I have taken pap as breakfast for 60 years —Pa Osinaike

Eighty-year-old Michael Ayodele Osinaike, a retired headmaster, was also an education officer, School Management Committee, Lagos State. He talks about his life and career with KEMI ASHEFON

When and where were you born?

I was born on July 8, 1935. I was born in Ijebu Imusin, Ogun State, Nigeria. In those days, there was a village clerk called Lamina, who was always taking records of births. He was the one who made it possible for some of us to know the dates of our birth.

How was growing up?

For me, it was fun. I’m the only child of my parents. My mother died in childbirth of another baby (after me). She had a prolonged labour and died. I remember how people were running around to save her life. I was well over two years getting to three years when this happened and I can still recall how people were running helter-skelter. But my small brain did not understand what was actually going on. Later, it dawned on me that I had lost my mother. I grew up alone. I was taken to my grandmother’s place after my mother’s death and that was where I grew up till the age of six. My childhood was quite adventurous. I remember contracting a strange disease called yaw in those days. It affected all the children living with my grandmother. It took a while before we could get cured. Eventually, we were all cured of the disease. Also, I cannot forget the moonlight tales grandmother told us then. It was fun. But at a point, my father had to come and take me from my grandmother for me to stay with him and join him in his trade and also do some farming. He was a brick maker and also went into farming later. My duty on the farm was to drive away birds that encroached on the farmland. A few kids used to join me in carrying out that role but I was not allowed to do any hard labour as it were. But with time, I had to face the reality of life because my father did not remarry after he lost his wife. He trained me alone and he lived till age 74.

Compared to your days, what has changed with growing up in today’s society?

There is a lot of difference between those days and now. Then, we played with sands, now, children play with computer. We did not have access to information and had to wait for many days to get letters. Those were the days of telegram and letters. It took a while to pass information and we had to do long treks from one place to the other. It was really the analogue generation and there is really no basis for comparison. But certainly, those who went to school then performed very well. With a Standard Six certificate, you could communicate well and write well. The only difference is that the number of subjects being offered in schools then was not as many as we have it now. The curriculum has changed a lot. But we must also appreciate that information is now available at the speed of light.

Tell us about your schooling?

I did not start school early. I was already 11 before I started primary school. Then, your right hand had to get to the left ear when placed across your head. The first three years that I went to school to get registered, I was disqualified. I was about giving up but my father beckoned on me one day and asked that we should go and do the test again. By then I was already 11. I was admitted and it turned out that I was about the oldest in the class. I was not discouraged. I had to cope with the taunts of younger colleagues. But some of them saw me as a bully. By age 19, I finished my Standard Six, took up a teaching appointment before proceeding for Grade 3 and Grade 2 teaching programmes. I later went for a diploma programme in education at the University of Lagos. That was many years after I had started to teach and had my children. That was around 1979. I was well over 40 years when I did this diploma programme.

From your experience, what is the problem with Nigeria’s education sector?

I think largely the problem with the educational system of Nigeria is the inconsistency in government policy. Over the years, we have toiled with various policies, making it look as if we don’t really know what we are doing. The latest policy of 6-3-3-4 is a good one. But we are not following it with precision. The window for students who are inclined to technical education is not given full expression. I expect that by now we should have a university where people can get degrees in technical education. We don’t have universities where people can get degrees in furniture making and other skill-oriented professions. We are too fixated on our learning. That has not helped the system. Also, I think that the medium of communication is also important. If countries like Japan could use their mother tongue in schools, why are we shying away from promoting our languages? I believe if our local languages are deployed adequately in the educational sector, we will probably have a lot of people doing well. This is not to say we do not need a lingua franca like English. I think there is a need to look into the medium of communication.

What were the values your parents taught you while growing up?

We grew up to understand that our name should be protected by all means. It was a taboo to get involved in fraud or acts that are demeaning. We took pride in the family name. My father was the one who really trained me. But in the course of life, I lived with his friend who was like an uncle to me, Mr. Andrew Osinowo. He was the one that God used to mould me. He was a great man and he taught me the value of hard work; that there was no limit to what we could achieve if only we could apply our hearts to hard work and have faith in God.

When did you get married?

I got married in 1963.

How did you meet your wife?

My wife was a friend to one of my cousins. When I was going to see my cousin, I would see her. I did not think of marriage at that time. But by the time I was thinking of settling down, I had a dream where I saw my late mother. She told me in the dream that the lady I used to see at my cousin’s place would be my wife. That dream emboldened me to approach her that I wanted to marry her. She agreed that she would marry me. But after a couple of years of going out, she declined and said she was no longer interested in the relationship. But her mother intervened and we settled our differences and married in a quiet ceremony. My family only paid her dowry in a low key ceremony. We couldn’t go to the registry because each time we tried to go, one of us would fall sick. We just concluded that God did not want us to have an elaborate wedding ceremony.

How long was the courtship?

The courtship lasted for about three years.

Did you face any challenge or competition marrying her?

No, the only challenge we had was when she said she was not interested in the relationship. I moved ahead and approached another lady. But when she came back, I had to tell the lady I was going back to my first love and she did not pick quarrel with me. It was that simple. My wife was a great woman.

When did she die? How did you cope with the loss?

She died in 1995. I had to take courage and move on with life. It was a tragic loss. But my children have been quite supportive since her death. My grandchildren are always around me. That to me is a big plus.

What’s your advice to singles, couples, single mothers and widows?

For singles they should be patient and wait on God to give them direction on who to marry. They need a testimony that would make them stick to their spouses. They should also understand that it is better to remain single than to live with a wrong and abusive spouse. Couples should learn to tolerate each other and learn to live with their differences. When two people come together there will be friction. But the more they tolerate each other, the less they see of the friction. Single mothers are vulnerable. They should be convinced that they want to remain single. There is no crime in staying single if one so desires, but they should not allow themselves to be used by some careless men. You can remain single with honour and dignity. But if you cannot keep yourself, it is better to be married if the opportunity presents itself. Widows should get busy if they don’t want to remarry. They should be involved in a project and should interact with the larger society in order not to die early.

You are 80, what’s the secret of your longevity?

If 70 is the God-given year, and one is 80, it is believed that one has added an extra 10 years. But Moses was 120 and I think that is the age one should aspire to if God gives the grace. If one wants to live up to that, it should come with good health. I owe my life to God. There is no secret to it. There are people who eat well and die early. There are people who eat poorly and die at a good old age. So, all human precautions are subject to divine approval.

Why did you not remarry after you lost your wife?

I was already 60 when my wife died. I have wonderful children who are quite supportive. I was convinced that there was no need to bring in another woman. There is enough to engage myself with. I spend my time going to church, attending family functions and reading.

What’s your favourite meal?

I have been taking (Ogi) pap every morning for the past 60 years apart from Sundays. When I’m fasting, I break with pap before any other meal.

What are your hobbies?

I like reading newspapers. Then, I used to buy five newspapers every weekend and two everyday.

What are your most fulfilling moments?

My marriage, my graduation from the diploma programme from the University of Lagos and the birth of my children were moments that were quite fulfilling for me.

How much was your first salary and what did you do with it?

I think I earned less than four pounds. It’s a long time now. I did not give my father but I used it to buy something for him.

Did your children do the same?

One of them gave me his second salary. I think he gave the first salary to the church. I can’t recall if others did but they have been a blessings to me.

Where were you on the day of the 1966 coup?

I was in Abeokuta then. That was the year I had my second child. It was a troubling time for us as a nation.

What has touched you most in life?

The death of my wife. It was like an arrow piercing through my bones.

How many countries have you visited?

I have only been to Israel on holy pilgrimage

What can be done to revive the nation’s education sector?

Government should put professionals in our educational institutions. Teachers in both primary and secondary schools should be trained teachers. There should also be policy consistency; the idea of changing educational policies does not help the system. More investment should be put in the primary education system because that is the foundation.

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