Guest ColumnistOpinion

In praise of a good, doting mum: ‘She gave birth to me on a bare floor’, By Mike Awoyinfa

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IF you have read the spanking, hot autobiography of business man, entrepreneur, serial investor and venture capitalist Chief Dele Fajemirokun, you can’t but be moved by the amazing story of his mum who died three days to the launch of the book The Making of Me—My Odyssey in Business.

Mrs. Comfort Osebosade Fajemirokun who died at the age of 87 and would be buried on August 15, after a church funeral at St. Stephens Cathedral Church, Surulere, Ondo, is the story of a woman who endured everything but in the end when she could take it no more, she quietly moved out of the life of a man whom she had hoped to be with for life.  She was the first wife of the legendary Chief Henry Oloyede Fajemirokun, the World War II veteran and trade unionist who ventured into business and became a household name as a foremost Nigerian entrepreneur of the post-independence era.  Wikipedia describes him as a trade unionist “who later became a prominent Nigerian industrialist and businessman and one of the country’s dynamic indigenous entrepreneurs who had established and built one of the foremost indigenous private sector business concerns in his time. He was a strong believer in, and promoted West Africa’s economic integration alongside Adebayo Adedeji which subsequently led to the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).”  He died intestate in his hotel room on February 15, 1978 while leading a Nigerian business delegation to Cote D’Ivoire.

Henry Fajemirokun’s story is the stuff of movies in which Mrs. Comfort Osebosade Fajemirokun would be seen in the role of the first wife, the woman who stood by her man from the very beginning when there was no money but she endured the hard times with the resilience of a true, faithful African woman.  You can’t but wonder how she was able to cope with so much inconvenience that surrounded her at the time when her husband was a struggling man living in one room crammed with so many relatives all living with him.

In the opening chapter of his book, Dele Fajemirokun let it be known that he is “the first child of both my parents and, according to my mother, mine was her most difficult pregnancy; so much so that she often believed that I was in a hurry to see life.  After me, she would go on to have six more children, including twins, one of whom died in infancy.”

He continues: “Contrary to widely-held belief, I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.  In fact, there was no spoon at all when I was born.  Along the way, until my father died, twenty-seven years into my early life, I never tasted the silver spoon nor the special privileges associated with children of a wealthy father.”

To show the agony his mother went through Dele touchingly narrates how he came into the world in one of the most humble circumstances: “I was born on 16 April 1950, on a bare floor (because there was no one to take my mother to the hospital for my birth).  This was in a rented, one-room apartment of a tenement building at No.6 Eletu-Iwase Street, in Isale Eko; an area of then British colony of Lagos.  Isale Eko had always been a poor area of Lagos: a slum and ghetto, home of the indigenous settlers of Lagos…Isale Eko was also a refuge for non-indigenous settlers who could not afford the high rents in the newer parts of Lagos; hence, my father’s decision to settle there.

“My father, Henry Oloyede Fajemirokun, and my mother, Ose Comfort Fajemirokun, were not what you would call poor, but they were not comfortable either; a struggling couple, trying to make a living in Lagos.  Therefore I can declare that I was not born into wealth and, after my father’s untimely death, I did not inherit wealth, neither did I have wealth entrusted upon me, but the goodwill legacy of a former trade union leader.  I have earned everything I own in life.”

In the one-room rented apartment, Dele remembers how his father brought in all his relations to live with him.  He writes:  “As stated earlier, I was born in a one-room in which lived my father, my mother, my uncle, Olu Fajemirokun, his sister, Rebecca, his cousin, Bayo Akinbiseyin, and later my sister, Bimbola, and the twins.  How we all lived in that single room remains a mystery even now.  Looking back, the cramped nature of our home would be the reason why my father farmed us out to live with relatives until he was able to afford better accommodation.”

Then daddy went into business and succeeded against all odds.  He was a man blessed by God.  Whatever he touched turned into gold.  His success story would be told in another column.  But suffice to say that when success came, things began to change for Dele’s mum—a woman from two royal families in Ondo and whose father Chief Samuel Adepetun was a renowned tobacco merchant in Ikaleland.  Not only that, her eldest brother, the late Stephen Adepetun was the classmate and future business partner of Dele’s father.  In fact, his name was used in the enterprise that became Henry Stephens and Sons Limited (HS&S Limited).  It was through him that Dele’s mum met the dad and eventually married in 1949.

“My mother was an apprentice seamstress when she met my father and comes from a strong Christian family in Ondo town,” Dele writes.  “Deeply monogamous, my mother was not prepared for my father’s sudden descent into the abyss of polygamy when prosperity smiled on him.  After the birth of the twins and my father’s rising profile and proclivity for women, she quietly moved out his life.  This would account for the reason why I never really lived with her and never learnt how to call her ‘Mummy’.  My sister, Bimbola, would later take on her rotund stature and the same dentition.”

Later on life, after Dele Fajemirokun, a quintessential self-made man had worked his way up the ladder of success, mother and son tried to make up for the lost time by fostering a close relationship that endured till her death.  Such was the bond between mother and son that Dele writes affectionately of her: “She has always remained a sweet and affectionate mother, sending me native soup, ‘ila asepo’, all the way from Ondo, with lean ‘bush meat’, which I always enjoy.  The very first building that I owned was her house in Ondo, where she lives and collects rent from her tenants.  Forever a good and doting mother, she is always saying prayers each time I visit her.”

In his memoir, Dele writes that he feels so “glad that my mother has lived to witness my development through life.”  When she turned 80, he feasted her with a talk-of-the town birthday celebration at the Ondo Civic Centre.  “It was a happy occasion, preceded by a two-hour church service,” Dele writes.

And on her part, Mama died a happy death, having lived to see her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Not only that, she had the last laugh with his son not just being a chip off the old block but worked hard and succeed in beating his father’s great achievements. Just like in the words of Teni’s Ondo song Uyo Meyo which says: “Where my father didn’t reach, I have reached and surpassed.”







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