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Monday, 15 August 2016

Providence sent me to school: I was initially told I was too old to go to university -General David Jemibewon (Rtd)


General David Jemibewon (Rtd) with wife Chief Mrs. Dupe Jemibewon
IT was a carnival like celebration at the country home of former military governor of the old Western State, Maj-Gen. David Jemibewon (rtd), in Iyah-Gbede, Kogi State last week, as the former two-time Minister of Police Affairs hosted the final burial rites of his late mother, Madam Rachel Emife Jemibewon.

The late Madam Emife died on July 21 at the age of 106, prompting his ebullient son to express unreserved gratitude to God for giving him the grace to bury her. Yet he felt a tinge of sadness that “the only mum I have is gone.”

While flawless white was chosen as the theme colour for the wake that took place in the evening of Thursday, light blue was the colour of the aso ebi (ceremonial uniform) worn by family members and guests on Friday for the church service, internment and the elaborate reception that took place at the expansive field of Jemibewon International Academy, a school owned by the Jemibewons, adjourning the family compound.

Much later in the night after the wake, General Jemibewon danced in the midst of his friends and other dignitaries who came from all around the country, among them the former Ekiti State Governor Segun Oni and his wife; former Deputy Governor of Kogi State, Mr Yomi Awoniyi; oil magnate Jide Omokore; popular lawyer and socialite Tunde Ayeni; the representatives of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark; a former member of the Osun State House of Assembly, Hon. Nike Omoworare; Mrs. Egbe Shina Peters nee Bello-Osagie and Segun Awolowo, among others.

Also at the reception were two musicians from Lagos and Ibadan, who entertained the guests.

(L-R) General David Jemibewon, Mrs. Janet Owadokun, Chief Mrs. Dupe Jemibewon and Barrister Tunde Ayeni

Done with the burial ceremony that lasted three days, our correspondent engaged the former Adjutant-General of the Nigerian Army in an interview session where he went down the memory lane of his life, having just celebrated his 76th birthday a day before his mother passed on, on July 21. He attributed his success in life to nothing but providence.

“I am grateful to the Almighty God for the efforts of my parents,” he began. “My dad who died in 1990 and my mum who died and was buried today, I say that I thank God and thank them. Because at the time I went to school, it was not too easy. In fact to the best of my knowledge, in the whole of this area, I was perhaps the first to attend a non-government school. I went to Offa Grammar School in 1955. And this being part of the north, most of the brilliant chaps in this area who went to secondary schools before going to the university attended government schools like Provincial Secondary School, Okenne; Junior Provincial Secondary School, Dekina, in the old Kabba Province; Government College, Keffi and Government College, Zaria were the few government colleges available. But of course, each province in the north had a provincial school. But because of the limited spaces in these schools, admission was restricted. So when I was in Standard 6 in 1954 in Ayetoro Gbede here, the year I should have taken exams into these government schools, the headmaster did not allow me to take the common entrance. The reason he gave was that by the time I finished secondary school, I would have become too old to go to the university.”

But he said he happened to have an advantage not too many people had at the time.

(L-R) General David Jemibewon (Rtd), Barrister Tunde Ayeni and Mr. Segun Awolowo Jnr.

“The immediate younger brother of my father happened to be an employee of UAC and the headquarters of UAC in those days was in Burutu in the present Delta State. I don’t know how it happened, but I was sent to him. So I started school in 1949 at CMS Primary School, Burutu. But unfortunately, I was sick a year or so after. But because I could speak ‘broken’ (pidgin) English, which was what was spoken in the riverine area where I was coming from, I think they took it to mean that I was clever when in fact I was not.

“When I was brought home, my father was not enthusiastic about sending me to school because the school in my village had just started. However, the teacher who established the school, Francis Ademola Fagbemi, who came from a place called Ekinrinade, in Ijinmu Local Government, which is my local government in the old Kabba Province, tried to convince my father. And when my father finally agreed, I was sent to school. So you could see that fortune played a great part in my life.”

But equally important was the role played by his late mother, who he said struggled to ensure that he went to school as a boarding student; a luxury for young David Jemibewon.

...with sister

“Thirty-seven pounds, 15 shillings was not a little money at that time. That was the school fees for a boarding student, which I was. General Akinrinade was a year my senior. That is why I said that without the support of my mother, even though my father would have loved me to go to such a school, it would have been very difficult for him to send me to such a school. It wasn’t easy at all.
The only thing we could produce here was tobacco, coffee and other farm products like yam. So knowing the effort my mother put to assist my father for the purpose of my schooling, I cannot but feel very touched by her departure. But we must show gratitude to God, for she lived for 106 years, and that until she gave up, there were no signs.”

Jemibewon lamented the month of his birth, July, which he noted has turned to a time of mixed feelings for him in recent times.

Hon. Nike Omoworare with Tessy Yembra

He said: “I was born on July 20, 1940. I celebrated 76 years on July 20. The problem I have now is that July is my birth month, but in the last two years, July has not been fair to me. My first wife died July 22. This year, on July 20th, we went to Lagos for the anniversary and my mother died a day later. So, I don’t know about July now, but there is nothing I can do about it.

“While we were in Lagos for her first year anniversary remembrance, I had given the last born of my mother, who is a lady, instruction that she and one of the wives of my deceased younger brother should come down to Lagos to attend the event. Just the three of them. They left on that 21st. If Mama had showed any signs, they wouldn’t have left her. In fact, when they got to Lagos, those of us in Lagos were the ones that informed them that the Mama you left behind had gone to the great beyond.

“So I am full of gratitude to God and my mum. It does not matter how old you are, if you end up going to hospital, it creates extra expenses and anxiety in the sense that we will be checking at the hospital daily to ensure that she is well taken care of and so on.”
But he could not help but thank God for the long life He has blessed him with. At 76, the former military governor gyrated to the music played by the musicians on the bandstands as he exchanged banter with friends like a man of 40. Asked how he was able to keep such fitness, he said: “To start with, in the past, I used to be involved in exercise, playing squash. But I later had an accident and since then I have not been playing squash. So what I have been doing in recent times is to control the amount of food I eat. And I eat quality food.

“In fairness, my wife is kind and makes sure that I eat the right thing. I know she is particular about getting the right kind of cook for me. You find out that some people say they have cooked in restaurants but in the end, it is a lie.
“I have great sympathy for my wife because she brings in one cook today and maybe in another one month, we have to look for another. So I don’t eat much, and that keeps me fit. Not quantity but quality food. Unfortunately I don’t do exercise anymore.”

However, he takes delight in music, and has been a good social dancer over the years.

General David Jemibewon (Rtd) with daughter Lola Jemibewon

“I enjoy music a lot,” he said. “And the truth is that I do not have any preference at all. Maybe when I get intelligent people to talk to, I like having conversations. I used to write, but I am lazy now. But I have good friends and I thank God about that.”

Do not ask him who his role models are or the answer you will most probably get is: “Maybe in the past, I might have had role models, but definitely not at 76. If at 76 I am looking for somebody to be my role model to motivate me, then it would mean I am already a failure. And what makes me pleased is that if I am associating with you and you are doing well, I feel very pleased for you.”
If you want the general’s face to brighten up, ask him about his second wife, Chief Mrs. Dupe Jemibewon. His energetic and beautiful wife was all over the country home ensuring that all the guests were comfortable and well taken care off throughout the event days. He readily spoke about their love story.

“I met her while I was a military governor. Back then, I had a lady friend but not the boyfriend or girlfriend kind of thing. One day, she came to say hello to me. Her sister was a classmate with Dupe, my second wife, and they are still friends till today. Through her, I met many ladies, but I particularly liked Dupe out of those many girls. I went to her house where I met them and I took interest in Dupe. That was how we started.

“The intention was not to get married because I knew I was already married. But just after that meeting, I was on a programme on a radio station and during the programme, I heard a voice and I knew it was her voice. That voice, I don’t know how it happened. From hearing that voice, I started having a special likeness for her.”

Having lived together for about three decades, Jemibewon still has good things to say about his marriage to Dupe. “It has not been easy for both of us because she also happens to be the first child of her parents. They are Catholics and like any parents, they would have wished she didn’t have to marry someone who was already married. But then it is not everything you wish that happens in life. That is the way I will explain it.

“And since we started, God has helped us and we have had a cordial relationship. We have just one daughter. We thank God because we have been able to groom her well. She went to a Catholic university and made a First Class. What does anybody want again?”

...the joy of burying a loved mom

Reflecting on his foray into politics, he said: “I have found that while politics is supposed to improve our society, the way we operate politics here is almost anti-development. Let me tell you something quickly: I tried to go to the Senate. In fact, it was not my wish, but people came to talk to me. And I found out that to attain a political position in this country, you have to spend money. That itself breeds corruption, and, of course, I didn’t need it for various reasons.

“There is a colonel here who wanted to go to the House of Representatives. He would have been the best candidate here if we really wanted the best material, but I told him that he should not waste his money. I told him that I have a disease and he suffers the same disease, which is the fact that we both have military background, and because we earn our salary legitimately, we don’t have the time to waste money bribing people to vote for us. And since I failed to go, my belief is that you my friend will fail.

“I wish you were here then. Some people who did not vote for him still came back to say that they voted for him and wanted money (laughs). So I advised them that when they get money, reserve something for the future, even if possible, as members of a political party, establish a club where you can go socialise and so on. So if something happens and the political party does not exist again, since you have given a name to the club, that is not associated with the party but the basis of forming it was politics, you could continue to enjoy it.
“But they will want to share money immediately money is given out. No reserve for the future. And some of the slogan for PDP were awkward. For instance, ‘PDP, power to the people!’ The youth say now, now, now, now. In other words, they don’t want to look into the future.

“When I looked into all these, I told myself that to help people, known and unknown, born and yet to be born, it would be better for me to go into education. I am not a doctor, so even if I were to build a hospital, I will have to employ doctors and no doctor will be willing to come into this bush in a rural area. But I know that if people know me in this country and if they respect me, knowing that I come from this bush, and this place now is not even as bushy as it was when I went to school, so why don’t I just start a school here. So that is why I started a school.

“Of course, many people tried to convince my wife that I must be mad to locate a school in my rural area. That I should have built the school in Abuja and on a daily basis, I would be carrying money in big sacks to the bank. But it’s true it has not been easy, because for every N3 I spend in the school, it is only N1 that comes from parents so far. There is no month I do not spend about N1.2m here.
“But I do know that the future holds great prospect because I went to Offa Grammar School, and from the history of that school which we know, there were those who contributed six pence, there were those who contributed 1 shilling. It is through their magnanimous contribution and foresight that people like us became educated. Let me also leave something for posterity.”

And what does he think about the present leadership in Nigeria? As usual, a quick thought and then a reply: “I think the leadership that we have there now has great foresight. But age is not on the President’s side. Even if he wants to work hard, nature is such that the capacity he had 24 years ago or 30 years ago is no more there. So I have great sympathy for him. But as to capability and ability for success, he has it. And I am very sure of that. I am sure and positive because I know him very well. He is a decent man. He is a man who does not tolerate corruption and he is hard working. But I have used myself to judge in the sense that the strength I had, my determination to succeed and do the right thing while I was military governor in Ibadan and now are different. I don’t have the energy anymore.

“Even the people one would ask to come and work with one today, are not the best materials, compared to 25 or 30 years ago. That is what I am saying. Even in your own profession, the quality has gone down. So in this country, quality has gone down in every sphere. If you are coming from Abuja and going to Lagos by road, you will see more than a dozen of signboards of universities. Now tell me why quality won’t go down, because to employ people into these new universities is still within the universities. So someone who shouldn’t have become a professor in the next five years goes to a new university and he is made a vice chancellor.”
...and finally, the interview session.


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