By Seriake Dickson
Since August when our dear mother, Mrs. Goldcoast Dickson (Gogo), was called to be with the Lord, my family and I have passed through what I consider to be the worst period of our lives.
My mother was hale and hearty until January this year when she was diagnosed with cancer at the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre. The prognosis was later confirmed in London, where she received treatment until she was transferred again to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston Texas, USA. She finally returned to her Creator on the 8th of August 2018.
Although there was no written record of her birth, available accounts hold that she was born about 72 years ago to the family of OruamaNipe, one of the earliest sailors from this area ‘popularly called Captain Nipe’ and ‘Areambrado of Indiamazi’ in Sagbama community. Mama Gogo was the third of four children, Afani, Queenmary, and her only brother, Kumasi Akpi, who died in 2006 as a serving Superintendent of Police. Her two surviving elder sisters are here with us today aged about 78 and 75.
My mother was named Goldcoast by her sailor father whose children all bore names of either marine vessels he worked on or popular port cities he visited as a sailor. Goldcoast was the colonial name for present day Ghana and Kumasi is a port city in Ghana. She was his favourite child, and he gave her the pet name Atabeniere (meaning a wealthy woman from the sea).
As a child learning to speak, I could not pronounce her name, Goldcoast, correctly. My infant tongue twisted her name as ”Gogo” and that became her name until her death. Everyone, including my father and her mother called her Gogo. She often cautioned me jokingly; however, teaching me an important lesson, that my tongue should not be used to make any negative pronouncement.
My mother was a kindhearted, soft-spoken, decent, loving and caring woman. From my father’s household and community, to her father’s household, family, community and indeed all who encountered her even for a brief period, felt her positive infectious personality.
It was not a surprise, therefore, that in her sick bed in the United Kingdom and in the United States, she would crack jokes and engage in lively discussions with doctors, nurses and care-givers, most of whom developed strong bonds with her. Knowing the severity of her illness, and the impending loss of this warm personality, some of them would leave her bedside to secretly shed tears of sorrow. A number of them are here today and have promised to support the Cancer Centre and other charitable activities to be instituted in her honour.
In addition, all my associates, appointees, subordinates and affiliates, who have encountered her even for a brief moment, felt her warmth and motherly disposition. Each one of them has a story to tell. Interestingly, it was after she had passed on that I learnt that she had several groups of young couples that she quietly mentored.
My mother, who was the last wife of my father, was both a wife and a daughter to my father. She was younger than my father’s first child: a male who is now deceased. She was also slightly older than my father’s first daughter, Siliki. Even in this large polygamous household, she endeavoured to make a success of her marriage. My quintessential mother was the centre of love, unity and care for the family. I saw her cook my entire father’s meals with uncommon diligence and she was indeed a great cook. She loved and cared for him till his death in 2011 about the age of 86. She passed on as the only surviving wife of my father.
My mother, Mama Gogo, was more than a mother to me! As her first child, she was my elder sister, my friend, confidant and my prayer warrior. Growing up, in the village in those difficult days, in the 70s and 80s, my mother and I farmed and fished together to feed the family. I often tell the story of her forthrightness, integrity, love and sacrifice. As typical of the women in her time, women in the village would fish at night, return early in the morning to cook for their families, set out to farm and return at night to start the cycle all over again.
One of such nights, while this wonderful woman was fishing, drums of diesel floated around her canoe. She quickly took out her fishing net and solicited the assistance of another woman to secure the drums to shore and that ended her fishing for that night. My parents told the community to notify them if any one came asking. Prior to this time, I had dropped out of school for over half a term because my father had explained that the downturn he was experiencing in his business at the time made it impracticable for my brothers and I to continue with our education. For this reason he decided that I, being the youngest make the sacrifice of dropping out until his financial situation improved, though he acknowledged that I was the most promising academically. I recall my mother getting angry and crying, trying to change a situation that was beyond her control. Growing older I now understand her feelings at the time.
Afterwards, the owners of the drums who had lost them to heavy rain and erosion from a far-off location came enquiring. Of all the drums he lost, only those found by my mother were reported. Typical of my dad, he told the owners that they were only custodians and unconditionally released the drums. To show their gratitude and appreciation for her unassailable integrity and selflessness, the owners rewarded my mother with eighty Naira (₦80) out of which she gave twenty Naira (₦20) to the woman who assisted in securing the drums. With the remaining sixty Naira (₦60) in her hand, my mother gave me that unforgettable, triumphant, soothing and re-assuring look saying, “My son, you would be heading back to school tomorrow.” What a relief!
I recall also my first trip to the secondary school. As my parents escorted me to board the boat, my mother started crying wondering how I would cope and care for myself since I was only 12 years old and that would be the first time, I would be separated from her for a protracted period. The memories of the times we spent kept the tears in her eyes since I always accompanied her to all her farms. I still remember the stories she told me and the joy in her eyes when we caught some fish. She would say, “Oh, we will eat today.” And on the days we were not so lucky, you could see the sadness envelope her face.
She taught us love, respect, tolerance and compassion. She gave encouragement, love, and care to my siblings and I, our spouses and her grandchildren.
My mother cultivated a special bond with all our children, she sang and danced with them to their delight! They all have fond memories that may last their entire lives. Throughout her life time in the village, I never saw my mother engage in any quarrel with anybody. She was a peaceful and sympathetic person. My father used to joke that my mother was a bad trader, who was always giving out her wares on credit and would be too sympathetic to demand such debts.
Her greatest gift was prayers. When she later gave her life to Christ, she became prayerful and a prayer warrior at that, praying and fasting frequently. She attended all devotional sermons of the family and later on of the state government when I became governor. After every morning, devotion she would embrace me and make proclamations for protection in line with the Ijaw culture, clasping her hands upon her chest and looking towards heaven. I would never leave her presence without her embrace, which I truly miss. My mother, just like my father, never bordered me even as a governor. She was always concerned about my wellbeing, progress and success of others.
She prayed and constructed a bank of prayers enough to last my siblings and I for a life time.
For as long as I live, I will always miss my mother.