13 years without my husband —Ex-LASU VC’s widow, Risikat Akesode at 70
Former Permanent Secretary Lagos State Ministry of Education and wife of the late Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Mrs Risikat Titilola Akesode, recently clocked 70 years. In this interview with MUSA ODOSHIMOKHE she recalls her battles with life for the 13 years her husband, Prof. Fatiu Akesode, has passed on.
HOW do you feel clocking 70 after the death of your husband?
I thank God for making me to live up to this age. If I look back, I hardly believe it. It is like the poor child of yesterday who has now attained the age of 70. Honestly, I cannot believe it. He has given me good health, and to be able to attain that age is unbelievable. It has been so good and God has been so wonderful.
I lost my husband, my soul mate at a time I did not even have an inkling that he was going to leave me. We planned so many things together and were also looking up to actualising those things. But God has his own way of doing things. At the time he left, I was not myself. I could hardly live. For two years, I was mourning him. In fact, we grew up together, that was in secondary school days. Since 1960, we have been sustaining each other. Then I, being a shy person, could not summon the courage to be his friend then. You know, parents would not want to see you with any boyfriend. So, I was trying to edge him out.
I was at the Methodist Girls High School. For two years, he was trying all possible means to get closer to me. He was about four years older than me. He was in secondary before 1960. By then, I was in elementary school. But I think I gave him a chance when I was in Form Six. That was when he really had access to me. But unlike today, it was about our books. He tried to hide it from our parents, but we had a way of communicating.
It was during the Independence Day celebration that we first had the chance of coming together to celebrate the country. That was the first time we came close together, to witness the lowering of the Union Jack and hoisting of the Nigerian flag. Thereafter, we started seeing from time to time. He later went for his Higher School Certificate (HSC) at the Abeokuta Grammar School while I was still in the secondary school. When he finished his HSC, our parents got to know about our relationship. Both parties were happy. They saw me as a good girl and worthy of their son’s wife. He being an amiable person, my parents liked him. He later went to medical school and graduated. I got out of school too and we got married.
He later went for the residency programme. He went to the University of Maryland, United States. Thereabout, we had our first two children. He came back in 1976, and having settled down, I joined the Lagos State Civil Service as Admin Officer. So, my own career started from there.
How have you been sustaining yourself since he departed?
Then, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was in the saddle as the governor of Lagos State. His wife was deeply involved in women affairs. So, I came in contact with Senator Oluremi Tinubu by my involvement in women affairs. I worked with her closely. She would call me to represent her at assignments. And anybody who came close to me, my husband automatically embraced that person. By virtue of our relationship, my husband gave the governor’s wife some useful advice in view of the NGO she wanted to set up. I did not know about it; it was later that the woman told me about it.
So, when we were together, Mrs. Tinubu confided in me that she appreciated the advice my husband gave her on her project. This informed the close relationship I have with Senator Tinubu. So, when the death of my husband occurred, she became my counsellor and consoled me. On that fateful day, my husband went out and I waited for him to come home but he did not. Then my brother-in-law called me and said I should come to Ilupeju, I tried to find out what had happened, because it was unusual.
Early in the morning, I went to Ilupeju. Immediately I got to the street, I noticed the unusual queue of vehicles parked on his street. Before I could even step into my brother in-law’s apartment, the news was broken to me that my husband was dead. I could not even get out of the car. I cried and cried. They eventually moved me to my brother-in-law’s house. Senator Tinubu was already there. As I rolled on the floor in tears, she sat on the floor beside me and consoled me. I said ‘God, why did you take my husband and not me?’ That was the extent to which we were passionate about each other.
I asked what I was doing here. And honestly, my husband was a caring father. If the children wanted anything, no matter the time he came back from work, he would do what they wanted, even if it entailed going out at odd time to buy what they would need at school the next morning. Even if I urged him not to go out, he would insist on going out. I must say I appreciate the role played by the Lagos State first lady, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, during the demise of my husband. She consoled me. Throughout the first eight days of my husband’s death, she was sending me breakfast and dinner to ensure that I ate. She is such a kind-hearted person. But for people like her, it would have been hell losing my husband. The day my husband was buried, she was there. Her Husband, Asiwaju Tinubu, was also there. After that, she was personally checking on me to know how I was faring.
Are the late professor’s friends and associates still there for you?
Some are still there and have been caring. They have been so supportive. Those who were close to us when he was alive are still coming and supporting in one way or the other.
How did you surmount the burden of motherhood without him?
When my husband died, only one of my children had graduated from the university. He graduated the very year my husband died. Others were still in school. But, thank God, they have all graduated. I am now a grandmother taking care of my grandchildren.
Did you consider re-marrying?
It did not occur to me to re-marry after my husband’s death. I thought it was of no need. What should I be looking for again? After all, my children are there for me. This was somebody I came to know throughout his life, when I was still very young. He had been my companion. We were soul mates. We grew up together. How then do I find a replacement? And as at the time he passed on, he was just four years older than me. One thing that was uppermost in my mind was how I would cope with the challenges of my children. And by God’s grace, throughout the years of Governor Tinubu I was able to attain the position of Permanent Secretary. Having reached the highest position of my career in the public service, I was able to surmount the major challenges that would have to do with my children’s education and their upbringing.
Do you socialise?
Yes, I do. I love the company of my friends, both young and old. I am happy doing this. I am a silent achiever. What I like to do is to render services. Although I am not too buoyant, the little I have, I am always happy sharing it. In the heart of Lagos Island where we were growing, it was not the same thing as it is today. In my days, we were always challenging each other in human development exploits. But these days the youths have reprioritise with preference for deviant behaviours . So, when you see girls now dropping out of schools, nursing babies and other less dignifying conducts, it is really worrisome. So, you see a girl that could hardly take care of herself, looking after her own baby.
When I had the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of youths who have dropped out of school, I had to start telling them to go back to school. It does not mean that is the end of life for them. I being able to get some of them back to school, I am filled with satisfaction. Some of them do not even have the money to purchase forms for school, but I assisted in my little way to get them enrolled. So, some of them are back to school now and I am happy they are doing well. I am doing this on my own and have not made noise about it. This is my own little way of contributing to the betterment of the people. Though it is not much, I am happy about it.
Which social organisation do you belong to?
I am a member of the Lions’ Club. My husband was a member.
What about the responsibilities of a grandmother?
Thank God, he gives me children who listen and adjust to advice. The foremost thing in life is education. So, they face their education very well. They came out of school with good results. I would say it is all joyful moment for me as far as they are concerned. They are all now married, except for one. The grandchildren rally round me, and each time I see them, I give thanks to God. They are my joy.
What do you miss about Prof Akesode now that you are 70?
We had a plan and loved academics very much. His plan was that after retirement he would go for foreign engagements. I, being a person who loves travelling, would have benefited so much from the arrangements. By the nature of his job, he was always travelling while I stayed at home to take care of the children. I did not have the opportunity to travel with him on his many trips. So I will miss the opportunity now because we would have been moving together in his retirement to those countries he intended to engage.
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