Longevity, many believe, is hereditary while others are of the view that it is from the Almighty. Some countries are said to harbour the oldest people in the world but with the likes of Alhaja Alimatu Abdulmaliq, who is said to be 160 years or thereabouts, Nigeria could be said to be one of the places with the oldest people in the world. In this interview the oldest woman in Kwara, Alhaja Alimatu Abdulmaliq, spoke on her experiences.
What was your childhold like?
I was born some one hundred and sixty something years ago to the family of Alhaji Kokewukobeere in Oja Gbooro area of Ilorin, in today’s Kwara State. I have witnessed the reign of six emirs of Ilorin.
I was born at a time when there was no means of recording date of births or because people were not literate enough to do that but with the number of emirs who came to power and reigned in my lifetime in Ilorin, I believe my age should be around 160 years. I remember one of my contemporaries, Sheu Ahmad Folorunsho Faagba who died at the age of 145. He died eight years ago. He was my classmate in Islamic school though I am his senior by about five years.
Apart from the premier emir of Ilorin, Sheik Alimi, 11, I know when the other emirs came into power. When Sheu Sulaiman came into power in the year 1896, I was already a grown up girl. Although, I cannot ascertain how old I was that year but I was a grown up when he became emir of Ilorin. I also took care of Zulu Gambari and Baba Abdulkadir, the 9th and 10th emirs of Ilorin. Unfortunately, many of my contemporaries who witnessed the reigns of those emirs have long gone.I am the only remaining one…
What other historical event happened in Nigeria that you can recollect?
Apart from witnessing the reigns of many emirs in Ilorin, I also witnessed the First World War and the Hitler war (Second World War). Growing up was one experience I can never forget, I spent 43 years in the midst of soldiers selling clothes to them. Many of the soldiers usually came to me for prayers whenever they were going to the war front and always showered me with different gifts whenever they returned. When I returned to Ilorin finally, I spent 10 years at Sobi barracks in Ilorin, selling clothing materials.
My family contributed to the development of what is today known as Ilorin. In the history of Ilorin my maternal grandfather did something that will never be forgotten. They met only five houses in the whole of Ilorin when they came and they were the first to bring the Holy Quran to Ilorin before the coming of Sheik Alimi who was to become the first emir of the town and the founding father of Ilorin is one Ojo who was a herbalist and hunter before other people joined him.The history of Ilorin is a complicated one.
Does longevity run in your family?
Longevity is of the Almighty God, he gives whoever he pleases. Living long is a destiny which was written long before we were created but for anyone to attain that, such person must imbibe good character, have respect for people, total submission to the will of God, diligent service to God, good deeds and giving arms to the needy. If one can observe the above, God will definitely fulfill whatever it is written for such person.
One of the prayer beads I inherited from my father was used in Sufism (praising of God and reciting of asalat for Holy Prophet Muhammad) for 140 years. Get me right, he lived well more than that.The 140 years was just the years he spent praying but my mother didn’t live long, she died at a time I needed her most in life.
Can you tell us your experience during your visit to the holy land, Makkah?
I performed my pilgrimage in 1977 at well over 100 years. I received special attention and care from Saudi authority.
During my pilgrimage to Mecca, I learnt it hadn’t rained for some time there but when they saw me and my age, I was asked to pray for rain, which I did and it rained. Many people were assigned to take care of me after which they asked me to stay back there and I declined.
It may also interest you to know that that my child and I paid N220 for the pilgrimage that year. I heard you now pay huge amount to go there.
As you speak, you quote the Holy Quran, when did you study it?
I learnt and memorized the complete Quran at a tender age,before the age of 20, and I can still recite it fluently. I am also multilingual because I can speak majority of Nigerian languages which I learnt during my buying and selling of textile materials. That gave me opportunity to travel to all the regions of this country and we usually spent months wherever we travelled. It was easy and possible for me because I memorised the Quran and once you are able to do that nothing will be difficult for you to learn.
I can speak English, Hausa, Ibo, Fulfulde, Nupe, Igbira, Tiv, Kanuri, Kaje, Idoma and many others.
What was your marriage like?
Marriage is sweet but children nowadays do not follow the right way in selecting their partners that is why it doesn’t last again. I still live in my husband’s house as old as I am.
I am blessed with 11 children, 119 grand and great grandchildren but I am now left with only one surviving child, an over 80-year-old woman. I lost my first child in 2011 at the age of 113. I always give thanks to the Almighty in whatever situation I find myself. Almighty God is the giver and taker of life. It is her destiny to leave me behind and I don’t have authority to question God because whatever he decrees must come to pass and nothing can change that. He decreed that I should live till this age in life.
What would you say is the secret to your long life?
My life has been about making people around me happy. Doing good is my watchword, eating and balancing my diet is also important. I eat all kinds of food, take more fruits and I worry less but the truth is that doing all that I mentioned does not make one live long if you are not destined to stay long.
Having lost almost all your children, what would you say is the gain of longevity?
There are lots of gains in it and one of them is what you are getting from me. There are some things you don’t know about Ilorin that I made you know now. People use our names to pray to God because they believe we are closer to Him, as somebody like me cannot do any other thing than eat, sleep, advise people, preach to people, direct them onto the right path, settle issues in the family and pray to God.
What is your observation and comment about what is going on in society now?
I detest the level of corruption, infidelity, inhumanity, lack of patriotism, killings, destruction and other social vices going on in the society. This is happening because of our contact with and acceptance of western culture. Western education is all about lies and nothing more. They are teaching us how to lie and bad ways of life, please get me right I am not outrightly condemning it but it will be useless at the end. The only thing that will remain and be of benefit is God’s commandments. Let us all go back to the teaching of the Holy Quran and farming if we want to change our situation in this country.
I heard some people are against Buhari because he wants to clean our society, God will be with him because he is a man of integrity, he has done it before and I believe he deliver us again.
Let us train the younger generation in the ways of the Almighty and observe our prayers diligently. People should be patriotic and love others the way they love themselves.