In a clime with declining life expectancy rate, Madam Omoleye Babatunde is no doubt lucky to have lived beyond 100 years. Now, she is 101 years and is arguably Nigeria’s second or third oldest woman, if not the oldest person around. She was born in 1915.
During an interview with our correspondent in her Oranre residence in Yagba East Local Council Area of Kogi State, Madam Babatunde, in trying to recollect events dating to the days of yore, looked straight ahead in deep contemplation, slightly drawn by age, and then, smiled broadly.
But even before she began reeling out a catalogue of historically remarkable events in the early 20th Century, certain observations as regards her gait and activities lent credence to the fact that the greatgrandmother has been living a life marked by decency, good nutrition and modesty.
At 101, she is still considerably agile, cooking, bathing and doing virtually everything without human aid or the help of a walk stick.
She recalls her passion for philanthropy, saying, “I have passion for children’s education as I help pay school fees and students’ school leaving exams sometimes.”
‘DEATHS RARE IN OUR TIME’
Madam Babatunde is particularly appalled at the high mortality rate that has stalked the younger generation, despite the advancement in science and medicine. According to her, people in her generation lived long, though as at the time she was young, there was no tablet or injection, they depended on herbal medicine, which, she said, was effective.
Goods and services were cheap, she added, compared to the situation these days where people could not afford to eat comfortably.
“Life was easy then b e c a u s e things were cheap in the market, compared to now that everything is expensive. Then, people were so healthy. We didn’t take tablets or injection, we only took herbs; no unnecessary body pain then but now, everybody complains of body pains,” she pointed out.
She added that, in those days, deaths would usually not occur in an entire community for three years and “when someone dies, for two weeks, nobody will cook in that neighbourhood. People from another neighbourhood in the same community will come and cook for them.” Talking about life in the farm, she said, “People had pots in the farm in those days and if you liked, you would cook or roast yam when hungry. We also had different ways of making fire; it’s either you use matches or stones to strike each other, or strike cutlass against a stone. All these were without the use of kerosene.”
LIFE IN LAGOS, IBADAN
Madam Babatunde said Lagos was good in the olden days and things were cheap, especially at Idumota Market.
“I lived in Ebute Meta area; we were not living in the suburb then, but in a lively environment and we were going to the same Idumota market at that time. I usually went to Idumota market to buy Ankara in Balogun and on Easter Monday, we would go to the beach to have fun. As at that time, I was still young and was living with my sister,” she recalled.
The centenarian got married in 1941 during the scarcity of salt in Nigeria (World War II), when salt was like gold. According to her, she went to Ibadan, capital of today’s Oyo State, with her immediate elder sister. That was where she met her husband. She said, “I was working at a food canteen and my sister introduced me to him because they knew each other from the village. When he told me he wanted to marry me, I refused; but my sister told me to marry him, that he was from a good family in Oranre, Yagba East Local Government in Kogi State. As at the time I got married, some parents would say they couldn’t sell their daughter so they would just take a token as pride price.
“I can’t remember the exact year I got married but I remember that it was during the scarcity of salt, when we had a long queue at Ebute Meta market to the extent that if you queued since morning you would still be on the queue till about 4pm without still getting to the front of the queue.
“At that time, they used cigarette tin called ‘kafanda’ which cost a kobo. Before you could cook, you had to go and queue for salt and it was the government that provided the salt then. They also gave us rice and beans in addition to that and we were collecting both largesse in Lagos and Ibadan.”
She left Lagos in 1966 and relocated to Ibadan, Oyo State with her husband, and lived in Ekotedo area of Ibadan. She, however, lost her husband in 1970.
BIAFRA, MODERN-DAY SUFFERING
Recalling her experience during the Biafra war, she said, “During the Biafra war, some people did come to our area, they were giants, whom we called ‘Omiran.’ Although we never knew where they came from, they usually stood at the back of Hilux vans and they did not harm anybody; rather they were monitoring activities and ensuring that there was peace in our area.”
She advised the government to improve on infrastructural development to make life easy for the people, as her town, Oranre, had been in total darkness for three years.