Toun Soetan, gospel artiste of international repute, can be described as the proverbial rejected stone that became the corner stone of the same family that rejected her. She told YEMISI ADENIRAN her unusual story.
How old is Evangelist Toun Soetan and what was your childhood like?
I was born precisely 60 years ago. I went through rejection as a child because my father, a medical doctor, now late was looking for a male child after my mother had had about five girls. It was like if you have another girl, it would be the end of this relationship. On the day she fell into labour, she was on her way to Lagos. it was raining very heavily and she gave birth to me. When the news got to my father, she was told not to come back home with me. So, for the first 21 years of my life, I did not set my eyes on my father.
I was brought back to Ibadan, my mother is from Iwo while my father was from Kwara State. I was named Alimotu Shadia Karimu. In other words, I lived the first half of my life as a Muslim with my uncle. My maiden name was Adigun, but my uncle’s surname was Karimu.
I grew up in the midst of hostility, jealousy, strife with names like omo ale, omo ti ko ni baba, the omo ale used to be my surname then. My mother, a strongwilled woman, very focused, took up the finances of my education and did all within her power to give me a good care. One day, however, the situation became too hot for me that I demanded some explanations concerning my painful experiences from the people around me. I did not know where the courage came from. The bitterness was getting too much for a young girl like me and I sought for a way of escape.
There was never a day that I did not cry. One day, I asked my mother of the names she gave me when she had me and she said, Olatoun, Temitope, Temitayo, Oluwaremilekun. I told her to drop the Oluwaremilekun because I believed it was going to continue to remind her of the pain of having me.
Although I was not a Christian then, I did not like the name because of the circumstance that surrounded it. I mounted a lot of pressure on her and when it was getting too much, she decided to take me to my father. Amidst everyone in Ibadan where I lived, I was the only one who looked like an outcast because I did not resemble anyone there, not even my sisters. He was in the theater when we got there. So, we had to wait for about three hours.
Isn’t it strange that a medical doctor would act the way he did?
It was indeed strange and I think because of his position then, he could not see his situation from the point of a medical doctor. All he wanted was male children like his fellow friends. He had us to the tune of 28 children all in the bid to have male children.
He was working at an hospital called Akerele Nursing Home, this was situated at 52, Tokunbo street, Akerele in Lagos. When he came out, I saw my own picture. I saw the person I looked like; he was tall and very handsome. In spite of all that had happened, I fell in love with him, I got up in awe. He looked at me for some vminutes and said, “Who asked you to bring her here?”
That called for war and of course, a battle was let lose. My mother wouldn’t take any of his insults and got up to face him. People around meddled into the case, they pacified my mother and at the end of the day, she took her leave. She beckoned on me to follow her, but I refused, I said I was going to stay with my father. So, she left and I followed my father home.
I did not know I was heading for a second phase of pain. The woman at home tried her best to care for me but you know, there is nobody’s care that can be like one’s own mother. I had a lot more to contend with especially because those kids at home were boys and they were not ready to accept me as their elder sister. So, it was very tough.
My father was not helping matters too. He was not pleased with the fact that I was not happy and would say all kinds of hurtful words like “Why are you always sad, if you like, hate your brothers, they will do well right in your life time.” When I couldn’t bare it any longer, I decided to go back to my mother.
What kind of a person was your father?
At the time I was with him, I saw a man who was not responsible. May be because we were many, he wouldn’t pay our school fees and many other things. This was not the case with my mother. I never owed school fees all the time she was footing my schooling. So, I went back to her and she saw me through my secondary school but you know because she was an Alhaja, she stopped funding my education after I completed my secondary education. She said she couldn’t continue, she asked me to look for a man if I wanted to continue.
I joined the Orita – mefa Baptist church Ibadan, an English speaking church. I got born again there, that was in 1974 through a song rendered by the church choir then. I joined the choir and sang along with them.
It was while I was there that my potentials came to bare. A family, the Ogunjis, fell in love with me, adopted me and took care of me. It was a way of escape for me because there was no way I could have coped with the hostility at home. They were all Muslims and if you would not pray and fast the way they do, and you would be calling or praying the Christian way, only God would save you. So, I decided to live with this family. I lived with them until I got married. They gave me out in marriage. Although my mother was there, my father also came from Lagos, the Ogunjis gave me out and not any of them.
How has your music ministry fared?
It has been wonderful. My first recording, “New Life” came out in 1983. I had a break after then because the band then were always fighting. In the midst of that confusion, I received the song that brought me into limelight, “ Iye Ree” “Darling Jesus” and “Sese ninu mi dun.” It was the choice of everyone at weddings, revivals and all of that. My watchword is in the word of God in Isaiah 1:19 which says if you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land. Up till now, this has worked for me.
I don’t run for fame, it runs after me to the glory of God. I receive calls from all around the globe, I sing outside the country more often. Appointments are always lined up for me and I just try to keep up with them. I don’t lack anything good, all because of simple obedience. The Lord sent someone to me once to tell of the reason why I should hold on to His word and not to mere songs: this is because songs can end but His words have no end.
How did you meet your husband and how would you describe your marriage experience?
I got married to my darling husband, Deacon Titus Soetan, an accountant with Baker Filly Nigeria, an auditing firm in 1980. We are blessed with four children. We met in the church, we courted for about five years before getting married. I wanted a preacher, hot and outspoken, he is cool and very reserved. He is shy, I am shy and I was wondering the kind of combination we would make. But I thank God all has been wonderful right from the first day. He has been very supportive of my ministry especially when the marriage was very new and I had to attend to my ministry. He would stay with the children, even when they were under a year, fed them, kept them clean at a time when there were no pampers.
He has been awesome and I thank God for him. He knows my needs, I don’t ask him before he caters for them. He gives the best, wears the best, sent all the kids to the best schools. We eat anything but our passion is to impact on others positively. God’s grace has been sufficient for my marriage. What I lost at childhood, I’m enjoying till today. God made all my enemies licked my feet. Today, I am their breadwinner to the glory of God. Even my father apologised before he died.
What’s your view about motherhood and how do you think it can be made better in Nigeria of today?
Motherhood is about mentoring, modelling, monitoring, mothering and not murdering as we have it today. A lot of mothers have murdered their children , many are still doing by their careless and ignorant ways of raising and tutoring them. I mean, all these girls walking around naked, where are their mothers? I’m annoyed with mothers.
There are cases of mothers befriending their daughters’ boyfriends and getting pregnant for him at the same time the daughters did. We have widows taking over their benefactors’ husbands and the latter crying all over the place, village life has ceased, virginity is no longer celebrated, sex, which used to be a sacred topic is now discussed as carelessly as we do of balance diet.
It is all shameful and I ask again what are mothers doing? We need to do something. If we will take more time to devote to our children and God, all will be well with us, our children and the society as a whole.