In 1986, my father returned from Nsukka where he was running his Master’s programme at the University of Nigeria. When he got to Makurdi, his cousin the Late Mr Adama dragged him to a student fellowship meeting, with the spiritual blackmail: “do you know if God wants to bless you?”. After the meeting, he got on the shuttle buses conveying them back home. Sitting beside him was this pretty, Slim figure1 omalicha, this Yarinya de kyau, this lepababe. And trust the lengendary verbosity of the Ademu-Etehs, within a few minutes he had found out she was somewhat of his Kindred- An Idoma lady from the area he grew up. Against his stone-cast principles, my father found himself head-over-heels with this lady.
In three years they were married, amidst the doubts and outright jeers by some people who were of the opinion that such a pretty lady with a high IQ had no business with a village teacher. The chief bridesmaid refused to come for the wedding! And they had no plans for any wedding cake, because they could not afford it (I imagine the excuse was something like “pounded yam is more romantic”). And there was no convoy of flashy SUVs- the wedding train walked from the house to church and back.
But things began to look up soon- first my Dad got a Job with the National Population Commission, and then the government announced that there would be a Census in 1991. My Dad, being an enumerator had the time of his life- basic salaries, Duty Travel Allowances- the whole enchilada. And my mum had the baby while she was completing her nursing studies in Otukpo. That Baby was me.
There was this aversion my dad had to nurses- he’d say, “a nurse, even if she practises for 100 years will never become a doctor except she studies medicine as a course. Why enslave yourself when you can be the boss?” After the wedding, my mum retook her GCE exams, and she was admitted to Benue State University in 1994. While she was in school, she gave birth to my first brother. So with 3 kids, a nursing job and a husband to cater for, she went back to school.
In 1999, she got admission to the Nigerian Law School, Abuja campus even though she had a baby on the way. That baby was born BLACK, and was nicknamed Jegede (after the DG of the Nigerian Law school). And when she returned, she picked up her motherly duties. I felt she worked far harder than she was paid for at the office- but she made me understand that the first few years of practice are difficult. But if you hang in there, things would look bright.
This my mother was wonderful to me while I was growing up. She held me as I took my first baby steps, rescued me from a snake, nursed my broken hands (broke them twice before I became 2). She taught me how to sweep, how to sew with a needle, and how to cook. See- my first kitchen adventure was at 7 while she was at the Benue State University. I boiled yam! Well, Yam became rice, rice became soup and so on,. But by the time I was 16 and moved to Abuja, I could very well cook up a storm.
And this same mother saved us several times- when we lost our pencils/rulers/math set (and couldn’t tell our dad). There was this time when Peak Milk held a writing competition. I desperately wanted to compete (the prize was a chopper bicycle) but my father said no because in principle, it amounts to gambling. Then I didn’t understand the concept of “BUY 10 PACKS AND STAND A CHANCE TO WIN”. Anyway, that Monday morning, my mum called me and gave me money to buy a pack of peak milk. I cut out the Red patch that said “28 Vitamins and minerals” and submitted the essay. And I started licking the milk before I got home!
And there were those times in the university when I got broke but was too “manly” to ask my dad for more money. Well, my mother, ever sensitive to those needs would just call me up to come home. And on my way back I’d be sure to leave with hands full of foodstuff and a tip from her. At a point I began to wonder if the civil service paid so much money that she could afford to give me so much. Then one day she explained how her salary was cut in many directions that what she received at the end of the day was measly. I was humbled by that sacrifice!
Oh and my mother gave me my first car. It was a white Peugeot 307 (some of you know that car), and I got the keys when I graduated from the University of Abuja. There were times I bashed that car (in a hurry to reverse), there were times when I burnt the clutch plate or got the car overheated in traffic. Guess who paid?
Of course I didn’t like everything about her growing up- she had this tendency to make us work. If she ever saw you sitting down doing nothing, she’d invent a task to keep you busy. We hated this! But it was when I was in a meeting with my Principal in Enugu (Gab Oforma Esq.) and he explained the administrative wisdom in keeping staff busy: you’d be able to measure what goals were achieved in a given period. And in this spirit, my mum effectively cut me off from watching TV just for fun. Since 2009, it’s been difficult to watch TV. After some 30-45 minutes (except it’s a documentary, music concert or football) I get bored and find a book to read!
And the holidays, she was always on our necks to read. No child enjoys this because, in my opinion, school is for school and home is for rest. It’s the same thing as bringing work home! Anyway, because we went through summer lessons and holiday homework, subjects like maths that gave me problems weren’t the big giants they used to be (at least I passed maths in my SSCE).
Girls? I hardly ever talked to my mum about girls (she has this clairvoyance to pick out the girl I’ll be interested in even if we’re in a crowd of 100). So I never bother with that
Many people today see me as a peace-loving, non-confrontational person. I wasn’t always this way- when I was a child, I had serious anger problems. I fought a lot, I beat my sister up a lot. In fact, my own mother once told us that it was getting easier to believe we weren’t born to the same parents (the only snag in the theory was she gave birth to us). And this continued until I realised my mother was staying up at night to pray for me. I was about 11 years old then- I was broken, and from that day anger has ceased to be a part of me. And I never fought again.
I remember my mother as a praying woman- morning devotions even if everyone else was half-sleepy she would be vibrant. And she always made sure we went to church. I can hardly remember us staying at home if there was a church programme going on.
And my mum can cook. If you’ve ever been to my house, I need not go any further!
I’ll close this post by talking about my writing career- my mother got me started. Really? Yes. When I was 9, my mother sat my sister and I down and taught us how to write an essay (or “composition” as it was called in primary school). That simple act was what got me started. When I was in SS1, I wrote an essay on Sports in school that got me recognition. And from then on I kept winning the English prize from Trinity International College. And today I’m a lawyer Just like she is- not that she forced me, but when you see your parents do something with ease and excellence, it becomes a height you have to reach AND surpass.
Today she turns 47. But when people see my mum today, they think she’s in her 30s. The things she went through to bring my family here are legendary! If I were born in 1961, I’m pretty certain I’d have married my mum 😀 (And my Dad would be my son now)
for sticking with us when things got rough
for the times you carried me when I was sick, and forced me to eat for my own good
for advising me even when I didn’t want to listen
for nagging me about cleaning my room
for teaching me how to draft written addresses
for warning me about what I was doing wrong
for welcoming my friends who you’ve never met anywhere
thank you mum, and happy birthday!