Pa Gabriel Ajayi Awofisibe, the Sapaye of Igangan in Osun State, clocked 100 years old two weeks ago. Interestingly, he reads without glasses and walks unaided. The centenarian, in this interview with TUNDE ODESOLA, goes down the memory lane.
How do you feel clocking 100 years of age?
I’m happy and grateful to God for making me attain 100 years of age. It’s a milestone really but it is only attainable by God’s grace. I’m glad that my 19 children are in good health; I hear good reports from them. I’m happy that my children live in unity and love. I pray that no harm comes their way. I pray for them to succeed in life. I pray that they are happy in their marriages and work. I pray that they may live in good health and grow old too.
Why did you choose a low-key celebration when you attained 100 years of age two weeks ago?
I don’t want unnecessary and wasteful spending. My children and relatives came around during my 99thh birthday and we did have a ball. I just decided to have a low-key celebration at my centenary.
Can you recount your early years?
Yes. I was born into the Iriko Omo family of Igangan community on September 21, 1912. I attended St. Bartholomew Anglican School, Igangan. After my primary school education, I went to Ile-Ife, where I learnt tailoring. In 1931, I graduated in tailoring. In those days, creativity was the word in tailoring but what you have now are people puncturing holes in clothes and calling them designs. Creativity has been virtually thrown to the dogs. I later became a saw-miller and produce buyer before I went back into farming. I have an extensive farm, which covered Igangan to Eti-Oni. I was into ‘oshomalo’ trade. ‘Oshomalo’ is a form of trading engaged in by Ijesa people. In ‘oshomalo’ trade a trader buys a cloth, for instance, for N10; he would give such a cloth out to a buyer for N15. The buyer is expected to pay the N15 in three months’ time. I went to Ibadan to buy the cloths. It’s when some people default in payment and arguments between the buyer and the seller became rampant that the trade gained the name ‘oshomalo’, which means I will squat here until you produce my money.
Does your family have longevity history?
My father grew old but he was not up to 100 years. My elder sister, Victoria Ogunkoyejo, was 97 years old. She died five years ago. Her daughter, Olaiya Ogunkoyejo, is 81 now and she lives in Ibadan. So, you can see that people grow old in my family.
What other things did you do aside from tailoring and other businesses you had mentioned?
In 1953, I became a councillor in Iganagan. Then, we were in politics to serve. What basically obtains now is politics being deployed for selfish ends. Today’s politicians are after money and not after the people’s welfare. In my time as partisan politicians, we contributed to the development of the society. We never had Special Advisers to Senior Special Advisers. It’s unfortunate now that you have so much money being pumped into payment of emoluments for elected politicians with nothing to show for it. We never governed by proxy. And the masses held us accountable unlike now when politicians are above the law. As a Councillor, I formed a cooperative and thrift society, which encouraged saving and prudence. I facilitated the building of a school each in Oke-Eta, Erinduro, Ifewara, Ijebu-Jesa, Esa-Odo and Oloku-Igi communities while I was councillor for eight years.
Was there political violence during that time?
Generally speaking, politics in those days was not characterised by violence. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo started politics, it was peaceful, but there were pockets of violence here and there when Chief Ladoke Akintola fell out with Awolowo. There were no hired assassinations then. The society was so safe and secure that you don’t have to be in your stall for you to sell your wares.
Did you own a car as a councillor?
No. But I became a proud owner of one of the first set of 800 motorcycles imported into the western region in 1954. Only eight of the motorcycles were ordered for Ilesa and I bought one of them. The number-plate of my motorcycle was OS 26. In 1954, I bought a lorry called Austin, its number-plate was OS 1944.
Nowadays councillors earn more than many university professors.
This is wrong. I was able to buy a motorcycle and a lorry because I was into intensive farming and other businesses. There was no money in politics in those days to allow you the luxury of owing a motorcycle as a councillor or buying a lorry. The insatiable quest for money by the political class is the ill militating against the attainment of good governance in Nigeria. The focus of governance which is service to the public has changed negatively. Only people with service-oriented disposition should be elected into public office.
When you left councillorship, what other things did you do?
I fully went back into farming. I left sawmill business because I needed to concentrate on farming and my other business engagements did not allow me to do this. I left other trades for farming because you can always fall back on farming. Till date, I still make up to N400, 000 annually from farming. Even if my children do not feed me, I can survive on my own. How much does a 100-year-old man need to feed? My needs are very few and inexpensive.
How did you raise your children?
I must say I wasn’t born with the proverbial silver spoon. I was born into farming. So, I learnt the essence of hard work from a very tender age. I knew early enough that there’s no food for a lazy man. So, it is along this line that I raised all my children. I introduced them all to farming as a means of sustainable living. I made sure that societal mores of love, dedication, unity, honesty, integrity, valour and humility were not lost on them all. I think these virtues coupled with God’s grace account for the reason why all of them are successful in their own rights. He is the high chief Ejemu of Igangan. I got married in 1933 to Rebecca Folashade Awofisibe. As a couple, we had our trying times; my wife gave birth thrice but we lost the babies. She did not conceive until 1936 and had her first born on April 3, 1937. I have four more wives. My parents were marrying wives for me. As a youth, women flocked round me because of my good looks, influence and position. I had my fair share of women as a young man. I advise young men and women of nowadays to seek God’s guidance in marriage. They should not marry for money or lust. They should marry for love.
Do you smoke and drink?
I don’t smoke but I drink. Palm wine is not a taboo to me.
What are your favourite foods?
I eat very early in the morning – as early as 7am. I love pounded yam and vegetable. I eat lots of vegetables. I love to take Milo. Before I attained 100 years of age, I used to take a small bottle of Guinness stout after my food in the morning and another bottle after my meal in the night. But I’ve reduced it to one bottle of small stout after breakfast. I eat by myself. I eat all kinds of food. I eat meat and fish. I take my bath and shave by myself. My children and relatives have repeatedly complained that I should not go out again, but I can’t. As long as I can walk, I will continue to visit my relatives . I don’t walk along motorable ways, I walk along footpaths.
Do you still see some of your age-mates and when you see what do you discuss?
It is only High Chief Enoch Akinyemi, the Sajuku of Igangan, that I still see. He’s three years older than me. I stroll to his house in the evenings to ask about his welfare, he visits me too. Whenever we met, we discuss about the epileptic power supply to our community. We also discuss about how government would help us establish a local government council in our town. We also discuss the bad road that leads to Igangan from Iwara, we want government to come to our aid in this regard because this is one of the reasons why we voted for the government. Strolling everyday makes me strong but my children and relative fear that I would fall.
How many more years do you want to spend on earth?
It’s only God that can answer that question. I cannot command God to give me a specific number of years. All I can do is to thank God for making me age gracefully without any ailment. I’m happy that all my children are successful. Many of them are living abroad. I didn’t lose any of my teeth until three years ago.
What incidents do you regret?
I have no regrets. Why should I nurse any regret when both my male and female children are successful? I’m just enjoying myself.
Why were you made the ‘Baba Ijo’ – leader of St Bartholomew Anglican Church, Igangan?
I think that’s due to my various activities in the church. I was instrumental to the employment of teachers for St Bartholomew Anglican Primary School, Igangan. I remember that teachers were so scarce to get in those days and I would trek several kilometers in search of teachers. This was before 1955 when he founded the school. The school is a community project. I pray that the Anglican Church in Igangan gets bigger and stronger in the Lord.
Baba has not lost the use of any of his senses?
Yes, all my senses of smell, touch, taste, sight, ear, speech are intact.
Can you still father a child?
Would you want your children to marry a young lady for you?
Ah? No. I’m fully fit. I can perform manly functions, but I don’t want a new wife.