Wednesday, November 4, 2015 6:06 pm
Mrs Lucy Onabanjo, the wife of late Chief Victor Olabisi Onabanjo, former governor of Ogun State in Nigeria’s Second Republic, was 90 recently. The nonagenarian, who still remains alert and healthy, spoke to FUNSHO AROGUNDADE in her residence in Fidipote Area of Ijebu Ode. She reflects on her career as a teacher and life with her respected politician husband.
You clocked 90 last week. How did you feel reaching that age?
At 90, I feel good and healthy. I am elegant. I served the Lord the way I should. I don’t feel different as such because I have always been prepared for everything like the Boy Scout motto says.
There was a big celebration of your birthday. How would you describe the experience on that day?
I was overwhelmed. It was a beautiful day. I saw many people who have been my children from the days when I was a young teacher. And I have never met some of them before. I really didn’t know what to do as I was filled with joy.
Looking back, how would you describe the life you have lived?
It has been a very fulfilling life right from when I left Ijebu-Ode here where I was born for Lagos at age 10. I went to school in Lagos under the Irish Sisters who were nuns. I trained under them and they showered me with love. I later left the Sisters to attend the Teachers Training College in Yaba also in Lagos. There I was trained as a teacher. At the end of our training, we were awarded Standard Six, and that Standard Six certificate is equal to today’s University degree. As we were passing out, applications were sent to our school for us to go to higher schools. I later opted to be trained as a nurse in Lantoro, Abeokuta. When the Reverend Sister in charge as our principal went through my application, she said to me: ‘Lucy, you are not going to be a nurse but a teacher. A very good teacher.’ And it came to pass. I thank God I was good at my work. Afterwards I got married to my late husband.
How did you meet your husband?
At the time I met him, I had many suitors.
Really? Why did you pick him out of many suitors?
You want to know why? I was smart, beautiful and very brilliant. All these suitors came and my late husband was one of them. And I chose him because he was very intelligent. He spoke Queen’s English and I was impressed. I then told him I would be his girlfriend. Being a girlfriend at that time did not give room for attending parties together. Then, I was hiding him from my late sister who brought me up. He too was free but he didn’t come to our house frequently. We usually exchanged letters and at the end of it, I fell for him. He was good and upright. He also topped his class at Baptist Academy in Broad Street, Lagos. That was what attracted me to him. We got married and our first port of call was Zaria where he was working with a local newspaper called Gaskiya Tarfi Kobo (Truth is more than a Kobo). Even though I was teaching, Zaria was a lonely place. But after a couple of years, he wasn’t satisfied with editing that small newspaper. We then came back to Lagos and joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He was deeply into journalism and finding out the truth. His focus was how you can teach your neighbours about finding out the truth. Bisi spent time at work than at home, but I never complained because I appreciated the work he was doing.
When your husband was picked up alongside Chief Obafemi Awolowo for treasonable felony, how did you cope?
At that time, I was almost as hardened as Bisi was. The truth is that he was always prepared for any eventuality. I remember that he always had different boxes prepared: one for trips within Nigeria and another for travelling abroad. They were always packed with clothes in case of any eventualities. He was always prepared and that already made me as strong as he was. I coped very well. Nothing really changed about me. I still had to go to school to work and later visited him at the Broad Street prisons. It was at that period that I was made the headmistress of the school where I taught and I had to cope and do my work very well. It wasn’t really tiring, though it may be boring sometimes and stressful having to worry about what may happen next. But I left everything in the hands of God.
When your husband decided to go into partisan politics, what was your initial reaction? Did you object to that?
Even if I had objected he would still have done it. So why did I have to bother my head. But believe me, he was a very good man and husband.
Your husband died a long time ago. What would you say you miss most about him?
I wouldn’t say I missed him much because as a journalist, he was always travelling. He hardly stayed at home because his job took him everywhere.
Despite your husband being a governor, he had very few properties, this house in Ijebu Ode, one in Lagos and none in any GRA. Don’t you think this is unusual for a governor?
That is a very good question. When he came out of prison in 1985 when General Ibrahim Babangida pardoned him alongside others, we all travelled out to England to look after his health. After a while, we came back home when the then Ogun State University wanted to give him an honorary degree. Days after the award, Babangida saw his pictures in the newspapers and television looking emaciated and pale. The man then sent three gentlemen to my husband. They are Olusegun Osoba, Felix Adenaike and late Peter Ajayi. Babangida called these gentlemen who were all journalists and said to them: ‘I saw your oga in the newspapers and television. Go and tell him to go back to England to look after his health and I will be responsible for the bill.’ He instructed these men to tell my husband that he wouldn’t want a ‘No’ for an answer.
When we were about to go then, the then Central Bank of Nigeria’s Governor brought to us money for our tickets, myself, our daughter Toun and my husband. There were other two top government officials who also brought money for us. But due to our usual way of life, we told them that someone had already paid for our tickets. But these men insisted that we should take the money. They told us that it was the same IBB who sent them to come and give us money and they could not take the money back to him. That was how we went back to England. It was Babangida who helped us back to England, with government money of course. That instance could best explain part of your question.
But why would he care less about life after office?
Because he wasn’t interested in riches. He was interested in service. Bisi was interested in serving his people. When we came back finally to Ijebu Ode after his time as the governor, I became angry that we came back to the same old house he built a long time ago behind his father’s house. I wasn’t happy and was always complaining. After a while, he was forced to go and see the then military governor of Ogun State, Mohammed Alabi Lawal over my constant complaints. When my husband told the governor that he needed a land in Ijebu Ode, it was a shocked Lawal who asked my husband: ‘Who needs the land in Ijebu Ode? Which of your children needs land?’ When my husband told him he was the one, Lawal was shocked and was almost crying. He asked my husband why he could not allocate land for himself while he was there as a governor.
To cut the story short, it was much later that the state government allocated him a land in the GRA in Ijebu ode. But looking back now, I really feel proud and contented with our modest life. At a time, we had one boy from Akwa Ibom State who was serving us and most times this boy would ask me: “Mama, why is Papa doing this? His house since he left government is the poorest. If it had been in our own place, the government would have built a big house for the governor to live.” But I usually told the boy that we are happy here, living among our people in Ijebu Ode.
Was there any time you regretted marrying him?
Never. This is because we never quarrel.