David-Chyddy Eleke recounts the outpouring of emotions when the wife of Anambra governor, Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano, reunited 11 hitherto mentally ill persons with their families 

It was a normal event for the reuniting of 11 mentally ill persons who had regained their sanity and reunited with their families, after they were treated at the Nteje Rehabilitation Centre by the Caring Family Enhancement Initiative(CAFE), an NGO owned by the wife of the Anambra State governor, Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano. Families of most of the patients who had come to pick up their loved ones were all happy, but the happiness of one of the families, which culminated in tears of joy was overwhelming.

It was the Anenes, an Awka family from Umudioka, who were also at the event to collect their mother, Mrs. Roseline Anene.

First to speak during the turn of the Anenes was Mr. Chukwudi Anene, a 45 years old business man, and first son of the Ma Anene. He told the crowd that his mother had been missing since 38 years ago, and had been declared dead, as there was no hope of ever finding her alive again. He recounted that several searches during the early days of her disappearance proved abortive, just as he stated that he and his four other siblings, of which he was the eldest were young then. Enquiries by THISDAY showed that her disappearance hastened the death of their father who couldn’t bear her absence.

If the family was pained by the disappearance of their mother, their father’s death made everything worse. “We were all made orphans at a very tender age, but today, through the help of the wife of the governor of Anambra State, I can now proudly proclaim that I am among people who have mothers,” he cried, drawing tears from the eyes of everyone around.

Her second child and first daughter, Mrs. Ifeyinwa Uzoezie, a business woman, wife and mother said she barely knew her mother, as she was very young when she disappeared. She added in tears that she and her siblings had counted themselves out of people who had a mother until a week ago, “when officials of Anambra State government brought this woman, saying that she had been with them in a rehabilitation centre and later confessed that she was from Awka. Though we didn’t know her very well because we were young when she was declared missing, but our step-mother recognised her and confessed she was her co-wife.”

The then Commissioner for Women’s Affairs and Social Welfare, Dr. Victoria Chikwelu told THISDAY that from the record of the woman which she met when she assumed office, she was brought to the state in 2004 from Lagos State, which had apparently sent out mentally ill persons from the state, and had since then been picked from the streets and kept in the rehabilitation centre, with less care, until 2014 when Mrs. Obiano took special interest in the mentally challenged people in the state. She said that Mrs. Obiano started by relocating the home to a centre in Nteje, which used to be a skills acquisition centre.

“She moved the skills acquisition centre to Umuleri and then renovated the place and turned it into a rehabilitation centre, where she brought our brothers and sisters who have mental challenge. Sometimes, I will get phone calls from Her Excellency and the kind of thing you hear is; ‘commissioner, can you please rush to Aroma junction. I was passing there and I saw one woman who is insane, and we need to take care of her.’ That is Her Excellency for you. When she drives in a convoy, you will think she doesn’t take notice of things, but she does. As for Madam Rose, we called her Patience. We bring these people here and because they cannot even say their names, we give them names. So we knew her as Pashe.

“She was a foundation member of this home, and a friend of the governor’s wife. Anytime Her Excellency comes here, both of them engage each other in Yoruba language. She does not speak Igbo, and we were even wondering if she was from Anambra, but four days ago when we came to check on the inmates, she magically started speaking Igbo. We noticed it was Awka language, and when I alerted Her Excellency, she asked that we take her to Awka and look for her family. We went round the entire villages of Awka and that was how we eventually found her family and everyone was so happy in the village.”

The 72- year-old widow who was said to have long recovered, but could not be discharged because her family was unknown while speaking briefly to THISDAY expressed thanks to the wife of the governor. Though she could not recollect the circumstances that led to her insanity, she remembered that she had travelled to the western part of Nigeria before her problem started. She also confirmed that she was from Awka, but could not say why it took her so long to recall so.

In a brief ceremony organised to reunite some discharged inmates with their family, Mrs. Obiano said over 62 inmates of the Nteje home, drawn from different states including Abia, Ebonyi, Edo, Oyo and Anambra, had been treated and rehabilitated since her husband became governor in 2014. “We give God Almighty all the glory for the recovery of the 11 inmates we are discharging today especially the remarkable case of our sister Rose. We have touched many lives positively across our communities through the houses we built for indigent widows, toilets to promote hygiene in rural markets, training and empowerment of over 3,020 women, free cleft lip surgeries for 45 children and care for the mentally challenged and so on.”

She assured of post recovery rehabilitation for the inmates by making sure they were meaningfully engaged after their discharge, while also providing stipends to the discharged inmates. Children of the rehabilitated inmates who thronged the centre to take their relatives home were full of praises for Mrs. Obiano.

In fulfilment of her promise, the Anambra State First Lady gave out empowerment tools such as sewing machines, grinders and others to the discharged inmates, while also handing them stipends as start ups. The discharged inmates in appreciation of her gesture to them put up several performances such as singing and dancing.