An octogenarian has opened up about his life as he revealed that he regrets marrying more than one wife.
Chief Smart Oghene
Eighty-year-old retired educationist, Chief Smart Oghene, speaks with SIMON UTEBOR about his life, triumphs, profession and challenges
When were you born?
I was born on February 19, 1939, in Orerokpe – headquarters of the then Western Niger Delta – in present-day Delta State.
How did you know you were born on that day?
My birth was historical and the record was known by many people in that part of the community. My father’s cousin, who was a teacher then, recorded my date of birth in a diary.
What do you mean by your ‘birth was historical’?
My birth was a little bit controversial because my mother told my father she was pregnant but my father did not believe her. They quarreled over it. My mother knew she was pregnant but the pregnancy did not show and because of that, my father was not ready to help her. My mother sold the door to her house and went to a native doctor, who prepared native herbs for her and I started developing.
At the time I was born, it was a big surprise to everybody in the community because I reportedly ‘jumped out’ of the womb. As that happened, people shouted ‘this is Iwayo (tricky) child’. This happened at Oku-Ughelli in Orerokpe.
Who were your parents?
My mother was the daughter of Akpobie. She was from Okpe and her father – the first king of Agbarho Kingdom – came from Ekwere but he stayed in Orerokpe where he had large farms and properties. My mother was born into a rich family. But my father was born historically to the family of Uwukare. The original family in Agbarho is called Uvwie. The Uwukare was very strong historically. He fought some of his friends and crossed a river to Orerokpe at a time Okpe people had trouble with their kingship and were fighting among themselves. The Okpe people abandoned Orerokpe and were scattered everywhere. Then my great grandfather settled there.
When did you start school?
I started school when I was nearly seven years old. I told my father I wanted to go to school. I was sent to Native Authority School in Orerokpe for interview but they did not admit me. They said I was unable to touch my left ear with my right hand if my hand goes over my head. I protested. I told the interviewer I didn’t understand the rationale behind it because he was admitting people younger than me. I told the man I did not accept his decision but my father could not do anything about that. So we went back home. When I got home, I told my father I must go to school.
What happened after that?
Incidentally, my uncle – my mother’s younger brother, was a teacher at Jesse near Sapele. At that time, there was no bridge linking Sapele to Jesse. My mother told my uncle to take me to Jesse to start school there. My uncle sent somebody to Ororokpe to take me to Jesse where I started school. That was in 1947. At Jesse, I was put in Infant One class and my teacher was my father’s cousin. He knew when I was a baby. When I met him, he changed my name from Iwayo to Smart. After a year, we were posted to Isiokolo, Ethiope East, where I was promoted to Infant Two. From Infant Two, I passed and was promoted to Standard One. When I was in Standard One, I fell ill.
Did the ailment affect your education?
When I took ill, my uncle scraped my head and used mud to rub it instead of treating me. He locked me in a room. My father came from Orerokpe to Isiokolo. Before he came, I was actually waiting for a messiah to come and take me away from there. When I opened the door and my father and I saw each other, he cried. I could not move again. He took me on his bicycle to Orerokpe. On our way to Orerokpe, people were accusing my father of carrying a dead child but he told them I was not dead and that nobody knew tomorrow. After many months, I survived the ailment.
What happened after surviving the sickness?
I was taken back to NA School in Orerokpe and was admitted into Standard One. I was not mentally and physically ready. It was so bad that my classmates didn’t even see me as their classmate. In the exam, I passed my subjects and was promoted to Standard Two to the consternation of my classmates. Some of them did not do well in the exam.
When we were in Standard Three, something funny happened. Our class teacher – a very corrupt person – said pupils who wanted to be promoted to Standard Four must give him a chicken each. I told my father and he said he did not send me to school to give chickens to teachers. He did not give me any chicken.
Did that cost you your promotion?
We took the promotion examination. On the day the results were to be announced, mine was not read out meaning that I failed. But miraculously, one of our female teachers took the results from our teacher and discovered I passed and that the teacher just did not want to include my name in the list of names of pupils that passed. He drew the attention of the headmaster to it and my result was announced and I was promoted. That was the end of my problem in school. I finished my Standard Six in flying colours.
What did you do after finishing your Standard Six?
In the year we finished, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced Model School. I told my father I wished to go to school instead of working with my Standard Six. We went to CMS Model School at Orerokpe and the reverend in charge of admission demanded £2, 000. It was a lot of money in those days.
My father said he did not have such money. I begged my father profusely and we got money from somebody and paid the reverend. I was admitted into the Model School.
How long did you stay in the school?
I stayed in the school for three years. I eventually finished my secondary school in 1957. When I finished, my father asked one of my uncles to get employment for me. My uncle did not go but was lying to my father that he went. One day, I summoned courage and went to the recruitment officer’s house. When I got there, he asked who I was and what I wanted. I told him I needed a job. I told him I had finished secondary school and asked my uncle to come to see him on my behalf.
I also told him I had been waiting and when there was no success, I decided to see him personally to know what was going on. He said I was brave and asked if I had completed my secondary education and I said yes. He said I was lucky and that I’d get a job. He asked me to bring a bribe of £15.
When I got home, I told my father and he said he had no money. I realised our neighbour was a money lender so I asked him to borrow money from him. My father reluctantly agreed. We went to the money lender and asked him to lend us money to be repaid three months later. He gave me the money on trust. I went to pay and I was given the job. I was sent to Aghalokpe. I taught there for eight months and then my father died.
That must have been very painful.
I was a young man of 19 then. The month my father died, all the arrears I was owed were paid to me. I just left there for Orerokpe, where I was posted to Ekulope. I stayed for over a year there. It was in 1959. A friend, now a professor, came to me and said I should follow him to Ovu near Orerokpe, to a Baptist school there. We were tested and I was one of the best in that examination. They said I should be baptised and I was baptized in 1959, which means I was baptised 60 years ago.
It was there I changed my orientation and stopped traditional worship. I took entrance examinations for Baptist College in Benin and Provincial Teachers’ College in Warri. I got admitted into the two schools. The man in charge of the post office was my friend. When he saw my name, he tore the result. He did not tell me. But in those days, Baptist College did not send only one result to candidates. They also sent my result to the pastor. It was when I went to church that I knew what happened. The pastor congratulated me, saying I did very well in the exam.
What did you do after you graduated from Baptist College?
I was awarded Teachers Grade Three certificate. I was posted to a school in Eku where I taught for eight months and was posted to Orerokpe. At Ororokpe, I was posted to Benin-Delta Teachers’ College. It is now an arm of the University of Benin along Ekehwan Road. It was a very beautiful college. I was there for two years. After that, I went to the College of Physical Education at Afuze. Later I was posted to Okpe Grammar School in Sapele as a Physical Education instructor. I did wonders there. I was good at all manner of sports. I produced athletes for the state and was recognised by the military administration then.
At what age did you get married?
I married very early. I married in 1959 after the death of my father. It was not a real marriage because when we were going to school, the girls loved us. One day, there was a burial and I went there to watch a particular dance. A girl sent somebody to call me. I did not go because I was enjoying the dance. After making futile efforts to get me to come, she came to meet me. I asked her what she wanted from me. She said she wanted me. She was irresistible and one of the most beautiful girls in Urhobo land.
We married. The union was blessed with a son. The boy died in 1985 when I returned from England.
What did you go to England for?
After teaching for many years, the urge to acquire a university degree arose. I fought hard and I went to school abroad. I graduated in 1983. In England, I studied at the University of Hull, and graduated with BA (Hons) Education.
When I returned to Nigeria, I was made a vice principal and finally I was sent to the Ministry of Education. I was there and retired as a senior officer – Principal Grade 1.
Are you still married to the woman you met at the dance?
The sad story is that when I was at Baptist Teachers’ College, I was young and we lived together. I persuaded her to stay. We agreed she was going to wait for me. She was carried away by a white man who was in charge of the local government council. After the white man left, his messenger took over and I had to leave her. It was not my making. I came home on holiday and she attacked me as if we had had a quarrel.
When I left her, she lost focus but she was beautiful. She ended up having children for about five men. She made attempts to return to me but I did not agree to that. Sadly, she died in 1966.
When did you remarry?
I remarried in 1966. The union is blessed with three children. One read Physics, one read medicine and the third one read accounting. The accountant is in the United States. But I still have children from other women. Because of how my first wife treated me, I decided never to marry one wife.
So, how many wives did you eventually marry?
I married only three women but one did not stay.
What has been your experience with polygamy?
The experience is nothing to write home about. If I should come to the world after this life, I would die not marrying more than one wife. Before I go into marriage, I would take my time to study the woman. It is not easy at all. Some of them are gold diggers; they can actually deceive you, treat you badly and show you their true colours. So I will not advise anyone to marry more than a wife. Till now, I am an elder in my church. I have been in church for more than 50 years. I have repented seriously and do not play with church.
What is your favourite food?
I like Fried Rice.
What is the secret of your old age?
It is the grace of God. As I said, I changed my way of life and embraced God. I pray every day and I love my God. I try to live my life such that I won’t offend anyone. Should I inadvertently offend anyone or should anyone offends me, we try to reconcile. That is my guiding principle in life.
I do not drink alcohol at all. Also I don’t take soft drinks. I drink only water. But in the past, I used to take beer moderately and soft drinks.
I exercise every day. I was a physical education instructor and taught the subject for many years. I do gymnastics. I jump and by 6am, I am already doing exercise.