Eighty-year-old retired accountant, Pa Jimmy Orisabinueni, shares his life’s journey and adventures with TOBI AWORINDE
Pa Jimmy Orisabinueni
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Jimmy Tophas Adejimi Orisabinueni.
You said you were born on July 5, 1940. What was your childhood like?
I am the only son and third child of my mother. But my father had another wife. My mother was the junior wife. I had two elder sisters; they are both deceased now. The last one passed away last year. She was above 80 years old.
Would you say you had a happy childhood?
As a matter of fact, I was so happy as a child because my mother was in her father’s house; I know when my father took her to his own home. But as the first son, everybody took care of me. I was happy when I was young, but at the same time, while my mother’s younger sister didn’t have a child, she took me in. They even called her my mother. I went with her to a place in the then Mid-Western Region. I spent some time with her. But my father soon said I should start attending school; it was then that I came back. Unfortunately for my father — and I like him for this — he would have asked me to come work as a fisherman, but because I was the only son from my mother, he didn’t say so. He said my (half) brother and I should go to school. We were, more or less, the same age.
So, your father was into fishing?
Yes, he was. I am from Ilaje, where, if you had a son, you must teach him how to fish. That’s why many men my age (from Ilaje) did not go to school. But my father said I must go. I started school at Ugbonla in Ese Odo (Ogun State). My father had not built his own house then, so I was with the kabiyesi (king) of that place. The kabiyesi was my sister’s husband. I was, more or less, like his son. I finished primary school at Ugbonla Primary School and went to Ugbonla Secondary Modern School.
While I was in primary school, my brother and I went to a place called Ibale during the midterms. We also went with the husband of my sister, who passed away last year. The three of us went into the sea; we cast a net out overnight. In the morning, the waves grew, so we had to leave. We collected the net and began returning home on the boat when the wave flipped the boat upside down. The three of us were separated in the water. We wanted to turn the boat over, but we discovered that the anchor had gone down and struck the seabed. We were youths back then, less than 20 years old, so we had to go into the water to take out the anchor. We were then able to turn the boat over. The boat had broken in front, up to the middle, so we used our clothes to tie the boat.
Did you do all this while swimming?
Yes, we were swimming throughout. We tied the boat, put the net inside and sailed to shore.
Weren’t you scared?
As youths, we were doing it out of exuberance. But it was about six months later that we learnt that somebody died during that time. They called that place Sumoge. And that fellow was in secondary school. So, I didn’t take it seriously. But later, when my brother brought it up, I became scared and thankful that we survived.
You said you knew when your father came to take your mother home as his wife. Was that the norm at the time?
No. Unfortunately, I was young, so I don’t know the cause. But I knew when my father took her; I went with them. For some reason, I was so interested in my mother’s father. When I got there that day, I wasn’t comfortable. My father didn’t decline. I said I must go back (to my maternal grandparents’ house). They allowed me to return because I was interested in my mother’s sister. She took care of me as her child.
How old were you when your father took your mother?
I must have been over eight because I remember UNA (United Native African) Church baptised me.
Why were you enrolled in Ugbonla Primary School?
My father was a member of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion, Ugbonla. Besides, Ugbonla was part of our home, apart from the Orisabinueni village. In those days, there was no vehicle that entered Ugbonla. But now, vehicles have gained access through the Olusegun Agagu regime, when he was governor of Ondo State.
What were your favourite subjects in school?
My favourite subject was arithmetic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good at mathematics, but I knew arithmetic. I also liked English, geography and history. I wasn’t good at literature.
Do you remember the year you enrolled in primary school?
I was enrolled between 1955 and 1960, during the (Obafemi) Awolowo free primary education programme.
Did you enter secondary school immediately after?
No! I went to Ugbonla Secondary Modern School at Ugbonla because I was sick when I came out of primary school, so I was unable to go (immediately).
What ailment did you have?
The sickness just came and people thought I would die. My skin was so pale, and I couldn’t breathe comfortably. But I was told it was sleeping sickness. In fact, if a mosquito bit me, rather than blood, water would ooze from the bite. It lasted about one year. So, agbo (herbs) was administered to me; I wasn’t taken to hospital.
What was going to school like in those days?
Going to school that time was very interesting, but what happened is that I was much older when I went to school, so people mocked me. When we entered the school, they began to like me because I was teaching them what they did not know. They were surprised. When we went on holiday, we were so happy. And we had a junior headmaster. One time, he gave us a recitation, and the whole class was beaten. Only I was not beaten. The children respected me.
Were you a beneficiary of any school feeding programme at the time?
No, but during the Awolowo era, we were given free slates and exercise books. We were not given free food, but we didn’t pay school fees. Today, people are too many in classes. If you go to public schools now, in some classes, they would be about 100 with only one teacher. Back then, people weren’t willing to go to school. Before you could go to school, your hand would have been able to go over your head and touch your ear. But at the same time, some boys were not willing to go; today, they have regrets.
What kind of extracurricular activities were you involved in?
I didn’t do sports because, one day, I was playing football; somebody tackled me and the contact area had a big swelling. Since then, I wasn’t interested. My only interest was reading. Also, I didn’t know how to play so many sports, but ‘long step and jump’ was the one I did a little and got some prizes for.
Did you have a girlfriend in school?
I had a girlfriend; she is even still alive. My wife and I exchange phone calls with her sometimes. She has her own family. Some of her children are in America.
Do you have any memories with your ex-girlfriend?
Back then, when you had a girlfriend, you would just play. There was nothing immoral; that is why my wife knows her.
What memories do you have from your university days ?
After modern school, I attended Western College of Commerce in Yaba. One day, there was a football match in school. Instead of following my colleagues, I went to a British library opposite a popular cinema then, Casino, close to Panti in Yaba. I read in the library often. About 7pm, there was a power outage, so I went home. I lived in Ebute Meta then. On my way home, I saw a tanker parked. Where Third Mainland Bridge is now, there was a filling station. I was around the area, when I heard a loud explosion. Because it was around the civil war, we had been taught us that, when you hear an explosion, you must take cover in a gutter. Everyone in Ebute Meta came out to find out what had happened. I didn’t come out. But the following morning, I heard that some people’s heads were cut off at Road Park, where the (tanker) explosion happened. That was the third time I escaped death as a youth.
How did you know you wanted to be an accountant?
I was in my 20s, and because my father was old, my mother told me to enrol myself. My mother didn’t know Lagos. I had to look for a school myself. Western College of Commerce deals with commercial subjects. They taught us accounting and that was how I developed the interest in accounting. It wasn’t that I knew anyone who was an accountant.
When I attended the University of Lagos, I found it difficult to follow accounting because of the mathematics. I was surprised when they said, ‘A plus A equals 2A.’ I didn’t even have knowledge of that. Before I left Western College, I had my commercial certificate in accountancy and commerce. With that, I got a job immediately I got out of school. I went to the labour office in Ilupeju and the day I was sent to Vono Nigeria Ltd at Mushin was the same day I was employed as an account clerk. I went to Vitafoam before that time, so I didn’t spend more than three months at Vono. I told the person who was my superior, ‘I have an application at Vitafoam.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you go there if the salary is higher?’ The salary was higher, so I went to Vitafoam.
How much was the salary?
It was about £8.
You worked at Dresser Nigeria Ltd….
Yes, it was an American oil service company. I left Vitafoam for another company, whose pay was not okay. Then I worked at the Ministry of Health. That time, my friend, Lateef Olumide, was at Dresser, located at Western House. We were classmates and good friends. He told me that there was a vacancy at Dresser and that I should apply. So, I applied as an account clerk. It was there I became an accountant. I used to work in the Inventory (Unit), so I would travel to Warri, Port Harcourt, and so on. I worked there until I retired in 1993.
What countries have you visited?
I went to Liberia in 1988 and we were given a transport allowance of N100. I exchanged it for $200. The exchange rate was $2 to the naira! I was weeping when (military dictator, Gen Ibrahim) Babangida declared (it would be) N5 to the dollar. Little did I know that it would be worse.
How did you meet your wife?
We met at Western College. I was her senior. We decided to marry, but because she’s from Ilesa, she was worried that her mother would not approve. But I insisted; she told her mother, who accepted (my proposal). I was not rich because I was just out of secondary school. But for her elder brother and mother, we wouldn’t have got married, and we have been married for over 40 years. I have five children, though one is deceased. I also have five grandchildren.
How do you keep fit?
I exercise indoors when I wake up. It was even when I started getting old that I was told to exercise. It was only about three years ago that I started exercising.
What kind of food do you eat?
I eat any type of food. When I was young, I ate garri and guguru. But I don’t eat garri as an old man. I haven’t had garri in the last five years. I was told it contains too much starch. I was even told not to eat iyan (pounded yam), so I eat wheat, which I don’t really like. When I was young, I didn’t drink alcohol or smoke because after I tasted it (cigarette) at night, in the morning, my mouth became sour. Also, if I took one bottle of beer, I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. That is why I refused to drink beer, apart from being a born-again Christian.
What is your favourite food?
It used to be eba and fresh fish. But now, I eat beans every day in the morning and evening. But now, I don’t eat eba. I prefer fish to meat (beef). Sometimes, for one month, we may not have meat; it is fresh fish we eat.
What are your hobbies?
I like reading the Bible and newspapers
Source: The PUNCH