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Customs Lady Who Stole Osoba’s Heart, By Mike Awoyinfa

Mike Awoyinfa
Mike Awoyinfa

In a country where great men hardly share their stories, Aremo Segun Osoba has left behind two memorable books about the great life he lived as a newsman and a politician.  I am proud and honored to have been the author of his first book, SEGUN OSOBA, THE NEWSPAPER YEARS along with my late partner Dimgba Igwe.  I enjoyed every page of Osoba’s spanking new book, BATTLELINES: Adventures in Journalism and Politics publicly presented on Monday to mark his 80th birthday.  From a human angle perspective, my favourite chapter is Chapter 9 which tells a newsy love story:


IT was in the heat of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) that I met a pretty woman who would end up as my wife and the mother of my children.  I was returning from England by ship—Elder Dempster M.V. APAPA.  In the course of going through customs clearance, I noticed an efficient female customs officer, who seemed interested only in her work and not any idle chatter.  She checked the papers, without being overbearing or overtly friendly.  When it was my turn, I just stared at how this lady was conducting her business, searching my luggage and clearing me with ease, decorum and professional efficiency.  Deep down, she struck me as a good-looking lady.  She arrested my attention so much that the reporter in me couldn’t ask her anything all through.  I was too mesmerized to even ask of her name and her personal details.  But, in tune with a hit song of the era, what will be, will be, ‘Que sera, sera.’

A week later, as destiny would have it, I met her again at a party in Apapa.  I was wondering: “Was she not the girl, that customs officer?”

She had come in the company of a close friend of hers the then Miss Moji Kukoyi.  My wife was then Miss Adeyemi.  I happened to know Moji very well because she was dating one of my friends.

“Is she not the same customs lady?” I kept asking myself.  In her, I saw an image of a reserved, unobtrusive person, a wife material.  At that time, I was a man-about-town.  I had all kinds of women around me.  But then, I saw this “game-changer” of a lady and I said to myself: “This looks like a girl that I could be involved in something serious with.”

Moji created the link.  When I then started courting her, I found that she came from a highly disciplined home.  The first reality check I got was from her father.  In those days, the best you could do was to take your girlfriend to the cinema or maybe on a walk along the Marina.  Back then, the Marina had not been sand-filled.  It was so close to the Lagoon with small boats floating and dangling on the waters while a lot of trading was going on.  It was the place to buy cheap bric-a-brac from seamen who wanted quick money for the imported wares.  I had taken ‘Derin one day to watch a football match at the Onikan Stadium.  Those were the days when going to the stadium to watch live football match was a big national passion, not just in Lagos.  By the time we came back, the father had written her a query to explain why she was not at home when he returned from work.  A father who gives a written query to the daughter is a disciplinarian who wants only the best for her.  That disciplined background further endeared me to ‘Derin.  My father-in-law, Pa S.O. Adeyemi, remains dear in my heart.  Until he died, if there were issues between me and his daughter, he always took my side.  This stance angered my wife so much that at a point that she wrote him off as incapable of seeing things from her own viewpoint.  His attitude was: You are married.  As a married woman, you just have to respect and honour your husband at all times and in all circumstances.  He would chastise her openly, but behind, he would call me and whisper to me that women are difficult to manage and that I too should learn to be patient and tolerant.  My father-in-law’s attitude, I must say, contributed a lot to saving our marriage.  His influence was weighed on me to make the marriage a success in spite of all challenges.

My mother never cared whom I married or where I married from.  She was too happy to see me married at long last because at a point, she was getting worried that I had stayed too long as a bachelor.  Like all mothers, she was too eager to see her grandchildren before passing on.  The only thing she objected to was marrying a white woman.  I was dating a white girl before I met my ‘Derin.

Osoba’s autobiography


People often say I am impatient.  They say that I have a volcanic temperament.  I got this temperament from the newsroom.  You cannot be in the newsroom and not be temperamental.  The pressure of the newsroom acts on your system.  Newspaper production of my time entailed working late into the night to get the first edition out and following up on developments to ensure the second edition was even fresher.  That way you stayed ahead of the competition.  This distorted my sleeping pattern.  To this day, I cannot sleep before 1 or 2 in the morning.  And it has affected my children too.  Nobody in Osoba house goes to bed before midnight.  The pressure-cooker atmosphere in which news operations are conducted has so affected my life that I am very impatient.  I can’t suffer fools gladly.  It even got to a point where my wife granted an interview to a magazine saying no other woman can live with me except herself.  She had her reasons.  At that time, monitoring radio, particularly foreign stations, a major source of news, was a daily habit that had almost become an addiction.  By 6.30 in the morning, I would be on BBC, VOA monitoring news while she was still sleeping.  Invariably, the buzz and the static disturbed her sleep daily.  Late in the night, I would still be on the BBC, VOA and other foreign news sources.  In exasperation, she would call me a thorough nuisance, which often came across as “newsance.”  But eventually, she too imbibed that culture and gradually became a journalist by a process of osmosis.  As the Yoruba say, if you wrap black soap for a long time in leaf, the leaf will eventually turn to soap.  Over time, ‘Derin developed a good nose for news and a knack for information gathering.  The day Chief Awolowo died, we were in Argentina but she was the one who broke the news to us.  The day I introduced her to my friend Sam Amuka and his friend Torch Taire, they both hailed her as the queen and said: “Long may you reign.” They had seen so many women reign, so many women come and go in my life, but this one looked like she had come to stay and would reign for a long time.  They were clairvoyant.

We wedded in 1974.  I was away in America, in Harvard, doing a year-long Nieman Fellowship course, and she was in England, to further her studies.  She had left the Customs out of frustration.  Our first child came nine months after our wedding.  I was so excited to be a father for the first time.  I called her Oluwafadekemi which means God has honored me with a big crown.  Like the typical African male, I was expecting a boy as my first child but then a girl came.  I have no regret, however.

I wasn’t a nappy-changing father.  The Daily Times crisis started not long after I returned to Nigeria, and I had to relocate to Ilorin.  I wasn’t really around much to help with baby-sitting.  I was either in Ilorin or Ibadan.  My wife was based in Lagos throughout.  My dream of a son came in 1977 with our second child Olumide, a one-time member of the House of Representatives.  After Olumide, we had two—a daughter and a son, respectively Oluwayinka and Oluwatobi.  I thank God he blessed me with these wonderful children. My wife is one woman I admire above all.  I admire her beauty and simplicity.  She is ever natural.  She is just a true African lady.  She has contributed immensely to all I have achieved in my life.  She stabilized my home as well as my life.

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