I used to fetch firewood on campus at night —Omolara Fajemirokun

Lady Adebisi Omolara Fajemirokun, teacher and caterer who was one of the pioneer wardens of the College of Medicine, Idi-Araba, Lagos in the 60s clocked 80 on August 20. In this interview with YEMISI AOFOLAJU, she relieves how her career took the better part of her that she almost forgot the thought of a life partner, and what life has taught her. Excerpts:


Your growing up years

I was born on August 20, 1936 to the family of Pa Felix Adebowale Erinoso and Lydia Morenike Erinoso, who brought me up as a Christian. I am the eldest in the family of four; I thank God for every member of my family and the fact that my parents were Christians who had the fear of God. I inherited a lot of things from my mum, like the way I speak. She was a teacher and I was one too. I could remember telling my dad when he wanted to send all of us abroad for further studies when we finished our secondary education that I wanted to be a teacher. Based on my choice of career, he asked me to write an essay explaining why I wanted to be a teacher. My dad, who was an accountant, was highly impressed with my essay. He told my mother that he would send us abroad, assuring her that the money spent on us would not be a waste from what he had seen my sister and I wrote. My father was strict, but my mum, even as a teacher, was as not as strict as him.


Did you teach all through your productive years?

No, I didn’t. I taught briefly at Ibadan before we were sent abroad, where I studied Catering and Institutional Studies. I met an old school mate abroad who convinced me to study the course. It was as if the Holy Spirit spoke through her on that fateful day, as she directed me to the school of catering and the lady I met there said ‘Your face looks familiar’ at the first meeting. ‘It appears you had previously applied to this school,’ which was the truth. I had applied to the school years back while I was seeking for admission abroad. The lady was able to produce my file at mere looking at me.


Your previous application found?

Yes. English people are wonderful. As she brought out the file, she showed me the first application that I wrote. She said a letter was sent to the Nigerian House in London because they did not know much about me to ask if the school would be proud of me after the course, but there was no reply. I was asked to resume in three months as the class was already full.


Did you come back to Nigeria to practise what you studied?

Not immediately. After completing my course, my parents allowed me to work for a year in the UK and later sent for me when I was planning to go to Cambridge, as there was nobody to keep their company back in Nigeria as  all my siblings were all studying abroad.


What did you do when you arrived in Nigeria?

My daddy was giving me pocket money on monthly basis since they were the ones who sent for me. I was buying Daily Times and another popular newspaper. It was my aunt who said I could not stay in Ibadan and look for a job. Incidentally, my father bought a copy of the Daily Times where the College of Medicine, University of Lagos advertised for vacancies. I applied and was shortlisted for interview. I dressed informally to the interview. I wore the up and down wrapper and gele which I am used to, having schooled in Igboland. This, I believe, made me to stand out among 13 other candidates. I was the only one who was employed. The English man in the panel insisted I should be employed. He said, ‘Take the teacher, she is the right candidate for the job. You will not regret employing her.’ Again, the Holy Spirit spoke through him. There and then, I was also invited for the second leg of the interview. I was asked to come again just to be sure that they did not make any mistake by employing me. I was given a standing ovation at the end of the exercise.


What was your job description?

I was named the caterer/hall warden in charge of students’ welfare. At that time, there was no hostel, but some houses were put on lease for students at Surulere. I was given a chauffeur-driven car for daily runs. The driver picked me up from 66, Falolu Street, where I was accommodated as early as 5.30a.m because I must see what was to be served the students for breakfast.


What was the experience like?

I was happy doing the job because I had been trained to look after people irrespective of their needs. Aside this, I love being around people. As a result of this, it was very easy for me to do the job. I sincerely loved the students.


Are you satisfied with what obtains now in the halls of residence of undergraduates?

I am not happy at all. Nowadays, many undergraduates fend for themselves. This is because the Federal Government has, over the years, abdicated its role of being in charge of education as it is expected in the running of university education.


Choice of life partner

Well, I never gave getting married a thought because my mind was on my job. I got married through an in- law who arranged my meeting with his friend who was based in Germany and that was it.


How did you deal with marital challenges?

I never allowed any challenge to get the better of me. I was determined to help my children to live the way God wants us to live. By the special grace of God, I singlehandedly took care of my girls; the rest is history.


And your story has changed

Yes, but it took a long time. I went through a lot. At a time, I borrowed from two banks, the defunct Cooperative Bank and Union Bank on the same day to pay my children’s fees. But I thank God that I am not covetous. I had always been contented with whatever I have, with the belief that one day, my story will change. I thank God for making me the person I am because many women in this kind of situation would have gone after men. I had no sugar daddy. If I had a sugar daddy, there wouldn’t have been any reason for me to borrow from the banks.


What has life taught you?

Life has taught me many things. One of such is that I should recognise God as my creator, worship Him and obey Him for me to live long.


Your most valued asset

What I value most in life is good friendship/relationship, especially with the younger generation.


What informs your choice of friends and associates?

Endurance and hard work inform my choice of friends. I associate mainly with my church members.


What is your philosophy of life?

Life is not a bed of roses.


What were you doing when you left the College of Medicine?

I left the college when I least expected after 23 years. At that time, my children were still undergraduates with no friend or relation to support me. The prayers of my staff in the college, who did not want me to go, really worked. My younger sister’s course mate, a medical doctor at the college, offered me her boys’quarters. I started catering business immediately I left the college job with three others. I started with moinmoin because I learnt that some nurses would enjoy what I produce. Shortly after, I added snacks like plantain chips, puff puff, chin chin and food like rice. Before I knew what was happening, I was given a letter of authority to trade on the school premises, which I took to Coca Cola for the supply of their products. I was given a space to build a cafetaria, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have enough fund. I used to fetch fire wood on campus at night so that people would not see me.


Having been blessed with a sound mind and good health, what will you do to serve humanity?

Everything is in the hands of God.


Are you on any special diet?

I am not. I structured my intake myself. I eat twice a day, light meals with a lot of vegetables. My favourite food is maize and corn bread because it is easily digested.


Secret of healthy looks even at 80

God has been good to me. Besides, I don’t take fattening foods. I take salad and potatoes as breakfast. Every meal I take in the morning must be accompanied with salad. I think what has really helped my determination to live a healthy life. At my age, it is a daily routine for me to jog, skip on the lawn and walk round the estate every morning. I learnt from my parents that eating fruits and vegetables early in the morning is very beneficial as against fatty and carbohydrates.


Feelings at 80

I am appreciative of God’s blessings. I thank God on a daily basis for making me who I am and for the parents who brought me to the world.


Parting words for young girls

Contentment. If I were not satisfied with what I was given by God, I would have been misled and missed my destiny.