Forgive me. This week I am applying my literary ‘license’ to pay another special tribute. Only a few days ago the world celebrated ‘Mother’s Day’, a day specially set aside globally to appreciate and honour the women in our lives, whose immeasurable contributions we often take for granted and forget to properly acknowledge.
So, permit me to pay my own special tribute to one of those mothers, and to use her as a point of contact for all the mothers on earth who represent the Creator’s last and crowning handiwork.
I write on behalf of the 7 children born to Beatrice, Bintu, Abeke, Odegbami, (nee Olotu), of the Imo, Igbore compound, in Ake township of Abeokuta – Anifa, Dele, Dupe, Adunni, Wole, Toyin and I.
All the three males in this family found a berth in football and left marks of different degrees in the annals of Nigerian football.
Dele played football in the old Western Region for his school (Ebenezer Grammar School, Abeokuta), the West Academicals, his university, UNN Nsukka, and briefly for Stationery Stores football club of Lagos.
Wole played for his Schools (Ibadan Grammar School and St. Gregory’s College, Lagos), the Oyo State Academicals, several football clubs in the country including Leventis United FC, JIB Rocks FC, Iwuayanwu Nationale FC, a professional stint across Europe in Cyprus, Austria and England, and in the national team of Nigeria for a period that spanned 11 years.
And, of course, me.
I played for my school (St. Murumba College, Jos), a few clubs in Ibadan, the Oyo State team, and the national team for a period of 8 years!
On February 22, 2018, that woman in our lives died.
In the spirit of ‘Mothers Day’ permit me to celebrate this extra-ordinary lady.
We are not completely sure how old she was because she did not have a birth certificate. But from all our computations and permutations around happenings in her life, we agreed that she must have been born around 1921, because Anifa, my eldest half-sister, is 80 this year.
Assuming that our mum had her when she was 17, or thereabouts, my mum would be 97 this year, give or take a year.
What really matters, however, that we are very sure of and very appreciative for, is that she lived long and lived well. For being blessed with such longevity, we are very grateful to the Lord.
The past 14 years since our father died (also at a ripe old age of 93), mum had slowed down considerably from her once nomadic life.
She was a nomad most of her early life before she settled into market life in Jos.During the nomadic period of her life in the 1950s and early 1960s, she mostly traversed the length and width of Northern Nigeria, trading with Fulani herdsmen and their families, exchanging goods she bought in the West for cash and some dairy products from cows and even camel.
She would take the only once-a-week lorry that terminated in Fort Lamy in the border with Chad Republic, lived and moved with them from oasis to oasis in the Sahara Desert selling her wares and feeding her two young children (including me) with the local Fulani delicacies of milk in various forms – fura de nono, yoghurt, main shanu, and so on.
The civil and political crisis of the mid-1960s terminated that lifestyle. She, thereafter, settled down into a new life style in the Jos Township market with her several pepper grinders.
As a typical Egba woman, her endless assignment was education for her children. That’s why through most of my primary and early secondary school days, she hated the idea of me spending most of my spare time on the wide open fields and streets of Jos, playing football endlessly.
That story is for another day. Let me fast forward her story here.
Shortly after our father died 14 years ago, mum moved to Lagos finally. She stayed with me for 4 years before she took ill. A biopsy test at the teaching hospital in Lagos revealed that her bleeding was the product of rectal cancer.
The damning verdict of the hospital was that, at her age (then in her 80s), surgery was out of the question.
They could only give her some palliatives to ease her pain, and we needed to keep her as comfortable as possible whilst awaiting the inevitable. They gave her a few months at most to live!
Wole and Toyin in the United Kingdom, decided we should give our mother a treat for all she had done bringing us up as well as she did. We would make her to fulfill some of her greatest wishes that we knew of, the major one being going on the Holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
Our mum was originally a Muslim but converted to Christianity on her own volition some years after marrying our father. Deep down, however, despite surrendering her life to Christ, she still occasionally romanticized with her Muslim roots, and never gave up the desire to visit Mecca.
We sent her first to the UK to spend valuable time with her army of children, grand-children and at least one great grandchild, Wole came up with the idea of using his contacts with several of his school mates now in the medical profession in the UK to arrange for another medical evaluation for her in a London hospital.
In collating all her biometric details and data from her international passport, the hospital suddenly informed us that they needed our consent to attempt a surgical procedure on our mother at 76! She was on the borderline we were told.
There must have been a mistake somewhere. Our mother was 86, not 76! When we checked her passport again, we saw what we had never expected, and which became the turning point of her life.There was an error in her data we had not noticed for many years since we did the renewal of her passport. The immigration office in Lagos had ‘reduced’ her years on her original passport by 10 years! It was an innocent error. 1921 was recorded as 1931!
The good news was that the London hospital could attempt surgery at 76, but never at 86!
We quickly gave our consent. Following her admission into the London hospital the decision to finally perform the operation was clearly out of our hands and was now in the hands of divine intervention.
She spent 11 months in hospital following a major surgery that went so smoothly it could only have been a ‘medical miracle’ and treatments that restored her to near full health.
Although she would have to carry some scars and restrictive moments for the rest of her life, she was almost brand new again, living without any pain, but curtailed substantially in physical activity and movement more due to old age than any health challenge.
So, effectively, that meant she could not make the trip to Mecca again to fulfill one of her greatest wishes.
That’s how she returned to Nigeria to spend the next 11 years of her life, living with me, my elder brother and finally my sister in Abeokuta before she passed on three weeks ago, after an infection that lasted two weeks and snatched her life away rather than make her suffer endlessly in pain.
Throughout her life our relationship with mum was very special. We held her in total awe and admiration. She was very tough, and stubborn, but a mother deeply committed to her children. She lived her life entirely for us.
The last 11 years appear to have been her best.
Every moment with her became special. We had time to share with her at very close quarters as she regaled us with incredible stories of her past and experiences.
We also tried our collective best to ensure she lacked nothing, daily celebrating God’s gift of this unearned extended life.
We are extremely grateful to God for giving us the ‘extra time’ we enjoyed for 11 years and that’s why rather than mourn her death we are celebrating her life with abandon.
WE left as her legacy are 7 direct children, 26 grand-children, 29 great-grand-children and at least one great-great-grand child. We are still counting.