It is four years since former Ondo State First Lady, Mrs Olufunke Agagu, lost her husband, Dr. Olusegun Kokumo Agagu. Olufunke, who clocks 70 on April 1, relives life with her late husband and his last moments
How does it feel to be 70?
IT feels great. It is a privilege to attain the age of 70, and I am grateful to God for it. I know so many people who would have wished to be this lucky but are no more. So, I think it is a great privilege and big favour from God that I am still alive.
Surprisingly, you look much younger than 70. What is the secret?
There is no secret. It is the grace if God. I hear people say, ‘Oh, you don’t look 70!’ and I tell them I don’t know. I don’t understand. Baba God has been really kind to me, and I want to give thanks to him for my youthful look and for allowing me to attain this biblical age. I also pray that He would be kind to me to even look much younger. Ironically, I’m a very bad eater. I do all the wrong things (chuckles). When I was growing up, I ate a lot of chocolate. In fact, it was so bad at a point that my grandmother would tell me that all the sweet things that I was eating would affect me, and I would say, ‘God forbid. It will not affect me.’ I ate a lot of sweet. I ate a lot of chocolate. I worry a lot, but somehow, I always manage to maintain my peace. I think that is a special gift from God. I’m easily contented. If I have money, everybody will know. If I don’t have, I don’t grudge. I’m happy all the time. You can never tell when I’m passing through any stress.You can hardly tell because I try to be happy, and I know it is the special grace of God that has kept me like this.
What would you have wished for at 70?
My husband. I had wished he was alive because he had always said that he would love to do 70. And after 70, if the Lord wanted to take him, fine. But he really wanted to celebrate 70.
So how much do you miss him?
Ah! I can’t begin to recount. In every way, he was everything to me. He was my brother, my mentor, my hero, my husband, my lover and my father. I lost my father I won’t say too early, because my father was only 61 years old when he died. Since then, he (Agagu) had stepped into his shoes and consistently carried out that fatherly role in my life. So, he was my father and I missed him a lot. You and your husband were very good at dancing, and… Don’t mind me, I love to dance. I love music. I love dancing, and he was like that too. Even before we started dating, each time we met at party, you know in that kind of setting, you will want to dance with somebody who knows the art and skill; somebody who can complement you on the dance floor. So, that was the pull. We danced a lot together. Everybody knew that we both love dancing, and till the very last minute, we were forever dancing. Once he hit the floor, you would beg him to leave.
How did you meet?
We met at school. We were classmates at the University of Ibadan. He was in the Faculty of Sciences and I was in Arts. But like I said, you know in those days, it was very easy to meet. We attended parties a lot and we also met a lot of people. So we met at a party and somehow, we got friendly, and that was how it all started.
What was the attraction?
He was friendly, gentle, easy-going, very kind and intelligent.
How have you managed to cope with his departure?
The only challenge I had was during my husband’s passing away. When it happened, there were encomiums from people from all walks of life. Both the high and mighty and the lowly.People were trooping in, saying beautiful things about him, and that kind of comforted us. It was like everybody was over-reaching themselves to come and pay condolence visit to us.
And when his body was to be brought in, the plane crashed. When that happened, I saw the hand of God. The Lord saved my son. You know when it happened, they didn’t tell me what had happened. They just said there was a hitch and they needed to change the plane, and that it would take a while. But with the way everybody was speaking, I knew there was a problem. And as soon as I understood, I went on my knees. Just like Jeremiah said, I complained to God. I told him that His word says: affliction shall not rise a second time. I told God that whatever the situation of things, I have absolute trust in His intervention that He would not make me suffer unduly and would intervene in the situation. But unknown to me, I was just making noise because the Lord had already done it. The incident had already happened almost two hours before I knelt down to pray. When they came to inform me that my son survived, I knelt down again to thank God. I said if I don’t show appreciation to God, then I am not a child of God.
For God to have done that, I would be an ingrate if I kept crying without showing appreciation for what the Lord had done for me. That comforted me and I didn’t hold back. I held on to Him; to all His promises. He said: “I will never leave him or forsake him”. That is the promise of God to everybody, especially the widows and the fatherless, and I challenge Him all the time. Fortunately, my baby was pregnant with the second child when her father died, and she had planned to travel to the US and stay with her friends. I have some siblings in the US, so we decided we would go together. So she changed her plan. Instead of going to stay with friends, we decided to stay with my siblings. While we were there, we recorded some gospel music and every morning, we would stay in our different rooms and listen to the recordings. This helped us a lot. We listened to the words of the song and they ministered to us.
Sometimes, I would get emotional. I’m an Anglican by birth and I have remained in Anglican. When I listen to some of the hymns, they minister to me from deep inside. So, those things helped me. And, of course, may be because I was away from home. Because when I was in Nigeria, a whole lot of people would come around, many phone calls, people would come weeks after and some would start crying and that would bring back a flash of memory. But in the US, there were not too many visitors, and there was little you can say on the phone. So I think this helped the healing process to be a little fast, plus the grace of God. The grace of God was abundant for me and the children. He has been really awesome.
Can you recall your last moments together?
We had just come back from the US. It was a Thursday night. We were away on holiday and for a wedding. We went with some of our children and their spouses. So we came and the next morning, when he woke up and I asked him if he wanted a breakfast, he said it would be better for us to have brunch because we had a meeting for 1 pm. He said it was okay and he would prefer eba. I just gave instruction to the cook. Then my daughter brought a little baby. They didn’t travel with the baby.
She dropped the baby on her way to the office and I said let me take care before grandpa wakes up. I took her to Ebano in Lekki. I can’t remember what we went to buy and we came back. I think we ran into traffic on the bridge. By the time we came in, he had just finished his brunch. He said he couldn’t wait, that the said meeting was for 1 pm and he wanted to get there before then. We ate the remaining food and we saw him to the door, and I said have a good meeting. He never came back. That was it.
Do you still see the traffic of people there was in your house before your husband’s death?
I cannot complain. Not many people can come, but people are always calling. I cannot complain. Sometimes, somebody out of the blue would just call, and I’m grateful. That means even though I don’t see them as often as I should, maybe they have not asked of me for a while, they have not forgotten me. I’m not the only person living in Nigeria out of 200 million people. Somebody who I met some time ago suddenly remembers that there is Mrs. Agagu somewhere and picks up his phone to call me, I’m very grateful.
A Yoruba proverb says that 20 children cannot play together for 20 years. The vicissitudes of life will take me this way and the other that way. If by going round, you remember someone from your youth and you decide to call that person, I’m grateful. And anytime we have a memorial lecture and I come back, I kneel down and thank God, because I don’t know why. Even this my birthday, so many people have been calling, trying to see if they can join us. There is a limit to the number of people I can invite. So I’m grateful for what the Lord is doing in my life. I cannot complain at all.
What is that thing you are not likely to forget about your late husband?
I learnt so many lessons from him. He had such an amazing spirit to forgive. He forgave easily. He never had any grudge or malice against anybody. Without trying to be blasphemous, I always say he is Jesus Christ reincarnated. I would tell him, ‘I don’t want to have your kind of patience. I don’t want to have your kind of selflessness.’ He was selfless. He would give everything and deny me. He would rather deny me than not giving whoever needed whatever. He was an amazing person. He had his faults, but he was a good man. People just use the word good, but when I said he was a good man, I don’t know how to describe him. He was a good man. He was loving. He tried to show love to everyone. He tried to help as many people as possible while denying himself. When he was leaving Abuja as a minister, I didn’t want to leave Abuja. Abuja was good, beautiful. He was in charge of Power and Steel. I said, ‘Let us stay. Why do you want to go?’ I am from Ondo State too, but I wanted to stay back. He said, ‘I’ve got to go back and help my people.’ And he said when we go there, we are not going to make money, we’re going there to help our people, and you can quote me. Ask any of his commissioners. He told me, ‘They (commissioners) are not your friends. You don’t go to them to ask for favour. If you go to them and they are rude to you, that is your business. We are not going there to make money; we’re going there to work.’ So I remember a selfless man. I remember a forgiving spirit. I remember a very patient man. I remember a loving man. He shielded me away from the wickedness of men. He was a very loving man. He shielded all of us. He would not tell me the pains he was passing through as a politician. He would not come home and discuss that with me.
What was it like being a First Lady?
I was there to support him; to help the women. And I tried to re-orientate the women. I wanted them to know that they could do better than going to rallies to clap and dance. They could stand for themselves too. We had a monthly meeting called Gbebiro. What I was doing was to let them know the programmes of government, what government was doing as they concern them as women and their children, and how they could benefit from the programmes of government. We would give them talks. I also tried to take them around to see the works that were being done with various local governments and what was available in the local government, and how those from those local governments could make a living from what was available in their various local governments.
Tell me those things you have missed since you exited as First Lady?
The fact that the women have gone back to their old ways. I don’t know what they do now. I did my bit. I wish somebody build on whatever was there before.
You spoke about not wanting to leave Abuja. When it was time for you and your husband to leave government house in Akure, how did you feel?
When my husband said he was not staying back, what would I be doing in Abuja? We were very close. Once he made up his mind that he wanted to leave and serve his people, what else would I do?
I’m talking about when you and your husband were leaving the state house in Akure?
I felt we were cheated and I felt the world was an unfair place. If that was the judgment, what could one do? We moved on.
Considering your experience, would you allow your children to participate fully in politics?
I think we’ve had our fair share.
Not you; I’m talking about your children
Are they not part of me? I think we’ve had our bit. Let somebody else try.
What you are telling me in essence is that you don’t want your children to participate fully in politics?
We will be political by the special grace of God, because this is our country. We don’t have any other place. We will support everyone who is doing well. But you will agree with me that we’ve done our bit. My husband was the deputy governor of that state. He tried. He was responsible for making Ondo State an oil-producing state because of his geological background. He continued because that was what opened his eyes to what was happening in politics and he now tried to be more active.He had always been active. He was always writing position papers from the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He wrote position papers for Chief Adekunle Ajasin and co. It was because he was writing positive papers for Chief Bamidele Olumilua that he was now invited to come and run as his deputy. He had always been writing. Then Chief Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as Minister of Aviation, then Minister of Power and Steel. He tried his best. Then he went ahead to vie for the governorship seat and he went to Ondo State and he left it much better than he met it. That was his popular dictum. Whatever he met, he would leave it better than he met it, and he always did. What I’m saying is that my children, we had always been political. They will support a good candidate in any way they can. Personally, I think we have done our bit. I do not think I want them to be full time politicians.
Any regrets at 70?
The only regret I have is that my husband is no more alive. And I wish I can do much more than I can do at present for people with disabilities. It pains me to know that I can’t do as much as I was doing a few years back. One would have loved to do much more than I was doing then, but these are the realities of the time we’re living in. I’m grateful to God for what he has enabled me to do and what I’m still able to do.
But like I said, I would have loved to do much more than I’m doing at present. There are too many people suffering, and it is a pity that one cannot do more than one is able to do. It pains me to see so many people in need that I cannot help.