21st November, 2013
As prominent Lagos residents filed into the Ikoyi venue of her 70th birthday celebration, Mrs. Laulat Gbemisola Tejuosho, owner of Glendora and Jazzhole, the biggest bookshops in Lagos, was all smiles, hugging one guest after another. Her joy was further lifted with a car gift presented to her by Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, renowned industrialist and former National Planning Minister. In this interview with EROMOSELE EBHOMELE, Mrs. Tejuosho, daughter of S.O.G. Gbadamosi, a former Treasurer of the Action Group among other public positions, revisits her journey in life so far
How was it like growing up in the household of SOG?
SOG was a very busy man. He was really busy in business and in politics. So when we were small, he knew the challenges ahead of him, and he knew that he would not have the capability to be in politics and run the household at the same time. So what he did was to take us from our various mothers and got a mama nurse to look after us – our feeding and other issues. We, the children, were all together despite being members of a polygamous family. When he was not satisfied with the situation, he took all of us to various boarding schools. I went to the United Missionary School in Ibadan. The principal of the school then was Mrs. Ladega (now late) while my guardians were late Pa and Ma Osibo. It was like home from home for all of us that went there as we became one very close family. They were a nice couple. After my primary school, my father decided that my sister, Mrs. Funmilayo Kayode, and I should travel abroad for our secondary education. We travelled to London in 1957 and I was in the boarding school. I met my future husband immediately I finished secondary school. And I got married.
I was extremely lucky that God gave me a husband who took care of me. He was a very nice man. Unfortunately, he died in 1982. Like any widow of nowadays, the challenges were there, but I thank the Lord for seeing me through. We got four children, all in their own fields now, married and, through the grace of God, they have all given me wonderful grandchildren some of whom are in universities. I give thanks to God.
It is not easy for widows. For any widow to survive, especially in a place like Nigeria, is through the grace of God. People do not tend to understand what it means to be alone. Widowhood is all about loneliness, but it is not the fault of anybody that people don’t seem to know how you feel. You have to go through it to understand what it means. It is the grace of God that keeps widows going on. As I clock 70, I still reflect on how I was able to survive till now. All I know is that somebody out there is always smiling at me because I just found myself standing all the time. I always say everything about me is a miracle. I only wish my husband was alive so that he could see the children and the grandchildren. The youngest of our children was four years old when he died.
I married a man who did not wish that his wife should work. That was his policy and I asked why. He said to me, ‘When I was young, as the last born of my mother, I would escape through the wall like other boys at night just to run home to collect food and pocket money. By the time we returned to school, some of us would say they did not meet their parents at home.’ He said his own mother was always around. Those frineds of his always felt sad that their parents were not home. This affected him and he said he would never allow his wife to work. But when we returned from England in 1969 – by the way, you know I come from Ikorodu and we don’t joke with work – my husband bought a car and I was so excited. So we drove it to see my grandmother, just for her to rejoice with us. After the usual happiness, she took me to the room and said: ‘When next you come to this place, what will make me happy is when I hear that you have bought your own car, not to come and tell me about what your husband has done, because he has his own parents.’ With the old woman’s advice, I knew I had a challenge that I had to work against. But how was I going to get through to a man who did not believe in women working? But I thank God. He was working as an architect and the World Bank sent him abroad on a course, the children were in Corona School and I didn’t want to move the children to another school.
So I told him I would stay back. The next day he left. Then I went to my uncle, Justice Michael Odesanya, now 99 years old, at the High Court. Immediately he saw me, he asked if I needed anything, but I told him I didn’t need any money, but ‘I want to work’. He said: ‘But we’ve been hearing stories that your husband does not want you to work,’ but I insisted. Have you ever seen a whole judge running across the street to the Independence Building and me crying along with him saying I want to work? He took me to the late Mrs. Apinke Coker, informing her that I wanted to work. Then it was easy to get a job, unlike nowadays. I got a job as a secretary in the Ministry of Justice.
When I got in there, I knew the office job was not for me. Then the Falomo Shopping Complex came up and we applied for it and I got the shop. In 1975, I started my Glendora Bookshop.
Why did you settle for the idea of a bookshop?
I love to read and I read anything. I spend my time reading. Even now, I don’t get joy in you bringing me biscuit or such other things. If you bring a magazine or a book, that is joy to me. I love good story books. I haven’t got the patience to watch a film. I cannot keep awake to watch a film, but give me a good book and you have made my day.
What have been the challenges of running the book business since 1975?
Book is not something you can replace. A lot of people come to me saying they want to run bookshops, but I don’t see them again. You have to love what you do. We are living in the Jet Age where everything is fast, but this is not so with books. The challenges are there. At a time, there was a policy that you have to get licence for the business. We went through a terrible time then. But thanks to few people like Mrs. Francesca Emmanuel and Mrs. Olawoye who helped me to get the licence from the ministry. Then, there was Mr. Adetunji who was on the board and was helping me from there.
If only the government realised the potentials in books. When I travel abroad, my people know that the only joy I have is that my outing is always to Barnes and Noble. I sit there, I see books, I smell them; I have passion for books. I also see young children aged as small as six months old at bookshops. You would see them in big bookshops in America and England. They make places for mothers to sit and read to the children. You will wonder if the babies understand, but they do. You see a baby of one and half years asking for the Jack and Jill magazine and he or she would sit on the floor and read. I wish more people can do that since education is derived from books. I feel so happy when the people who passed through my bookshops embrace and appreciate me and mention various titles they have read. Most of them are now doctors, engineers, economists, lawyers and even in government. They all rally round now and say: ‘We know Glendora.’ We are praying that the vision my late husband, Architect Akintunde Tejuosho, who gave me full support for running the business, should not die. In fact, the first shop we had at the Falomo Shopping Complex, he basically did it himself. All my children and grandchildren are running the bookshops. All of them can also operate our machines.
There are not enough bookshops and libraries in our country. We need them. It is just that we cannot do everything, but my vision is to have a bookshop where there won’t be any sales or money, but where people would just come and sit and read and read, with children coming over to see and touch books. When I touch a book, the smell is a love story to me. Not everybody knows the smell of a magazine, that feeling when you are flipping the paper. I tell people just to look at the front of the book and the back and buy if they are interested, because the way some keep opening the book would make your heart skip. And then, someone else would come and tell you that he needs a fresh book and not a rough one. I am also like that. I get very annoyed when you touch my magazine carelessly. I want it fresh, I want that smell. When I finish, then any other person can touch it.
If you go abroad and you see the number of people that enter a bookshop, you would marvel. Loads and loads of people. You have the magazines section and children section where they allow children to sit down and read. That is my wish for Nigeria, but like I said, the way the economy is now, we just pray for a turnaround so that people would have libraries in their homes for their children and grandchildren. I also pray that the turnaround happens in my lifetime.
Apart from biographies, you sell educational materials…
Yes, it started with my first son, Kunle. When he finished his master’s in the US, he came and met my old man and told him he was looking for work. But my old man asked him, ‘What kind of work are you looking for? Your mother has established a business. Go and manage that business and raise it up.’ He listened and he was able to raise it to what it is now. The commendation goes to the boys now; I cannot run around the way I was running around before.
What about the section of your shop dedicated to music?
Kunle introduced that. He got music from his father. My late husband loved music. I want to thank my brother, Rasheed Gbadamosi, for his assistance. When you run a business, you must come across challenges, sometimes financial or moral, but he was there for me. There are two people in my life and anytime I face challenges, I know where to go and I always get a good response. They encourage me.
What is your customer base?
I have so many customers. Who of them can I even mention? The late Mamman Vatsa was one of them. Ken Saro-Wiwa was another wonderful man. He was always there. He loved books. He would bubble into the bookshop and shout ‘Glendora’ continuously. He would sit there, full of life. What about JP Clark? They are so many. It is not even the big names that matter. There are so many that come, the young, the old, name them. And they would tell you about their libraries and how they lent some books out and could not retrieve them.
There was this emotional attachment to the Falomo Shopping Complex, but it is gone now…
The complex belongs to the government, not us. When the government says this is what I want, you have to obey like the Bible says. It is their land. And if they say it will be better for us, then we have to give them the chance. They want expansion, a new shopping complex. We did not buy it, but were tenants.
Why are you not interested in partisan politics like your father?
There was a time when one of us was needed in politics. They wanted him to be something, but my father said: ‘Never. I will not allow any of my children to join politics. Politics is about the welfare of human beings. So in my own little way, there are little things I do to make the world a better place. There are many of us like that and we do not have to make noise about it. We just do our best to make this fabulous country a better place. I love Nigeria and I believe there is no place like it. When I am on an aircraft and they announce that we are in Lagos, it sounds like music in my ear. I love Lagos.