Burial ceremonies usually evoke grief with attendant avalanche of tears. But during the burial of Nneoma Helen Egobeke Uwagbama of Okpuala Umukabia in Abia state the family dubbed it a celebration of life. In this report Emmanuel Ugwu captures the underlying aspects of the matriarch’s life and time that made her funeral a celebration of life and motherhood
In ordinary days Umukabia Okpuala in Ohuhu, Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State depicts a rural community, waiting to transit to the hurly-burly of city life. But on the day that Chief Ikechi Emenike’s mother, Nneoma Helen Egobekee Emenike Uwagbama was buried after passing into eternity at 85, Umukabia was roused from its pristine slumber. The matriarch had transited to the great beyond on Christmas Day 2017 and her funeral held on April 7, 2018 turned out to be a celebration of life and motherhood. The community played host to an overwhelming crowd of people that came to join the Emenike family to celebrate the life of the matriarch of the family. Among the huge crowd were governors, senators, ministers, high ranking clerics, captains of industry as well as political and business associates.
The hue of the thousands of people that poured into Umukabia Central School for the celebration of life clearly defined the extensive reach of Chief Emenike in politics, business, media and social interactions. The politicians in their large number erased the dividing lines of their leanings to identify with the Emenike family. As the crème de la crème included Governors Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State, and the host governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia. Other high profile personalities were Senators Theodore Orji (Abia Central) Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South), Mao Ohuabunwa (Abia North),Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who is former governor of Abia and now Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Timipre Silva, former governor of Bayelsa State. President Muhammadu Buhari sent the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu to represent him while the former military President, Ibrahim Babangida was represented by Senator Dagash Dangana.
Tributes poured in from family, friends and well wishers attesting to the centrality of motherhood as typified by the late Nneoma Helen Emenike Uwagbama who nurtured and directed her children to fruitful adulthood. Of course in parenthood mothers are usually considered as the ones that make the most impact in the upbringing of children. The role that mothers play in the life of any child sticks out like a thumb from conception to gestation, delivery and nurturing. That is why the Emenike family chose to celebrate the life of their matriarch instead of mourning her passage to eternity. The matriarch not only poured her loving kindness on her children, she strived hard to ensure that all her eight children received good education. The children and relatives did not spare anything in celebrating their matriarch and attesting to her sterling qualities as wife, mother, mentor, guardian, philanthropist and life changer.
The first son of the matriarch, Chief Dickson Ukachukwu Uwagbama was effusive in his tribute. He recounted the sterling qualities of their mother which transcended her nuclei family. Chief Uwagbama, who is a legal practitioner recalled the major role played by their mother in helping the family to survive the pre war and post war crisis making it possible for “our marching on when the war was over”. He described their mother as “a role model of a selfless and sacrificial life,” adding that as “a believer in human capital development she never opposed her husband to give education and orientation and empowerment for other relatives and less-privileged”. Indeed he pointed out that their mother manifested the real life of a Christian in her dealings with others and served God and man with faith and cheerful heart. She was a well known benefactor of the Methodist Church while she resided with her family in Jos, Plateau State and continued with that tradition at her local church in Umukabia till her glorious exit.
Looking back right from their infancy to adulthood Uwagbama noted that it was a privilege for him and his siblings to come into this world through a good natured mother. According to him, paths in life’s journey come in different dimensions and experiences, which could be either pleasant or horrible. But it was to the credit of their good mother that the paths of the Emenike generations glitter with pleasant life experiences. “Mama, your children are grateful for the privilege of crossing your path…yours, mama, was both a fulfilled and pleasant path that your children will revisit and remain alive in that small closet called memory,” the first born stated. To further point out the good qualities of their mother Uwagbama searched the Holy Bible and drew comparison with some outstanding women of valour and virtue recorded in the holy book. He said: “Like Esther in the Bible she was bold and courageous enough to stand for the truth, to voice her opinion and fight for the good of others even when it meant to sacrifice herself. Like Lydia she was very generous and her heart big enough to help anyone in need.”
Chief Ikechi Emenike, who is a development economist, publisher, businessman and politician, was no less effusive in paying tribute to his dear mother. In fact if he could turn the hand of the clock he would have done it and bring his mother back to the land of the living. He recalled that it was his dear mother that insisted that he and his siblings must further their education even when their father was not so enthusiastic in making education a priority for the children. “If not for my mother I would have ended up as a roadside mechanic and my senior brother, a roadside panel beater,” he said, adding that his mother insisted and sacrificed to ensure that all her eight children got the best education.
In the tribute entitled ‘Mama lives on!’ Emenike recalled that his mother did not receive western education because education of women was considered an anathema in her days. But “she gave everything to ensure that her children acquired education (as) indeed one of her life-long wishes was to see all her children achieve what she could not.” And she must have died a happy mother and would be happier still at the great beyond having lived to see her dream for her children come true. He was so enamoured of his mother and good qualities that he could not help challenging the Biblical aphorism that man was created in the image of God. Emenike declared instead that “mothers are truly the ones created in the image of God”, adding that mothers are the most kindhearted creatures who make the most sacrifice to see to the upbringing of their children and the welfare of the family. For instance, he recalled that after the civil war when he got admission into the famous Methodist College Uzuakoli his mother had to sell her wrappers to raise money to send him to school. It was a chilling account as he told the story of how he assisted his mother to excavate the trunk box filled with her wrappers which she had buried in the forest when Umuahia fell to the federal forces.
According to the Umukabia high chief, his mother’s milk of human kindness overflowed to give succour to people outside her family circle as she warmly welcomed any person that came to their home. The beneficiaries of her kindness did not forge hence Emenike was grateful that they fully identified with the family and some of the beneficiaries, as “a fitting tribute travelled all the way from the United States, Europe, Lagos Abuja and other parts of the country to honour” the matriarch of the Emenike Uwagbama family.
The tributes that poured in from the dignitaries highlighted the importance of motherhood and how the late matriarch had positively impacted on her children. President Buhari, who was represented by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, said that there was need for those in political leadership and high social status to build bridges of understanding and goodwill by using their positions and wealth to help other people. He noted that he was in Abia State because Chief Ikechi Emenike, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and one of the children of the deceased, “is a bridge builder among us” who has used his endowment and position to help people and make them realise their goals in life.
Governor Aregbesola said that he was in Abia to testify to the deep human character of Chief Emenike, “who is a man of honour and dignity” while Governor Akeredolu urged Emenike to be happy for being alive to bury his mother. The Ondo governor, who dressed in the traditional Isiagu traditional Igbo attire, described himself as “Yoruba Igbo” more so as he took his wife from the South-east zone. He emphasised the need for Nigerians to see themselves as one people and work in tandem for peace, unity and national development. Governor Ikpeazu in his remarks noted that Mama Uwagbama lived a good life as exemplified by the quality of her children, adding that the family should immortalise the good virtues of their matriarch.
With the array of politicians that graced the occasion the Prelate Emeritus, Methodist Church of Nigeria, His Eminence Dr. Sunday Mbang did not lose the chance to deliver a strong message to them. He warned politicians against indulging in politics of blackmail as 2019 general election fast approaches. He said that politicians erroneously believe they could control time only to find out that when it was already late that they were leaving in fools’ paradise. “Today God has asked me to tell you that whatever you plan you have no control over time,” he announced to the hearing of the large number of politicians at the event. The cleric therefore enjoined political leaders that preside over the affairs of the ordinary people to emulate the selfless disposition of the late matriarch of the Emenike family, who has left everlasting memory in the hearts of those that crossed her path while she lived.