A retired livestock officer and centenarian, Pa Elelu Akanbi, shares his life experiences with SUCCESS NWOGU.
How do you feel that you are a centenarian?
It is quite unbelievable that I am alive to celebrate 100 years on earth. I thank Almighty Allah, the giver of long life, who sustained me till today. I was born on Monday, July 1, 1917. Life expectancy is low in Nigeria. I am not sure if life expectancy in Nigeria is up to 60 years. To attain 100 is a special favour of Almighty Allah. I give thanks to Almighty Allah who spared my life till now. Most of my mates, if not all, have passed on but it has pleased Him to keep me alive. I remember Abdulkareem Elefo, Alisa Oju-Abere, and Amuda Olufadi were my playmates but they are no more.
Where are you from?
I am from Elele Compound in Alanamu, now in Ilorin West Local Government Area of then northern Nigeria. It is now Kwara State. We were under the indirect rule system. It was being controlled by an Emir, who administered the territory and reported to the British authorities.
What lifestyle did you embrace that aided your long life?
Though I embraced healthy lifestyles, I cannot attribute my long life to it. Long life is a gift from Allah. No matter how you observe healthy lifestyle, if Allah says you will die before 40 years, nobody can change it. But if you do not live a reckless life, with Allah’s help, you can live long. Thus, my healthy lifestyles are not totally responsible for my longevity. I know that I tried not to overburden my life. I was not a womaniser when I was young. I also do not smoke or drink alcohol. Furthermore, I engaged in exercises when I was young. When I was 98, I still trekked to mosque and market places to buy things, including newspapers.
I read a lot when I was younger. I walked around a lot. This was not because there were no people to run errands for me or there was no car that could convey me. I only did it as a form of exercise, to keep the body lively. I engaged in exercises every morning and evening before I clocked 88 years old. But now age is weighing on me. It is no longer easy for me to trek to the mosque and exercise daily.
One habit I do is giving alms to the poor. It is an injunction to Muslims to give alms so that they can enjoy long life. I also eat good food. I do not like junk food. If you eat fresh and natural food, it will help you to stay healthy. I love amala, pounded yam and rice as well vegetables and fruits.
Tell us about your childhood and school experiences.
Life was sweet during my time. I really enjoyed and still relish my childhood and school experiences. In those days, there were no kidnapping cases and Boko Haram killings. Life was safe. Although there were many bushes and minor developments, children walked long bush paths without anybody molesting or harming them. Traders went to faraway markets and came back without tales of armed robbery attacks or kidnapping. We enjoyed many fruits. Young boys and girls went about naked in their innocent state. When we started schooling, some pupils from wealthy families had uniforms. Those whose parents or guardian could not afford that used some clothes to cover their privates and buttocks. We really enjoyed going to school, leaving the house in the morning, studying in classes, playing during break time and singing the songs we learnt in school as we headed home.
It was really a delightful experience. I graduated from a Quaranic school before starting formal education in a primary school. Then, all pupils must have graduated from a Quaranic school before being allowed to enrol in formal or western schools, especially in Ilorin. The reason was that boys and girls were expected to have been taught the teachings and expectations of Allah for them to abide by His rules. This is essential to live a meaningful life. After I graduated from the Quaranic school, I started attending school in April 1928 at Oke-Suna Primary School, Ilorin.
I was lucky. My parents, though not so wealthy, could pay my school fees as they made it a priority to educate their children. But there were some of my classmates whose parents could not pay for them. The fee was five shillings a year. My classmates, whose parents could not pay their fees, were offered scholarship by the Native Authority. When I completed primary education, I continued Middle School at Government Secondary School, Ilorin, Kwara State. That is the name it is called now but by then it was known as Government Secondary School, Oke-Suna. I enjoyed my Middle School as I combined academics with sports. I graduated in April 1938 with excellent performance.
Did you continue with education or you got a job after you left school?
I thought of furthering my education immediately but teaching was seen as an elitist profession then. People saw teachers as highly educated people who could communicate in English with white people. Teachers were in high demand at the time. As a result, I reconsidered going further in my academics. I decided to take up a teaching appointment. I was employed by the Teaching Service Commission. But I did not teach for a long time. After two years of teaching, one of my uncles told me that I could make a better living in another career. He told me that I could get another job with better entitlements and retirement package in other disciplines. I considered his advice and that was how I left teaching and got another job as a veterinary assistant with the Ilorin West Local Government as it is now called. Later, I was transferred to the state Ministry of Agriculture. I was also a veterinary assistant in the ministry. It was a great experience and delight to care of and treat livestock. We organised trainings and sensitisation campaigns for farmers on how to take good care of their livestock and protect them from diseases.
After some period there, I was offered a scholarship for further studies in the United Kingdom. The course was for three years. I gladly accepted the offer. There were other people that were beneficiaries of the scholarship. We all went together. We were quite excited and really enjoyed every bit of the three-year stay in the Northern Durham University, UK. All the beneficiaries were Muslims. During Ramadan, we fasted there. The Europeans marvelled that we fasted and stayed long before eating. Some of them asked us to come and have dinner with them in their homes. They wanted to eat with Africans so that they could know how we eat.
What unforgettable experience can you recall while in the UK?
I was in a dream one night and my father came to me. In that dream, I was wondering how he made the journey to the UK and came to my room without anyone giving him the description. I was, however, happy that my father visited because I longed to see him. After I welcomed him in that dream, he told me that he wanted to sleep. Since it was morning in the dream, I asked him why he would sleep again the morning and whether he did not sleep at night. He ignored my questions and still told me that he wanted to sleep. I said, “Papa, you cannot sleep again. You slept all through the night and now it is morning. How can you sleep again? I will not allow you to sleep but you can relax and watch the television.”
I suddenly woke up and realised that it was a dream. I kept wondering about the meaning of the dream. After few hours, I got a cable from my hometown that my father had passed on. I was downcast. I could not go home immediately because of the distance and the demands of academics at the time.
After my education, I returned to Nigeria and was employed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture as a livestock officer. I was promoted to principal livestock officer; a position I held till I retired from the civil service in 1979.
Were you admired by ladies as a result of your level of education at the time?
I was greatly admired by many girls. In fact, I was a cynosure of all eyes. Many of them will come to me just to hear how I speak English. Some of them brought gifts. I had countless female admirers. But our moral upbringing forbade us from any immoral or sexual indulgence. We just related on platonic level; on a brother — sister relationship.
How did you meet your wife?
I married four wives in accordance with Islamic injunctions. That helped me to avoid flirting or womanising. I met my first wife, Usamot Mubo, when I was still a student and we got married on February 16, 1940. We are related, which was the practice in those days in Ilorin. Many parents encouraged their children to marry from family friends. Our parents assisted our relationship to grow and blossom.
The marriages are blessed with 24 children, though I lost three of my children. I have many grandchildren. I cannot remember them all. One of my children is, Mas’ud, Chairman, Council of Heads of Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology in Nigeria.