By Sunny Awhefeada
Last July, precisely 22nd, made it fifty long years, half a century, since my parents got married! They got married on the 22nd of July 1970. As I thought about their glorious and memorable matrimony, a lot came to my mind. Fifty years is a long time, a very long time. And to sustain matrimony for so long a time calls for accolades and tributes for the partners. Here then is my tribute for my parents as they mark fifty years in matrimony. My father joined the Nigerian Army at the onset of the Nigerian Civil War. The War was fought for thirty months and ended in January 1970. The next thing for many of the young soldiers who survived the war to do was to seek out young girls for marriage so they could begin a new life. My father, Patrick Egwhrudjakpo, returned from the hurly-burly of war and his parents, Papa Miller and Mama Inaba Awhefeada got him a wife in Margaret Etarheri, the daughter of Papa Gabriel and Mama Omorona Urhobojavba. So it was done in those days. Your parents told you who to get married to. My father never met or knew my mother before the year they got married. Both families and acquaintances carried out the marriage rites and my mother was “escorted” from Imaboro, one of the villages near Okitipupa in today’s Ondo State to far away Kaduna where my father was a soldier.
Imagine how things were in those days, fifty years ago! My innocent mother was stepping out of the pristine world of Imaboro and Imobi where she was born less than two decades earlier. She was thus uprooted from that bucolic world to Kaduna which was already a bustling metropolis. It was culture shock for her. Her new life also meant the end of the road for her education beyond the First School Leaving Certificate. She had to learn a new way of life not just as a wife, but a soldier’s wife in a new world in Kaduna. My mother spoke Urhobo, Yoruba and English before going to join my father in Kaduna. She now had to learn the Hausa language and cope with the harsh harmattan of Northern Nigeria. No family, no friends. It was beginning anew. But she coped and did so excellently. There was a little waiting for the first child to arrive. When that first child came it was me. I made them both parents one unforgettable Sunday!
My parents were to sire ten other children after me. Two passed on in infancy. My recollections of childhood living with my parents are those of a very happy family. The compound in which we lived at Tudun Wada in Kaduna was very big and we had many neighbours with whom we related well. Many relatives also visited and lived with us from time to time. My father went to work wearing army uniform and my mother signed up as an apprentice seamstress with a sewing institute called Singer after the famous sewing machine that went by the same name. We lived in a big apartment. We ate good food and I remember that I liked food and drank tea and soft drinks a lot. We had no television, but we had a big radiogram that played music every day. My parents read newspapers and listened to the news from the radio a lot. My father and his friends would drink and smoke Benson and Hedges, St. Morris, Gold Leaf and other brands. I ran errands to buy them. My mother seemed to be cooking and washing always. She was my first teacher as she it was who taught me my first ABC.. I got enrolled in a neighbourhood Koranic School and later at the Local Education Authority School. I spoke Urhobo, Hausa and English and could read and write basic Arabic!
My father was transferred from Kaduna to Ibadan in 1978 and we had to move. That was life for a soldier’s family. I still remember the noise made by the train we boarded all the way from Kaduna to Ibadan. The journey took two days or so. We settled down in Ibadan for the next phase of our lives. Again, a very big compound, many neighbours and friends were part of our lives. My parents already were good Yoruba speakers and it was then the lot of us children to learn how to speak Yoruba. As at 1978, I was the only one that was in school at the Ibadan Municipal Government (IMG) Practising School at Oke-Ado. My friends and I enjoyed Ibadan and took advantage of my parents’ tight working schedule to go round many parts of the sprawling city. My parents also made life very good for us. It was in Ibadan that my father bought our first television set in 1978. We visited Kingsway Stores and other big departmental stores regularly and we had FAN ice cream almost on a daily basis. It was in Ibadan that I became conscious of Christmas and Easter celebrations.
With another impending transfer possibly to Enugu, my parents had feared that all of us, their children, would “be lost” in diaspora. They decided that one must be sent home, home being Urhoboland. That was how I was sent to live with an uncle and maternal grandmother in July 1981. I was thus cut off from the nuclear family. My parents and my younger ones remained in Ibadan and lived through the political crisis and economic hardship of the late 1980s and all of the 1990s. My father resigned from the Nigerian Army in 1984 and set up a business that packed up. My mother intervened decisively as the oniemo and oghreremo to banish hunger from the home front. Eventually, my father secured a job with the Security Unit of the University of Ibadan where he worked for twenty years.
My parents brought us up with discipline and self-restraint. They insisted on good behavior at all times. They counseled hard work, contentment and not eyeing what is not yours. Despite their cosmopolitan exposure we spoke Urhobo at home whether it was in Kaduna or Ibadan. This feat has earned both of them unimaginable praises. They were very dogged in ensuring that we went to school, although the lot of sponsoring the education of the latter children fell on me. Fifty years of marriage is no child’s play. There were times that turbulence came, but it was always weathered and the matrimony survived. As I write, I wonder what would be playing in my parents’ minds as they reminisce on the journey they started fifty years ago. They have many blessings to count. Many children and grandchildren, good health, peace of mind and long life are cardinal in Urhobo supplication. Those must have been central to the prayers of their fathers, my grandfathers, that day on 22nd July, 1970. Akpona vweren avwan re riakporee/ one teyan ghenofe Erevwo ose oye nene omoo….
Prof. Awhefeada teaches at the Delta State University.