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At 120 Years Old, My Mother Still Advises Me – Chitumu

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Septuagenarian, Saratu F.D. Chitumu, is an alumna of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In the early days of her career, she worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and was later deployed to the local government system where she retired as director, Agricultural Services Kaduna North local government area.  She went down memory lane in this interview with JULIET KUYET BULUS

When and where were you born?

I was born in Kwoi, Jaba local government area of Kaduna State on 24 September, 1948.

How are you able to know the time of birth?

My parents were core farmers and I was fortunate because when the missionaries came, my grandfather was among the first people to be converted. So, he had close contact with the missionaries and my birth was recorded because of the relationship that existed between them.

Which schools and or institution did you attend?

I was not enrolled in a school early but I got to try out writing on the floor. But growing up, there was a school in the Sudan Interior Mission Church and it was like a nursery, l learnt to write there. I later proceeded to a primary school under the Sudan Interior Mission. I started school 1956 but I repeated in 1957 because I couldn’t make it, as I was busy on the farm. I would say, my primary education fully began in 1957 without interruptions. From there I went to Girls High School, Gindiri, Plateau State for secondary education and I graduated in 1968. I proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1969 under the department of agricultural services to 1970, then the school was changed to Certificate in Agricultural Extension and later converted to a diploma. After diploma, I continued to work till 1974 and I went for higher national diploma (HND) in the same institution, ABU Zaria, under the department of agricultural services. Later I continued with a Bachelors degree in agricultural extension and rural development but later moved to do some another courses. I had a B.Ed. from the same university.

What was your childhood like? 

We didn’t have our way because our parents gave us direction in whatever we did and I was lucky that my father, grandfather were clergymen. When I started primary school, we would have to work on the farm and from there I proceeded directly to school. Then, we thought our parents treated us unfairly but today we know the difference because whenever I relieve the past, I cherish those moments. Children were dared not go out and get back home late at night and we did most things like grinding millet with our hands. We were good at cultivating achahungry rice, pound and prepare it with our hands, with barely had time to roam or mess around, and though we thought we were suffering, but today we realise that it was interesting. We mixed well with Muslim brothers in Kwoi because we had them as close neighbours, we assisted and advised one another.

How was life during your time with what we have today?

First and foremost, as children whenever our parents told us to come back home, we would obey promptly but today it is a different scenario and sometimes we get to hear our children say, we are old school. My parents attended only primary four but the contributions they have made in life are so enormous. The difference is also in the area of education, children these days are not interested in going to school, church, mosque but they choose to obey their peer groups above parents. And in the civil service we have a lot of differences that need not to be mentioned. Then we were so eager to be at the office, we were paid our salaries and entitlements without delay. We worked with resources given with the fear of God, we couldn’t defraud the system because our conscience was a constant reminder of our principles. But today, very few are doing right as many have been contaminated by bad eggs. In our days, people who sold food items would leave them there and whoever passed by and needed them, knew the price, so they would pick and keep the money there for the owner. But this day, no one dares to do that. Also, when a man is choosing a wife or a lady choosing a husband, we as parents were not allowed to have a say in their decision because it is difficult for the intending couple to take advice from the older ones. In most cases, they are counselled by other parents or religious bodies but in our days, we took advice from our parents with utmost respect, because we respected and trusted their judgement. We were also not sensitized on sex education but it is different today, as parents educate their children irrespective of their gender. They have so many opportunities we didn’t have. We were highly disciplined in all aspects, had reverence for God and we did all that was expected of us as children.

Challenges encountered while growing up, in your working career and retirement?

This is likely because I did much work. I had whooping cough that almost terminated my life and upon that I had  a serious case of measles which was scary and my mother told me, when I became old enough that, she was tired and wished I would die, so she could rest. I thank God that I eventually became well. Going to farm and school was challenging. My grandfather brought other people from various villages because he was like Paul in the Bible. We, his biological children, did not know that we were not related to the people that lived with us and until this day, we still keep that relationship. Life in the community was free of selfishness, we shared everything with one another and surprisingly whenever we cultivated and harvested crops, people would visit us and we would sit and watch our grandfather distribute the produce to them. Our family’s generosity had no negative impact on us the children because we felt happy seeing our family assisting others. At work, my challenge was family and I travelled a lot when I needed to take care of my children who were young at the time and to ensure my safe return, I had to be very close to God because I believe He grants our requests. In fact, I worked in Gumel, Kano State and had to travel such distances like Maiduguri, Lagos, Ibadan, Illorin, Akure and if it wasn’t the will of God, it would have been a different story. Towards the end of my service as a civil servant, things were not going well in government, even with working materials but generally, I had a good working career as promotions kept coming as when due and I was given all that was mine.

As a retired civil servant, I don’t think I have any challenge that demoralises me, but I had ill health sometime before retirement but right now, I’m doing fine and have enough time at my disposal. From Monday to Friday I have programmes that keep me occupied in church and in them I find fulfilment.

My mother is currently with me and she is 102 years old and by 8/9am every day, I would have bathed and fed her. I am so happy for the privilege to take care of her. If I say, I have a challenge of great problem, it will be a disfavour to God. I thank God for all that is happening to me, my children, and grandchildren.

Was your decision to study agriculture deliberate or accidental?

Initially I wanted to be a lawyer but as time went by, I had the desire to attend the college of science and technology. It was so easy for people to get jobs and towards the end, I was just in school when some visitors came from Kaduna, and were told to select girls and I was among the first chosen. We were given employment, placed on salary and immediately we went back to school. That for us, was an incentive to accept the job. Even though I never planned to study agriculture, my experience on farming, been a young farmers club member, chairman during my secondary school days and journey to Zaria in 1966 made the course easy to study despite not knowing that I would end up in the ministry of agriculture. Along the line, I thought of working in the banking industry, but I changed my mind and decided to remain at the ministry until retirement. I won’t say it was accidental but rather, it was an opportunity that presented itself and I accepted it. I started work, salaries started coming in immediately and the employment letter was issued on 3rd March, 1969 and I finished secondary school in December 1968. I used the opportunity given me to assist many people.

What experiences did you gain at work?

From the ministry, I was deployed to the local government system in 1977 though we still maintained our working relationship with the ministry in the same state. Everything that was for the employees was given to them and the government ensured we gave our best at work and we did. I recall, when I was in Saminaka area because of the interest for the job, I didn’t get back home till 12 midnight as I went to collect fertilisers for my local government and I drove myself home. This was also because, those days were good days, free of insecurity.

Positions held at work?

At the local government level, I was the head of department of agriculture and later all head of departments were called directors. Therefore, I was director agricultural services Kaduna North local government. I retired as a Director, Agricultural Services.

How is life as a septuagenarian?

It is interesting, but one should not just stay sit back and be redundant having nothing to do and seeing it as a form of punishment. Some people hustle to go into contract appointment but I did not because there are so many unemployed people awaiting employment and I didn’t want to take away their opportunity and I also put into consideration people I had trained on the job, hoping that one day, they would take over and give in their best as I had done. So, I accepted retirement in good fate. The secret to an interesting and mind resting retirement is preparation and mentorship. I trained many children who are not my biological children and they have not forgotten me to this day. My children and those I trained assist me to this day. Some people interpret retirement as a curse, but I often tell people to prepare themselves ahead, think of what to engage in before retirement and relate well with people while working so that when you are gone from there, your presence will still be felt and I thank God my presence is still being felt. Retirement is just a word and it is nothing to worry about, it is also not a way of sitting down and relaxing all the time, as this could make one age on time. I’m enjoying my retirement, I have enough time to relate with people, attend other programmes, time to visit places and engage in other things. Those who brought about the concept knew that a stage would come in one’s life when the body needs rest and for people to take up simple activities, as they grow older.

Can you think of any regrets in life?

I don’t have any regrets about my life but rather I thank God for my life. I can’t regret getting married to my spouse, being born into my family, I don’t have misgivings for the job.

0n 1st October, 1960, where were you?

I was in primary school at Kwoi we carried the Nigerian flag to celebrate the day. We anxiously waited for the day because we were briefed about it, in terms of celebration and outfit to wear. I didn’t go to Kafanchan for the procession.

Did you know what independence mean at the time?

Not much until years later I got to realise its importance.

Looking back, would you say the struggle was worth it?

Personally, I would say we were not prepared for independence because it seems we are about to start or rather have not yet started the process of independence. We are living in retrogression, back to where we were before the colonial masters came. When we were running our agricultural programme, you could see tomato farms, cotton, timber, palm kernel, and we were the best producers. We grew cotton around Sokoto/Funtua area and everyone was working on farms but today, where are they? Instead of improving on these things, we have abandoned them. If those that fought for independence were here today, they will weep for the state of the country and we keep singing the National Anthem ‘the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain’. People keep making reference to Sardauna and none can be compared to what he did, what Obafemi Awolowo and others sacrificed. We are going from bad to worse, day in day out and we have been deceived by the issue of oil boom and until today I still cherish agriculture, not because I’m an agriculturist or because of my background since childhood. Most of the bridges built in places like Lagos were built with proceeds from agriculture, even in Ibadan, in Zaria, Ahmadu Bello University was built with agriculture money, same goes for Nsukka and others. Politicians today are not doing things the right way, because our fore fathers saw a bright future for us. There was no reason whatsoever to have accepted independence then, because we were not mature for it and now, we are having to go back to Europe, Dubai to build mansions instead of here in Nigeria.

Are you saying agriculture is not been utilised for the good of the economy? 

Even one quarter is not been utilised. Where are the cotton farms, tomato farms, fruit farms we used to have in Gombe area? The minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, knows all these things I am talking about. When I was in Maikarfi village in 1972 we had a big tomato farm in Wunkuyi, we had Irish potato farm all over the place and even the most common man had Irish potatoes but today, how many people have it.

In what ways can the government improve agriculture?

Sincerely speaking the government needs to put its effort on agriculture and do it as it should be done. They should encourage people, the subsistent farmers are suffering. Liman Jibril was one of the people that encouraged subsistent agriculture but he was not given the desired support. Cotton farms should be established, Vegetable/fruit farm, we also need more companies producing juice from the fruits. All we do is speak but do not practically implement it, as it should. No fertiliser and people are suffering in search of manure that was used in the 60s and a bag of poultry manure goes for N2000 to N2500. When they go around cattle they pack the dung for their farms. The ginger market in Kaduna is not given support, same with the groundnut market in Kano, and other areas. The government knows what needs to be done, how to reach the masses in various local government areas, asking them what they need to boost the agricultural sector in the country.

What is your thought on the June 12 declaration as Democracy Day?

It is said that it was the fairest of elections conducted in Nigeria and to some extent I agree. But again, it has a political undertone. Yes, the Moshood  Abiola/Babagana Kingibe ticket was Muslim/Muslim and the people accepted it without any grudge. Likely, because there was still a lot of maturity, God-fearing people but there are so many things that made the election was nullified. I don’t want to go deep into issues. I read psychology and when I analysed it, it wasn’t the election that was bad but other factors contributed to the end result.

What policies can government put in place to lighten the burden of the aged in the country?

They will say our country is not up to that level but government should make a little provision for the elderly. There are countries with old people’s homes, and I don’t think I will ever take my mother there if we had one in the country because I can’t leave them there and be able to sleep at night. Nobody can take care of the aged like their family. My father stayed with me in Kaduna, when he perceived his death, he insisted we take him home and after two to three days he died. Government should sample old people that are old to a certain age and if possible, make provision for their upkeep because I don’t know if old people’s homes is run by government or NGOs. My siblings and I manage what we have to take care of our mother. A monthly stipend can be set aside for the aged. I have an uncle in his 80s, he retired years back and I think his pension is N3000, imagine him travelling to collect that amount. There was a day he went for verification and when they were looking for his papers someone said ‘this man that is dead?’ he was too old to travel and his children are busy and they thought he was dead. It is a great thing to have old people in a society and government should appreciate them. My mother still advises me, my children and grandchildren on things that will help us in life. This is one of the contributions they make. 

How did you relax in your younger days?

There was a place in Kwoi, very far from home, I usually went there to beat cocoyam, wash it and carry it in a big basket and it was one of the reasons I had suitors because they saw me as a hardworking and dedicated girl. I was a decent lady. In secondary school, I was good at the young farmers club activities. I played hockey, volley ball. I was running on tracks 440, 220. I attended societal programmes, Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) seriously by attending conferences every year. My teachers were encouraged with my lifestyle. We went out on weekends into the village at Gindiri to address young people, teaching them to memorise verses of the Bible and sing. I was a chorister and I still am. Even when young men came around me, I would tell them I was in a relationship with my husband and he approached me in 1960 and I stuck to him till 1970 when we got married. I was a workaholic and I did all I had to do as I should and as at when due.

What presently occupies your day?

When I wake up in the morning, I have my personal prayers, general family prayers then we do household chores. I read a lot and it keeps me busy, after reading I look around the house to ensure its clean. Occasionally, I keep a few chickens, and apart from that, I enjoy church activities on Mondays and on Tuesdays whenever I decide to, I visit the youths at their meetings. Wednesdays, we have women fellowship, I go for choir rehearsals, midweek prayers, and other activities, and Thursdays, I go for Bible studies, Fridays for women fellowship programme. I am a Girls Brigade officer, and on Saturdays we have our practice from 4 to 6pm and on Sundays, from 7:30am I go to church for Bible Studies and from 9am I attend the church service. Sometimes, we have clan meetings from my clan and my husband’s. there are times we have meetings with our husbands to find a way forward to assist the society. I also attend Kwoi women meetings and programmes, through this forum we built a hospital in Kwoi. Sometimes, I visit my children in their various stations at Zaria, Kaduna and Abuja. These are the ways I keep myself busy.

You earlier mentioned getting married in 1970, how did you meet your spouse?   

My husband came to me through his cousin and we attended the same primary school with this cousin. My husband was in secondary school at Kagoro, and when he came for holidays, his cousin told him about me and advised he dated me. Coincidentally, my husband is a cousin to my mother; they are from the same clan. When he came to our house, my mother saw him and asked me what he was doing in our house and I told her I had no idea but told her to find out. My mother told me that if he was coming to befriend me, he was her brother. As time went on, an ambassador came to marry me when I was in Form 3 and I refused. When the ambassador’s people came back to the house, the same mother that warned me about her cousin, told my husband to tell his father to come over to the house and do the needful because she is seeing some people bringing things to declare their interest (she laughs). That was how my husband told his father and the father went to the house and met my grandfather to discuss with him, my grandfather said he used to see us but didn’t know what their son was looking for in our house. As this was the tradition whenever a man’s family declared interest in a maiden. My father in-law told my grandfather that his son wanted to marry me and it stood from that day. Our relationship continued and we were going for Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) together, other programmes at Barewa College and we continued until I got to Zaria though he was there before me. And we eventually got married.

What endeared you to him?

I cannot mention a particular quality because there were many other handsome men, educated and well-placed men that approached me but I still stuck to my boyfriend and people kept wondering. One of the attractions was his neatness and surprisingly, he had just a shirt and a trouser. When in school, he would wear his uniform but when back home he would wear his fine, white looking shirt. I think he would wash the shirt and trouser in the morning and wear it when it was dry, waiting for the time he would visit me at home.  I admired that about him, his group of friends were also the admiration of both girls and boys in town. One of his attraction to me was when we were singing with my uncle at Kakaaki. My husband’s younger sister was my classmate and we didn’t know till his cousin introduced us to each other. My husband was a good speaker.

How many children do you have?

We are blessed with five boys and a girl. I have 13 grandchildren.

Do you have any advice for the younger generation?

Let them know the purpose of life; reflect back on what their parents own, how their parents got to where they are? They should also see what they can do to help the society get to where their parents were able to. They should correct the errors we made, read more, take their minds off the things of this world and fix their mind on what they can achieve to help themselves. They should encourage and give their parents joy. An elder child in the family, should be a good example for other siblings to emulate and above all reverence God and obey his words, do things that will give them peace, avoid being selfish, respect people who are older than they are as well as the elderly, carryout their responsibilities well.  We have failed them in many ways; they should correct our wrongs in the society. When my husband was alive, we told our children that, we know we had failed, but try to correct where we had erred to have a brighter future. I also urge them to respect human life and take their minds off the sins of this world, not been deceived by big cars, houses and monies gotten from wrong means because it does not pay as there is always a consequence for our actions no matter the delay.

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