Henry Seriake Dickson
Since August, when our dear mother, Mrs. Goldcoast Dickson (Mama Gogo), was called to be with the Lord, my family and I have passed through what is clearly the worst period of our lives.
Mama Gogo was hale and hearty and only complained of pains in her right leg about December last year. By January this year on returning from pilgrimage to the Holy land of Israel which she insisted on embarking on despite the pains. I asked the doctors to repeat her rounds of routine checks at the Bayelsa Diagnostic Center. Results at the center revealed suspicious lesions in her body, consequent upon which she was immediately sent off to London for further checks. My younger brother, Akpolagha who was at the time in London took her to the Hospital where further tests confirmed the lesions were cancerous.
My world almost came to an end when I heard that the diagnosis was cancer and that the organ affected was her lungs. This meant that at the time we confirmed it, the cancer from the lungs had already spread to all parts of her body, which was the cause of the pain in her right leg she earlier complained of. Surprisingly, previous tests and examinations in Yenagoa and Abuja could not detect the cancer until then. It proved to be a fast growing and aggressive form of cancer for a woman who never smoked.
This was the beginning of several agonizing months that followed as she immediately started a battery of tests and treatment regime in London. We again transferred her to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Texas, USA. The cancer proved to be too aggressive and defied treatments and efforts to contain it. She finally returned to her creator on the 8th of August 2018. I was comforted however, that I and other members of my family were with her in her final moments.
Although there was no written record of her birth, by available accounts she was born over 72 years ago to the family of Oruama Nipe, 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 79 and 76. In their family, there was an age gap of three years between one child and the next.
Her sailor father whose children all bore names of either marine vessels he worked on or popular port cities he visited as a sailor named my mother Goldcoast. Queenmary was a British vessel her father worked on at some point, while Afani is a popular native Ghanaian name, popular amongst Ijaws who went to Ghana at the time. 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 names Atabeniere (meaning, a wealthy woman from the sea) and Goldcoast colony.
As a child learning to speak, I could not pronounce the name ‘Goldcoast’ correctly. My infant tongue twisted her name as Gogo and that became her name until her death. Everyone including my father, her mother and siblings called her Gogo. She often cautioned me jokingly, however teaching an important lesson that my tongue should never be used to make any negative pronouncement as it could stick.
My mother was a kindhearted, soft-spoken, decent, loving and caring woman. Everyone in my father’s household and community, to her father’s household, family, community and indeed all who encountered her even for a brief moment, felt her positive infectious personality. Her community here at Angiama fondly calls her Ebikomboere (meaning the woman that brings good things)
It was not a surprise therefore that even in her sick bed in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America, she was more concerned about the health, wellbeing and welfare of others. She would crack jokes and engage in lively discussions with the doctors, nurses and care-givers most of who developed strong bonds with her. Being fully aware of the severity of her illness and the impending loss of this warm personality, some of them would leave her bedside to secretly shed tears.
I want to thank all the doctors at the Bayelsa Diagnostic Centre, those in London and the doctors, nurses and caregivers at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston Texas, USA, for their care and the expression of willingness to support the Goldcoast Dickson Memorial Cancer Centre and other charitable activities to be instituted in her honour.
In addition, all my associates, appointees, and friends who have encountered her even for a brief moment, felt her warmth and motherly disposition. Each one of them has a story to tell. She can never be remembered for throwing the weight of her status around either by conduct or in speech. She was always in the background, ever supportive and prayerful. She never lost her maternal instincts to care for people around her despite her critical health condition at the time.
Whenever we I visited her with friends, she would ensure that we all ate groundnut and farina and would entertain us with drinks and everything else that she had. Then she would crown it all with a motherly embrace before I left her presence. This had been the practice between the two of us for the past over thirty years. I never left her presence without that special embrace, the last of which was on her sick bed in America. We had agreed that her children and most of her grandchildren would be around to spend the summer holiday with her in the United Stares to keep her company. Most got there, only for her health to nosedive suddenly about a day or two later. When I got the news of her deteriorating health, I rushed down to see her. She passed on the 8th of August 2018, two days after my arrival in the company of her loved ones and family.
Clearly, my siblings and I miss her love, support and prayers. Although I particularly miss her embrace, I am confident that in the course of her time with us, I have received blessings, prayers and embraces that will last a lifetime.
Interestingly, it was after she had passed on that I learnt of the several groups of young couples that she quietly mentored. In my fathers community and her own, she will be remembered for her acts of kindness, soothing words and respect.
She asked me to build a market in Toru-Orua and kept reminding me that it had to be completed ‘for her women’ (as she put it). On one of my last visits to her, she again demonstrated her compassion for the needy by making suggestions of certain rural women to be allocated stalls. These were the women who in her view, needed to be supported and encouraged to become entrepreneurs. I am happy that the market has been completed and I reported so to her before her passing. We were both looking forward to it’s commissioning, having told her of my desire to name it after her.
Being the last wife, my mother was both a wife and like a daughter to my father. She was younger than his first child, a male who died at infancy and slightly older than his first daughter, Siliki. Even in this large polygamous household, she endeavoured to make a success of her marriage. My quintessential mother was the center of love, unity and care for the family. I saw her cook all my father’s meals with uncommon diligence and she was indeed a great cook. She loved and cared for him till his death in 2011 at about the age of 86. She passed on as the only surviving wife.
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 can tell first hand, how she struggled with the pregnancy of all my siblings, compounded by the challenges of farming, fishing and maintaining her home.
I recall my first trip to the secondary school. My parents had escorted me, new to the waterside to board the Lagos-Amassoma boat en route Toru-Ebeni where my school was situated. My mother started crying perhaps wondering how I would cope and care for myself since I was only about 12 years old and that was my first time of being separated from her for a protracted period. Perhaps the memories of the tines we spent kept the tears in her eyes since I always accompanied her to all her farms and everywhere else. I still remember the stories she told me and the joy she exuded whenever we caught some fish. She would say, ‘oh my children, we will eat today’. And on the day we were not so lucky, you could see the sadness envelop her face.
I often tell the story of her forthrightness, integrity, love and sacrifice. As typical of most of the women in the village, they would fish at night, return early in the morning to cook for their families, set out to the farm and return at night to start the cycle all over again.
One of such nights, in 1981 while this wonderful woman was fishing, drums of diesel totaling five floated towards her canoe. She was initially afraid since it was dark and the floating object could have been anything but she summoned courage, quickly took out her fishing net and solicited the assistance of another woman named Bekeyeibo who was also fishing nearby. Together, they moved the drums to shore. That ended her fishing for that night. My mother informed my father and they both handed over the drums of diesel to the community as lost but found items.
Prior to this event, 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, frustration and anger at the time.
Not too long afterwards, the owner of the drums of diesel who had lost them to heavy rain and erosion from a far-off location came enquiring community after community. Of all the drums of diesel he lost, only those found by my mother were reported. Typical of my dad, he told the owner that they were only custodians and unconditionally released the drums of diesel. To show their gratitude and appreciation for her unassailable integrity and selflessness, the owner rewarded them with 90 Naira. My parents from the money, gave 30 Naira to the other woman who assisted her. With 60 Naira remaining, my mother gave me that unforgettable, triumphant, soothing and re-assuring look only a loving mother could saying, “My son, you would be heading back to school tomorrow”. What a relief! That was how I was able to join my classmates after almost losing a term. The entire school had feared that I was not returning.
She taught us love, respect, tolerance and compassion. She gave encouragement, love, care to my siblings and I, our spouses and her grandchildren. My mother cultivated a special bond with all her sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. She cooked, fed, sang and danced to the delight of her grandchildren, teaching them the Ijaw tradition whenever she had the chance to, addressing each with the special names she gave them, as I also do. They all have fond memories of her that will last their entire lives.
Throughout her life time in the village, I never saw my mother quarrel with anyone. She was a peaceful, sympathetic and compassionate person. She would give her last meal and money to anyone in need. My father often joked that trading was not my mother’s strength as she was always giving out her wares on credit and was too sympathetic to demand for payments.
Her greatest gift was prayers. When later in her life she knew Christ, she became a prayer warrior, praying and fasting frequently. She attended all devotional services of the family and later on of the government when I became Governor. At the end of every morning devotion she would embrace me and make pronouncements of blessings and protection over me.
Whenever I was in a political battle or facing a challenging situations, my mother will fast and pray and then tie her wrapper around her breast. While embracing me, she would proclaim as my father often did, the ancestral titles and blessings of my worthy ancestors which the Ijaws call Kile and the Yorubas call Oriki, to remind me that I am from a long line of great ancestors, warriors and kings who were not intimidated nor defeated. She would tell me to go and return in peace with victory and triumph.
To the glory of God, my parental blessings and prayers have always earned me victory and triumph till date and I believe always. As most of you may already know, I am a product of two proud and rich cultures; Kpadia and Obu families of Orua in Tarakiri kingdom and the Fidipote royal house of Ijebu ode
My parents taught me to live a simple life. They taught me contentment, honour, courage, compassion and prudence. My father was the epitome of courage, honour, integrity and hard work. I learnt from him the ability to say no when no is the right answer irrespective of what others may say and, that time and God vindicates the just, while my mother taught me love, humility, compassion and hard work also.
Like my father, my mother never bothered me for anything personal even as a governor. She was always concerned about my wellbeing, progress and success as well as the wellbeing of others and never about what she could benefit or gain materially.
She prayed and constructed a bank of prayers enough to last my siblings and I for a life time. I had hoped as well as she did that she would recover and return home for thanksgiving. Knowing the severity of her illness, I prayed for more time for her, I did not expect the end would come as suddenly as it did. My desire was to see her by my side when I rounded off my term as governor and have more time for my family, with my mother playing her usual supportive role, which she did so well. She was the best and sweetest mother anyone would ever wish for. Just as she always said, if there was another life, she would love to have me and my siblings again as children, I too say, ‘if there is another life, I would have none as a mother except her’.
On behalf of my family and all the communities involved in the ceremonies for the interment of my mother, I would like to once again thank everyone for the enormous outpouring of grief and sorrow all through this trying period of mourning. In particular, we remain eternally grateful to all Nigerians for sending us your thoughts and prayers and for offering us your shoulders to cry on. I am also appreciative of your prayers for the repose of her soul and for us her family to bear her departure with fortitude.
My mother is not the only one to have died of cancer. It is common knowledge that cancer is one of the leading causes of death the world over. It is fast decimating our population here in Nigeria and in the Niger Delta especially.
That is why in memory of her life and all that she stood for, my family and I, through the Seriake Dickson Foundation, have decided to establish the Goldcoast Dickson Memorial Cancer Centre in Toru-Orua, the community where she spent over 60 years of her life. And in her compound in Angiama which is her paternal home, the family has decided to build a nursery and primary school, as well as a clinic all in her honour. I know that my mother would have loved that. She will be laid to rest in the chapel constructed in her honour as was her wish.
Accordingly, the family will be inviting friends, public – spirited individuals and the public to support the foundation in this regard. I am exceedingly grateful to all the individuals, business leaders and organizations that have directly and indirectly indicated their readiness to partner with us now and in the future.
For as long as we live, we will always miss our mother.
Dearest Mother, Sister, Friend and confidant, rest on the perfect bosom of the Lord. You ran a good race, rest till we meet again.
Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson
Governor of Bayelsa State.