Fola Akintunde-Ighodalo (1 of 3): A tribute as a FINAL “letter to my aunt” – Tola Adenle

July 8, 2012


[Being the text of a tribute presented at the 2nd Annual Foundation Lecture in memory of Chief Folayegbe Akintunde-Ighodalo, first Nigerian female Permanent Secretary (non-political most senior departmental civil servant) of the old Western State.  The event took place at the Yaba College of Technology on July 5, 2012 and was organized by the college’s branch of the Ondo Students Association of Nigeria.]

Auntie Fola, dear,

Of course I know that you cannot really read this letter but you remain with us as long as your ideals and all you fought for live on.  In a way therefore, and especially in my heart, I know you follow what goes on in your beloved country.

This tribute is dozens of years delayed – or at least, seven years, dear Auntie, but things have ways of falling in place at God’s appointed time.  I got under your wings in the Association of University Women & you also took to Depo the moment you met him and both of us were always welcome at your home.

Throughout  the years when I wrote the few Emotan ‘letters’,  to a few more for The Comet/The Nation on Sunday, first as a continuation to the supposedly mythical Aunt which changed to “Letters to my niece”, I always knew the recipients of my mails.  One high-achieving young lady – an engineer – believes she IS the mythical “Yewande” in the “Letters to my niece” series which I started in my weekly essays in The Comet on Sunday  a decade ago.  It was on your encouragement that I adopt a younger woman to mentor and the “advice” was promptly taken in 2001.  I have since encouraged the mythical “Yewande” to adopt a “niece” after I rested my weekly essays that contained dozens of letters on everything from women’s issues and development to politics and societal problems.  She now lives in Boston with her husband and pair of twins!

Of course, “Yewande” knows about  you and, ,luckily, actually met you!  She naturally has tremendous affection for you and is awed by the legendary discipline, dedication to many causes and care for those less-privileged.

When I told her about your concern about Agbowo children in your Bodija backyard – of course in a letter – she was struck about the foresightedness back in the mid-70s for what has now become a full-blown problem across the Southwest:  children growing untended and unsupervised by parents who were busy running after daily needs.

The time for this event is tightly programmed but I have to come clean about an allegorical relationship that I nurtured from the one we both acknowledged.

Thanks to LaRay Denzer of Northwestern University who wrote Nigerian Women’s Empowerment – The Voice of Folayegbe Akintunde –Ighodalo, you were outted as the mythical ‘Aunt’ to whom I wrote in Emotan, A Woman’s Magazine which I published and edited from 1977 to 1984.  Once in a while during those years, I would write in “Letters to My Aunt”, a person I described as “mythical”,  my feelings about social or political goings-on in Nigeria, especially as they concern the emancipation of women.

In a section titled Years of Dissillusion, in the  paper presented at Dartmouth College and York University/UNESCO/SSHRCC Nigerian Hinterland Project Workshop: “Atlantic Crossings: Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories from the Caribbean and the Nigerian Hint erland, May 18-20, 2001, Ms. Denzer writes:

Since her retirement from the civil service, Mrs. Akintunde-Ighodalo has become a prominent

spokeswoman and facilitator, much sought after, as earlier indicated, as a speaker, a chairperson,

or a patron. She feels it is her duty to accept as many of these invitations as possible, because they

provide for sustaining her contemporaries and encouraging young women and men. As we shall

see in the next chapter, her interests bridge the gap between activist and scholar.  From the

beginning, she has supported academic efforts to establish Women’s Studies in Nigeria.


She became a source of inspiration for two generations of career women. A good illustration of this can

be found in the defunct magazine, Emotan, which was published in Ibadan from 1978 to 1983. For

at least two issues, Tola Adenle, the editor-in-chief, published an editorial page entitled “Letters to my Aunt.”


Addressed to “Auntie Fola”, the anecdotal information contained therein left no doubt that Mrs.

Akintunde-Ighodalo was the aunt in question. In these letters, Adenle mused over Nigerian women’s political awareness and leadership problems. “Are we willing”, she wrote, “to pick up the torch that the pioneers have passed?   Although she answered positively, she lamented that many of her associates were not nearly as dedicated as her “Auntie Fola.”


You and I did play the don’t-ask-don’t-tell game well, Auntie, didn’t we?  You read most EMOTAN issues but not once did you ever ask who “Auntie Fola” who was so apparent to Ms. Denzer – was!  Now, this researcher’s findings brought a side of you that I did not know:  that in addition to being witty, funny and very good company, you were MYSTERIOUS but then, Dear Auntie, which woman has not always been?

Reports from Nigeria on  issues concerning younger women and children are not something to write home – yeah – the real HOME about and I won’t like to bore you when there are endless Alleluias to be sung in the Great Beyond; a painful point must be raised as a conclusion to this tribute.

While it gladdens the heart that hundreds of thousands of our young women are availing themselves of university education – thanks to the many universities that continue to spring up – the position and confidence of women are actually declining.  No, I do not mean young women who are qualified do not get good jobs but as a very observant person, Dear Auntie, you must have known of the practice of banks using young university grads as go-fers to solicit deposits at banks before you left us. Economic conditions in Nigeria have gotten even worse which makes these young women believe they really have no choice but to become something not far from commercial sex workers.

And a practice that started while you were still with us, dearest Auntie, seems to be waxing stronger.  Having a bride kneel down to feed the husband at wedding receptions AND the mother collecting the engagement letter from the groom’s family and carrying it to the husband in front of  whom the mother kneels while she sings or rhapsodizes  – are not Yoruba wedding ceremonies.  Neither is it imported but in the words of a dearly-departed Uncle to whom I always turned in matters such as these, “it is the Talibanization of what was once a simple and beautiful ceremony.”

While culture must be dynamic, such practices not only do incalculable damages to our young women by setting them up for a life many will find difficult to accept, these improvise-as-we-go culture bastardizes our way of life.

Anywhere in the world when there are crisis, women and children suffer the most.  Nigeria is in crisis, Auntie and young women are hard hit, with the cause of women’s development taking the hardest blow.  Most young women gladly and unwittingly dismiss women’s causes by believing their life’s single purpose is to find a guy or Baba – the richer, the better.  What you and other pioneers saw as ONE of life’s purposes has been elevated to a near-religion and the mental and emotional health of young women call for urgent intervention.  How this could be achieved in a country where the political situation has created a society with little or no moral compass seems so beyond us as young mothers and mothers-to-be  – are left adrift – just as Nigeria is adrift.

Auntie, dear, I tell myself I remain well because Yewande is very well.  Continue to rest in the bosom of  Him that you loved and served to the end.


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2 Comments on “Fola Akintunde-Ighodalo (1 of 3): A tribute as a FINAL “letter to my aunt” – Tola Adenle”

  1. emotan77 Says:


    Dear Tola,

    Many thanks for sending me these two pieces. I’m really sorry I missed this second memorial lecture as I am still in Toronto. Auntie Fola deserves to be more widely highlighted; this is a challenge for us her “aburos”. I very much hope to have the first lecture, which I delivered last year published soon, by the grace of God.

    Stay blessed.
    S. Bisi



    • emotan77 Says:

      My dear Sis.,

      A million thanks for this.

      It was a good event and a nice outing for Depo and me. Everybody was very impressed at the effort of the Ondo State Students’ Yaba Tech Branch because it attracted a very good group. Of course Auntie’s kids – Tolu, Ituah and Asue worked from behind to give the association more than a collective hand!

      I did not know you presented the first lecture; I’d love to have an e-copy.

      I look forward to seeing you soon.

      Fondest regards,



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