As a mark of tribute to Chief (Mrs) Adunni Adetayo Bankole, the late society matriarch who died on January 3, The ELITES’ Chief Reporter presents an engaging interview she had with her when she clocked 50 in March 2009. Enjoy.
But how do you feel at 50?
I feel great, fulfilled and happy. Life is short, but if you are able to pack so much into your lifetime, within those years, it means a lot. I feel so happy. I don’t have any major regret and I look forward to a brighter future, with a lot of confidence. I thank God for everything He has done so far in my life. I am particularly grateful to God for making me a grandmother.
As you look forward to a brighter future, what are the things you aim to achieve in the coming years?
I intend to achieve quite a lot of things. I set some goals for myself. And I mark them off as I score those goals. But on my mark-off sheet, there is still quite a lot I hope to do. I have enjoyed a good and sound health from God. I still bounce about and get going on a lot of things I have for myself. Also, I have three books which I intend to publish. I was hoping I would be able to publish them this year, but some logistics issues have not made it possible for me to be able to do that. The manuscripts are ready. I have bought my ISBN numbers. Also, I look forward to being more of a force to be reckoned with, among womanhood in Nigeria. I want to be a woman whose name will be written in the sands of time, after I am dead and gone. I want to be able to help my society the more. I want to be able to contribute more things into the society. I want to be able to affect the lives of the Nigerian women and children in a positive way. I want to be content with whatever God has given me. You see, the term, Society Woman, means a lot. I call it appellation. Different people give it different interpretations. To some people, it is a flimsy thing when you are referred to as a Society Woman. It is an aberration almost. To people like me, it means a lot. It is pungent, because when you are called that, it means that you have recognition. People know you. They have heard about your name. And you don’t just live an empty life. It is not about going to parties or being at social functions. You must be able to fill that name and that appellation with something substantial. It shouldn’t be about people seeing you on the pages of newspapers and magazines. You must be able to show whatever qualifies you to earn that fame. So, I have to revisit a lot of things in my life. I have to re-energize some of the NGOs that I have. I want to live a passage of life. And then go away when the time comes and be remembered. For me, to be able to be to do that, I have to make positive impact on other people’s lives. I always tell people that I am running a ministry by selling children’s stuffs. And I believe that to the letter. It gives me joy and it gives me so much pleasure. I believe I am being of service to a generation that is not so well thought of in our society. I derive a lot of pleasure from counseling mothers, talking to new parents, talking about children, advising them and doing things for them. At times, it even goes beyond doing all these things. Some people warm up to me and they confide in me. And I am glad that I have been able to talk some of these people out of their problems. I know that I am rendering a form of service and it is something that comes with reward. And I want to do more. I am asking God to put me in the position to be able to do more for people and the society.
Earlier on, you mentioned something about publishing three books. What are the books about?
I have one called The Bane of the Nigerian Woman. It is a book about the average African woman, now narrowed down to the Nigerian woman. And this comprises of the urban woman and the rural woman. The book touches on how we have maneuvered round our culture. And how the Nigerian women have been able to prove themselves, and the way it places us, sometimes against the society. Then I have a book, called The Nigerian Infant. But the one which I cherish most is the third book. It is titled; The One Thousand Inspirational Names. A lot of the names I wrote in the book came from the revelations I had in my dream. I have named a few children since I started writing the books. There was a case of a lady who is quite close to me. She came to my shop and said, “Aunty, I love this shop” And I told her to bring her children and buy things for them. But she told me she had been married for seven years without a child. She told me she was very worried, but she was quite optimistic that God would give her children. And I now said to her that because she had so much faith in God and because she loved those children things, that she was going to have a child. I counseled her and encouraged her not to lose faith. And to the glory of God, she became pregnant that same month. So, eventually, she had a child. And she insisted that the name for the child must come from me. I now named the child, Ninlalolaoluwa, which was one of the names I got from the inspiration. So, over the years, I have gotten so many of these special names through inspiration and revelation. And I have done a compilation of them. They are no ordinary names. They are names that are very pungent with meanings. So, I am looking forward to having them into print and have it published to help mothers, so that we won’t be giving our children the conventional names. You see, the beginning and the molding of anyone’s life, begins with the name, he or she bears. Your names mold your life. They affect you because when people call you every day, it says something about you and it leaves something on you. A lot of the names are prayerful, they are mandatory and they are authoritative. So, those are the three books I intend to publish.
Can you relive your childhood and growing up year?
My mother had me on an Easter Sunday. She was a very strict woman. My father was a chartered accountant while my mother is a teacher. From the marriage, that bore me out, my parents had four of us. And of course, there was separation. They went their separate ways and married differently again. I was trained by my maternal grandmother, Alhaja Moriamo Ajike Ojumoola Aiyekoti. She was the first woman in Abeokuta to put up a storey building. She was an extremely wealthy woman. She was highly respected too. In those days, my grandmother was one woman who could stand among men because of her wealth and generosity. So, when my mother had to leave to study in England, she left us with her. And I was a spoilt child. But then, my mother came back and took us back and instilled in us, a great level of discipline into us. You see, my grandmother over-pampered me and my siblings because she had two surviving children out of sixteen. She would take me to school and stayed outside till school closed. I had my primary and secondary education here in Nigeria. I started from NIJ here in Nigeria before I left for England. And I went to England to study. I came back and worked with a bank. I started as a Public Relation Officer. I ended up resigning as the Assistant Company Secretary of the bank. My husband flouted a courier company for me, which I headed and ran. At the same time, in between, I worked as Corporate Affairs Manager for my husband’s group of companies. But when we went public, I had to leave to start business. I went into buying and selling. And I started at Alade Market. And then I later moved to Opebi in Ikeja.
You are married into a polygamous setting, which most women dread to tread. How well have you fared in this set-up?
Honestly, polygamy is what you make of it. If you go into it, believing that it is filled with trouble; that is what you will get. But my nature is very embracing. I am a lover of people. I don’t ever see anything wrong in anybody. And I strive to forget and forgive easily. The first thing about polygamy is that you have to be able to understand the reason why you are going into it. If you went into polygamy because you are in love, then you will sustain your polygamy. I knew my husband had other wives before I married him. And my relationship with my senior mates is superb. Sometimes, when people see us together, they tend to believe we are sisters. They are older than me. The one that is the least older, than me is ten years older than me. So that gap is already there for me. And I know that I have no choice than to give them the due respect that I will give my elder sister. And that is the way we see it. We run our family together. I am very close to my step-children. I have confidence in them. I believe in them so much, and they do the same for me. If not for the strong belief and trust we share among ourselves, some mothers would be jealous of the way their children relate with me. I don’t see any difference between my children and my step-children. I don’t. More importantly, the man at the center of the picture determines what the wives do. If the man is down to earth, strict and honest, you have to fall in line. I enjoy polygamy. If I have any problem, it is the normal problem anybody can have. Not because it is polygamy. I have never dreamt and seen any mate running after me. My mind does not permit such thing. My mind is pure. I don’t segregate. I don’t discriminate. I am not proud. I thank God for giving me the grace to be able to cope.
Given the chance again, will you still want to find yourself in that situation?
No, I won’t. You see, what I have done in polygamy, not a lot of people will be able to do it. If I hope and pray for polygamy in a second outing, I don’t know the set-up of polygamy I may get into. Polygamy is all about deceit, lies and acting. A lot of times, you find people involved in polygamy acting. They portray forced smile and forced friendliness. You cannot really be yourself. You have to be somebody else to get along. And when you are over-jealous, you are in trouble. The thought of you knowing that your husband is with another woman somewhere, sometimes, can kill some people. Some people die young from the stress they undergo in polygamy. And do you know that men can never be fair. This is the bitterness. Men cannot be fair. They cannot distribute equal love amongst the women. If I have the opportunity to be in the House of Representatives, I will raise a Bill against polygamy. Even when we were in school, we used to recognize children from polygamous homes, from the way they behave. In my own situation, what really helped me and has continued to help me is my education and exposure. It placed me well to face polygamy. I came into polygamy with a plain mind, believing that everybody there must be my friend. So, even if you are trying to be bad to me, I don’t see you. I don’t see that side of you.
But having being married to your husband for over 27 years, what is your experience like really?
It has been more of my being resolute. I am a victim of a broken marriage. My parents got married and there was a break-up. And then, my mother got married again, and then my father got married again. So, I experienced both lives. I lived with my father and his wife. And at a point, I lived with my mother and her husband. I didn’t have bad experience. But this thing of going up and down was what really gave me some stress. Today, I am with my father, and tomorrow I go back to my mother. So, things like that and some other reasons, made me determine at a very young age, that once I marry someone, I am stuck with him. Nothing, nothing will make me marry twice, absolutely nothing. I have to avoid doing that because of the effect this will have on my children and because of what I know can come out of such situation. My step-brothers and I are very close. God bless the memory of my step-father. He played the role of a father. (Pauses to wipe tears) Even now, as I remember him, I feel like crying. He was a fantastic man. He loved us absolutely, like his own children. He was committed to us. He showed us so much care. He bought me my first car in life. I was at work in the bank, and he just called me and said, “Tayo, meet me at this place”. And when I got there, I discovered it was a car company. And he asked me to choose whichever car I wanted. I didn’t even know how to drive. He still employed a driver for me. Can you imagine having such a man as a father? And my brothers from that side are wonderful. They love me so much and I love them too. But then, I was determined to stick to whomever I marry. And I like to live by my words. In any case, there is not much difference between polygamy and monogamy. The things that can make a difference depend on a woman. If you expect too much from a man, you can get into a bit of trouble. But when you understand the prevailing situation and you just go about your work. The man will do his bit and you will also have to do your bit. And then, life is not about all that you can put together. Life is about enjoying and what can give you happiness. And then, you live one day and expect to live another day.
So, would you say you have had it very good in your marriage to your husband?
I just thank God for blessing me with good children. There is a lot that is happening that, you just have to know that polygamy is not that bad. It has its own vices. But then, the way you approach it, determines what it brings out to you. Maybe, if I had not found myself in a polygamous setting, I would be an Executive Director of a bank somewhere, or be a multi-billionaire or probably be a Minister, knowing myself, or be in the Senate. But my husband is an orthodox man, who believes that politics for women, is a no go area. A lot of people keep asking me why I am not into active politics. I do support politicians, but I am not encouraged to go into active politics, for no other reason than my marriage and my husband. At a stage, I was so tempted that I was contemplating on damning my husband, move out of my home and go into politics. But I also knew that when people know that you have left your marriage, they will deal with you. And this is a country where male chauvinism thrives. So, I just decided to stay, for the sake of my children. And if my children choose to do politics, I will support them.
You are one woman with a wide network of friends. What is your experience like in this regard?
What you are is more from your genes, from what God has made of you, from your biology and from your constitution. If I tell you that I have not had my own share of roughness from friends, I will be kidding myself. Like you rightly observed, I have quite a lot of friends. But I have continued to be myself. Friends have shown me the other side of life. You see, it is from making friends that I discovered that, no matter how truthful or how genuine you are, if you tell a story to someone, whose Modus operandi is telling lies, you are wasting your time. This is because, whatever you say, she will believe you are telling a lie. And that has affected me a lot. (Pauses and sighs).You have asked me a very intricate question, but I will answer it. I have friends. I know who my friends are. But my friends don’t know me. And quite a lot of them have decided to turn me into a problem for themselves. But one thing about me is that I don’t envy them in anyway. It is not in me to envy anybody. It is not in my character to do that. It is only the cloth that I can afford to buy that is fine. Anything, that I cannot afford to buy, be it jewelry, be it shoes, is not fine. I have thousands of friends. And I don’t pay lip service. I don’t know how to do it. I am either your friend or I am not. But I keep my friends. And whoever, respect is due to as my friends, I give them, more than they even deserve. I acknowledge them, I believe in them, I respect them. I even run errands for them, in spite of the titles that I am carrying on my head. It doesn’t mean a thing to me. We started with being friends from being whatever they are. But thank God for God. Not a lot of them can say, “But for us, where would you be?” And that is to the glory of God. So, that is okay with me so far. And I can hold my head high in the society and walk into wherever I want to go, enter into any gathering, be Special Guest anywhere, even though I don’t hold any position. What more can I say about friends? I have some very good friends too, who are loyal to me. But it took me time to discover how much they love me. They are quite a few of them.
Having come this far, you must have had your fair share of low moments. Can you share some of them?
There are several of them. Life will not be life if you don’t record low and sober moments, especially if you are married. You will have problems with your marriage. You will have problem with your work or business. Low moments will come. You cannot be buoyant all of your life. You cannot be happy all of your life, especially, in a place where you have positioned yourself in a role where you must necessarily carry on the burden of others. Of course, I have my low moments. But I am someone that cannot be kept down for too long. I am low today, I learn my lesson from it and I become sprightly tomorrow, embracing life again, because life must go on. Then, being a public person, someone who, two or three people know, you have to keep going. When these low moments come, you don’t let people see it in you. Some people look at you and they repose so much confidence in you. So, when your low moments come, when such people know, it affects them too. So, you have to keep your gait, your comportment and your high spirit. A lot of rich people cry. But you have to keep a front.
You seem to have a passion for collecting chieftaincy titles. Which of these titles do you consider to be the best?
I love all of them. My husband gave me the first title. The first Kabiyesi that recognized me and found me worthy of a title, was someone my husband was very close to. And he gave me that title on his 50th year on the throne. The title was Yeyemeso of Oke-Odan. But of course, the hen must come back home to roost. When your people know that you are being honoured outside, there must be something in you. And you know, in Abeokuta, we don’t just give honourary tittles. The titles are earned. I am a very orthodox person. I believe so much in the Black race and our culture, which is rich. I travel a lot. And it is whenever I travel that I cherish our culture most. We are different. And the first culture, the first religion, before any religion, is our Black religion. What our culture teaches is uprightness. I go to church. I believe in God. I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. But I also believe in my culture.
Let’s talk about your personality. Are there some things you would wish to change about yourself?
Yes, a lot. The first is my open-mindedness and my being all embracing. I thank God so far. But it has boomerang in one or two instances. I am too trusting. And I am too gullible. And I find it very too difficult to tell any lie. I have discovered that some people live their life lying. That is the only way they know how to maneuver life. When they see that you are being truthful, they don’t deal with you. So, my being open-minded and being all embracing have worked against me. I always come out as the scapegoat in most cases. I also want to change my attitude of believing too much in people and having too much confidence in people. But I thank God for everything. That is all about my life I will like to change. And maybe become a richer person, because in Nigeria, when you are not rich, you are an outcast. I am not saying that I am poor, but I will like to be a very super rich woman.