The sleepy town of Odoragunsin, near Epe (Lagos State), dons the garment of gaiety. Further afield, the whiff of celebrations pervades the air—joyousness cascades in torrents, and choruses of merriment ring out for kilometres. And it is all in honour of Lady Christine Adedoja Otedola, who joins the prestigious club of nonagenarians today (Sunday, April 3, 2022).
Festivities are afoot as the grand dame settles gingerly amongst the blessed and favoured in blue zones—from Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece), and Loma Linda (California, USA). Most people there live into their old age (with many crossing 100 years) in good and sound health with minimal physical and mental challenges.
Though not from the five ‘blue zones’ (a term coined by Dan Buettner to describe the environments and lifestyles in the areas), she is reaping the benefits reserved for those with extended lives. And we have a thing or two to learn from the elements that elongate earth life. Those from the ‘zone’ show solid faith; they forgive and forget. They drink alcohol sparingly, eat a plant-based diet (with fish and meat in moderation) and stop before being satiated. They place family first, know and live their purpose, move naturally from dawn to dusk and support the community.
Lady Doja––the teacher, nutritionist, philanthropist, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, dubbed ‘Madam Efficiency’ in her younger days––is immensely grateful to the Almighty for this grace and benevolence. For this charming and winsome life, with family and friends and well-wishers cheering her on.
In her four scores and ten years on Earth, she has experienced many highs and lows. She has laughed, cried and triumphed—with her exemplary life, overflowing with good form in metric tonnes, teaching us how to remain modest and tolerant, graceful and dignifying.
From Ogbogbo to Ijebu Ode, Abeokuta to London, Ibadan to Lagos and wherever she has set foot, the matriarch’s beautiful life is a picture of courage and contentment.
Here are nine highlights from her nine decades here:
1. Her parents died young!
Lady Doja’s parents (Emmanuel and Rachael Onakomaiya) passed on in their prime. Her mother (from Oru, near Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State) died during childbirth (of twins) when the former First Lady of Lagos was a toddler. Her father (an indigene of Ogbogbo, Ijebu Northeast, also in Ogun State), who worked with the Public Works Department, died in his early 50s. With Nigeria’s life expectancy just inching to 55.44 years in 2022 (from 55.12 in 2021), ‘clocking’ 90 is a huge bonus. It’s a big deal, anywhere in the world!
Even in Hong Kong, where life expectancy for women is highest at 87.8 years, as 2022 estimates suggest (followed by Japan at 87.7, Macau at 87.2, Singapore at 85.8 and Switzerland at 85.6), she’s surpassed the benchmark!
2. She loved Sir Michael to bits, cut short her education for love.
Among the young, dashing men who sought her attention back in Ijebu Ode, Sir Michael Agbolade Otedola was exceptional. Apart from being quiet and reserved, he was honest and straightforward and kept no secrets. And she didn’t think twice before picking the handsome gentleman and forsaking all others—with their love blossoming as he regularly stopped at her house for dinner.
Shortly after their romance kicked off, her suitor left for London in 1956. Lady Doja joined him later in the year at Regents Street Polytechnic (now University of Westminster). While he studied journalism, she settled for catering.
On Thursday, December 18, 1958, in St Pancras, north London, England, they became man and wife. Sir Michael (July 16, 1926–May 5, 2014) decided to return to Ibadan (at Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service) in 1959. Lady Doja had to abandon further studies to accompany her husband back home––for love. Her preoccupation was to nurture and strengthen the union, which had then produced a son.
3. Labelled ‘Madam Efficiency’, the teacher and catering manager cannot help keeping all on their toes.
Lady Doja is adored and respected by her former students and colleagues and those who have crossed her path. Apart from being transparently honest, she’s fair-minded, disciplined, meticulous and methodical––and was always praised and acknowledged.
The former catering manager at the University of Lagos served meritoriously to earn the ‘Madam Efficiency’ moniker. And even students she taught domestic science decades earlier are fond of her. They—from Baptist School (Ijebu Ode) to St. Anne’s (Ibadan, Oyo State) and Baptist School (Bodija, Ibadan)—sing odes in her honour to no end.
4. She didn’t like politics.
After being persuaded to join the governorship race of Lagos by his son (Olufemi) in 1991, Sir Michael faced opposition from his wife. First, she dismissed the idea. Later, she was lukewarm and disinterested. She constantly told him how politics was dirty, stated why a gentleman should avoid it and demanded to know his mission.
It took quite some time before she acceded to his aspiration. She regularly conferred with Christian leaders (who eventually convinced her to encourage her husband). She didn’t allow him ‘to bring his political activities home’ (on Adeniran Ogunsanya) even after she agreed that he should run for office. And she was ever reluctant to join him on the campaign trail. She also refused to permit delegates to stay in her compound during the primaries.
As far as she’s concerned, politics is a thankless job. And it took its toll on Sir Michael. Lady Doja also regularly worked long hours, attended state functions, looked through thick files and helped wherever she could. And she kept counting the days they would leave ‘Lagos House’ (and it came quicker than anticipated with the coup of November 17, 1993).
5. After politics, she was happy to return to Odoragunsin (where she’s lived for 29 years).
After General Sani Abacha’s coup of November 1993, Lady Doja couldn’t wait to return to her husband’s hometown (Odoragunsin). To leave the hoopla of political office, adopt a quieter and slower-paced regimen in the modest bungalow completed in the early 1960s.
Though Sir Michael had his eyes on their beautiful Victoria Garden City (Ajah) property, Lady Doja wanted to be in the rural community. She was adamant and moved to Odoragunsin, where her husband eventually joined her. An unplanned fanfare heralded the homecoming of the journalist, public relations guru, entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist. Odoragunsin was agog as their son returned home. And Sir Michael reportedly shed a few tears.
6. She’s a caring mother of 6 children, an attentive grandmother and an affectionate great-grandmother
While still studying in London, the Otedolas welcomed the first of their children (Ayokunle) in 1959. Olufemi followed in Ibadan in 1962. Then Rotimi (1964), the twin daughters, Lola and Tola (1965) and Olu (1971), all born in Lagos after Sir Michael moved to Mobil Oil.
Lady Doja is the ever-attentive grandmother and loving and affectionate great-grandmother.
7. May 5, 2014, is etched in her memory.
Ever since they became an item in the early 1950s, they were hardly apart. Even when Sir Michael sojourned to London in early 1956, she quickly boarded MV Aureole to join his sweetheart later that year. And on Thursday, December 18, 1958, they solemnised their union.
The lovebirds, who didn’t keep secrets from each other, were inseparable––until Monday, May 5, 2014, when Sir Michael passed on at 8.10 a.m.
The gentleman she fondly called Gbolade died at 87 from heart-related complications at Reddington Hospital, Idowu Martins, Victoria Island (Lagos).
Sir Michael had been ferried to the ultra-modern hospital from his Odoragunsin home. And he passed on after five weeks of admission there. His companion of over six decades didn’t have time to say goodbye as she was with him three days earlier (on Saturday, May 3).
8. She’s the peerless philanthropist among the Otedolas.
Well-known for their large-heartedness with Sir Michael Otedola leading as a philanthropist to serenade, the family has touched and improved many lives. From scholarships to medical interventions and more, the Otedolas are givers (remember Femi Otedola’s N5 billion donation to Save the Children on November 10, 2019?).
But many accede that Lady Doja is a peerless philanthropist. And some joke that she would have failed as a businesswoman because she’d give her goods for free to whoever wanted!
She inherited the giving gene from her father! Mr Emmanuel Onakomaiya assisted many through school (with stories of his intervention only surfacing after his funeral). Those who knew him mentioned that he hardly dined alone as he invited kith and kin to join him under the tree in his compound.
Lady Doja has financed houses for many, donated to worthy causes, and changed lives and fortunes. One of her greatest joys is St Peter’s Catholic Church, Odoragunsin (which she bankrolled), set to be dedicated in honour of God.
9. She was a Baptist but turned Catholic after marriage.
The Onakomaiyas were Baptists in Ogbogbo (where Lady Doja, born on Sunday, April 3, 1932, spent the first nine years of her life). She moved to Baptist Girl’s School, Idi-aba, Abeokuta, and later the Teacher Training College in the same town. She’s the first to acknowledge her immense benefits from the Baptist Church, where missionaries trained and nurtured her.
After their marriage, she became a Catholic without pressure from Sir Michael (born a Muslim). And she has matured in the faith, attending mass regularly.
Family and friends, kith and kin, men and women of good cheer, let’s rise as we salute and applaud the matriarch and wonderful woman, Lady Christine Adedoja Otedola.
Mama, 90 hearty cheers!
Here’s wishing you more years in good health!
Happy birthday, ma’am!
-Kunle Bakare, encomium.ng, Sunday, April 3, 2022