t revive him and he died on the scene.
Olayinka says,”I thought he’d collapsed because of the trauma, but it didn’t cross my mind that he wouldn’t wake up. I tried to lift him and suddenly discovered his body was filled with blood.”
Devastatingly, his last words to his family was to hold on to his dream: “Don’t let my vision die.”
In fact, Folajogun, was left heartbroken after becoming a widow when her baby was just 16 days old. And you wonder why she did not remarry at that early age?
Folajogun says, it was through God, her own strength combined with the love and strength of family and friends and her love for late husband. Everything defined the balance that all too often is missing by many ladies in such situation.
She confesses, “passion and love for the family are so great that I keep wondering what will my sisters feel if I’m not there for them. How are the children that we have been together feel? People you have been eating and staying together for long, how would we just fall apart?”
Ify says, “when people were advising her (third wife) to remarry, I told them no. Even she is aware of that. When the thing happened, we were sleeping on the same bed, that’s Mr. Apata’s bed for months before we moved to this building.”
She reveals, “he laid a solid foundation, so, it didn’t occur to anybody to remarry. People were saying after some time, they will go their seperate ways, but here we are, 20 years after, still together.”
Folajogun, the last of the three wives, adds, “he had been saying it before he passed on, ‘if I’m no more, all of you will carry on my legacy and allow my children to stay together as one.”
The death created a big vacuum, which made the women to change completely. Ify admits she ‘receded into her shell’ and embarked upon a ‘completely tough’ life. “I cut my hair, and ever since, I have not visited a salon.”
While Olayinka, for anything, wouldn’t go to a party without any of the family members accompanying her. “Not for any reason,” she says. “He was such a positive person, so friendly and loving. He was a one off in every possible way, including the way he died.”
Deadpanning, Olayinka says, “he created opportunity for love. He gave love and was caring. He was a strict disciplinarian. He didn’t spare the rod.”
WITH the rate at which many businesses don’t outlive the founders, you wonder what the secret is for Apata Memorial Schools 20 year after the demise of the founder?
The women believe they have faced tragedy enough. They have turned the school into a self-sustaining business and a brand in the nicest possible way.
Olayinka says, “we built on the family structure Apata left behind. When he was alive, he ensured that everybody was carried along. There was no secret, anywhere. He didn’t keep anything away; even the construction of this building.”
The second wife continues, “he taught us how to sow seed, not to eat seeds, how to plant our grains, not giving us grains. That sometimes, he might not be around, but that the vision he had should not die.”
For Ify, “Apata had laid the foundation. Attimes, he would call everybody together, and tell us, incase you find me and you don’t see me, I don’t want my business to die this way. He would give series of examples of failed businesses. He would tell us to live together as one family.”
Much of what she says is soft and serene. She sighs, he was fond of an enriching slogan: “Don’t let my legacy to die.”
Ify smiles, reassuringly, “Apata hammered it on us that we should keep the family together. Not that we don’t quarrel, but anytime when such an issue arises, it will come into our brain. That’s how we will calm down. None of our children will say he/she has ever seen us fight or quarrel at home. Each time, when we are quarreling, we will lock the door. We can shout, make noise and at the end, we will pray and open the door. We believe in prayer. There is nothing prayer can’t do. Without prayer, this family wouldn’t have been able to stand.”
The widows, who see themselves as sisters, have been incredibly close since their husband’s death.
“We have never called any family member to settle quarrel. And I pray God that it will never happen,” Ify says, adding “we are all sisters. We don’t call anybody by name. People used to wonder how we are sisters and married to the same husband. We have really tried as a family.”
The children were very young, when their dad passed on. The youngest was 16 days old. She is now a graduate. One of the kids, Niniola, was a runner-up at the last MTN Project Fame West Africa. Today, there’re lots of graduates, no thanks to the ladies, who pull resources together, sponsor any child who gains admission, no matter the school, private or public, abroad or at home.
With huge smiles and infectious laughs leaping out of her gap tooth, Folajogun confesses, “when we got married, the children were still very young. And at that time, I didn’t have a child. So, when they want to buy things like school bags and sandals, I will be the one to take them out. The same thing when we are going to the beach. As a young girl, I was happy that my husband loved me so much. Even before we got married, my sisters visited me.”
WHILE Apata was alive, there was never a moment the women quarreled over whose turn it was to be sleep with him. An unusually traditional reason for such quarrels.
Folajogun says she didn’t even realise they were co-wives. “It depends on the man. When we were living together, such tension never arose. I think the last day the thing happened, I was in my sister’s room – pointing to the first wife.”
Olayinka chuckles, “he knew how to arrange himself. We don’t know how.”
For Ify, “even now that we are all living in the same building, most of the children have their rooms in her own floor (pointing to the third wife). If anyof the children is coming to visit us now, it is aunty’s house they will first go to.”
Ify scoffs, “in our house, we don’t use the language that is common in most polygamous homes today: step mother. Even up to the grand children, they call her aunty. They call my other sister (second wife) mummy and I’m grandma. The worse you can hear from the grand children is first floor mummy, second mummy and all that.”
Olayinka says, “he believed so much in his family and trusted his wives that when he was no more, everybody will still stay together.”
The lady provides a kind of recipe for ladies in polygamous homes. She says, “what I learnt in poygamy are accommodation, tolerance, love and endurance. There are some things you will see, if you can call the person and when you know the person will not listen, forget about it.”
AND the school?
Folajogun says, its success story has continued. It was the success story of the coaching academy that led to the school.
“What we have today is quite different from what we had then. Now, our teachers use projectors and laptops for teaching. There is Internet facility in the school and our curriculum is a blend of America, British and Nigeria. We do this because of the children, who travel abroad to school. Everything done here is application; there is always a practical aspect of every lecture. When a child graduates from our school, whether he or she attends higher institution or not, the child can be selff employed,” Folajogun says.
The conversation passed so quickly in a gale of shared experiences and enjoyment that nobody noticed that darkness has fallen in haste, following the harmattan haze.
And their last word?
“If he were to come back again as a man, three of us will grab him as our husband.”
Simeon Olaosebikan Apata (1945-1995)
Things You Don’t Know About Him
He founded Apata Memorial Schools in 1980 and started with only a few desks and benches.
He fought gallantly for the Nigerian army (3rd Marine Commandos under Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo) during the civil war.
His favourite meal was pounded yam with efirin soup. He loved all his children, but his favourite was Niniola (first runner up and prize winner of the 2013 MTN Project Fame).
He was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, teacher, disciplinarian and mentor.
He was actively engaged in crime fighting and dislodging notorious marauders in Ire-Akari Estate, Isolo, in the 90s, an act which received accolades from the Lagos State Police Command.
He was into pet breeding and kept Doberman and German shepherd and a wide variety of guard dogs.
He was a founding member of the adult education board through his investment in Success Tutorial Academy in the 80s.
He loved exotic cars and was a great loyal brand owner of luxury Mercedes Benz cars.
His three wives, fondly referred to as the amazons, have continued to raise his banner of philanthropy, qualitative education and learning development as an enduring legacy
He was aversed to social parties of any kind and cultivated the wives along the same radical line.
He groomed the three wives to be self sustaining and continue to advance the frontiers of child education and development in order to keep his dream alive.
He was not given to sparing the rod or rhetoric in enforcing discipline and set corporal punishment and strokes of cane for erring students as a unique brand edge for Apata Memorial Schools in the 90s.
He was not used to taking photographs to the extent that he had a few shots in his album.
He gave scholarships to many indigent students and especially Awori indigenes of Isolo community.