Obasanjo at 84: I don’t know my actual date of birth but this is why I chose March 5
Two time former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is 84 today? He confessed he didn’t know his actual date of birth but reveals in this account why he chose March 5, 1934 as his birthday…
“You were born on Ifo Market day. I had put my wares together for the market when I suddenly went into labour. It meant that I could not go to the market for that day. But before those who went to the market returned to the village, you were already born.“
That was how my mother described my date of birth. Ifo Market day is every fifth day. Your guess is as good as mine as to which Ifo Market day I was born on, and in what month and in what year.
Normally, in the illiterate communities of those days, significant or special events were used to date personal or family events. It could be just before or after the coronation of an oba, or the year of a particular war or uprising, or the year of a disaster or natural calamity like flood, famine, drought, locust infestation or an epidemic.
It could even be an unusual event in the community such as when a white man was first sighted in the village, or the year the first church, mosque or school was built; or the year the village or community market was established. Marriages, births, deaths, and other family events were normally dated or situated with these more familiar events.
So, being born on Ifo Market day as my mother told me was a normal way of describing my birth date.
Knowing this event-related way of dating, I embarked on some research to determine an approximate period of my birth. We had only one church, a Baptist church, in our village. Was my mother married into the village before the church was built? That question unearthed a lot more information.
My mother was married into the village before the church was built. That was a fact that was not in dispute. My research indicated that the church was built in 1934. I was born around the time of building the church. I was made to understand that I was actually taken to the church building for thanksgiving and blessing after three months of my birth.
There were other twists to the story of my birth. My mother said to me repeatedly that although my father was the first man and the only man in her life, she did not get pregnant immediately after her marriage. How long the wait lasted, I could not ascertain.
The second twist was another story from my mother that I overstayed in her womb. She was categorical that I stayed for eleven months. My father did not corroborate that story, but my mother could swear that she was right.
Could it be correct or could it be a case of miscalculation (being her first pregnancy, perhaps she did not get the dates right)? To me, it is a myth, a mystery, or a miscalculation. To my mother, it was a serious issue.
But whatever it was, I was happily born on Ifo Market day, not before 1934 and not later than 1937. I gave such a wide gap to take account of twists, errors or miscalculations.
Since I do not know my exact date of birth, and mindful of the foregoing account I have arbitrarily chosen 5 March 1937 as my official birthday.
When I was in India on a military training course in 1965, I thought the Indian astrologers and psalmists could solve the riddle of unknown real birthday. I visited them with the sole purpose of knowing my real age. Rather than give me any idea of my age, they told me about longevity and minor accidents in later life.
That was not what I wanted to hear. But since that was the best they could do, I had to give up in the hope that some time before I die, biomedical science and technology would develop to the extent that age dating would be possible as DNA is breaking new ground on everything about humanity’s past and structure.