Abandoned in London! How Rachael Sijuola George, 90, Raised 6 Children after Nigerian Diplomat-Husband Disappears, By Mike Awoyinfa
To mark her 90th birthday, a Nigerian grandmother wanting her legacy preserved and her story told wrote a book distributed to all those who came to share the happy occasion with her at the Stonebridge Centre, Northwest London. I was among those invited and came at the right time as I watched the touching street scene of Mama Rachel Sijuola George, a native of Ijebu-Jesha, Osun State, tucked in a wheelchair with her son, Olakunle Babarinde, arrayed in a sky-blue agbada, pushing, carefully negotiating a zebra crossing leading to the party venue.
We both enter the hall which was already booming with Nigerian sounds from a deejay and a live band featuring a piano player cum singer, a saxophonist and a talking drummer. The guests were multiracial. A mix of church members, black and white, Mama’s aged friends and fellow choir members of St. Michael’s Church. One is a Jamaican old lady Jean Smith, Mama’s bosom friend who is 98 years old.
The food was more than enough. Assorted Nigerian food and Continental cuisine. The Master of Ceremony Pastor Wola Ojo who came all the way from the United States with his lovely wife Dr. Busola Ojo was Oliver Twist in reverse, begging the guests to come for more food. Rather than the food, my attention was riveted to the booklet I had just been handed: Mama’s biography written by her grandson: Oisin George Simpson. I started reading and underlining what interested me. Here is abridged version of Mama George’s story of a Nigerian in London:
It was not my original intention to come to England and stay here. I came here with a diplomat husband; he brought me to England with five children. One day Mr. Babarinde, my husband at that time, came from his office in Lagos, from the Ministry of Trade and told me that we might be going abroad for his work. I said to him, “Going abroad? Where?” but he told me he didn’t know yet. I then went inside and prayed saying, “Lord, don’t let it be China! They are communist. Don’t let it be India! They are poor. And don’t let it be America! They are racist!”
A couple of weeks later, he came back from work and said to me it had been agreed for us to go to the UK. That was music to my ears and I went inside and praised the Lord. Before travelling to the UK, I was prayed for by my wonderful, special church community. We arrived in London in September 1976. You know in Nigeria it is so intensely hot and sunny that you have to use an umbrella and you can see the dust from the ground get everywhere. When I came to this country it was like paradise; it was so calm and cool. I was so happy because I preferred the cold. However, in 1981, things began to change for the worse. After 5 years in England, Mr. Babarinde himself had to go back to Nigeria. So he left me 5 tickets, when he left, but this meant that there was no ticket for my younger son Michael who had been born in England. I could never leave my child alone in a foreign country, so my family and I were essentially stranded here in England without my husband. I had to train to get a job (because my teaching qualifications were not recognized) and after 3 years at a teacher training college, I managed to secure regular supply teaching work. I was working in 3 schools to make money.
Finally, by 1984, I had enough money to return to Nigeria to find my children’s father. When I got there, I asked everyone I could but no one knew where he had gone. So I had to come back to England. However, when I returned to England, I ran into an immigration problem. I told them I was a Nigerian who had been living in England for over 5 years but they didn’t believe me. They detained me. I rang my vicar, Roy Smith, and he advised me about what to say to the immigration officers at the airport. He was able to speak to them and they released me. They sent the police to guide me because they thought I would run away. They wouldn’t even allow me to go shopping for milk and eggs! When I got home, my vicar advised me to get a solicitor. How I survived, how I managed to be free, I can barely remember. Eventually, all seven of us were given British citizenship and indefinite leave to remain in the UK. My mind was fixed on ensuring that my children had the best upbringing possible after their father had gone.
I thank God for many things. There was a time I was homeless with my children. I had nowhere to stay. I had been living in accommodation provided by the Nigerian High Commission and the landlord took me to court although I had been abandoned by my husband. The judge asked him why he had taken me to court. He told the judge, “She doesn’t want to pay me and she is a fire hazard.” The court directed me to the council. We lived in a bedsit in Park Parade for five months. We couldn’t find anywhere else, but at least we had a roof over our heads. Because we all lived in one room, they called us homeless. It was a difficult situation but we became close as a family. Mr. Otto, a Nigerian friend, took our things into his place for safekeeping. We were then given a four-bedroom flat in Fitzsimmons Court. Compared to Park Parade, it seemed like a palace and we were finally able to settle in a safe and secure home. Years later, however, I had a fire in my home in Fitzsimmons Court. I had to crawl through the fire escape wearing my nightgown. I thank God for His mercy. The fire brigade and the vicar came. Despite the terrible fire that took its toll on many of our belongings, the piano was not damaged; the piano was untouched. I was able to stay with my son Olakunle which was a wonderful blessing, and once again, trouble brought us together as a family.
Today, I bless God for all the achievements of my son Kunle now a millionaire Son. He has taken me to places around the world I never dreamt of. In New York, I managed to go on top of the Empire State building; the view was amazing. Knowing my love for classical music, he took me to Vienna to experience the country of one of the world’s best composers: Mozart. Another famous composer from Vienna was Joseph Hayden. He composed 104 symphonies and died at 65. My daughter Sade and I went to a concert inside the Golden Hall there. In Rome, I saw the coliseum and the Trevi fountain. Then we went to the Vatican City. One summer, my son Olakunle bought us tickets to visit him in Milan where he was living and working. My grandson Edmund—who went to attain A*A*A* at A-Level—joined Sade and I on our visit to Paris where we saw the Eiffel Tower, L’Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame. We ordered Chinese food every night! I have had a good life. At 90, I am surrounded by my children and grandchildren. If I had gone with Mr. Babarinde, I don’t know where I would have been.