Ms. Juliana Ojelade, a retired civil servant, who has just turned 80, talks to DAUD OLATUNJI about his life experiences
How do you feel like you are 80?
I am very happy, even if my family could not celebrate it much, because of this period. My kids wanted to throw a party for me, but I insisted they didn’t. I told them that I preferred that they provide running water to the community where I grew up in memory of my late parents and they did that for me.
Can you tell us more about your background and your childhood?
I was born and raised in Olofin. It is located in Odeda Local Government Area in Ogun State. My childhood was a bit rough. I was born and raised in the village, and there was no help from anywhere, but with the grace of God, I am where I am today.
My father, Solomon Shodiya, and my mother, Felicia Shodiya, were both farmers. My father was strict and didn’t like spending money on his children. I might not have been allowed to go to school without his friend’s intervention. My father didn’t want to enroll me in school, but after a lot of pressure, I was enrolled. His friend was one of the leaders of the Anglican Church, Orile-Ilugun. It was this man who insisted that I be registered. Then I was over the age limit. I was 13 then. My uncle had advised my father not to allow me to go to school because they believed that a girl would not be useful to her family but to her husband. That’s why I told my children to provide running water to my village to show that girls are useful.
My mother died when I was 20. My father died when I was nearly 30. During my childhood, everything was quite difficult. My father was tough, although he was rich. He wasn’t joking with his money. When I was a student our village was quite far from the school but I was very interested in getting an education and God blessed me with a good brain because while I was in Olofin I was among the three top students.
On market days, I carried goods on my head to the market place before going to school. I attended primary school in Olofin. The primary school in Olofin did not go beyond the fourth primary at the time, so if one wished to continue his education, one had to attend Orile-Ilugun. So it was at the Orile-Ilugun primary school that I finished the sixth primary and the third modern.
What did you do next?
I started looking for menial jobs after graduation, but in 1972 I got a job with Daily Print in the Ministry of Public Works in Abeokuta as a typist. That’s when things started to get easy.
Where did you learn to type?
I learned to type in Oke-Itoku after elementary school.
Why did you learn typing?
I learned to type when there was nothing to do and the suffering was too much for me. There was no money at that time that I could use to start a business. So, I had to go to Oke-Itoku to learn typing and God finally did.
How did you get the job at the ministry?
There was a lady I learned to type with. She was the one who took me to the Ministry of Public Works. I could speak English, so I got a job there as a casual worker. And you know that as a casual worker, you can be fired anytime and anyhow. A friend of mine took me to Ibadan to see her boss to see if I could be offered a job and on arriving there we were told that there was no vacancy in the Ministry of Public Works, Eleyele , in Ibadan. After much persuasion, his boss, who was a permanent secretary, contacted his colleague in different ministries, and I then got a job in the Ministry of Institutions. I was paid 16 kobo initially but then got 48 kobo in the second month. My husband got a job at First Bank in Lagos.
Did you and your husband live separately?
Yes. But later, a brother-in-law who was a senior accountant in the Federal Department of Finance said he didn’t want my husband and I to be in separate places. So one day he asked me to come. He told me to report to the Federal Inland Revenue Service in Lagos from Ibadan where I was working. I did not immediately report to the FIRS in Lagos. I was hired after passing an exam. At the time, I wasn’t interested in the job because the responsibility was too heavy. My kids had already been admitted to college so I did odd jobs and got contracts under the administration of (a former Governor of Lagos State, late Lateef) Jakande and also had a business at Mile 2.
How did you meet your husband?
When I was in second grade, my husband was transferred to our village. He was a teacher at the time, but we weren’t together because I was too young. He left our village to do an internship. After that he met one of my brothers in Abeokuta and asked about me. My brother told him that I was in Abeokuta. There was one particular day when we saw each other in Ake and that’s how we started. We waited until I finished Modern 3 (before we got married). I was 23 when we saw each other later and got married.
How old was your husband then?
He was 29 when we got married and I was 23 at the time.
Did you also always like him when he was your teacher?
What attracted me to him was the fact that he was educated and still young and my father loved him then. He was friendly then but now he’s hostile towards me and I think it’s because of age.
How was your wedding day?
My father asked for kola nuts and a bottle of gin and he prayed for us.
Teachers at the time were highly respected. Do you consider yourself lucky to have married one?
This has been very beneficial, especially with regard to the education of our children. My husband always helped our children with their homework and made sure they finished their homework before he got home from work. I am happy to have married a teacher.
What is your vision of virginity?
It is quite difficult for girls because nowadays there are a lot of immoral activities. Did you know that in my day some men used charms on girls to break their virginity? Back then, if a woman got married and her husband didn’t meet her as a virgin, people called her an indecent girl.
As someone who grew up in the village, how do you compare this to living in the city?
City life is better because working hard doesn’t make the village rich. Some people in the village have money but don’t spend it to have a good life. I remember as a child, I went to draw water to drink from a river where the villagers also washed and bathed. The water did not kill us, but rather, it made us stronger. Rural communities need proper monitoring. They just have councilors who only visit the villagers when the elections are approaching. The government does not care about people.
How was security at the time in the villages?
Security was good at that time. There was nothing to fear. I told you that where I went to school was far from home. I used to leave my house around 5 or 6 in the morning and come home at night around 7 and I didn’t come back until 9:30 or 10. People can’t get around late these days.
Were crimes like rape and worship rampant at that time?
There was no such thing as rape and worship back then. The question of gender for brands was common then. I remember one particular year there was a teacher that I suspected because of his behavior towards me. I told my father’s friend about it when I got home and the teacher was summoned by the community. During this period, some teachers were notorious and impregnated students. But any teacher caught in the act was fired.
Can you share your happiest and saddest moments?
The first was when my first and second children were admitted to college. I was still at the FIRS at the time. I was very happy. A man who was also a teacher in the same school as my husband helped us with the admission letters. I was very happy the day we got the letters back. I had to take out a loan from a bank, which I granted to my daughter to enable her to go to school. The second happiest moment was the day my first child traveled to the United States of America. I was surprised that such a thing could happen in my life. The third was when I traveled to the United States, Canada and Jerusalem. Life in these countries is very different. They do better there than we do here. Things work well there, but here it’s different.
You mentioned earlier that your father was strict. What is your parenting style?
I’m a bit strict because my father was strict. God helped me raise my children. There was then a friend of mine, now deceased, her child behaved badly.
What has been your biggest challenge as a parent?
My biggest problem as a parent was not having enough money to spend on my children when they were doing well in school. But I had good friends who helped me a lot. A friend of mine whom we called Iya Lola gave me 50,000 naira in 1999 for my son’s trip to the United States. She lent me the money.
What do you think are the best virtues you have instilled in your children?
I transmitted to them the fear of God and I also taught them to be content with what they have. I have five children and all of them are university graduates and they also have master’s degrees.
They must have imitated me because I don’t mess with prayers. In Lagos, I participated in a scholarship and was appointed as a women’s leader. I told them that I could not afford to serve in this capacity but I partially accepted it.
How did you manage to find a balance between family and church activities?
They didn’t collide because God gave me grace. I always contribute to the church even if it is little.
Do you preach?
I don’t address the congregation or preach. I will just worship and listen to the word of God. I don’t like being noticed every time I do something in church. I like operating behind the scenes.
Do you have any regrets?
No, I have no regrets at all.
What is your greatest motivation and inspiration?
I don’t like to be stuck in one job and I like to do things that bring me money until old age catches up with me.
What are you most grateful to God for?
I am grateful to God for blessing me with my children.
How did you manage to stay healthy and radiant at 80?
God has helped me manage my health and my children are also taking good care of me.