Titilola Agbalajobi still a mother hen at 80
Tuesday, December 20, 2022 when I paid Mummy Titi Agbalajobi a casual visit at home, I witnessed one of her nieces mildly cautioning her on the need to be mindful of the number of guests expected at her forthcoming 80th birthday party. This same niece also reminded the Sisi of the shindig’s invitation card for lawyer, as my wife is fondly hailed in that house. “How can I forget that?” Mummy Agbalajobi snapped, asserting, “these are my treasured ones whose access card nothing can make me forget. Professor Akanni knows this can’t happen and the wife knows it too.”
As she called me Professor Akanni, my mind immediately raced back to the fact that her late hubby, Prof. Femi Agbalajobi, retired from the University of Ibadan as a Professor of Medical Informatics, as he personally recounted to me in an interview he granted me as a National Concord reporter in 1991. Until his death, he remained one of the most visible and charismatic governorship aspirants with large following ever produced in Lagos State.
It was not for nothing that the bus stop point near his house long known as Amala Bus Stop was renamed Agbalajobi Bus Stop. But the first Professor Lagos State never had as a governor suddenly passed on to glory in 1991 to the surprise of his fans and foes alike…. Yet, that did not terminate the visibility of the name, Agbalajobi. The wife, Alhaja Simbiatu Titilola Agbalajobi, has indomitably remained one of those hoisting the flag of the family till date. She has just attained the enviable age of 80, in spite of seemingly insurmountable vicissitudes, making us solidarise with her with gratitude to the Almighty Allah.
The only direct landlord or better still, landlady I ever had, Mrs. Bimpe Akanni Adio-Oduola, for a long time, routinely bandied the name Sisi Titi for solutionist strategies and ideas. In 1991, an elderly friend of mine who was a spokesperson for a textile manufacturing company, but doubled as a farmer prospected for a transaction with the Ministry of Agriculture of Lagos State. I sounded out my landlady if she could help. Sisi Titi was our best bet, easing up an otherwise convoluted process. This enhanced my relevance and strengthened my relationship with my elderly friend. This friendship subsists till date to the glory of Allah and has yielded multiple dividends for both sides.
Ever supportive of me till she died at 49 in the year 2000, my landlady uniquely indulged me to the extent that she allowed me to determine my annual rent in the same Lagos infested by Shylocks masquerading as landlords. I was away in England as a British Chevening scholar when she became terminally ill. Mummy Jide, as she was popularly called, did not fail to make her hubby appreciate her reckoning for Journalist Tunde-that’s me- as another son. She bore only boys. The hubby truthfully transmitted this to me and for a long time, but complied with all conditions except the idea of Journalist Tunde determining his own rent. Maybe, it was time to excuse me politely from the apartment I rented in view of the inflationary trend. I sensed that move and quickly resorted to Sisi Titi. She thawed the ice, to my delight and asked me to go thank Chief Akanni. “Olohun de se oloruko kan ni yin bo ti e je pe ara oke ni e.” I complied with the counsel.
Only Allah knew the “packaging” Sisi Titi did for Journalist Tunde. My relationship with Chief Akanni deepened so intensely that I was the only one in his company during her very first visit as inlaw to the family of the renowned media scholar and former editor of Daily Times, Femi Sonaike, whose daughter was going to marry my late landlady’s first son, Jide.
A first rate public servant by any standard, the Governor Tinubu administration distinguished by its relish for talents appointed Alhaja Agbalajobi as a permanent secretary and was made a round peg in the round hole of the state’s Ministry of Agriculture, being a fishery expert. Team Agbalajobi took the ministry to what has probably remained its most glorious days till date. Her retirement notwithstanding, Alhaja Agbalajobi remains a leading fishery expert and fish farmer in the state. Indeed, the Ministry, till date, finds her indispensable for inclusion in most of their fishery and general agricultural related programmes, especially public outings purposively intended to serve the deserving members of the public in Lagos State. Call it reaping from where she sowed and you won’t be wrong.
Incessantly deviant of complacency and committed to a Nigeria free from corruption, Alhaja Agbalajobi sought and got partnership with fellow minded elite and senior citizens to set up cells of anti-corruption groups in different private schools in the state. Not given to doing things in half measures she joined her friends in engaging with the school children on the invaluability of accountability and transparency for Nigeria’s greatness in future. As they began to make progress, they decided to sign on an energetic young man, Enwerem Chinedu, who literally immersed himself in the precursor to national rebirth campaign. Chinedu drove the dream conceptualised by Alhaja Agbalajobi and her friends, and got better for it as the experience enabled him to apply for international fellowships and the likes. Chinedu now lives in the United States with his family.
Mummy Agbalajobi is, however, given to philanthropy than other hobbies. Her house, ever bubbling meriting the Yoruba sobriquet, ‘Ile Alayo’ (home of happiness) is always some kind of rendezvous for seekers of school admissions, jobs and other life enhancing opportunities. Alhaja always finds it pleasurable connecting young persons to possible benefactors and beneficiaries alike. Not a few indeed have found their relationship with the 80-year-old fortuitous, with many people meeting there newly wondering how they all have relationship with her without one ever mentioning it to the other until then.
All of these are in addition to the ever daunting, uncommon supportive financial and other forms of gestures that this woman of faith dispenses to blood relations with even some persons taking a lot for granted that “Mummy must drop something, no how no how,” as city boys would rap.
Together with friends similarly inclined including a foremost finance expert and former Lagos State Commissioner and current Chair of the Council of the Lagos State University of Education, Alhaja Sekinat Yusuf, as well as my darling wife, she set up a philanthropic organisation called Life of Hope Foundation. With this organisation, they have been able to generously share out various essentials to orphanages and other centres.
How can I forget this Mummy’s voluntary philanthropic intervention in the wedding of my foster daughter, Funmilayo Zainab Odesola in 2019? We had a modest budget, but desired a decent and well secured venue for the event. None of all venues that appeared suitable for our programme was priced below N500,000! The first mention of this matter to Mummy Agbalajobi solved the knotty matter. She promptly started making calls to the management of an inside estate Masjid with an “all amenities completed” hall for socials. Within minutes, an otherwise insurmountable task was neutralised. We had guests from inside and outside Lagos, across all professional and social divides and all had a good time with us. Alhamdulilah, it has remained a commendable union till date, obviously a beneficiary of the Baarakah of the venue which is a Masjid. It was not for nothing that my late landlady was always resorting to her for support on all manner of issues. More striking perhaps is the case of Mummy’s driver fondly called Alfa who for about 30 years has remained a loyal domestic staff.
A pioneer staff of the Department of Fishery, which metamorphosed into the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Trade and Industry, Alhaja Titilola Agbalajobi rose through ranks to the position of permanent secretary of what later came to be known as the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives in 1992. In addition to being a distinguished pioneer member of the Governing Council of the NASFAT owned Fountain University, Osogbo, she has served in a number of other distinguished positions including the Board of Epe Boat Building Company; Urban Renewal Committee of Southwest Badagry; Board of National Council of Agricultural Research; Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology as well as the Board of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria. She is an alumnus of Methodist Girls’ High School and the Federal School of Arts and Science, both in Lagos, as well as the University of Ibadan, where he met the love of her life. Alhaja is a profound and happy matriarch, sure to attract fervent prayers eternally from individuals, NASFAT and all. May Allah keep showering on her His limitless favours and baarakah.
• Dr. Tunde Akanni is an associate Professor of Journalism and pioneer Director of Digital Media Research Centre, DMRC, LASU. He is also a member of the Promoters-in-Council of the University for Women in Africa, UFWA. He can be reached via: @AkintundeAkanni and tundeakanni.com