At the end of life’s journey, memories are all we are left with. Not even death can take that away from us. Good memories bring joy and nostalgia. The Holy Book says: “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot.”
On Monday May 27 when Nigerians were marking Children’s Day, Americans were remembering their dead on Memorial Day, a day set aside every last Monday of May for remembering fallen heroes. They visit the graves of their beloveds, clean them up and put fresh flowers on them. Here are some remembrance quotes: “Do you know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” (Terry Pratchett). “There is no death. People die only when we forget them. If you can remember me, I will always be with you.” (Isabel Allende). “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” (Czeslaw Milosz).
Childhood stories are far sweeter and more nostalgic. Talking to the children of Michael Agbola Adenuga Sr., I was able to harvest poignant childhood anecdotes portraying their late father. Mrs. Margaret Afolashade Akande, the second child recalls: “At the time we wanted to go back to school, our father would give us the school fees and pocket money. Whether it was an arrangement between our father and mother, nobody knew, but it was our father who will call us and then give us our school fees. Even with his tight schedule, our father would write to us in school. He would always write. And he was a great disciplinarian. Very tough and very generous. As kids, I remember we would surround him and say: ‘Papa, we love that meat o.’ And he would reply: ‘Take it.’ My mother would say: ‘Baba, your children would not allow you feed very well o.’ And Dad would say: ‘It doesn’t matter.’ As soon as I have demanded my meat, Demola would come and make his own demand and our dad would give him meat. But our mother would be complaining. We had a very nice time with our parents.”
All the Adenuga children agree that Dad was the educational and spiritual pillar of the family. “Our father was a committed Christian,” Mrs. Akande continues. “He was always reading his Bible and he would go to church. On many occasions he had to preach in church. Even on the day of his burial outing, he was programmed to preach in church.”
The late Mrs. E.O. Osunsade, the eldest recalled how every morning, “Dad would wake up with his small piano which he plays in the morning and in the evening. And nearly all of us know the Anglican Hymnbook off head. It was a way of life to pray in the morning and in the evening. And going to church was a must on Sundays. Everything was built around church. We had nice time with our father, he taught us the way of the Lord. He was a man of God who planted our feet on the solid ground which is Christ. Our father was into our spiritual and educational life. We had psalms that we must read in the mornings and in the evenings. He would look at our report cards, while our mother was into the smooth running of the house.”
All the children agree that the best decision their father took was to stay monogamous. “One thing we enjoyed was that our parents were monogamous all through,” Mrs. Osunsade recalled. “It was one wife, one husband. In those days, even if they were married in church, the man would along the way drift to marry a second wife. But we didn’t have that type of problem in our family. We enjoyed the love and attention of our parents.”
Another memory is that in case of any family or sibling dispute, the first to report to Papa gets his full support. Otunba Ademola recalls that Mike was fond of exploiting this by quickly running to report. “He knew how to ally with our father. He had studied our father very well, and he knows that the first to report to our father gets his good affection. Not only that, Mike knows how to give out gift. Even when he was growing and he was not yet big, he was a good giver of gifts.”
Mike’s immediate senior Mrs. Yetunde Adegbola similarly recalls that her brother had been generous from childhood. “We had this driver, my mother’s driver by name Gengeto. He would give his own food to the driver and come and share mine. He has always been generous. Right from childhood. If he has money, he would spend it all on his friends, taking them to watch cinema or whatever. He had so many friends he was looking after. He would give his last, and then he would come and sit down quietly in the house…He would give you something and he wouldn’t want you to say thank you. He must have picked that secretive nature from my father. The spirit of not making a show of anything.”
Unlike his billionaire son, Adenuga Sr. was not much concerned about wealth. Instead, his eyes were focused on heaven. “My brother is a very successful businessman, but I know that if my father were to be alive today, he would tell Mike to retire from business and go into full-time ministry,” Mrs. Adegbola says. “Because immediately Papa died, they gave his cassock to my immediate elder brother. They ordained him in Papa’s position. My father’s attitude to wealth is: What do we need all these for? He would quote the Bible passage which says if you have your food and two garments, it is sufficient for you. That’s my father’s ideology. The aggressiveness in Mike is more from our mother.”
When their mother died, the Adenuga children had to rebury their father alongside their mother in a magnificent mausoleum described as “a tribute of love.” “To immortalize our dad, Mike established a church as Michael Adenuga Memorial Church,” Ademola said. “He built that church and paid for everything—the furniture, the air conditioner and the maintenance. He even built a house behind the church occupied by the Lord Bishop of Ijebu-North Local Government. He has been supporting the church.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, Mike Adenuga ensured that all his children learnt to play the piano. Every Christmas, there is a piano hymn contest among the children and the winner is rewarded with big money. Adenuga’s daughter Mrs. Bella Adenuga-Disu recalls: “I have some of the best memories of my childhood. Dad made sure that all of us went to play the piano. He always said it helps in a child’s education…It is just good to have dexterity in something other than basic education. For a long time before Christmas, everyone would start jittering and practising the hymn. We have to play for daddy so that on Christmas Day we are going to make the money. That was a tradition we came to love.”
For the children and grandchildren of Michael Agbola Adenuga, 40 years gone since June 7, 1979, sweet is the memory of their patriarch, a man of faith who lived on earth, moulding young men and women for the future, casting his eyes up, looking up to making heaven where his rewards are stored as a teacher and a preacher. Here lies the father of the godfather who immortalized his father’s name to the glory of God and benefit of mankind.