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A Tribute To Gbemisola Rosiji (1926 – 2015)




AS quiet in life, so silently departed Chief Mrs. Gbemisola Rosiji (nee Mann) on Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at 89 years. “Mamani”, a sobriquet assumed by the family for her and her departed husband, Chief Ayo Rosiji (Babani) passed on, as it is true for any mortal.

Gbemisola was born on January 27, 1926, to Mrs. Amelia Omotayo Mann (nee Vaughan) and Jacob Tejumola Mann, whose family moved to Ibadan from Lagos in 1933. Her father, educated at CMS Grammar School, Lagos, had been a teacher until he joined the Railways. Mrs. Amelia Mann had attended the CMS Female Institute in Lagos (which later became CMS Girls’ School). She became a teacher and taught at Breadfruit Primary School until her marriage.

Gbemisola had been at CMS Girls’ School in Lagos where she was an outstanding student. In 1943, at the age of 17, she obtained a Grade 1 in the Cambridge School Certificate and won a CMS/Crown Agents Scholarship to University College of the South-West (now Exeter University) to read for a general arts degree. Gbemi left for England in 1944, just a few months after Rosiji her future husband.

Gbemisola was the only Nigerian woman student at Exeter, at a time when it was far less common for women, whether British or any national to pursue their education as far as university. By the time she finished at Exeter in June 1948 at the very young age of 22, she was engaged to her fiancé, the late Chief Ayo Rosiji, who was attracted by her elegant looks, graceful movements and gentleness of personality

Under the terms of her scholarship, she had to return to Nigeria as soon as she completed her course so she left London in August 1948. She took a teaching appointment at her old school, CMS Girls’ School. She later joined the teaching staff of Ibadan Grammar School (IGS) in late 1948 under the principalship of Reverend Emmanuel Oladipo Alayande.

Gbemi and Ayo got married on Saturday, September17, 1949, at the registry office in Ibadan accompanied only by her uncle, Mr. Odunlami Mann and Saburi Biobaku. Gbemi continued to teach at IGS until 1950 when her alma-mater, CMS Girls’ School, Lagos moved to Kudeti, Ibadan, and was renamed St. Anne’s, Ibadan.

Because of his legal, political and legislative activities in those early years, Chief Rosiji was frequently away from home, and the main burden of bringing up the children fell on Mrs. Rosiji. She was the constant presence in their lives, both caring for and disciplining them, while their father was an indulgent but somewhat distant figure. Chief Rosiji, in fact, did not encourage his wife to return to teaching or any formal job for precisely this reason. He was glad the children had at least one parent at home whose presence they could rely on.

Mamani’s ready acquiescence to shelve career prospects for keeping the home front despite her brilliant scholarship and a university degree in 1948 is a veritable testimony to her uncommon cultural and intellectual perception. Mamani in her own right could have gone ahead to become whatever she wanted to be in the Nigeria of her day. Giving up all this for her marriage is a legacy worthy of note and emulation for young women of today.

I recall my first acquaintance of Mamani in 1980 when I went to report for work as General Manager of Brian Munro Ltd, a British company in which Chief Rosiji was chairman. Mamani made me sit on the family dining table for a cup of coffee and toast, intoning a prayer in Yoruba language “owo a maa roke o” (a prayer for progress).

Sometimes after Chief Rosiji’s demise in July 2000, Mamani and I got talking about Afenifere and the Action Group of yore. We mentioned the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the politics of the hey days during which Chief Ayo Rosiji was the general secretary of the Action Group and in the eye-of-the needle of party activity.

Mamani was always asking after Mama Dideolu Awolowo, with whom she interacted in Ibadan in those heady days. Mamani asked me to take her to see Mama Awolowo in Ikenne. It was an emotional meeting for the two relics of their illustrious husbands. It was a cathartic meeting, during which these two worthy matriarchs relived old days.

As Chief Rosiji’s major marketing arm, Mamani once entrusted to me the marketing of her special invention –“The Pnyranaire”. This was a game modeled after the famous Monopoly game and which was a parody of millionaire. Mamani thought me the basic tenets of the game which I then imparted to my sales team. We did a distribution to some supermarkets and ancillary sales outlets, but apart from some few sales, the concept of “Pnyranaire” never really grew roots and the product died naturally, although not without Mamani jabbing at me for our poor marketing effort.
Yes, there was no budget to promote the product!

Thus, here lies Mamani, the intelligent, elegant lady of graceful movements and gentleness of personality. Mamani was so humble and self-effacing that she refused to append to her name the strings of chieftaincy titles long bestowed on her at Abeokuta, Ibadan etc, always preferring to be the simple Mrs Rosiji.

Mamani is survived by her children, grand-children and great –grand children among who are Abimbola Rosiji, who lives in Canada; Oladapo Rosiji, the Group Chairman of Nigeria Distilleries and Le’Excel; Mrs. Olonde Griffiths, who lives in the UK; Mrs. Solabomi Kinzouza, and Mr. Bolaji Rosiji, a Hare Krishnan devotee and chairman/CEO of Guarapad, Nigeria.

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