Shodunke…Centenary beckons for railway man
Walking into the golden brown-painted Hosanna House, a one-story building situated on Alimosho road in Iyana Ipaja area of Lagos city, where Pa Augustine Olajide Shodunke lives, one could easily feel the serenity.
As he made his way into his sitting room to receive The Guardian reporter, he suddenly turned back, entered his bedroom and reappeared in shoes and a handy bag containing documents.
“I need to look good for this interview, or do I go back to put on my Agbada?” he asked.
Born on August 28, 1921, Pa Shodunke will turn 100 years in less than two months. For him, as you grow older, there are a lot of things that affect you. ‘It is either you are affected in the eyes and you are unable to speak or see well again, or you have acute rheumatism which affects the knee and the waist. That is what I am currently facing, but I have a doctor who is treating me at home.”
Shodunke, who retired in 1984 from the defunct Nigerian Railway Service (NRS) spoke about the Operating and Commercial Department where he worked.
“These are the people who are responsible for the running of the trains from one station to another. They monitor the movement of the trains, passengers in the trains and offer services to the passengers. I worked as a stationmaster for 35 years and attained the height of superintendent grade one before I retired.”
He said that having worked at the head of the Northern Terminus in Minna and also at Shakwatu, both in Niger State, he retired at the Lagos Terminus in Iddo.
“My wife and children were in Lagos all the while I was transferred out of Lagos mostly because of my children’s education. They needed to be in a location to focus on their education because I spent a minimum of three years in each station I was posted to,” he said.
The nonagenarian relived memories of what the train service was at the time: “The attraction to the railway was the opportunity it afforded us to bond with friends, share meals while on a trip. Also, people got attracted to the railway service then because they paid well and on time and when you have to work over the weekends, your remuneration is almost like your salary. “However, promotion was not coming easy or may never come, but whether it does or not, you are making enough money, especially from working overtime.
“I remember a time when my late wife had to go to the railway management to voice her frustration over not being promoted after 20 years of working, but then I didn’t feel so bothered because I was making money. However, with the help of the Nigerian Labour Congress and the pensioner’s organisation who agitated for promotion, it came.”
According to Shodunke, the railway was the major means of transportation in the then Western, Eastern and Northern regions, operating also across the regions.
“The western district journeyed from Lagos to Kano; the northern district was from Kano upwards, including Kafanchan. And each train trip could last up to two days.
“The railway service then was very attractive and people preferred to go by train because it was relatively safer. However, as developments began to occur, people realised it was too slow for them. Then the trains operated through a locomotive system; charcoals were used to ignite heat that powers the train unlike today when you have the electric system that increases the speed.”
To him, the emergency of haulage system with the use of trucks brought down the railway system, even though there is a political angle to the travails of the system. “The chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation at the time, who was from Sokoto, brought in the haulage system and northerners who were the major users of the railway as at then started abandoning the railway and started using the haulage systems with long trailers.
“The railway used to be the hauler of petroleum products, but with the emergence of tankers, it died down and this is the problem.”
The soon-to-become centenarian is a staunch Roman Catholic who spent most of his time at the St. Ferdinand Catholic Church in Ipaja where he actively served and founded societies, including the Sacred Hearts Society, St. Jude Society, Guild of St. Anthony, Holy Family Society, St. Rita Society and Divine Mercy Society even as he is a patron of the Catholic Men Organisation (CMO), among others.
“Those who brought me up were strong Catholics. I grew up with my uncle, Pa Michael Akinshuwon, at 20, Oil Mill Street in Lagos and we attended the Holy Cross Cathedral. Although my parents were Muslims, my mother got converted at Regina Mundi, Mushin and died a Catholic. My father was a Muslim all his life,” he said.
Shodunke, who attended St. Gregory’s College, Ikoyi, reminisced: “In my time, St Gregory’s College was one of the premier colleges. Others are Methodist Boys High School, Igbobi College, Kings College and Christ The King College, Onitsha. These were among the major high school institutions in Nigeria as of then. These four colleges were well-established and manned by Europeans from overseas. The source of attraction was that they were maintained and managed by people from overseas.
“When I was about to enter college, I passed the entrance examination at King’s College, but there was no more vacancy as they had exceeded the number of students to be admitted, so I had to go to St. Gregory’s College. The boarding house was almost filled up, remaining a few slots for day students and so I was admitted. We were staying at Yaba at the time. My parents bought me a Hercules bicycle that I rode to school every day alongside other students. Things then were also very cheap to buy and life was very sweet unlike today with its complexities. Then, we were comfortable.”
Retired but not tired, Pa Shodunke also served as a court president after retirement from the Railway Service. He worked as President Grade A at the customary court in Ikeja.
“After my retirement at the Railway Corporation, I was offered the job as president in a magistrate court where I presided over various cases. I went through tutelage for about six months to prepare myself for the job. I served as a court president for over ten years till I couldn’t continue due to old age, so I came home to rest.”
Speaking on was it like taking up the job of a court president, he said: “There were more of divorce cases, couples disagreed and we ensured they resolve their differences. They were very domestic issues, so it was more like having me as a father and me bringing my experience and fatherly advice to mend broken homes. Virtually all the cases we had then were settled amicably, we didn’t have divorces at the end of the day.”
On what he considers a major issue with couples who seek a divorce, he said: “People are not satisfied with the little God has blessed them. Husbands and wives don’t sit down together to settle their matters amicably, in most cases, a lot of outside distractions do not allow the wife to be sober enough or submissive to their husbands, and most importantly, no reverence for God.
“In my days, not much of divorce matters, but nowadays, it is alarming. My tenant here left her husband and her children and went to marry another man, I don’t understand this. I was married for 60 years before my wife passed on. I enjoyed my life with my wife with the little that we had; it is truly sad today that people are not patient and willing to manage.”
Turning 100 years is a feat, and Pa Shodunke now spends more time kneeling in prayers “for my children and myself.”
When COVID-19 struck and older people were restricted from coming to church, which is Pa Shodunke’s source of happiness, he started spending more time at home and that was when he started having rheumatism.
“I love to dance and sing a lot in church. They came home to see me and tell me they missed seeing me in church. But after staying away for this long, it has become difficult to reintegrate. The church usually comes home to give me holy communion and say Mass here.”
On what he would you like to be remembered for, he said: “I want to be remembered for all the societies in the church I founded.”
On his eating habit, he said: “I eat salad and bread, I also take Alabukun to help relief me from pain. In my active years, before I leave for work, I always had my breakfast, no matter how little.”