She belongs to the first generation of ‘under-aged’ undergraduates, having gained admission into the university at the ‘tender’ age of 15 years, graduated at 19, when some of her age mates were still battling the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination, and got her first master’s degree at just 22 years of age. That was in 1987 and this is the story of Mrs. Priscilla Ogunbanjo, Nee Effa, originally from Ikom in Cross River State, Nigeria, for whom the drums were rolled out in Pretoria, South Africa, on Saturday the 28th of March, 2015, when she turned 50.
“I was 22 then and I actually missed my Masters Degree graduation ceremony because I had to jump on the plane and leave for Lesotho as part of the first set of the Technical Aid Corps.” (The TAC was established by Nigeria in 1987 as an alternative to direct financial aid for African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.)
That was how, in her own words, Priscilla commenced the sojourn that would take her from Nigeria to Lesotho, and then to South Africa, where she finally settled with her husband in 1992. She has long since acquired a string of other academic and professional qualifications, including a second Bachelor’s as well as a second Master’s degree.
Mrs. Priscilla Ogunbanjo is today the Director of Public Examinations at South Africa’s Department of Basic Education. She has made a mark as part of the team that administered the first-ever national senior certificate examination after apartheid, in which every South African child wrote the same examination.
The Birthday Party
The Master of Ceremonies, Pastor Femi Olubakinde, who conducted the event with great skill and humour, kicked off proceedings by calling for prayers for the celebrant’s past, present and future life.
Family members and guests then took turns to pay tribute to her with all of them echoing her attributes of loving-kindness, intelligence, discipline, diligence, firmness and great sense of humour.
Her husband, Professor Gboyega Ogunbanjo, Head of Department, Family Medicine & Primary Health Care, University of Limpopo (Medunsa Campus), South Africa; Vice-President of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) and current President of the South African Academy of Family Physicians, who has groomed and mentored quite a number of young Nigerian and South African medical doctors, recalled how he met Priscilla:
“It was a beautiful day. It was the day I saw a lady in red; red shoes, red bag, red dress. And she was very intimidating. She had a particular way of standing. I went to her and said, ‘You know, you are dressed up like my mother.’ She said, ‘Who are you?’ I told her who I was. She asked, ‘How does your mother dress?’ and I said ‘Just like you’. From that point on, I stuck to her like a leech”
Professor Ogunbanjo went on to describe Priscilla as a virtuous woman:
“My wife is a no-nonsense woman; she is very firm, very loving, very caring; she is a Proverbs 31 woman (a virtuous woman) willing and ready to support her husband and provide for her household. She is a woman of God. I’m a pastor but when you want someone to pray for you, just tell Priscilla; She is a woman of God. She has been a mother to a number of South African girls from their infancy with one of them now in the university.”
Her sisters and sisters-in-law also affirmed her virtues.
But the man who provided a clear insight into the nature of the work Priscilla Ogunbanjo is doing for South Africa was Mr. Mfana Edwin Phonela, the Deputy Chief Education Specialist at the Department of Basic Education. He declared:
“She has the responsibility to maintain and enhance the integrity and credibility of the exam system which services almost a million candidates annually. This is certainly not a job for the faint-hearted. Ladies and gentlemen, she is regarded in South Africa as a national asset and for her to earn this senior post takes a person of outstanding character.
“In the exam arena, you have to be highly versatile to be able to deal with challenges. I often marvel at her adept disposition in marshalling resources and successfully addressing any situation that arises. We, as the exam team, are indeed honoured to be in the hands of such a high calibre and capable leadership.”
Mr. Phonela went on to describe Mrs O (as they fondly call her) as “a diva in her own right”
In her response, the celebrant acknowledged the sacrifice her mother, Mrs. Priscilla Effa made for her:
“My mother named me after her because she told me that when she was expecting me, she was sick from the first day to the last day. In fact, at a stage somewhere in the middle of the pregnancy, doctors advised that she must terminate the pregnancy to save her own life because it was life threatening. Her husband didn’t know what to do. He needed his wife alive. All well-meaning friends and relatives advised her to terminate the pregnancy. She refused, saying if she was going to die then she would die. I’m standing here today because of that decision that she made.”
She recounted how she was inspired by her parents:
“I saw my parents studying when I was a young person. They were still studying and still striving to do the best that they could do. For my late father, I remember when he left for the USA for a Masters in Animal Husbandry, I was like 11 years old. By the time he came back, I was 15 and already in the university.”
She also shared fond memories of her growing-up years:
“I grew up in a very loving home. You know, what I remember most about my home is all the house parties we used to have. We were six girls and a boy. We would wake up in the morning and it would be a house party. It was an every week thing. Theresa would organize food and drink, somebody would start the music and all of a sudden there was a party in that house. There were always friends in the house and they would be part of the party. You needed to have seen my mum and dad on the dance floor. Mine is a testimony of God having showered me with abundant grace, favour and love. I believe that I am the apple of God’s eyes.”
Part of that testimony, according to her, is the divine grace to be married to Professor Gboyega Ogunbanjo , her ‘Prince Charming’.
“My husband is an amazing man. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. He’s an amazing man. He supports me in everything. For the past 4 years or thereabout, those who know me know that the past 4 years of my life have been very chaotic, thanks to the Department of Basic Education. But I wouldn’t have achieved whatever I have achieved in that place without his support. I’m permanently on the road; even when I’m not on the road, I don’t get home before 9 pm. Sometimes I get home and my husband has cooked. There are many men who don’t know the controls of a microwave oven. But I tell you my husband can cook certain meals better than me who is regarded as a very good cook. When I am not there for anything, he just steps in and supports me. Thank you Gboyega for the way you have been honouring me; for treating me like a queen. That’s my Prince Charming and he will always remain my Prince Charming,” she said.
She also expressed her appreciation to Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director Exams, Department of Basic Education, for his support and guidance.
The highlights of the event were the cutting of the birthday cake and the conferment of the award of Obirin Rere (Virtuous Woman) on her by women of her husband’s (Yoruba) ethnic group; an award she received with grat excitement and gratitude.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a beauty queen but I also knew it was not going to be possible because I’m not even tall or anything like that…………But at least, this is near it and I really appreciate it. Thank you for honouring me like this,” she said of the award.
It wasn’t talk, talk all day. There was wining and dining and the live band on standby provided scintillating music that got the celebrant, and all those celebrating with her – family, friends and well-wishers dancing late into the night.
RED CARPET RECEPTION
Special coverage by Newsplus.
All photos by Emman Ekata (+27 83 923 7757)
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