It’s not everyday that you meet two 100-year-old women. And when the two centenarians are twin sisters, then the excitement is palpable. That easily explains why this reporter found his way to Ijebu-Ode, the headquarters of the Ijebu nation, early on Wednesday.
A tarred, single carriageway leads to the address in Ijebu-Ode. The house, a one-storey building painted in cream and brown, hardly strikes the eyes as patently unusual. But then, inside this nondescript abode dwell two of Africa’s most unique personalities.
The occupants – Princess Esther Taiwo Olukoya and Princess Emily Kehinde Ogunde – are probably the first documented set of twins to clock 100 years on the continent. Last Saturday, the twins celebrated their centenary birthdays at Okun-Owa, a sleepy town in Odogbolu Local Government Area where they were born on March 13, 1913.
Shortly after the grand ceremony attended by family, friends and scores of well wishers, the centenarians moved back to their home in Ijebu-Ode. Four women, among those that cater to the needs of the elderly twins, offered the reporter a seat in the living room. Later, the two women were brought out to meet with their journalist guest. They were clad in striped, off-white iro and buba made of the ankara fabric.
While Mama Taiwo complemented her clothes with a pair of recommended glasses and a gold neck chain, Kehinde wore a beaded chain without glasses. They looked almost identical but Mama Taiwo is a little plump. Mama Kehinde, also called Alagomeji (because she once lived in Alagomeji, Yaba, Lagos), walks unaided, albeit slowly. She doesn’t even use a walking stick. Mama Taiwo isn’t that strong any more, though.
The reporter met both twins in Ijebu-Ode. Mama Taiwo and Mama Kehinde were very lively this Wednesday. As they spoke with the reporter, you could see that they were still sound in body and mind.
How did they feel at 100?
“We give God the glory,” said Mama Taiwo in Yoruba, a smile on her lips. Her twin sister silently corroborated her words, slowly nodding her head. The sisters asserted that they attended Saint Barnabas’ Primary School, Okun-Owa, after which they proceeded to learn tailoring.
A graduation ceremony was held for them on the same day on completion of their apprenticeship. Each of them bought sewing machines and practised for a while before marriage would separate the duo for the first time in their lives.
When did they complete their primary education and apprenticeship?
They both shook their heads. “Ah, we cannot remember those dates,” said Mama Kehinde. “It’s such a long time.”
At the age of 22, Taiwo got married to Pa Oluwole Olukoya-Odubanjo in 1935. Taiwo’s husband was an Accounts Clerk at the UAC in Ilesha, now in Osun State at the time they got married. He rose to the position of a cashier before he retired in 1950.
Taiwo’s husband was appointed Baba Ijo of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Ijebu Ode in 1984 and the Oloritun of Obalende in 1985. Pa Olukoya-Odubanjo, who was born on February 14, 1910 and passed on on August 9, 2007, had a stint in business after his retirement. But he lost his capital when the Farmer’s Bank was liquidated. He had to take up another paid employment with NIPOL, a pioneer plastic company in Ibadan.
He retired in 1973 and returned to Ijebu Ode. The union was blessed with seven children, though two passed on in 1972. Kehinde also got married to Pa Jonathan Olukoga.
They settled down at the Railway Line, Gama Station in Ilorin. But her husband died when she was carrying the second pregnancy. Her first child, Olukunle Olukoga, was 28 months old then. That ‘boy’ is now a retired agric officer with the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan. Pa Olukoga is now a septuagenarian and would soon celebrate his 74th birthday.
The death of her husband forced the then young woman to relocate to Lagos. Five years after, Kehinde got married again to the doyen of Nigerian theatre industry, Chief Hubert Ogunde.
But she never acted in any of her husband’s plays. Her duty was to sell tickets to people at the venue of every show for her husband, which she did with fervour.
How did she meet Hubert Ogunde(her husbant)?
Kehinde replied: “My twin sister, Taiwo, met Ogunde in Ilesha after the death of my first husband. He asked after me and Taiwo told him that my husband had died.
“He asked for my address in Lagos. He visited me and that was how the new relationship started.” Kehinde followed her new husband to Ososa, the country home of Ogunde after the marriage. After some time, she relocated to Lagos and invited her twin sister so that the two of them could start selling dishes. It did not take much time before Taiwo left Ilesha for Lagos to begin the dish business. The duo disclosed that the business was a success as scores of dishes sellers from Ibadan usually came to Lagos to buy their merchandise.
According to them, they made a lot of money from the business. Taiwo built three houses in Ibadan while Kehinde also built three houses in Ibadan and the fourth one on Aderibigbe Street, Surulere, Lagos. A 100-year relationship must have been very interesting.
Did the twin sisters ever quarrel at all?
“Of course, we still do,” said Mama Taiwo with a giggle. She noted that even though they still fight occasionally, they never allow anyone to intervene. “Anybody that tries to intervene will end up getting the blame for the fight. So, if you see us quarrelling, just leave us alone. We know how to settle our differences between ourselves.”
“We are also choristers in our church,” Mama Kehinde interjected. “While other choir members sing treble, we sing alto (the highest singing voice for a man, achieved by using falsetto). The part we sing made us popular in the church. Usually, people would like to hear the special twins sing for them.”
What is the secret of their longevity? Are there any special foods or drinks that contributed to their long life in these climes where the life expectancy is put at just about 52?
“It’s God,” the sisters noted, almost in unison. They assert that God probably decided to elongate their lives since they are very passionate about God’s work and have also rendered humanitarians services to many people. Mama Kehinde spoke further: “It is God that has blessed us with long lives. We are very grateful to Him. We cannot actually point to a particular thing that has made God to give us long lives. But it may be because we love God and we serve Him with everything we have.
“The way we sent our children to acquire quality Western education, so we sent many children to school, up to the university level. We don’t even know many of them again. So, we don’t have any secret apart from God.”
If they were to choose, how many more years would they like to spend on earth? And would they love to return to their creator on the same day?
Mama Kehinde’s response: “It is God that will determine how many years we are going to spend more before we die and it is God who will determine whether we will pass on together or not.” Her sister easily concurred by nodding her head.
For young men and women desirous of enjoying long lives, the centenarians have a word of advice: they should run away from careless sex. They insist that fornication and adultery could prevent both the men and women from enjoying long life.
Said Mama Taiwo: “If you are a young lady, listen to us. You need to love God and shun fornication. By doing so, you can have access to enjoy the grace of long life from God. We did not involve ourselves in fornication. When we got married, we did not cheat on our husbands.”
And what’s their favourite food?
“Wheat and Semo,” they replied. One of the granddaughters of Mama Taiwo, Mrs. Oluwasolafunmi Ogunba, said her grandmum and her twin sister both love their wheat meal with okro or ewedu soups with chicken, croaker or fresh fish.
“They also eat canned foods. Most of what they eat are brought by their grandchildren in Lagos. Mama Taiwo doesn’t like eating all the time. At most, she eats twice a day. But Mama Kehinde has a large appetite. She eats thrice or four times each day.”
She described the duo as very lovely and accommodating. “I have learnt many things from them. One of those things is that they are very religious. They have unflinching faith in God. So, we are so glad to celebrate them at 100.
“As old as they are, they can continuously sing for two hours and they will not be tired. I will be very glad if God will spare my life to attain 100 years.” Mrs Aduke Adegboyega and Mrs Felicia Kehinde Ogun, family members who reside in the same house with the unique senior citizens described Mama Taiwo and Mama Kehinde as special breeds who have always been together.
They informed that if something affected one, it would also affect the other one later. The first set of twins to clock 100 years, according to the Guinness Book of Records, are Edith Ritchie and Evelyn Middleton (both nee Rennie) from Aberdeenshire in Scotland. They are now 103 years.
But in Africa, there is no record that a set of twins has attained 100 years together.