The Story Behind a 24-Year-Old Photo

By: Deji Yesufu

I will begin to tell this story from a courtroom in the United States of America. My mother, Henrietta Temilola Yesufu (nee Williams), stands before a judge. My baby sister, Adewumi Yesufu, is about eight years old and standing beside her mother. The prosecuting team, acting on behalf of the State, are threatening to deport my mother back to Nigeria because she had overstayed her study visa to the USA. The Judge, a particularly mean man (mother said that his handicap might have contributed to his mean spirit), explains that there is no reason why he would not grant the prosecution their wish to send mother back to Nigeria. The year would be around 1993. Mother tells the judge that she has been a good citizen, and contributes immensely to the community as a teacher, handling a particularly difficult aspect of the State of California – Compton (those who know that this is where Dr. Dre came from, understand mother’s point). My mother then goes ahead to add that she even wishes that her four sons, who are still in Nigeria, join her in the USA. The judge was not going to have this line of thinking. He shot back: “… if war were to break out in Nigeria today, those boys should be fighting to preserve their country…” Mother told me later that she replied to the man under her breath: “My sons would not fight Nigerian wars”. Mother was wrong.

L-R: Adeoye, Adebowale, Adedeji, Adetoro – YESUFU

Facebook has this thing where people try to recreate photos of themselves after many years. When my brothers and I took this photo yesterday, nobody was thinking of recreating anything. My sister-in-law, Comfort Yesufu, was the person who continued to press us to take photographs. The truth of the matter was that I was not in the mood for taking photographs, and if ever one has taken a photo reluctantly, this is one. My niece, Divine Yesufu, had to plead with us to smile after the first shot she took appeared like men heading to a mourning house. But one should thank God for family. Everybody is wired differently in a family setting. While the men are thinking about preserving and providing, the women are thinking of feeding and merry-making. That was the mood that we all were in when we visited my father in his house, here in Ibadan. My elder brother, Toro Yesufu, had come in from Abuja with his wife, Comfort, and two daughters: Divine and Davina. My brother’s son, Daniel, is in the university, writing his final exams, and trying to graduate as an Accountant. He could not join the party. I brought my two kids, Adesola and Iseoluwa, to see their grandfather: Disu Adeyemi Yesufu. My immediate younger brother, Adebowale Yesufu, standing to my right, also had his wife, Kemi, and children, Dapo and Dolapo, around. Then there is our youngest brother, Adeoye Yesufu, at the extreme left of the photo – he is the brain behind putting together the 24-year-old photograph. Adeoye was in town from Lagos with his wife, Halima, and two children: William and Abigail.

The real heroine of these photos, my mother, is not in the picture. I have no doubt however that she is with us in the spirit. Mother died in April 2006, after years of battle with breast cancer. Before she passed away, she had completed a doctoral study and she was awarded the degree posthumously. My mother is not just a hero to us, and her children, she has also been a hero to hundreds of other people. My elder brother, Toro, tells the story of how he went to Ikom, Cross River State. While working at the Federal Government School there for his National Youth Service, he met one of mother’s colleagues at the Unity Schools where mother taught French before she left Nigeria in 1988 for a Master’s degree in photography. When the man heard that my brother was “Yesufu”, he immediately asked to know whether he was in any way related to one Mrs Yesufu who taught at FGGC Bakori between 1983 and 1988. My brother told him proudly that that woman was his mother.

The Yesufu Clan

I cannot remember how many times people have stopped me and asked to know if I am the son of one Mrs. Yesufu, I also always reply proudly that she was my mother. It is instructive to know that Mother spent only five years in the Nigerian Unity Schools system, but she is still remembered by everyone whose life she touched. I once attended a book presentation by Ayisha Osori (“Love Does not Win Elections”). Ayisha mentioned that she went to Bakori, and then during the Q and A, I asked her if she knew my mother – Mrs. Yesufu. Aisha was elated – we nearly derailed the whole program with our banters following this. In these days of social media, my mother’s former acquaintances keep reaching me. But our mother’s best achievements must be reserved for the lives she touched out there in the United States, particularly in the State of California, before she passed at the very young age of 54.

Every one of us grieves differently, and besides grieving the loss of a mother, I also grieve the loss of a nation. When Mother told me the story of that judge, I always wondered what exactly was wrong with that man – denying my brothers and me the opportunity to go to America. I began to however understand that judge’s mind as I read history. Once upon a time, a madman invaded our world. His parents named him Adolf Hitler, and for whatever this information is worth, no one today bears “Hitler” in Europe anymore. Hitler possessed a grand plan: he felt that he alone had the idea to rule the world. Germans are the greatest of human species, and only Germans, of pure Germanic blood, must rule nations, he argued. Hitler held contempt for the idea of taking colonies in Africa (I am learning from reading Obafemi Awolowo’s autobiography that Britain offered Hitler Nigeria in 1938 as a colony).

Instead, Hitler felt he must rule the whole of Europe. World War 2 began with Germany taking nation after nation in Europe. They only avoided conquering Britain because of the English Channel, the large swathe of water separating continental Europe from Britain. But Britain suffered the Blitz. Then one day, Hitler had another idea. Rather than fighting Britain, he could conquer Joseph Stalin’s Russia, win over the Soviet people’s oil, and use those resources to conquer the rest of the world. Somehow, Hitler had never read the story of Napoleon’s wars well. Napoleon began to suffer defeats only after he had tried to conquer Russia. Napoleon did conquer Russia but the sheer number of men and resources he expended in doing it, led to his Waterloo eventually. Hitler may have believed that by invading Russia with three million men, he would not have a Napoleonic experience. Unlike Napoleon, about a century before that time, Hitler failed to take Moscow. As his men withdrew in defeat, returning with their tails between their legs to Berlin, the Allied forces invaded France in 1944 (which at this time was under German rule).

Mother – Dr (Mrs.) Henrietta Temilola Yesufu (1951-2006)

D-Day landings is what I believe that judge was talking about. As the Allied Forces brought a total of 850,000 men to the shores of Normandy, France, it was certain that a wounded Hitler was only about facing defeat. But there is a problem with a wounded man – he fights to stay alive. The first swathe of young men that invaded Normandy that day on June 6, 1944, were mostly boys between the ages of 16 and 22. These boys did not have cover from enemy shooting and the Allied had wrongly believed that the aerial bombing that went before them would have hit most of the German snipers on the beach. They did not. The story of D-Day is this: the first set of soldiers that hit the beach, all young men, paid the ultimate price. The Allied forces then had to rely mainly on human shields and the fact that the German snipers would continue to shoot and kill until they ran out of ammunition. The D-Day landings owe its success to the sheer number of men that invaded France that day. The Germans killed and killed until they could kill no more. 4,414 Allied men died on D-Day alone. The remaining forces that kept moving on the shores, took Normandy and brought the second world war to an end. This is what was behind the thinking of that judge when he denied my mother bringing her four boys to America. “Your boys will fight the wars when it breaks out in your land…”, just as some boys fought the war, and paid the price, for the liberty that many Nigerians go abroad to enjoy through japa.

My elder brother, Adetoro, would be fifty in December 2024. His first son, Daniel, would be graduating that same month – by the grace of God. While we have not fought physical wars, my brothers and I have waged economic wars throughout our stay in Nigeria. Mother’s dream to bring us to the USA never materialized, and at some point, we had the good sense of facing our lives here in Nigeria and making the best of it. It is the thoughts of some unrealized potential within my family, which had been wasted by evil men that left me depressed throughout the family reunion yesterday. Whatever the case might be, the wisdom behind these photos and the story in them should be told. The wisdom is this: despite all the challenges, God has been extremely kind to my family. We have enjoyed good health; everyone has their children; our children are well and are doing well in their education; our homes are together; our father is still alive at seventy-five; and God has been very good. It is a big deal that a photo was taken at Ahamdu Bello University Zaria’s first gate, and that picture can be recreated twenty-four years later, with all the persons involved still alive and well in it. We will not always have it this way but while it lasts, we have every reason to thank God.

That, my readers, is a bit of the story behind these pictures.

Deji Yesufu is the Pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan. He is the author of HUMANITY.

Comfort, Kemi, Halima – some of the Yesufu wives

Posted by Deji Yesufu

One Comment

  1. Yerima Shamaki June 19, 2024 at 1:18 am

    I know them very well…..I must say they are good people…..raiza jeans club/ cardinals….


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