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Britain's oldest Nigerian dies weeks before 100th birthday

REST IN PEACE: Gabriel 'Pa' Lemoshe

WHEN THE Voice went to visit Gabriel 'Pa' Lemoshe at his north London home last month, the pensioner was in good spirits.

At 99 years old, the Nigerian-born retired engineer had lived through two world wars and the Biafran War, yet attributed the secret to his long life to "peaceful living".

Pa Lemoshe was looking forward to becoming a centenarian and his friends and family were organising a lavish celebration to mark the milestone.

He was said to be Britain's oldest Nigerian.

But last Friday, January 31, he sadly passed away after a fall at home. He was taken to hospital, but succumbed to his injuries.

The great-grandfather born in Oke ijoko, Abeokuta, Ogun State – one of 36 in modern Nigeria – was only a few months old when the First World War broke out in 1914.

Earlier that year on January 1, Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates to form the country now known as Nigeria.

So Lemoshe, who would have turned 100 on March 15, was quite literally as old as the country itself.

Despite his years, the north London resident was fiercely independent, and still busied himself with household chores including cooking his own meals.

Speaking to The Voice a week before his passing, Lemoshe said: “I take things easy,” he said, and advised others “not to let things occupy your mind too much."

“These days people are [too] concerned about money," Pa Lemoshe added.

Preferring to wear a tie at all special occasions, including at the time of the interview, Lemoshe bemoaned today’s generation was suffering from a severe lack of respect for themselves and others.

Lemoshe said: “I have lived in England for very long but I am very Nigerian at heart”, although his last visit to the West African nation was in the Nineties.

Lemoshe, who was 25 when the Second World War started in 1939, left his wife and child in Nigeria and headed to the UK to work as an engineer.

Part of his job, fixing ships which transported British troops along the west coast of Africa, took him close to the battleground.

He recalled: “I was the only one in my family to travel abroad. Back then in the old days, I travelled to Sekondi, Takoradi, Monorvia, Dakar and Sierra Leone.”

In 1941, Lemoshe took his first trip to England on one of those ships. “The journey lasted for three months” and they docked in Newcastle. From there, the former seaman said he travelled to London.

He struggled but eventually acclimatised to the cold weather.

Lemoshe would have retired in Nigeria but said: “Nigeria has eroded. Things have changed for the worse for the next generation.”

He was an regular church-goer and attended the monthly meetings held by the Egba United Society, which represents Nigerians from Abeokuta, in Ogun State.

The UK-based organisation was behind the plans to mark Lemoshe’s 100th birthday, which will now serve as a memorial to the well loved man.

For Yoruba people, death is not seen as the end of life, but the start of a new existence.

One of his last remarks to The Voice was that he had always wanted to have a biography written about his life.

In a small way, his wish came true. He will not be forgotten.

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