MRS MORENIKE SOWALE, the President, Women and Girls Organisations of Ilesa Diocese (Anglican Communion), turned 60 years a few months ago. In this interview, she narrates to YEMISI AOFOLAJU her growing up, choice of a life partner and what life has taught her as a classroom teacher as she retires.
HOW would you describe your growing-up years?
I appreciate Almighty God for the sustainability of the Holy Spirit that is dwelling in me for attaining the age of 60. The beginning was not smooth, though I know that with God, all things are possible. I was born by Pa and Ma Olatunji Owoborode who hailed from Ijebu-Ijesa, Ori-Ade Local Government. But we were born and bred at Iragbiji, Osun State. My parents were traders. I attended Cherubim and Seraphim Commercial Modern School, Ikirun. I worked for two years afterwards before I passed my stage one, and I also worked for two years before I proceeded to Grade Two. In 1977, I met my husband who enrolled me at Methodist Teachers’ Training College, Sagamu, Ogun State. After my training, I got a ready-made job. During our time, we didn’t hunt for jobs. As a Grade Two teacher, one would be posted to a school of one’s choice. I got posted to Ibadan. We got married and at that time, my husband was already a lecturer at Emmanuel College of Theology, Ibadan. We spent nine years at the college where we had all our children. Later, my husband was transferred to Remo Diocese (Anglican Communion) to be the Provost of the Cathedral, before he was elevated to the post of a Bishop in Ilesa, Osun State.
What was the point of attraction?
He met me when I was a Sunday school teacher, shortly after I left the choir because there was the need to cater for the younger ones. Some of the pupils at the Sunday school then were around for my 60th birthday celebration. Although we were all young, we were one big family. We sang choruses with them, read the Bible as we mostly talked about stories in the Bible and also acted out Bible stories like; the 10 virgins, Samuel and so on in order to build up their character. When he met me, I did not know what he saw in me, but he proposed to me. I was having a boyfriend then who incidentally was a Muslim. However, my parents did not want me to marry a Muslim because of the fear of polygamy. Everybody knew our father was an Anglican to the core, but he was polygamous. With the challenges associated with polygamy, I set a standard not to be a victim. My husband happened to be the first priest to pastor our church in Iragbiji. He was loved by both the young and the old as he was noted for going round the community with his bicycle for charity work for the elders in the church who in turn, told their children and whenever they came home, they would first stop in the church. People loved him because he focused on charity aspect of the ministry. I initially said I didn’t want to marry an Ijebu man because my mother didn’t want me to do so being an Ijesa girl. But having seen in him that he was indeed God-sent, she consented and lived with us at Sagamu prior to her death.
What are the values your parents imbibed in you?
Firstly, praising and knowing God, in all circumstances. My mother taught me how to fast and pray over any life situations. I learnt how to go on dry fasting and break with pap and sweet potato. Even as a white garment church member, we never joked with going to the mountain to pray. Another virtue I saw in my mother is respecting one’s husband. As my father’s youngest wife, she was always on her knees whenever she brought food to the table, even in my father’s absence. I would then ask her who she was kneeling down for, and she responded that that was expected of her. Since then, even if I am not on talking terms with my husband, I still make sure that I cook for him and put his food on the table and ensured it is covered. Thank God for him, we don’t disagree to the extent that he won’t eat or eat out.
As a younger lady, what were your dreams?
My father was initially very wealthy, but got broke after some time. He married three wives, so it was not easy to cater for us all. By the time we started school, he was no longer rich. Even my elder brother had to opt for printing. One’s dream remained mere dreams without a backbone, when one considered one’s parents’ empty purse. My elder brother volunteered to take me to his place at the then Technical College, Ile- Ife, Osun State where his wife was a lecturer. I finished my Primary 6 examinations in the second year of staying with them. By the time their children started schooling, I became a burden. Hence, I returned to my parents’ house. I wrote a letter of undertaking that I will be of good behaviour by not getting pregnant while schooling, After signing the undertaking, I was taken to Orimolade Commercial Secondary School Ikirun, Osun State. I later saw the letter in my mother’s Gbangudu (iron box) when she died. The dream then was for me to become a nurse. I went to Offa, where the examinations were written but on the day of the interview I was disqualified because I did not know the name of the chairman of one of their local governments. Then I proceeded to Ijebu for teacher training by the help of my husband. I retired as a teacher last September after serving for 35 years.
Can you compare the dedication, commitment and loyalty of teachers of those days with now?
It is incomparable because many Nigerians would know that the commitment of teachers in the olden days was total. Many teachers have divided interest now. However, the teaching career is not everybody’s calling. For instance, there was a time the government refused to pay the salary of teachers for almost one year, and their survival was threatened. This led to the reduction in the commitment of teachers. It is basically not the fault of the teachers that the standard of education keeps falling. Even in our own time, we were involved in selling petty things in order to survive. Why are we fed with suffering tablet? It is not the fault of the individuals, it is the fault of our government. If government can review the salary of workers, things will change for better. Before I retired last September, I saw the struggle of the younger generation. However, when I was retiring, I encouraged the teachers for the sake of the future leaders, to be committed to the profession. I wish the government could improve the system of education. I discovered that government does not follow up on the money spent on education over years, this is the reason the impact is not effectively felt in the society. The government should make sure that the books produced are relevant because a lot of books that are produced are not relevant to the curriculum. It is true they are spending so much money on education, but the money is not rightly channeled.
While your career lasted, what would you describe as the most challenging experience as a teacher?
There are countless challenges in the teaching profession, the most worrisome is spiritual. There was a time I was two-month pregnant, I beat a girl because she didn’t write well, and I lost the pregnancy. When she was discussing with her mates, she confessed to have ‘consumed’ my pregnancy. A colleague told me about her confession when I came back from sick leave. Since then, my Bible has become my mobile companion and that is why I discouraged caning of students among the teachers as there are other corporal punishments. And when I was the headmistress, hoodlums frequently looted my office.
As Mama Ilesa, what have you done to make the women in the diocese better?
My predecessors, Mama Sophie Falope of blessed memory, Mama Olajide and Mama Ademowo, laid a strong foundation that we are building on. We have been able to initiate Women’s Harvest that centres on the essence of Christianity and development of our perfection in Christ Jesus because the harvester would come, and we must prepare our minds, souls and spirit. Despite the fact that the women are very busy in their schedules, they still find time to participate in spiritual activities. I love and respect their commitment spiritually. We also have Transfiguration Mountain at Iwaraja, where we gather to pray. We have had countless testimonies. We are engaged in charitable work. Every December, we celebrate the yuletide with the physically challenged. One of our children brought up by the women in the diocese is in Canada.
Do you subscribe to a woman being a full-time housewife?
Being a working Bishop’s wife was not easy. It is not easy to depend solely on Baba’s salary. A woman asked to become a housewife should be able to ask her husband what she would be earning if she becomes one. If the man can shoulder it all, then there is no problem. I would advise any woman asked to stay at home with the kids, to have a shop very close to her house where she can sell consumables. Sooner or later, your husband would start asking questions, like what are you doing? What are you really contributing to the household? I tell people, I am not against common purse, but at the same time I am against it. A common purse implies that it is common, your husband will have his own share, and you will have yours. Whenever there is any family project such could be accessed by either of the couple. But in a situation where one of the couple is the only one spending, then you will see what happened to Judas and Jesus. We have to be very careful in counseling people. I tell my husband that whenever he wants to counsel people, he should counsel well. There have been cases of betrayals here and there. To the women, think twice before you buy into the idea of a common purse.
How do you feel at 60?
Before now, I didn’t feel that I am 60, I keep asking ‘am I as old as that?’ I am not old. I’m just 60 years. Daddy said whether you like it or not, you are 60 years-old. The only thing that gives one away is that there are some things you can’t rush into as before.
Who are your role models?
The Almighty God is my role model. Jesus Christ is my role model. We, humans are full of disappointment except God.
What do you value most in life?
I value mostly the word of GOD, sitting and discussing the Bible. The Bible is the only guide that leads and guides. When you have this word of GOD with you, you won’t go astray. You won’t feel disappointed by anybody that will leave you with hypertension.
Now that you are retired, what is next?
I thank God because before I retired, I had a poultry farm. After morning prayers, I take care of the birds. I equally have a goat ranch. After spending some hours on the farm, I get into the kitchen to prepare lunch for my husband. I don’t feel the age at all.