Know Your History –  Mama Shofidiya: Florence Agbeke Kuyinu By Adekanmi Ademiluyi

by admin | June 28, 2017 9:48 pm

Serene and bungalow-lined, Shofidiya Close, off Ilesanmi Street at the Alhaji Masha end of Surulere, gently curving into the distance, was home to a vibrant and close-knit community. Generations grew up here – living, loving and laughing. Gated compounds, high fences and generators were still in the distant future – this was Shofidiya Close in the 1970s.

Just the same as the title of the popular TV series that was one of Mama Shofidiya’s favourites, you could hear the cocks’ crow at dawn signalling the start of another day. Cuckoo roo coo! Peep, peep! The newspaper vendors would announce their arrival. Among the newspapers bought by Mama Shofidiya was The Vanguard: for decades, she diligently completed the crossword on the back page. Greetings were the order of every morning as each household got up to start their daily routines. “Ogede Agbagba o!” The plantain seller was not left out of the human orchestra. At the heart of this community was Florence Agbeke Kuyinu.

Born on 24 June 1925, the eldest of her siblings, she was always a nurturer. Having lost her mother at a relatively young age, she had to fill the maternal gap for her brothers and sisters.

Following Agbeke Kuyinu’s marriage to H. Mobolaji Kasumu, they relocated to the UK in 1955. Sadly, she was widowed in 1958 and became both mother and father to their three children.

She returned to Nigeria in 1962, having trained as a nurse and qualified as an SRN, SCM. She worked at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital for several years until love came calling again. She married Mr G.A Kuyinu in 1964 and they settled in the Railways Compound. Her background in nursing meant that she found employment at the Railways Clinic.

Never one to remain idle, she moved from there to become matron at Ajayi Memorial Hospital, also in Surulere. It was a relatively short commute to work as the Kuyinus had now settled on Shofidiya Close. Here they enjoyed the company of their neighbours, including Rev Yemi Buko, Mrs Fadina (fondly known as Mama Ile keji), Mrs Lase (Mama Okan), Mrs Ogunmuyiwa, Mr Fagbure, the Dawodus and Miss Bob-Manuel, to name but a few who became lifelong friends and essentially family. Their children and grandchildren formed deep bonds.

It was at Mama Shofidiya’s that these children gathered to enjoy rides on Chopper bikes to the neighbouring streets of Badaru and Adegoke. She would always treat them to takeaways at Eddie Burger, a pioneer in the fast-food business. With her trademark scarlet lipstick and on-trend fashion sense, she was the glamorous yet down-to-earth mother of the close.

She also had a generous spirit – her modest compound was open to every child in the neighbourhood. After school, many would come to play the popular ‘ten-ten’ to delighted screams and claps heard streets away. The markings in the ground for ‘suwe’ games stayed long after the children had gone home. She never turned anyone away. Rather, they would leave for home, hands laden with mangoes from the huge tree at the rear of her house. This was a very popular spot.

One of her cousin’s children sports a reminder on her forehead. Curious children will always seek to explore. Secure in the knowledge that Mama Shofidiya would not return from work for a short while, a group of children decided to take a big metal pole to the mango tree to harvest the fruit by themselves. We all know Murphy’s Law – something went wrong. With the unsteady hands holding the pole, it came crashing down on a forehead, split it open with blood gushing everywhere.

The happy ending to the tale is that the injured person ended up in the emergency room at Ajayi Memorial Hospital. The moral of the story – nothing that happened on Shofidiya Close could be kept secret from Mama. For a long time after, neighbourhood children opted to enjoy the delights of the African apple that fell safely into Mama’s compound from their low branches.

It was at Shofidiya that she celebrated her 60th birthday. To her delight, she was presented with a Peugeot 505. Naturally, this was always seen in the neighbourhood packed with people that she would have offered a lift to. Indeed, her 70th and 80th birthdays were also celebrated at Shofidiya Close. Many of the old crew had passed away, replaced by a new generation who again became part and parcel of mama’s life. The close itself had changed somewhat. Mama had by now become a great-grandmother but the heart and spirit remained the same. A fourth generation was also enjoying Shofidiya Close.

As we have a beginning so also must we have an ending. Mama had lived a fulfilled life. Following her passing in November 2005, it was fitting that she was laid in state at number 13, her home for so many years. It was here that members of her neighbourhood family came to pay their last respects; many escorted the coffin on Mama’s last journey.

Countless memories survive, the history of Shofidiya cannot be written without the name: Florence Agbeke Kuyinu.

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