Steve Itugbu pays tribute to her mother AGNES ABA ITUGBU (1939 – 2012) who died recently
Agness Aba Itugbu, one of the grandest pillars of motherhood has died at the age of 72. It was a mercifully brief illness and so she died peaceably. Her last daughter was with her when she passed on. Unknown to many of us who kept exploring available and alternative options, Mama was somewhat prepared for it; and curiously left with both hands waving and praying. During those last moments, she may have been considering the actual psychological torment that was in store for her children and relatives. By all possible means, she was not going to allow them disavow and abandon the unshakeable faith in Christ, His teachings and our expectations on God. What followed after that unexpected departure was the photo of shell-shocked family who began to come to terms with the futility of life. We were drained and crushed in the realisation of the obvious.
And as a custom in Africa, many, from far and near have been paying glorious tributes to the dearly departed. Some have said she was a legend who passed through tumultuous times with flair and integrity. Many also made references to her notable niceties especially of her wits, wisdom and good advice. Others also recalled how through these years they took inspiration from the way she ran things especially in her home turf. Similarly, they have also insisted that she made her mark containing conflicts whenever she smelt any and then going the extra mile to fulfil this quest and often times dangerously putting herself in the firing line.
Behind all these, Mum was very confident, very sure-footed and a reassuringly soothing voice whose smooth and decorous admonitions reaffirmed the sacred values of motherhood. She dominated her environment as far as it involved her children even though feminism was a no go area in what used to be a male dominated era. Despite such encumbrances, she still defied the odds to emerge as one big role model to many including her peers. Her autocratic style was not unconnected to her desire to steer her children on a path that differed from those hip-driven and nostalgic totem of an affluent, carefree and dangerous society.
Her deeds can only be appreciated if only you knew her background. Agnes was born on the December 21, 1939 in Lagos to a great couple, late Mr. Pius Obiwion Mafeni and late Mrs. Ilemete Mafeni (nee Usoro) who were indigenes of Uzere, in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta State. She was educated at Our Lady’s of Apostles School, Yaba, Lagos. At the completion of her elementary School, she further trained as a Seamstress in the Singer Fashion Institute, a profession she so passionately practiced and sustained even after meeting and marrying her late husband, MR ISAAC ITUGBU in the late 1950s. Her husband who she fondly called ‘I.I.’ retired from the Delta State Judiciary in 1996 after an unblemished and illustrious 30 years career service. He was later recalled from retirement and twice appointed as President of the District Customary Court, Emevoh, Delta State. This recall may not have been unconnected to his excellent track record of exemplary integrity and devotion to duty.
Agnes was a strong believer in the sanctity of marriage and as such was a faithful, loyal, dutiful and respectful companion of her husband all through and through. This was barefacedly manifest all through the years of travelling the length and breadth of the old Bendel State as her spouse moved on official transfers from one station to another. It was a bitter-sweet experience. In some instances, the movements were not that smooth, especially when such transfers came in the middle of the academic session. When this was the case, Mama was made to stay back with the children to see the remainder of the session. Doing this was so tortuous but she did reveal another side to her character, that is, the ability to disguise the strain, the stress and the frustration of playing the dual role of father and mother.
She had such a restraining hand and presence, so overwhelming that when I made U-turn decision not to attend university barely 30 minutes after both of us had picked my admission letter from the admission offices of the then Bendel State University. She did the unexpected as she fell on the ground and wept uncontrollably. The drama was so passionately-driven that the crowd of onlookers that had gathered within seconds could shame a box office any day. I had abandoned her to her ‘fate’ creating a sort of disconnect between both of us while walking as fast as possible towards the Auchi – Benin expressway. It was simple; I must not be identified with a crying woman. But she was unrelenting as she kept on directing the crowd that milled around asking what was amiss.
“That is my son,” I guess she may have uttered while pointing at me and continuing her tale of my sudden disinterestedness in taking up the admission to study political science. What she did not reveal to the crowd was that the distraction was traceable may have been my pursuit for music stardom. Truly at that time I already had 16 recorded tracks in the kitty and raring to go. The teeming crowd had dragged me back to her and I immediately succumbed to her bidding after a bout of pleadings, admonitions and advice. No African child fails to give in to pleas from elders. So that became the commencement of a distant academic journey leading to the attainment of the highest academic feat of a Ph.D. Even though my dad being a judicial person to the core had earlier made a clear preference to my reading law, that singular act by mum truly exerted a huge influence on my academic ambitions and career. In fact, this roundabout tale of taking to my mother’s became an era-defining one for me.
Yet one forgets how fragile parents can be at moments like this, often for reasons that people cannot fathom, and how sometimes an unpredictable event can enlighten one especially with the unexpected force of motherhood. This is because of our obsession for trivia stamps on our dear innocent mothers. I will never forget that feverish interest in her that carries that dark whiff of positive hysteria that enforces discipline; that trudged me on. How can I forget that robust, resilient personality especially now that we have lost her forever?
Dr Steve Itugbu is a Teaching Fellow at the University of London