opinionBy Sunday Isuwa, Kaduna
Mrs. Mary Jummai Jarma and Dr. (Mrs) Dora Maude Akanya - famously known as the Miller Twins, celebrated their 80th birthday recently. They recount their days of yore. They told Weekly Trust that though they live separately, they still cook their meals together.
The story of Jummai Jarma and her twin sister Dora Maude Akanya is an interesting one, not just because they share the same parents, date and place of birth. They are both former principals. Dora was a commissioner for Health and Social Welfare in the old North Central State during the Gowon military administration.
Even today, the octogenarian twins, born in Ungwan Juma in Zaria, still live together even though they are both married to different men, which shows the bond between them. They both want to be treated the same way, without any dicsrimination.
For instance, when our reporter visited the two in Kaduna and said "good morning ma" to one, before he could realise it, the two said "But you did not greet the other ma."
Indeed, Jummai and Dora - famously known as the Miller twins among their friends and contemporaries, share many things in common. Apart from their identical looks, they also sound similar when they speak. According to them also, they still cook together. Although Dora's house is situated close to the Kaduna State House of Assembly in Kaduna North Local Government Area, while Jummai's house is located in Barnawa GRA, Kaduna South Local Government Area, they are hardly seen apart.
In the encounter with Weekly Trust, they shared exciting stories , from school days with Mrs. Bola Ige, their working career with Mrs. Solomon Lar to how they used to ride bicycles, picking married women to study at the then Nigerian College, now Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria.
"As teachers, we were both headmistresses and when I got married in the year states were created, my twin sister became a commissioner," Jummai said.
She said "our growing up was a happy one, our father, Maude, was a missionary Pastor. When he was posted to Lokoja, we started our school there in the mission school. When we finished our primary school, we had to be trained as teachers, because we always desired to be teachers."
By 1942, the twins were already at Standard 5 at the Christ Church Cathedral School, Lokoja.
"We started school from nursery together, and all the schools we attended both in Nigeria and abroad, we were all together," Dora chipped in, to expatiate on what Jummai said.
Their father was transferred to Lagos as chaplain of the Anglican Cathedral in 1942. As children of the chaplain, the twins joined other students at Standard 5 again.
"The mission had their secondary school and no one jumped to secondary school without doing Standard 5 in the same school. It was a compulsory common entrance examination and we had to do it again," the twins said.
The girls' mission school could only accommodate 25 girls which earned them respect from other girls, because they were the pastor's daughters. "In Lagos, we were in the same school with people like Mrs. Bola Ige and others."
She said they proceeded to the Nigerian College (ABU Zaria), as the only two girls in the school. "We were the only two girls there. Many people were very surprised to see us on our bicycles, because we were living in the city.
"We will leave Zaria city on our bicycles to pick some students and married women who were in Barewa. We would take them to Samaru, where the Nigerian College was and teach them, because we were already teachers. We thought them how to cook, sew and some other things," the twins said.
During their studies at the Nigeria College, the twins said everyone was asked to do Science. "God did everything for us at the Nigerian College; we finished and still went back to our teaching job in Kano," Dora said.
"I did Geography and Mathematics; she did Chemistry and Mathematics in a UK university. When we came back, we were posted to Ministry of Information, Public Enlightenment and Adult Education in Zaria. The ministry was in Zaria and she was also teaching in Zaria," Dora added.
Dora said she was later posted to Ministry of Education. They said they have established two girl's schools, one in Minna and the other in Plateau State. "I went to head that of Minna and Mrs. Solomon Lar headed that of Plateau. My sister was the head of the secondary school in ABU before Queen Amina," she said.
"When we were principals, someone came to our house to tell me that I have been appointed commissioner. I said no 'oh!' He said they just aired it and till today, I don't know who put my name on the list," Dora said.
She said Gen. Yakubu Gowon was the Head of State then, and the names of the commissioners came when he created the states. "I told my sister that I will not accept it," and she told me, "If you do not accept the offer, they will say you are associating yourself with the Biafrans."
"So, I accepted and was Commissioner for Health and Social Welfare and later education. The permanent secretary was Dr. Attah, much older than me. Old men were assigned to guide us", she added.
"My sister got married the day they were creating the states, she did not know. She married a long time before I got married, but life just continued, because we were always together, though it was stressful," Dora said.
As principals, teachers get punished from for misbehaving. "Students are always disciplined because it was not only the teachers who supervised them, but as principals, we also monitor them".
"If I see a student buying something during lesson time, that is trouble not only for the student, but the teacher as well. There was a day I saw students playing outside the school premises during teaching hours. It was a big trouble both for the student and the teacher," Jummai recounted.
"After I retired, I went to a school and the principal locked her office and denied me entrance. She was afraid of what will happen. I sat down and raised my voice and advised her to look after the school, the students and the teachers and should not be sitting in the office all the time," Jummai added.
Comparing the level of education in the past and now, the twins said the first set of teachers who came out from the teachers college were well trained and were driven by the passion to teach. "That time, any teacher who misbehaves there will be deductions from his or her salary. That was done by the principal or head master," she said.
"Even till today we are respected by our students such as the wife of Gen. Hassan, wife of late Ibrahim Aifa, Justice Johnson and others. They always tell us that what we taught them is helping them in life," Jummai said.
In the area of cooking, the 80-year-old twins said "In the kitchen, we cook yam, beans, tuwo and other foods and have never had cause to fight even as teenagers.
"We always trekked to the market, buy ingredients and whatever we want. Cooking in the kitchen is the exercise we engaged in. We took over from our mother; she was 103 before she died. She always trekked to the market to buy things herself. At Christmas, our mum will cook rice and take it to the Emir of Zazzau and invite other friends to come and eat. Our house was in Zaria city and till today, we do visit the place at Ungwan Juma. Our parents were in Zaria before the Anglican Church was established in Wusasa. Money was the last thing they desired that time," Jummai said.
"We live happily. I can't remember both of us having problem. Even when we were in Lokoja and Lagos, as children of a missionary, we were always happy. And we took care of ourselves," she added.
Even at 80, these twins do not forget a routine play with their father. "While growing up, we will not forget how our father will use two fingers to slap our chicks two times each".
"It was fun and we used to laugh. When we asked him, 'Daddy, what did we do?," he will reply in Hausa: "they said you people are conniving to keep secret, it was fun," hahahaha, the twins laughed.
An in-law to Mrs Dora, Mr. Dauda Wambebe, 52, said "what I have learnt from them is that they are principled and disciplined. They are focused and it always rings into our minds that can we really meet their expectation? Can I do what they really want? Because we need to follow that and they never shied away from telling you the truth," he said.