24th November, 2014
By Adeleke ‘Niyi’ Agbola
In 1976, I was faced with a conundrum hitherto unprecedented in my young life. It was August 1976 and I had just secured admission to a secondary school at Iwoye Ijesa having missed the interview to my first choice, St Lawrence’s Grammar School, Ilesa due to a broken wrist.
In the admission package, I had to complete a form that requested for my birthday and either a birth certificate or a Declaration on Oath as to my date of birth. In my few short years on earth before then, I had no cause to make inquiries as to my birthday as it was not a big issue in the environment I grew up in Ilesa in the then Western State now in Osun State. Prior to that, I had never celebrated a birthday. As a matter of fact, the only people known to me that had their birthdays celebrated were the twins and triplets. The celebration usually occurred when one of them was sick and to ward off the evil spirit, a party was usually organised to ensure they do not die. However, the “birthday party” usually bore no relationship to the actual date of their birth! However, we youngsters usually had a lot of fun as we ate the cooked beans and eko served on those occasions to the cries of “ikoro, ikoro. Oro. Ni ile yesi. Ni ile Taye Kekinde”. The only way for you to have a birthday celebrated in those days if you were not the child of a teacher or a civil servant was to be sick! Thus, birthday parties and taking of photographs was a rarity for those of us who were born after independence in Nigeria. In fact, I celebrated my birthday for the first time in 1996 at the insistence of my wife! Going back to my admission letter. I asked my parents for my birth certificate and they looked at me askance. My mother told me I was born at home and received postnatal treatment from that venerable nurse, Mama Thompson’s Maternity Home. I persisted and asked for the date but nobody seemed to remember! I had a faint idea of the year of my birth as I grew up in a large family compound and we had different age groups. Luckily, some of my peers have birth certificates and based on the confirmation that we were born in the same year, I quickly fixed the year. However, the month and year were not so easily fixed as all my detective works were to no avail.
I still had a form to fill though and time was running out. Now 1976 was the Bicentennial year for USA independence and the airwaves and print media were awash with plans for the grandiose celebrations. I was already enamoured with America and had a Portland, Oregon-based girl, Kim Maguire, as a pen pal. I had rapidly soaked up American history and learned about the Annual Thanksgiving Holiday that comes up on the last Thursday of every November. I had some scanty information that I was born on a Wednesday. The Thanksgiving Holiday in 1976 was fixed for Thursday 25th November. If I cannot be born on Thanksgiving Day, I reasoned, then let me be born on its eve. Presto! I chose my birthday to be 24th of November.
This is the birthday I have been using for all my documents.
I recently read in The Punch Newspaper of 18th May 2014 an interview granted by Professor Wande Abimbola, my Vice Chancellor at the then University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife who faced a similar dilemma. Years after using June 26, 1936 as his birthday, he only discovered in 1985 that his true birthday was December 24 1932!
I am also aware that Nigeria recently rebased its economy after discovering that it had hitherto been omitting serious economic indices in calculating its GDP. The rebasing exercise catapulted the Nigerian economy to the 26th biggest in the world. Whether the increased GDP translates to improvement in the lives of the ordinary man on the streets is a story for another day.
Armed with these examples, I approached my Mum earlier this year again to make further inquiries about the circumstances surrounding my birth. My Mum then told me that I was born within a week of the birth of my Cousin, Kunle Coker. His father came to the family house to announce the birth of his first son, only to discover that I had just been born.
My next quest was to find out when Kunle was born. Lo and behold Kunle was born March 14 and I had been claiming November as my own birth date.
The next question is whether to rebase my birthday and bring the date in line with the current information. Upon further reflections though, I will still stand by my November birthdate. I have grown used to it and I still like its association with the Thanksgiving Holiday. The Holiday encapsulates my philosophy of sharing and caring for others. The actual date of my birth will likely never be known with certainty but the fact that I am alive is proof that I was born. I have chosen a date to symbolize the day and to give thanks to the Almighty for His Grace and protection over me. In all, I am comforted by the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 90:12-17 King James Version (KJV): 12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.
17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
Whatever the date of my birth is, the important thing is that I need to dedicate a date to the Lord to glorify the Lord for my birth and sustenance since then. November 24th has stood me in good stead since I picked it in 1976. I stand by it. No rebasing!
•Agbola is a Lagos-based lawyer.