Ambassador (Dr) Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu is the co-chairman, African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc (publishers of the Tribune titles). YEMISI AOFOLAJU provides excerpts of an interaction with her where she reminisces on the virtues of her late mother, Chief (Mrs) HID Awolowo, a year after her death.
What are the things you miss in Mama?
I miss her being there. She was like a cover. I am not young; her grandchildren are not young either. Her great grandchildren too are not all that young.
I have been used to her being there all the time. I wished she were alive a little longer, but she had a good life, she was almost 100 years. I don’t think we could ask for more.
Mama was a very significant part of Papa Awolowo’s life and of course her children’s lives too. She was a silent operator, but very effective; she was clever and smart. She was very deep; she carried a lot in her heart that nobody would ever know. She never wore her heart in her sleeves. She was also very kind, very open; her door was always open to everybody. She was a philanthropist; she loved helping people who came to her for assistance. She never turned anybody back. She was a highly influential Nigerian, but she was also very humble about it. She was fortunate to have lived so long for almost 29 years after Papa passed on. She deserved all the adulation she got after Papa left because I believe that it was only when Papa left that people really appreciated him and the demonstration of appreciation of course was all showered on Mama. I think she deserved that too because they did the work together.
She was always conscious of what Papa’s wishes would be and she was loyal to him to the end and to the cause Papa stood for and that they both stood for. She was also no longer a partisan politician after Papa’s demise and she was not considered a threat by partisan politicians; therefore she became a Mecca of sort for people to seek advice and blessing which she readily gave to all and sundry. She was a wonderful mother.
Papa claimed that three things were the hallmarks of his success—God, Spartan discipline and a good wife that made him call Mama ‘My Jewel of Inestimable Value’. What were the exceptional things she did that qualified her as Papa’s Jewel?
She was so good to him. Mind you, he was good to her too. She was helpful and she supported him in every way. If you remember, Papa did his BCom by correspondence and he had that degree after marriage which is very unusual, because once you are married, a lot of distractions are introduced with family commitments; nagging wife or one who did not pull her weight, but Mama was none of such. She worked so hard that she gave him a conducive home to live in. She gave him peace of mind. Papa used to say that Mama brought him good fortune because some of the examinations he had taken before he got married were passed after he got married. Not many women would look kindly on a man who wanted to go and study abroad leaving three children back home with another one on the way then.
As a student, he completed a three-year course in two years and did his Law degree as well and equally wrote a book while abroad all in two years. Mama worked hard, kept the family. She did not send any distress messages to him at all. On the contrary, she occasionally sent money to him. She told us then that she used to go to the Railway Station where she was buying foodstuffs (tomatoes, pepper, onions among others) brought from Northern Nigeria to sell so as to rake in some money. She did anything and everything to keep the family together and also sent money to her husband. Also when he went to politics, again a lot of women would have asked their husbands what they wanted in politics because Papa was doing very well in his legal practice financially. When he told Mama of his intention, she went along with him. And when all went wrong, she never at any point in time condemned Papa for his decision, forgetting the good times, saying ‘you brought all of these on us all’. Mama never did. After all the crises, he came back from prison and when the ban on politics was about to be lifted again, Papa decided that he was going back. Mama did not ask him why? She was never opposed to his ambition. She was so good to him. But Papa also over-pampered Mama.
How did he over-pamper her?
He pampered her in so many ways. She was the one that sat at the head of the table for example while Papa sat to her right. She sat in the owner’s corner in the car while her bedrooms were almost two or three times the size of Papa’s bedroom in the house. Papa gave her everything.
What qualities would you want the womenfolk to emulate in Mama HID?
I want women to totally support and show absolute dedication to their spouses and families. Women must embrace hard work and bring up their children rightly by making out time for them because Mama worked; she taught, she sewed. She did all sorts of things when we were still very young from her home shop. Later on, she moved to the popular Gbagi Market in Ibadan. Having said this, I appreciate that these days, it is not so easy for a family to survive. Then, Mama did what she did then not because the family needed it, because Papa was capable of providing for his family especially when he was in Law practice. They were not ostentatious; they did not spend and try to flaunt any wealth. They dressed moderately. They did not keep up with the Joneses. All I can say about Papa and Mama is that theirs was a match made in heaven as they were meant for each other. This is why their lives played out the way they did; almost perfect.
What is the aim of putting up a Foundation in Mama’s honour?
I am putting this up because I am so glad that we already have a Foundation in honour of Papa. This is a non partisan way to remember him in an enduring fashion. It is the best way just to take the essence of Papa out of partisan political fray because what he stood for is so good and it is essentially non partisan when you talk about developing human beings generally through the development of every citizen. I think Mama deserves this too because her place in Papa’s life is unique and it is important to show this too because if Papa did not have a good wife, the public wouldn’t have known the Awo that we know today. I think she is a combination of family person, values-driven and an entrepreneur. Her life also has a lot to say, a lot to teach posterity.
How are you coping with the demands of Mama’s projects?
One can only try one’s best. I am determined to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep moving forward with the assignment at hand. I will try to make my own mark in life, using the values that I learnt from my parents.