87 YEARS WITH SICKLE CELL – The Story of Alhaja Asiata Aduke Onikoyi-Laguda
Unlike at the time of her 80th birthday, Alhaja Asiata Aduke Onikoyi-Laguda would not be marking her 86th November 1st with fanfare.
‘Islam forbids extravagance,’ she explains, ‘I would rather have a very low-key celebration – if at all – and give money to the needy.’
The twice-married Onikoyi, one of the oldest with sickle cell in Nigeria, nowadays spends most of her time reading the Holy Koran and the Bible. Long-retired but still strong and healthy, she gets income from her properties and from the regular transfers from her children overseas.
Much less egregious than say, 20 years ago, she gets visits from friends and family with whom she reminisces about the golden bygone times. Most of their contemporaries have gone and they are sharply aware of Times’ immutable clock ticking and ticking away for themselves.
Life In England
Born into the Onikoyi Chieftaincy family of Lagos in 1925, her mother’s family home is in Kudeti, Ibadan; close by is the family compound of the ace politician of Nigeria’s First Republic, Adegoke Adelabu, popularly known as Adelabu Penkelemesi. Onikoyi attended Queens College, Lagos and after her marriage to the late Dr. Mobolaji Alakija, she moved to London to train in secretaryship. The year was 1960, heyday of racial discrimination in Europe.
‘Prospective landlords slammed the door in your face when they meet you for the first time and discover you are black,’ she recalls
Advancing age willy-nilly comes with one irritation or another. Free of any observable sickle cell complication and free of other well-known health issues of old age such as diabetes, hypertension and eye trouble, Onikoyi’s only source of concern is – em, what’s it again? – Forgetfulness.
Not that she is terribly affected. The other day, she stumbled across a wad of one hundred N500 notes in her spacious but disorganized living room. For how long the money had gone missing she had not the faintest idea. So she happily took the money and kept it safe somewhere. Two hours later, needing money to pay a workman, the money had vanished! It would some day be discovered in the maze of her three-bedroom apartment in Lagos.
But, by a long shot, the money may never even be found. Some of Onikoyi’s stray visitors with itchy hands routinely make away with mobile phones, money and other valuables lying carelessly around. And she finds it difficult to recall who visited last so she would at least have a suspect in mind to block from her doors the next time.
Despite her tendency to forget, the energetic octogenarian is fiercely independent. She lives alone, cooks and washes her clothes by herself. Fortunately her electric water-boiler comes with auto shut
off functioning, otherwise her neighbours, the fire brigade and social services would have found a place for her at any Old People’s Home!
The boy who technically lives with Onikoyi, a twenty year old grandson, is in final year at the Obafemi Awolowo University, 180 kilometres away in Ile Ife, Osun State. Except he is on vacation, he rarely goes home.
‘God Loves Diversity’
Onikoyi is irked by the spate of sectarian violence in Nigeria and in particular by the bombing campaigns recently set in motion by Boko Haram, an Islamic sect with the avowal to entrench Sharia practices in the country.
‘Fanaticism is uncalled-for,’ she says, ‘if God wanted it so, He could have made all humanity one religion, one country, one race, one practice.
‘God loves diversity and prefers us to tolerate others and coexist in peace.’
The days when she questioned why she was born to face the challenge of pain are a distant memory. The days when she could not afford not to take her medications are a distant memory too. Onikoyi has a load of sickle cell medications as well as a cache of geriatric medicaments sent in from overseas, but they are kept more or less as mementoes. She might on a whim pop a pill or two once a while, but she is so healthy nowadays she does not bother. It is not exactly known whether Onikoyi’s forgetfulness makes her omit to take her medication or it’s just due to carelessness induced by good health.
It’s the same story with her hospital attendances. She has no time to attend the Sickle Cell Clinic at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
‘I can’t be bothered,’ she said, ‘I don’t have time to waste.’ She is referring here to the long periods spent waiting to see a doctor at Nigeria’s public hospitals.
Though her doctor, Professor M.O Kehinde assures her she would be given fast track consultation anytime she pops in, Onikoyi does not budge.
‘Most Nigerian hospital workers lack good manners,’ she remarks.
With so many of her contemporaries with or without sickle cell gone, Onikoyi is conscious of the passage of time. As Andrew Marvel, the metaphysical poet says, the ‘Times-winged chariot’ moves ever closer: thus Onikoyi has set in motion plans to hand each of her five surviving children their inheritance while she still draws breath.