Let me begin this tribute to a great mother, who came, saw and conquered by thanking God for her life. I have never believed that she will live up to sixty years old, if I remember all the troubles she went through. Her adversaries fought her in her home, in the Church, at family meetings, in the market, in the streams, in the community meetings and in fact everywhere she went. She was a sheep to be slaughtered but she endured it all and came out triumphantly. She went through hell and returned unscathed. She survived many of those who wanted her dead by all means. Her life was a living testimony that tough times never last but tough people do. Her life was a living testimony that after every rainfall comes sunshine. Her life teaches us of a quotation from the book of Psalm 118:22 that says the very stone which the builder rejected has become the head of the corner.
I shed huge and uncontrolled tears for my late mother Madam Dinah Nwanyimgbo, Onyebuchi Igbokwe (nee Egbuonu) early this year, March 22 2012 when my brother, classmate and friend Professor Emeka Obi buried his mother, Mrs. Virginia Ulokwe Obi. After the burial ceremony proper, Professor Emeka took the microphone to tell the story of his mother. As he began to recall the troubles, travails, animosities, hatred, maltreatment, suppression, oppression, repression and intimidation his mother suffered for nearly 65years I broke down completely.
Why? It was simply because his mother shared similar experiences with my own mother. Professor Emeka Obi’s mother was the third wife of his father just like my mother was to my father. Time and space will not permit me to recount Prof Emeka Obi’s testimony of his mother and I do not want to tell the story either. The Professor of Automobile Engineering has told his story, and today it is my turn to tell the story of my mother.
The story of my mother is the one that will break the heart of anybody no matter how hard that person can be. On Saturday August 18 2012 my sister Chinwe was calling my phones repeatedly while in a friend’s house for his son’s one year anniversary in Yaba, Lagos . There was too much noise that I could not hear my sister very well. I simply told her that I will call later. Few hours later when I remembered to call her what I heard jolted me. It was like a dagger in my heart. My mother I have known for 56 years just laid down and died after having her lunch. Instantly, it dawned on me that I am now an orphan. My mother, my police, my defender, my backbone, my confidant is no more. The rest is now history. My father died in 2004 at 92.
Growing up in our family was a memory I do not want to remember. We were living a good life until the Civil War started in 1967 and my father lost everything to that war. Raising the kids became a big problem for my parents. Hardship set in, strife came in, and hatred took the centre stage. The centre could no longer hold. It became the survival of the fittest, no mercy, no love, no sympathy, no regrets. Every wife knew only her children and cared for them only. Competition set in, and there was no love lost. They told us that our mother knew nothing as we were growing up. For more than a thousand times, I heard my mother’s rivals say it and at a time we thought our mother was wrong and they were right. She resented any move by her rivals and competitors to paint her black in order to curry favour. She protested against unfair treatment especially when it comes to sharing things in the family. She fought for her rights and fiercely resisted attempts to put her voice down. She was outspoken, the most educated among my father’s wives. She fought for us, and got herself into many troubles that nearly took her life. It was when we grew up to become adults that we realized she was a misunderstood activist.
Please take notice that if the world knows me as an activist, it is because I inherited activism from my mother. Like her, I have suffered untold hardship from adversaries because of my outspokenness and drive for justice, equity and fair play. Once in the days of the locusts my family took pages of Newspapers to tell the late General Abacha that the family gave me no mandate to criticize his policies. They even threatened to ostracize me from the family meeting. Thugs have been organized by my own brothers to beat me up in the palace of the Obi of Uruagu Nnewi for standing up for the truth. Between 1993 and 1998 most of my friends deserted me because of my involvement in the struggle for democracy and rule of law in Nigeria . Like my mother, I faced all these setbacks with equanimity of mind and a deep sense of responsibility. I learnt from my mother that there is no gain without pains. My mother taught me how to convert problems as opportunities.
Poverty nearly killed her. Poverty drove her into mental darkness. Poverty devastated her poverty enslaved her and poverty nearly ruined her life and our lives. In those days if we went to bed without food which was almost a tradition, my mother would talk and would scold my father till day break and this lasted from 1967 to about 1973 when we started making money through menial jobs to feed her.
The moment we started making small money to keep her, the strife ended, the endless matrimonial squabbles ended, and relative peace reigned. It was then I realized that poverty is a disease and a curse. Today by the grace of God I and my brothers have fought poverty to a standstill in the family. This Life is beautiful!
My mother I thought will not clock sixty years, ended up clocking 85 years; leaving behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come. A wretched and down-trodden woman, who struggled all her life to secure a future for her children, has grown bigger and taller even in death. A small leg that must be carried and destroyed by all and sundry has left an indelible mark in the sands of times leaving her surviving adversaries in sorrows and tears.
My mother was an embodiment of fun, a great and an incredible story teller. We always laughed until tears started coming out of our eyes anytime she told us stories of how she fought with her adversaries. She told us stories of little tricks she played on them to gain advantages. She complemented that with the tricks she used to survive in a polygamous family like ours. My mother was also a great singer of old folklores, and moonlight songs. We will miss all these.
My mother’s story is a walking history, a story that must be told, a celebration that must be heard loud and clear and a transition that is peaceful and glorious. The success of today has made us to forget the pains, sorrows and tears of the past.
MY MOTHER LIVETH! TO GOD BE THE GLORY!!
•Joe Igbokwe, publicity secretary, ACN wrote from Lagos.