2018 International Women’s Day: Tribute to Eunice Adefuleji Sogbesan

Princess Eunice Adefuleji Sogbesan ( June 23, 1909 -- October 28, 1996)

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2018 International Women’s Day Tribute

As we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, I am dedicating it to my late grandmother Princess Eunice Adefuleji.

Mama school, as she was widely known as an educator who along with my grandpa and a European missionary; late Rev. Mellor, established and taught at various schools in the former Western State of Nigeria.

Princess Eunice Adefuleji Sogbesan

My grandmother loved her profession so much; she insisted on teaching up to her very last breath and refused to retire. Regardless of the day, she woke up at 5:00 am daily and I can always tell when she is up, for she is always humming, whistling or singing a religious hymn.

Words like determination, dependability and focused easily comes to mind in describing her. For when she is resolved, nothing in the world will stop her from meeting her goal. On a typical weekday, Mama started her day with prayer and then prepares herself to teach as a rotating school principal at multiple primary and high schools.

Upon arriving home from school, my uncle Adebisi, who recently passed will set up chairs on the lawn for up to twenty local kids who will be fed before she delved into her prepared syllabus for them. This repertoire was repeated every weekday and during the summer break.

As a child, I must confess that I was sometimes annoyed by the children always coming over to our compound after school to eat my grandma’s food and many of them will go home with food for their parents with her dishes and utensils, but Mama will buy more. When I was old enough to ask her why she did not care about people keeping her dishes and utensils, she smiled and said we are all related and most importantly, to give is far better than receiving.

Princess Eunice Adefuleji Sogbesan

As the local Chairwoman of the YWCA, a minute was never wasted by Mama during the weekend. This is when Mama held classes at the Wesleyan mansion and other churches in the area for women on basic hygiene, prevention of maternal death, infant mortality prevention, and family planning.

Mama’s role in and lifelong contributions to the girl’s brigade will require an entire chapter, but she deeply believed that women’s empowerment should start at a very early age.

She was also an authorized local dealer for the Singer sewing machine, a platform that she used to empower many women by teaching them how to sew and establish their own business.
Many of these sewing class students were guaranteed a brand new Singer machine upon graduation from the free lessons and I can assure you that she also paid out of her pocket to finance them.

Our home was designed by the late Rev. William Frederick Mellor, an English missionary who spent considerable time in his missionary endeavor in Ijebu-Remo. He embraced some of the cultures of Remo and ended up being conferred a chieftaincy title by the Akarigbo. Upon his retirement, he left Nigeria in 1957 but returned in 1966 to work with Tai Solarin at the Mayflower School, Ikenne. Baba Mellor as he was known was also best man at my grandparent’s wedding. As a result, the home featured an English style architecture with multiple front gardens and tall pine trees, which provided a permanent Christmas tree.
The late Rev. Mellor relied heavily on the support of Mama and many other women including Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Janet Adegunle and Julie Sokoya with the Methodist church’s education mission.

Mrs. Hannah Awolowo

There are so many memories of Mama that I can never forget, but one stood out very clearly to me;
One fateful day, Mama decided she needed a larger pantry and immediately summoned her official Project Manager Adebisi, whom Mama raised from a very early age and is always available to support her initiatives. The following Friday, several local men showed up at our doorstep and in few hours, several cement bricks have been formed.

That Sunday, after our usual church services, Mama changed into her work outfit and was outside in the rain constructing her pantry. The site of my grandma in her raincoat with bricklayers trowel in her hand, undeterred by the element had since been permanently seared into my memory.
Mama took in several children and raised them as her own and there was neither reservation nor limitation to her generosity. I remember her cooking and how she would insist on us serving the neighbors before we could finally sit and enjoy her food.

My grandmother was very close to the late Mrs. Hannah Awolowo and late Funmilayo Ransome Kuti (Fela’s Kuti’s mom). All of these women were less than ten years apart in age; all were educators in Ogun State and devoted their lives to empowering women. These women fought to establish many of the women’s rights to education, healthcare and financial independence in Nigeria and influenced other women across Africa. They all served with distinction are some of the most prominent leaders of their generation.

Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti

Many people will tell you that Mama Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was the first woman to drive a car in Africa, but few are aware of her teaching career and her journey to the United Kingdom to fight for Nigeria’s independence. Mention Obafemi Awolowo’s name and he is well known, but the strength behind Baba was Mama Hannah.

Leaving Nigeria to study engineering abroad was inevitable, but the thoughts of leaving my family behind were difficult. As a result, my college admission and travels were postponed for a year until Mama convinced me to “man up”.
Intuitively, Mama knew how much I would be homesick and she wrote me this letter, as shared with you here.

There is never a day that Mama’s is not present in my life and her values are the key resource to my strength, focus, and discipline. Her love of cooking, self-respect, discipline, cleanliness is always present. My sincere gratitude to the lifelong contributions of these legendary women.

Until we meet again in peace and not in pieces, adieu Princess Eunice Adefuleji Sogbesan.
– Michael Onas