Mama HID Awolowo would have clocked 101 years today. Regrettably, she passed on to glory few days to her centenary birthday celebration. Much had been written and said about Mama, yet her witty ways of saying things are timeless lessons for many of us, and indeed so good for the books.
I was deeply endeared to Mama who took and treated me like a son the reason why a year ago I found it difficult to participate fully in many of the arrangements that gave her unprecedented Celebration Of Life . I refused to believe she was gone forever. Proudly, I could say I knew her fairly well. Like every covenant mother, Mama loved to speak with codes, deploying body language in most cases. Endowed with all right manners, the Yeye Oodua would never mix the white with anything black. She radiated purity both physically and spiritually. That reason predisposed her to be in love with people who she adjudged as neat and well kept.
One day, she put me to a shock on how not to appear in public. I was on call to pay her a visit. A quick glance at me made her to blurt almost to the point of scolding; “Eekanna re yi ti gun ju. Awon Obirin to’n paint lo nda eekana si kee… (Meaning, must you keep long nails when you are not a woman who loves to paint nails?). Since that day, I always kept well-trimmed nails, making it a necessity to dress neatly with nice shoes each time I was on appointment to visit her.
When Mama was happy, she often demonstrated that with a hand shake. In other words, she put the handshake in reserve for those she felt did some wrongs. I knew her as a mother who did not love to hold a grudge at heart. For that reason, you must admit your guilt and apologise for any wrong done and she would cap it with the usual handshake.
Mama was a stickler for time and to keeping appointments. She never liked visitors to bump on her. Interestingly, she meticulously kept a diary of every visitor without proper briefing of either coming alone or with company. My last meeting with Mama was instructive. I had pegged my visiting time at 2. 00 pm. Mama was seated at 2.00 pm prompt, whereas, I sauntered in 10 minutes behind schedule. Mama did not spare me. She enthused with a mild complaint, disclosing that she had been seated on dot of time. As she sighted two other persons who accompanied me she queried: “Folu, you are the only one I was expecting”, and that pinned a huge guilt on me. It was not until I excused my guests that Mama calmed down to hold talks with me for over an hour.
While I was Editor of Nigerian Tribune, not many knew that Mama played the role of a mother caring so emotionally as to the growth of her child. Often times, she woke up about 4.30amand must put a call through by 6.00am. From then on, we would both review the headlines of stories being published while she ended up giving kudos, when necessary. During review process, she would ask questions on how the newspaper had been fairing in the market. On a particular day, Mama was listening to newspapers review on the radio just as the Nigerian Tribune was not mentioned. I got an unusual call from her at 8.00 am. She demanded: “She ko si wahala oo. She paper jade “ meaning: “Hope there is no problem. Is Tribune on the newsstands? I answered in the affirmative that we printed late because of minor faults on the printing machine. That kind of passion she had for the Tribune titles kept the tabloids going for years and till date.
At a point in time, internal wrangling made the fortune of the paper to nose-dive. The problem had defied solution. It got to a stage when some key officers had to be axed. After the re-organisation, the newspaper picked up again. I was in Ikenne to brief Mama that the circulation had improved. A visitor came to congratulate Mama about the turn around. Surprisingly, mama did not acknowledge his adulations. She took on the tale bearer on why he failed to alert her when he noted the paper was in trouble and why he must come around to sing praises when the paper resurrected. Mama was always blunt. She hated hypocrisy. She loved the company of anyone who would tell her the truth.
The children, especially the grand children documented their impressions about Mama in a bumper Tribute package for Mama’s exit titled: “ JEWEL OF INESTIMABLE VALUE”. In the special edition, Mrs Ayotola Ayoyinka Ayodeji said; “Mama had a clever habit of speaking in codes. For instance, if she wanted to see me, she would sometimes call and ask me to buy her one thing or the other, and then insist that I delivered it in person! Sometimes, if someone walked in whilst we were conversing by telephone, she would quickly say; line yi o ma de clear mo, mi o gbo nkan ti o nso.( literal meaning am experiencing network problem am finding it difficult to hear properly) Indeed, she was a master at changing the subject, verbally, or by simply dozing off until we were alone again. Mama was very hospitable..
“She always remarked that I talked too much, too fast. Once she asked me to do something, but I argued convincingly against it. She found my logical response frustrating, and called my sister, Yemisi, lamenting, ‘Ayotola ti le soro ju, ti mo ba sokan , a so mewa, shawa bi o se ma ri pe o she kan ti mo so.( Ayotola talks too fast. If I speak a word she counters it with multiples. Just get her to do what I want). I promptly granted her wish.
Ayotola wrote on how Mama wanted her to be a Judge. She recalled how Mama started the conversation by saying one of her “daughters” had become a Chief Judge of a state and she had bought her some nice fabrics. She said Mama kept repeating how she loved to see judges dressed in full regalia. “I took the hint, but pretended to be oblivious to it.” She said Mama bursted out: “ iwo o le she judge ni”( Can’t you aspire to become a judge?) . Ayotola replied Mama that judges had to sit all days of the week so if she became one mama won’t be seeing her regularly. “So she dropped the matter instantly.”
In her own tribute: Mrs Yewande Subair talked about Mama’s seven rules that made the first six grandchildren to see Mama in their formative years not as a friend, but a disciplinarian. She said Mama “had her rules which at the time we found weird and unreasonable, but as I’ve grown older I have them down in gold in my unwritten book of conventional wisdom”.
Rule 1: Thou shall not put your hand in your pocket. For those doing so have tendency to be proud. Rule 2: Thou shall not chew gum. For young girls, it is a mark of way wardness . Rule 3: Thou shall wake up at 5 am and be part of her long prayer sessions. Rule 4: Thou shall not wear make up until you marry. The only make up she approved was white powder. Rule 5: If something won’t wait for you then you should wait for it. This rule applies to catching your flight and church services. Rule 6: Thou shall not address an elder in English because the English language unlike Yoruba and French does not have adverbs that allow you to show respect when addressing elders. Rule 7: Thou shall not train other people children at the expense of your own. As a result, once we arrived, her house helps were relieved of most of their duties, we took over.In her own tribute, my ‘sister’, Dr Mrs Tokunbo Awolowo Dosunmu wrote: “ I don’t know why , but one memory I particularly treasure growing up is that of being allowed to sleep in your bed whenever I was unwell. I learnt so much from you. You taught me to love and have implicit faith in God.
“Mrs Omotola Oyediran described the pains of losing a dear mother, stating; “Mama your exit is painful, but your memory will live on in my heart. It will be impossible to forget private moments that I shared with you. Little did I know that you would not celebrate your centenary each time I said to you ‘Mama Eku ipalemo’ you answered ‘Birthday gbogbo enia.
“Indeed, Mama’s exit ended up with a national funeral that brought President Muhammadu Buhari from Abuja, accompanied by ministers and top government functionaries to bid her a final GOOD BYE. Mama simply lived and passed on as a heroine!