Celebrating first Nigerian woman to ride a scooter

Come March 7, 2021, Princess Elder Aderonke Adedamola Ayeni JP will clock the landmark age of 80; but that’s not all that makes her tick. 53 years ago on July 2nd 1968, Ayeni, then Miss Aderonke Adedamola Sonuga, made the headlines in the then Daily Times, when the newspaper featured her photo (her friend, Clementina Adesanya behind her), as the first Nigerian lady to ride a two-wheel machine, a scooter.

Recalling the experience, Ayeni said she had gone to the old Daily Times office on Lagos Island to place a memoriam advert for her late brother. Unknown to her, news had gone round that a lady had ridden a scooter into the premises and everyone was on the lookout.

“I didn’t even know they had seen me or that I had created any spectacle. My concern was to park, go into the office, place the advert and leave. The most surprising thing was that moment I parked, news had gone round that a lady just rode into the premises on a scooter. There was a friend of my brother, Jibade Adams, who worked in the Daily Times then.  After I finished my business, I looked for him to say hello to him and as he saw me out into the parking space, behold cameramen were at the ready. One of them accosted me and said, ‘Excuse me madam, are you the owner of the scooter?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Can you ride it?’ I laughed and said, ‘What a question!’

“Before he could say another word, I mounted the scooter, my friend climbed behind me and I started the engine. Within a twinkle of an eye, I just heard shararara, shararara, shararara, as the camera’s clicked away. I was taken aback and burst into laughter. That’s why you’d see that I was laughing away in that photograph. I zoomed off and didn’t wait to field any further questions. I didn’t even think any further about it nor thought it could make the papers. It was my brother’s friend who later gave them my details.

“The next thing, I saw it in the papers. It was in the Daily Times centre pages; and later in their Yoruba version. Until then, a lady riding a two-wheel vehicle was untold and unheard of,” she said.

Asked what gave her the assurance that she was indeed the first lady in the whole of Nigeria to ride a scooter, Ayeni said, “Of course the reason it was put in the papers was because they had never seen such before. And I’m talking of the Daily Times, which covered the whole of Nigeria. If there were any other before me, they would certainly have known and wouldn’t have been so surprised as to come after me, snapping away and putting it in two papers. It was novel at the time.

“I was living in Agege and I rode all the way to Daily Times office on Lagos Island. At that time, Agege was like a village and quite a distance. I actually branched to pick my friend to escort me; otherwise, I would have been the only one in the photo.”

When reminded that that made her a celebrity and a history maker, she laughed and replied, “Of course it was God’s doing. It was He that brought it upon my life. When my friends and relatives overseas saw it, they started calling. Even I didn’t immediately know it was in the papers. My father in Ibadan also saw it. The news reverberated. It was a wonderful experience. I never knew it was going to be like that.”

Asked what kind of lady she was in her younger days to have dared to do the ‘unthinkable’ at the time, she said, “It was God. I grew up with my brothers. I had one brother in front and another following me; so I grew up with them and we interacted like there was no difference in our sexes. I was such that if they climbed trees, I climbed with them; if they rode a bicycle, I rode with them; wherever they went, I went. We did practically everything together and I wasn’t aware of any differences. Literally, I was the sort you’d call a tomboy.”

Speaking further on growing up, Ayeni said, “I was once in Sagamu. In a piece that I just wrote, I said that I was in charge of my grandmother who was down with stroke. Even at a young age, I could literally do everything. I had to carry her from the room to the living room, give her potty to ease herself – then I was just about ten, and people were wondering how such a young girl could take up such a responsibility. I was also in Ibadan with my parents at some point, then back in Lagos. My father was a railway man, so we lived in the railway quarters in Afonta in Ibadan.”

On how she learnt to ride the machine, Ayeni said she learnt and mastered it in one day. Before then, she had bed been used to riding bicycles, so she had conquered the fear of motion or falling.

“It was a new set of scooters. The day I went to collect it, a young man brought me home with it. Immediately, we went to Ansar-Ud-Deen school field in Oniwaya and he showed me how to ride it. Because I’d been used to riding bicycles, I was not afraid of motion or falling. Once he showed me the rudiments and how to mount it, it was not difficult. That very day, I rode it home.”

Recalling people’s reaction as she rode through the town into her neighbourhood, Ayeni burst into a hearty laughter and said almost in ecstasy: “Oh, it was fantastic. The whole community was stunned, literally. I became like a goldfish that had no hiding place. Ask anybody about the lady that rides a scooter and they’d just point out my house. I became popular beyond my imagination. It was so sensational.”

Surely, her courage must have inspired several other ladies to take a cue and master the two-wheel vehicle, this reporter teased. But she said, “No. For a long time, no lady dared. Apparently, they were still afraid.”

So she remained like the lone superwoman for a long time. “Much later though,” she said, “there was another lady in the Welfare Office, Mrs Eshiet. But that was long after I had blazed the trail.”

Asked if that sudden celebrity status affected her lifestyle, Ayeni, who says her first and middle names: Aderonke Adedamola are testimonies of a royal background and that her immediate younger brother is the present Oba of Simawa in Ogun State, said, “Maybe, but later I was elevated and I got a car. To the glory of God, all through the years that I rode the scooter, I never had an accident.”

She however said she experienced the now legendary ‘altercation’ with the notorious old Lagos ‘Molue’ buses.

“I must say that the Molue people were my friends because they always tried to intimidate or harass me. They’d come close and start screaming and blaring their horn, trying to scare me, but I would just moved calmly to the left side and tell them ‘Oya pass now’. Later, they would drive pass and hail me in ecstasy. Those days were interesting,” she laughed with nostalgia.

What was Lagos like in those days? Was the helmet law in force? How about the chaos that the city has come to be known for? Could she do a quick comparison?

About the helmet, she said, “Helmet? Nothing like that. In fact, you needed to see me in my native wears with my headgear. Fascinating, I must say. Agege was an outskirt of Lagos; but that notwithstanding, I rode to Ikeja every day. Our office was just opposite Southern Police College in Ikeja. I was a familiar sight – the lady on scooter.

“As regards comparing Lagos of today with Lagos of those days, that is like comparing death with sleep. There is no basis. Lagos was peaceful, Lagos was serene; but these days, it is hectic. Even the population keeps increasing. People are rushing into Lagos on a daily basis.”

First lady cooperative inspector

Recalling how she managed to own a scooter at the time, Ayeni said it was courtesy of her rank as the first trained lady cooperative inspector in the Ministry of Agric of the old Western Region of Nigeria.

“Before then, it was as if the rank was reserved for the men. But I went to the Co-operative College, Eleyele, Ibadan and after the completion of my course, I was given the scooter. That was the first time ever any lady would get to that position in Nigeria.”

Celebrating first Nigerian woman to ride a scooter

Documented in 1968 by the Daily Times as the first Nigerian lady to ride a two-wheel machine, Princess Elder Aderonke Adedamola Ayeni JP relives the feeling early July 1968, when her photos flooded the old Daily Times and its sister publication, Alaroye. She also speaks on her forthcoming 80th birthday, being the first lady co-operative inspector in Nigeria and more. She spoke with Gboyega Alaka.

 

Come March 7, 2021, Princess Elder Aderonke Adedamola Ayeni JP will clock the landmark age of 80; but that’s not all that makes her tick. 53 years ago on July 2nd 1968, Ayeni, then Miss Aderonke Adedamola Sonuga, made the headlines in the then Daily Times, when the newspaper featured her photo (her friend, Clementina Adesanya behind her), as the first Nigerian lady to ride a two-wheel machine, a scooter.

Recalling the experience, Ayeni said she had gone to the old Daily Times office on Lagos Island to place a memoriam advert for her late brother. Unknown to her, news had gone round that a lady had ridden a scooter into the premises and everyone was on the lookout.

“I didn’t even know they had seen me or that I had created any spectacle. My concern was to park, go into the office, place the advert and leave. The most surprising thing was that moment I parked, news had gone round that a lady just rode into the premises on a scooter. There was a friend of my brother, Jibade Adams, who worked in the Daily Times then.  After I finished my business, I looked for him to say hello to him and as he saw me out into the parking space, behold cameramen were at the ready. One of them accosted me and said, ‘Excuse me madam, are you the owner of the scooter?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Can you ride it?’ I laughed and said, ‘What a question!’

“Before he could say another word, I mounted the scooter, my friend climbed behind me and I started the engine. Within a twinkle of an eye, I just heard shararara, shararara, shararara, as the camera’s clicked away. I was taken aback and burst into laughter. That’s why you’d see that I was laughing away in that photograph. I zoomed off and didn’t wait to field any further questions. I didn’t even think any further about it nor thought it could make the papers. It was my brother’s friend who later gave them my details.

“The next thing, I saw it in the papers. It was in the Daily Times centre pages; and later in their Yoruba version. Until then, a lady riding a two-wheel vehicle was untold and unheard of,” she said.

Asked what gave her the assurance that she was indeed the first lady in the whole of Nigeria to ride a scooter, Ayeni said, “Of course the reason it was put in the papers was because they had never seen such before. And I’m talking of the Daily Times, which covered the whole of Nigeria. If there were any other before me, they would certainly have known and wouldn’t have been so surprised as to come after me, snapping away and putting it in two papers. It was novel at the time.

“I was living in Agege and I rode all the way to Daily Times office on Lagos Island. At that time, Agege was like a village and quite a distance. I actually branched to pick my friend to escort me; otherwise, I would have been the only one in the photo.”

When reminded that that made her a celebrity and a history maker, she laughed and replied, “Of course it was God’s doing. It was He that brought it upon my life. When my friends and relatives overseas saw it, they started calling. Even I didn’t immediately know it was in the papers. My father in Ibadan also saw it. The news reverberated. It was a wonderful experience. I never knew it was going to be like that.”

Asked what kind of lady she was in her younger days to have dared to do the ‘unthinkable’ at the time, she said, “It was God. I grew up with my brothers. I had one brother in front and another following me; so I grew up with them and we interacted like there was no difference in our sexes. I was such that if they climbed trees, I climbed with them; if they rode a bicycle, I rode with them; wherever they went, I went. We did practically everything together and I wasn’t aware of any differences. Literally, I was the sort you’d call a tomboy.”

Speaking further on growing up, Ayeni said, “I was once in Sagamu. In a piece that I just wrote, I said that I was in charge of my grandmother who was down with stroke. Even at a young age, I could literally do everything. I had to carry her from the room to the living room, give her potty to ease herself – then I was just about ten, and people were wondering how such a young girl could take up such a responsibility. I was also in Ibadan with my parents at some point, then back in Lagos. My father was a railway man, so we lived in the railway quarters in Afonta in Ibadan.”

On how she learnt to ride the machine, Ayeni said she learnt and mastered it in one day. Before then, she had bed been used to riding bicycles, so she had conquered the fear of motion or falling.

“It was a new set of scooters. The day I went to collect it, a young man brought me home with it. Immediately, we went to Ansar-Ud-Deen school field in Oniwaya and he showed me how to ride it. Because I’d been used to riding bicycles, I was not afraid of motion or falling. Once he showed me the rudiments and how to mount it, it was not difficult. That very day, I rode it home.”

Recalling people’s reaction as she rode through the town into her neighbourhood, Ayeni burst into a hearty laughter and said almost in ecstasy: “Oh, it was fantastic. The whole community was stunned, literally. I became like a goldfish that had no hiding place. Ask anybody about the lady that rides a scooter and they’d just point out my house. I became popular beyond my imagination. It was so sensational.”

Surely, her courage must have inspired several other ladies to take a cue and master the two-wheel vehicle, this reporter teased. But she said, “No. For a long time, no lady dared. Apparently, they were still afraid.”

So she remained like the lone superwoman for a long time. “Much later though,” she said, “there was another lady in the Welfare Office, Mrs Eshiet. But that was long after I had blazed the trail.”

Asked if that sudden celebrity status affected her lifestyle, Ayeni, who says her first and middle names: Aderonke Adedamola are testimonies of a royal background and that her immediate younger brother is the present Oba of Simawa in Ogun State, said, “Maybe, but later I was elevated and I got a car. To the glory of God, all through the years that I rode the scooter, I never had an accident.”

She however said she experienced the now legendary ‘altercation’ with the notorious old Lagos ‘Molue’ buses.

“I must say that the Molue people were my friends because they always tried to intimidate or harass me. They’d come close and start screaming and blaring their horn, trying to scare me, but I would just moved calmly to the left side and tell them ‘Oya pass now’. Later, they would drive pass and hail me in ecstasy. Those days were interesting,” she laughed with nostalgia.

What was Lagos like in those days? Was the helmet law in force? How about the chaos that the city has come to be known for? Could she do a quick comparison?

About the helmet, she said, “Helmet? Nothing like that. In fact, you needed to see me in my native wears with my headgear. Fascinating, I must say. Agege was an outskirt of Lagos; but that notwithstanding, I rode to Ikeja every day. Our office was just opposite Southern Police College in Ikeja. I was a familiar sight – the lady on scooter.

“As regards comparing Lagos of today with Lagos of those days, that is like comparing death with sleep. There is no basis. Lagos was peaceful, Lagos was serene; but these days, it is hectic. Even the population keeps increasing. People are rushing into Lagos on a daily basis.”

First lady cooperative inspector

Recalling how she managed to own a scooter at the time, Ayeni said it was courtesy of her rank as the first trained lady cooperative inspector in the Ministry of Agric of the old Western Region of Nigeria.

“Before then, it was as if the rank was reserved for the men. But I went to the Co-operative College, Eleyele, Ibadan and after the completion of my course, I was given the scooter. That was the first time ever any lady would get to that position in Nigeria.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Even scooters, she recalled, were very new in Nigeria at that time and men were usually given the big Triumph motorcycle.

Her Moscow Experience

Lest we missed the part, her daughter, Princess Sessi Favour Ayeni, who travelled all the way from her base in Ogun State to be with her mum in Badagry to ensure that this interview took place, chipped in that her mum was yet to talk about the fact that the government sent her to Moscow, USSR, to train as an inspector.

That drew a certain elation to her voice, as she recalled the peculiarity of the then Soviet Union.

“That was while I was serving. I was sent to Moscow, USSR to train as an inspector. I felt happy and honoured to have been chosen. They had the best cooperative farm settlement in the whole world at the time, so we were sent there to see what’s happening and come and replicate it back home. They had farmlands, well-organised, well-planned and the villages supplied all the foods the whole country needed all year round, so there could never be hunger in the land. But for the extreme cold, I really enjoyed the experience.”

Laughing out loud, she said, “The cold in that country is indescribable. Even on the street, they had to be using ice-breakers to break the ice, so people could pass. They were persuading me to stay two years, but with that cold, I had to excuse myself. I couldn’t withstand it, so I spent just one year and came back. Besides, I had my family and my son was just about seven months old when I went.”

About the language difference, Ayeni said, they had no choice but to learn.

Asked how come the things learnt from such trips were not put to use when they came back, Ayeni said, “There was good plan. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and that Baba Kekere, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, who just passed away, had good plans and I doff my heart for them. They had great plans, especially for agriculture, but they were all forfeited to greed.”

Speaking on her forthcoming birthday, Elder Princess Ayeni said, “It is God’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes. My late father, Pa Samuel Gbadebo Sonuga retired as the Railway Station Master (SSM). In fact, he was the SSM at Iddo Railway Terminus when it was opened. Mum was Mrs Clementina Olutayo Nee Odunlami of Iperu Remo.  I married my heartthrob Chief S. W. Ayeni, an Egun man from Badagry, who is now late. Until his demise, he was the Ganse of Badagry. As fate would have it I now live in my own house in Povita Area after ASCON in Badagry.  It is a quiet and serene location and I’m fine with it.

“I am blessed with three children, two girls and a boy. I also have grandchildren.”

On how she relaxes, Ayeni said, “I read Alaroye. It is my favourite paper; and my bible naturally. I’m a Christian and an elder in the church. I don’t feel lonely anytime because I have my books and my papers around me. My first duty is towards God. The work of God keeps me on my feet – early morning prayers, evening prayers, Sunday service. It has been a very fulfilling experience for me. There is peace and I’m enjoying my health by the special grace of God. I belong to Living Faith Church Worldwide (Winners); the teachings and everything there have made me who I am today. I’ve never been to the hospital for so many years now; no headache, no pain and I thank God for it.

Source: The Nation News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *