“90 Hearty Cheers Up-Country Girl!
Like most Nigerians of my age, my first meeting with Mrs. P.A. Ogundipe was via her book, Practical English and then later, the Brighter Grammar. Much later in my life, I physically met mommie (as we fondly call her) through my best man, Tunde Itayemi who happened to be Mommie’s nephew. We got on immediately. In one of our engagements, she had expressed her concerns on the negative trends of things in Nigeria and the failure of leadership. For someone who had put in so much to the educational development of Nigeria, it was heart-breaking witnessing such a degeneration. She was miffed for instance during the launching of her autobiographies that people would launch a single copy of her books with huge sums typical of Nigeria ‘bigmanism’ attitude. Her desire was for multiple copies of the books to be purchased and distributed to as many audience as possible. For her, it was not about the money but readership. Mommie is motherly in every sense of it, diligent and painstaking. 90 hearty cheers to you ma!”
As the nations of the world groan and grieve under the siege of corona virus, commanding all attention and giving little or no room for other discourse, the Up-Country Girl, Mrs. Phebean Ajibola Ogundipe (nee Itayemi) simply flew away to eternity in the United States where she was residing since the demise of her husband; but also owing to the failing infrastructure of Nigeria. On her 90th birthday, I had penned the opening paragraph as a response to a request for a tribute which has since been published.
As recent as June 2019, on a short visit to Lagos for an appointment, one had assumed securing a good and fairly priced hotel to spend the night with the children. Alas, it was not to be. Every hotel in Victoria Island, whatever the star rating, had been fully booked. An influential professional association, I learnt later, was having its AGM and so had booked every available space on the island. My circumstance imposed the necessity of passing the night in VI so as to meet an early morning appointment. Having tried all I could, without success and the night fast approaching in a volatile Lagos with three children under my watch, I took the last option; I drove to Ibiyinka Olorunmbe Close, Victoria Island.
As a young man working in NCR building in Lagos Island, the Ogundipes residence located in Ibiyinka Olorunmbe Close provided shelter to pass the night whenever I was late in closing in the office. The twin duplex, neatly tucked away in the heart of VI nourished by the breeze from the Atlantic is a perfect refuge after a hard day’s work and the seemingly unpredictable Lagos traffic. Sandwiched in between; towards the south by the different states liaison offices and on the northern side by all the big names in the telecommunication industry, the Ogundipes residence is a dream apartment for retirement.
The house was also special to me in a way. My wife and I had passed our first night in the house prior to jetting out of the country for our honeymoon. On several occasions afterwards, we have had to pass nights in the house. It was this same residence that I turned to again for the umpteenth time on that fateful night in June after all effort of getting a decent hotel in VI had failed. It was in this house that Mommie and her husband used to reside in the midst of literature before the parlous state of our nation forced them out of Nigeria.
On 27th of March, 2020, the Up-Country girl checked out of this transient earth at a good age of 93. Few weeks back, I had expressed concern to my friend and best man, Tunde, on the plan of the family for Mommie’s rich library. I have never in my life seen an house with such a huge collections of books; and you would see Mommie’s copious corrections on the books whether it is Obasanjo’s ‘My Watch’ or Alexander Madiebo’s ‘The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War’ or Bola Ige’s ‘Detainee’s Diary’ where he alluded to Mommie’s sisterly compassion. Her books and collections are legacies worth preserving.
Mrs Ogundipe through her books imparted generations of Nigerians of my age. In my personal interactions with her, she was passionate about Nigeria and hoping that things would get better. Unfortunately, like many compatriots of her time, the Nigeria of their dream remains a mirage. With her influence, the usually water logged and clogged Ibiyinka Olorumbe Close up to Amodu Ojikutu and all the way to Karimu Ikotun streets were fixed by the Lagos State government. Her autobiography, the Up-country Girl, should be a must-read for every aspiring young girl.
I spoke with her in 2016 when Tunde visited US and put up with her. In a very soft spoken but clear voice unusual of her age, Mommie showered praises, encouraged me and concluded with stern instruction wrapped in love that I should keep in touch. Sadly, I did not.
Mommie has joined her husband (brother to Brigadier Ogundipe of the early Nigeria military era); her younger brother, Dr. Yinka Itayemi (the first medical doctor from Esa-Oke) and her cousin, Chief Ajibola Ige in the cloud with the saints.
Good night Mommie.
Dr. Aladesanmi wrote from Cyber Security Research Laboratory, OAU, Ile-Ife. He can be reached through [email protected]