Eighty-one-year old twins, Dr. Dora Maude Akanya, and Mrs. Mary Jummai Jarma, tell ARUKAINO UMUKORO about their lives
When and where were you born?
We were born on November 8, 1933, in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Who came first at birth?
Maude: She came first. But we don’t know the hours difference because we did not ask. Our parents were just told us Jummai came first and I afterwards.
How was growing up in your days like?
Maude: It was normal and interesting. We were still very little when our father, the late Rev. Canon Henry Galtir Darren Miller, was posted to Lokoja, Kogi State, and he took us along. We actually grew up in Lokoja and met a lot of friends there whom we still interact with till today. Like other children, we had fun and had a lot of interesting periods while growing up. We lived in the large school compound of Holy Trinity Church, where our father was the vicar. Our mum, the late Juli Martha Miller, was a housewife.
Jummai: Our parents had eight children. We were the youngest and the only surviving siblings. We grew up in an environment where discipline, self-respect and humility were hallmarks.
What schools did you attend?
Maude: We started our primary school at the Holy Trinity School, Lokoja. This was in the 30s. We were in Standard Five in 1943, when our father was transferred to Lagos. We relocated to Lagos and completed our Standard Six at Christ Church Cathedral School, Marina. Afterwards, we proceeded to the CMS Girls Grammar School. That was from 1945 to 1950. We took the common entrance into the secondary school despite the fact that our father was the chaplain of the cathedral.
What does this say about the education system today in Nigeria where some children enjoy special access because of their parents’ privileged positions?
Jummai: We thought it was a normal thing at the time to take common entrance with outsiders, and there was no preferential treatment.
Maude: We passed the examinations successfully. From there, we went to the United Missionary College, a teacher training college owned by both the Anglican and the Methodist Missions. We spent two years there.
Did you train as a doctor?
Maude: No, I am a teacher by profession. The prefix is a honorary doctorate from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. We both started our teaching career at the same time. We got scholarships to study in the United Kingdom. It was a three-year Teacher training course. We were together right from the beginning to the end of the training in the 60s.
How does it feel to have spent so much time with each other for the last 82 years?
Maude: It was after the UK training that we separated for the first time. While I was a teacher for some years before I went into the civil service, she was a teacher throughout her career. We started our teaching profession at the same time at the Anglican Girls School in Kaduna as well as Holy Trinity School, Lokoja, in the 60s. Jummai was the headmistress, while I became a staff under her.
How would you describe your teaching experience?
Jummai: Teaching was fun. I was a primary school teacher for 36 years. I was the founding principal of the Women’s Teachers’ College and the famous Queen Amina College, both in Kaduna. I also served in the Ministry of Education in Kaduna and Maiduguri as a senior education officer, director of educational services and director of special duties. I was also a council member of the Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto. During the transition of the democratic government of 1978/79, I was appointed as a member of the Constituent Assembly which formed the government of the regime at the time. I retired in the 80s.
Maude: We had always wanted to be teachers. We thought teaching was the only great job to do. I served as an adult education officer of the Ministry of Information and Public Enlightenment of the old government of Northern Nigeria. I also served as a founding principal of the Government Girls Secondary School, Minna, in 1967. Although this was not for too long, as I was later appointed as Commissioner in the newly created North Central State that same year; that made me the first female to be appointed as a Civil Service Commissioner in Nigeria at the time. I have also held several positions such as the Commissioner for Health and Social Welfare, where I worked with Ambassador Sarki Tarfida, also, for Trade, Industries and Cooperatives between 1967 and 1975. I travelled to many countries around the world. After my service as commissioner, I went back to the Ministry of Education in Kaduna, where I was responsible for Primary Education, Universal Primary Education and educational services as Principal Education Officer and Chief Education Officer. I retired from active service in 1980 after 27 years in the public service.
Can you give an insight into your close relationship as twin sisters?
Jummai: She is not just my twin sister; she is also my best friend. We are very close.
Maude: It goes without saying, that she is my best friend and confidante. I can tell her anything. We discuss a lot. In those days when we are not together, we communicated with the telegram. We don’t miss ourselves as such but we are very close.
You were both honoured with the national award of the Officer of the Federal Republic by the Federal Government…
Maude: Yes, we were. The OFR was given to us by the late President Umaru Yar Adua in 2008. When he presented me with mine and I left, and then my sister came up to collect hers, he was surprised! He said, “But you have just come to collect yours.” He thought I was coming back again to collect another one. Then, they informed him that we were twins. He did not know. We have received several other awards from different groups.
Jummai: We are grateful to have received the award.
Have you had any experience where people are surprised to see the two of you together?
Maude: Yes, several times. But it does not seem like anything to us. We have known each other all our lives. But it is still a surprise to people seeing old twins. The Oyewole twins were also given an award the same time we got ours.
How does it feel to be 82?
Maude: We thank God. We still go to the market at our age. It is something we have been doing right from childhood. It feels normal to go to the market at any age. Our late mother used to go to the market in her old age too. We buy things that we give to people too. God has been wonderful to us, and used people to give us things. Therefore, we should give back to others too.
Is cooking one of your hobbies?
Maude: Yes, we like cooking. It is part of us. Women should know how to cook. But it all depends on how they were brought up as girls. Some may have been used to having cooks, stewards and they may not have had time to learn cooking, unless they had special interest. I think cooking should be a normal activity for every lady.
What is your favourite food?
Maude: I like rice. Then, we like our tuwo. Jummai used to do a lot of baking in those days. Now, she does not even know where the pans are.
What are your common interests?
Jummai: We were also into sports in our younger days.
Maude: We participated in swimming competitions and won prizes for that too. Being twins doing the same sport was normal for us. We also like singing hymns. At our age, we still know a lot of hymns from memory. We share everything together.
Did you get married at the same time?
Maude: No. It would interest you to know it was 10 years apart between her marriage and mine. I got married in 1978.
Jummai: I got married in 1968.
How did you feel when she first got married?
Maude: It did not feel odd or strange. I was happy with it.
Were you her bridesmaid?
Maude: I can’t remember. I just know I was a part of it. She was also present during my wedding. The children were the ones busy organising everything.
How long were you married?
Maude: I was married to the late Chief Musa Akanya for 16 years before he died in August 1994. When you see someone who wants to marry you and you both love each other, then go ahead. She (Jummai) met her husband when she was working in the University Staff School. He was also working there. I was in Kaduna then when I met my husband. Providence brought us together.
Jummai: I was married for over 56 years. My husband, Ahmed Jarma, is now late. He died last year.
How many children do you have?
Maude: Neither of us has our own biological children. But we have adopted children. I am mother to my husband’s six children. But we lost two of them in 1992 and 2011. I have many grandchildren.
Jummai: We lost our only son, Danladi Jarma, in 2006. It was painful. But I thank God for family, nephews and nieces, and our grandchildren.
Do you miss your husband?
What’s your advice to young people about marriage?
Maude: They should love and respect one another, no matter the profession or status of one of them. There should be understanding between young married couples. They should listen to the right counsels of elders. They should also be prayerful.
Jummai: Wives should be obedient to their husbands. Couples should always show love to one another.
What should be done to improve the education sector?
Maude: Education in the country today has gone to the dogs. But it should not be so. Things have changed from our days. Students now cheat in examinations, there is dishonesty among teachers and pupils alike. There has to be intervention by everyone. We should be determined that we want to raise useful citizens in this country, people who are also determined to build the nation. Everybody is busy looking for money. There is too much corruption. There is no fear of God.
Jummai: We learnt from the UK educational system, but we have missed the steps in many ways. Our teachers should be trained and re-trained. They should also be paid well.
What would you tell the Kaduna State governor and President Muhammadu Buhari to do about regular pensions for senior citizens?
Maude: I wouldn’t just talk to the President alone. Governance is teamwork. It also depends on the state, local government and administrative staff. One rogue called me one day and said he would be able to help me with collecting my pension, and requested for some money. I later went to see the chairman of the pension board, and gave his telephone number to him. When an official called the number, the man kept quiet and could not talk.
Jummai: I hope the new Governor Nasir El-Rufai can transform Kaduna State. Nigeria should be united.
Maude: I’ve never met the Kaduna State governor but I believe El-Rufai would perform. Generally, we pray for better governance in the country. Nigeria should come first before anything.
What are you favourite television programmes?
Maude: We watch television occasionally and we do not have a favourite programme. We watch whenever we see something interesting showing on television. But I am not happy about the sort of things they show these days, some of them encourage immorality, with ladies dressing indecently. What do they expect the young ones to learn from? But most of those people who dress in such ways are highly paid, and everyone wants to be like them.
Jummai: I don’t have any favourite programme. There are so many programmes on television nowadays.
How true is the belief about twins being almost connected in thoughts and other issues?
Maude: My twin sister could be in Lagos and I would be in Kaduna, but we would be wearing the same outfit. Also, on several occasions, despite the fact that we did not discuss the outfit we would be wearing, both of us would end up wearing the same outfit to an event. It has happened on several occasions. That’s how identical we are. We share everything together. I can take a decision and she agrees with what I was thinking. I don’t have to go looking for her to ask her what she feels about it. We all agree on a decision whenever one decides on something.
Jummai: That is what people say. But I don’t know whether we do it. We just take it for granted; we view it as a normal thing.
What are you most fulfilled about in life?
Maude: We thank God for the life he has given us. We are grateful for our children and family. Our children are well brought up.
You are related to the famous broadcaster, the late Bala Miller. What can you say about him?
Maude: Bala was our elder brother. That’s why we are called the Miller twins. He was gifted in music. In church, he played the organ and drums very well. He made an impact with his gift; that is why everyone knows Bala Miller. He was ahead of us in primary school, but we all started and finished secondary school at the same time. We are the last born in the family.
Are you disappointed that you did not have your own biological children?
Maude: No, we don’t feel any disappointment. Our adopted children are our children. They accept us as their mothers, and we accept them as our children. I have six adopted children, two are gone now. My twin sister, Jummai, has one. We also have other people who grew up under us and we raised them as our children.
Do you sing together too?
Maude: Yes, we do. We have favourite hymns. One of them is, ‘Great is your faithfulness.’
Jummai: It is my favourite too.
What kind of exercise do you do?
Maude: Occasionally, we take a walk, or do stretch ups while sitting. No more swimming at our age.
What is the secret of your longevity?
Maude: It is God’s making. God has given us the strength to live long.
Jummai: We thank God.
Do you want to live to a 100 years?
Maude: It makes no difference to us. We are grateful for life. We pray that God should grant everyone the enablement to fulfill their purpose.
Jummai: If God wants it, so be it.
Would you also want to be buried at the same place?
Maude: It depends; especially if we die the same day too. But yes, we would love to be buried in the same place.
Jummai: Of course.
Since you were born on the same day, would you like to die the same day too?
Maude: Yes, we would. But it’s only God that can determine that