Mrs. Olubisi Osinbajo, the 85-year-old mother of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, shares pleasant memories of raising her children with KEMI LANRE-AREMU and TOFARATI IGE
Can you share with us some of your fond childhood memories?
Firstly, the abduction of those schoolchildren in Dapchi, Yobe State, gives me a lot of concern. I want them to be freed immediately and that’s what I’m praying for. This morning, I read the Bible and prayed for them at 4.30am and I repeated the process at 8am. However, I believe that God would answer our prayers. As Christians, we should put everything in the hands of God. Since we have done that, I believe that the girls will be freed.
As regards my early years, I don’t really remember much of my childhood. I have a photograph on the wall of my house; it contains my brother and elder sister, Mrs. Lafinhan, who I spent many years with while growing up. She trained me because she was a domestic science teacher then.
What schools did you attend?
I attended an elementary school, and from there I went to a teacher training school in Sagamu, Ogun State. Later on, I was a teacher at the girls’ college in Sagamu, before I got married in 1954.
How did you meet your husband?
I met him when I was very young; I was still living with my sister then. He was a friend to my sister’s husband. I regarded him as an elderly person because he was 14 years older than me. After his training in the UK, he came to look for somebody else at the girls’ school where I taught. I saw him in the entrance hall and I greeted him. He expressed surprise at knowing I also worked in the school. I went to inform the person (Miss. Adegunle) he came to see that she had a visitor. Meanwhile, Miss Adegunle already had a boyfriend. I never saw him as a boyfriend because he was much older than I was. Three weeks later, he visited me in the school. He talked to me and he was very serious about it. I told my parents about it and they sanctioned the union because he was a much disciplined man; he is not like the men of nowadays. My father was pleased about it, but in the place where I come from, Ejigbo in Osun State, they didn’t like getting married to Ijebu people. However, my mum was from Ilaro in Ogun State. We eventually got married and we were together till he passed on in 1996. He loved me and I loved him. I used to cook about five different dishes per meal for him. He was very pleased with me, and I was with him as well. After we got married, he told me to stop working and focus on training the children. We were just managing, seeking and worshipping God. We brought up all our children in the way of God and we trained them to be humble. By the grace of God, they (children) did everything that we told them to do.
How did you feel when you first became a mother?
I had my first child, Femi, on July 29, 1955. I was delivered of Yemi on March 8, 1957, and I had Akin in 1960. Tunde came in 1962 before Tolu (the only girl) came in 1970. When I gave birth to my first son, Femi, I was so happy about it and everyone in the family was happy too. My mother-in-law was a very nice woman and she knew God; she was a prophetess.
How was the experience like bringing up four boys?
It was a tough time. When you are dealing with boys, you don’t sleep with your two eyes closed, and I would give you some instances to buttress that point. One night, I went round the rooms to make sure they had all slept. However, there was one empty bed and I wondered where the occupant of the bed could be at that time. I took a chair to the front of the house and I was there till about 4am, when one of my sons drove into the compound in my car. I didn’t even know that he could drive. He changed into his pajamas and tip-toed into the house; immediately he saw me, he shouted “mummy” in surprise. We held each other and began crying. He asked me if I had sat there the whole night, and I told him that I couldn’t sleep, knowing that one of my children was not in his bed. He prostrated and begged me not to tell his dad about his escapade. I told him that I wouldn’t inform his dad only if he promised that he wouldn’t repeat the act. On another occasion, one of my sons drove in someone else’s car and he had an accident in it with his girlfriend. When I was informed, I rushed to the scene and took him to the hospital; and the parents of the girl also did the same. I asked them to x-ray his head to make sure that nothing was wrong with him because he hit his head on an object when the accident occurred.
As a mother, you have to be active. Sometimes, you have to put on trousers and show them that you can act like them. When they jump, you jump too; and that is why I am called ‘Mummysco’. I thank God that everything is alright today. Parenting is not easy; it takes the grace of God to succeed at it. You cannot train children on your own; you can only pray for God to help you.
You had to sacrifice your career to be able to train your children. How did that make you feel at the time?
I didn’t think much about it because my husband was very loving. He always did whatever I wanted and there was no cause for anxiety. I took to his words and concentrated on training the children. When they became grown-ups, I started a nursery and primary school because that is what I was trained in.
Did you have to use the cane or were there other forms of punishment you adopted?
There are so many things you can do without using the cane. Once, when one of my sons was making trouble, I threatened that I wouldn’t refer to him as Mr. until he changed. I told him that whenever I wrote him letters, I would just write his name without adding Mr. He cried and begged me to call him Mr. You may think it is insignificant but that threat changed the boy at that time. He began to do well and I finally called him Mr. You can achieve a lot by praying. I used to wake them up at 4am every day to pray. God is faithful and he always answers prayers of parents. I advise those still actively raising children to pray a lot for and with them. If your child does not do what you like, call on Him and He would answer.
Some people believe that boys should not do household chores. When raising your boys, did they do chores?
Of course, they did. Everyone had something to do in the house. They can cook very well and some of their girlfriends, who couldn’t cook, ran away because they felt they wouldn’t be able to meet up. They can do a lot of things. Their father always told them that whenever they wanted to greet an elderly person, they should prostrate. One day, Yemi prostrated in court for his friend’s father and the man really appreciated the gesture because even his own son didn’t prostrate in the courtroom. We always emphasised to them that they should be humble at all times.
Did you influence their career choices?
Yes, we did. Daddy wanted them to be doctors and he took them to science school. However, as a teacher, I felt that they should be lawyers because they performed better in art subjects. One day, the principal of the school they attended, Igbobi College, came to daddy and told him that “these children would make exceptional lawyers but they would be ordinary doctors.” It was then that daddy withdrew them from science school and took them to art school.
When you eventually gave birth to a daughter after four sons, how did you feel?
One day, I was attempting to fix something on the wall and my daughter, Tolu, said to me, “Mummy, be careful; don’t fall.” I was surprised because I had never heard anything like that from my boys. Those ones weren’t concerned whether you fall or not. That incident struck me and I was very happy that I had a girl at last. She helps me in doing a lot of things. Even though the boys can try to tie my headgear, she does it better.
When your sons started having girlfriends, what type of advice did you give them?
Daddy always told them that if they impregnated any girl, they would have to marry the person, whoever she was. He told them that he did not care if the girl sold pepper or salt, he would ensure they got married. We were happy that they didn’t ‘touch’ anybody till they got married.
What’s your advice for mothers in this generation?
I pray for them. You cannot train any child unless God helps you. Sometimes, I cry when I’m praying for them because they need our prayers.
Can you compare the way children are brought up now with how it was in your days?
You cannot compare it in anyway. In those days, you could communicate with your children with your two eyes but you cannot do that anymore. Children of nowadays wouldn’t even look at your face. If you think they are looking at you, you are just wasting your time. Then, the children looked at their parents’ faces to know if they were doing well or not.
How did you feel when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo signified his intention to go into politics?
We don’t like politics. My husband and I also told our children not to partake in politics. However, Femi was once a councillor. But he later resigned and returned home. He said he could not cope with them. When we heard of Yemi’s own, we knew that it was God that put him there. Since then, we have been praying; I cannot rest again. I pray for him every minute; even when I see him on TV. I always tell God to take care of him.
What kind of advice do you give him?
He is a man of God and he always advises me that I shouldn’t be worried; rather, I should pray. Whenever you pray for your children, God answers. This morning, I have prayed for three of my grandchildren who are celebrating their birthday today (March 9). I prayed for them and sang with them; and I did the same yesterday which was Yemi’s birthday.
At 85, do you still keep a tab on your children?
Of course, I do; especially by praying. I usually pray for all of them at 5am on their birthdays and they all know that I don’t miss it. I make sure to call them on the telephone and they always expect my calls.
How do you feel when the VP or government are criticised?
I do not feel anyhow. I only pray for him and I know that he is doing his best. I know that it is God that put them there; and He has established them. When you put things in God’s hands, you are sure that everything would be alright.
When you go out, do people give you special recognition as the Vice-President’s mother?
Yes, they do and I feel that it is too much. It happens even in church and one ends up not being able to worship well. Some people would bring cards, letters and they would all want to talk to me. One evening, a person came and said that her landlord drove her out of his house because of her inability to pay the rent, and she wanted me to get her an apartment and pay for it. Things like that happen every day. I told my daughter and she teased me that people were giving birth to lawyers and doctors but I decided to give birth to a Vice-President. I believe it is by the grace of God and He would give me the wisdom to handle it.
Do you still scold the Vice-President?
Yes, I do, and on occasions like that, he calls me ‘Mummysco’. It doesn’t matter how big they are now, they are still my children.
How do you relax these days?
I read a lot. I have got some books on my table that I’m reading at the moment. I used to go for Bible Class in church and I also used to go to church on Sunday. That was until I fell ill shortly after my 85th birthday. During that period, I couldn’t step out of the house but I thank God that I am getting better now. I always tell my contemporaries that once you are 80, you should always look at the floor when walking because if you fall, that could be the end for you. I watched a programme on TV where a former Vice-President, Alex Ekwueme, was invited to seat on the high table. While walking, he kept looking at the ground. He didn’t look up until he got to his seat. Many people didn’t understand why he did that but I knew. However, I thank God that I am still hale and hearty.
You live in such a modest abode and you have no airs and graces about you. Why did you make that choice considering your status?
I think it boils down to what my parents taught me. From an early age, they always told us to be humble; that you don’t need to show off for people to know that you have arrived. Someone even said to me that we should make our low gate higher. But my husband always told me to leave the gate like that so that everybody can see me and I can see everybody. He said we should not cover ourselves up and shut ourselves from the world. We do not covet the riches of other people because we are content with whatever we have. Yemi (Vice-President) doesn’t think about himself at all; he is always thinking about other people. That trait was also in Chief Awolowo. Even when we took food to him in the prison, he was worried about what the poor people outside would eat. It was always about other people.
Do you have pet names for each of your children?
(Laughs). No, I don’t have any.
Can you recall some of your proudest moments as a mother?
Yemi was a debater when he was in school and he was quite good at it. We always felt proud whenever we watched him debate on television. Even people used to tell us that they were very impressed with what Yemi did. Akin (a former attorney-general of Ogun State) was also a debater and he was good at it too. We were also proud of Femi when he became a councillor.
Are you involved in the upbringing of your grandchildren?
I always pray for them and they know that I pray so much for them. I also pray for all the youth in this country because we need them and we want them to do well in life. I also pray that all the Dapchi girls would be freed so that our hearts would be freed.