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.
She uses a wheel chair as a result of her weak limbs. But one thing they do so effortlessly is smiling. Before locating the house, the reporter had gone to Okun-Owa in search of the centenarian twins. He had got scanty information before he left Lagos for the town that the twins were choristers at Saint Barnabas Church in the community and sisters of the late Oba Aderibigbe Martins, the Olugbani of Okun-Owa.
After a few hours of intense search, the reporter finally 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.
The twins were born into the family of Pa Oladunjoye, the Ogbagba of Porogun in Ijebu Ode, on March 13, 1913, a year before the Northern and Southern Protectorates got amalgamated. They actually clocked 100 years on March 13, this year, but it was on Saturday, March 16, that people from all walks of life stormed Okun-Owa, near Ijebu Ode to honour the twins on their centenarian birthday. The town stood still for a few hours as a special Christian service was held to appreciate God for His faithfulness over their lives. 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? 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.” Little wonder that hundreds of guests at the centenary birthday watched with mouths agape as the twin sisters rendered several songs at the event. The service was conducted by the minister-in-charge of Saint Barnabas Church, Okun-Owa, Venerable Ola Oguntoye, an archdeacon. He said the service was special to him.
According to him, in his 30 years of evangelical work, last Saturday was the first time he would conduct a service for not just a centenarian but for centenarian twins. The service also featured cutting of the birthday cake and special songs renditions by the celebrants.
The twins showed their guests that even though they were of age, they have not lost their voices as choristers in the church. They sang beauxtifully and coherently to the admiration of the guests. A delegation of Ogunde’s children also sang some of their father’s songs at the ceremony. On Tuesday, the sisters received an unusual guest.
Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, breezed into their residence in Ijebu Ode to felicitate with the centenarians. He presented a congratulatory letter, which he personally signed, to the sisters. The letters were dated March 18, this year. A copy of the letter presented to Mrs. Esther Taiwo Olukoya was marked COS/GOV/12VOLIV/253 and was entitled: Centennial Celebration: Our Joy, Our Pride.
The letter read in part: “It is with profound joy and immense gratitude to God that I convey very sincere felicitations of the Government and good people of Ogun State to our dear Mama on your gracious entry into the club with limited members in the country – the Centenarians – on Wednesday, 13 March, 2013. Congratulations. “Attaining an advanced age of 100, in good health, as you and your twin sister have done, is a great achievement and calls for celebration.
Indeed, it is even more heart-warming that, with this achievement, you and your twin sister, Mrs. Emily Kehinde Ogunde, are the first documented set of identical twins to attain this landmark age together in the history of our dear state, and probably Nigeria. “You are not just identical twins, you also share other common attributes: royalty, vocation (trading), and devotion in the service of God as choristers at Saint Barnabas Church, Okun-Owa, Ijebu.
“On this occasion, therefore, I join you and your family to thank the good Lord for His benevolence and pray that the Almighty grant you many more years, in good health, so that our state, in particular, and the nation in general will continue to derive inspiration from your exemplary life and benefit from your rich experience. “Once again, please accept my hearty congratulations and the assurances of my highest regards, as always.”
Even now, the twins are still grateful to the governor. They told the reporter that they would remain thankful to Amosun for finding time to visit them on their special birthday and for the gift items he presented to them. They prayed for him and enjoined him to do every thing that is right for the people of the state. You wanted to know if there was any difference in the Nigeria of those days and now.
“Nigeria was good then,” said Mama Taiwo. But they are not too sure of nowadays. 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.