It is difficult to write about burial of women/mothers in Idomaland without being essentialist about it. From Ekiti or Oyo State in the Southwest of Nigeria to Jigawa or Katsina State in the Northwest, there is a great deal of poverty in nearly equal measure in Nigeria if one is not misled by the World Bank indices of measuring poverty in terms of savings, television per head and such other contextually outlandish considerations, for example. But, while material poverty in the Southwest is counterbalanced by active spatiality practice and by relative wealth calculated in terms of animal heads for the average family in Jigawa State, for example, no such advantages exist in much of the Middle Belt where Idomaland falls. Yes, women are not under the burden of gendering of space in the area but active spatiality to where and to engage in what? There are no industrial set up even of the most rudimentary types or huge markets that can be found around Lagos, Onitsha and Kano.
So, the average woman/mother is a spectacle in her puzzling determination that her children must get education. It is puzzling in that majority of them in the generation we are talking about did not go beyond the first two or three years of the village primary school before they were married off. Things are changing now but not fundamentally different from that reality except perhaps the end of rural life as we knew it up to the late 1970s.
After going through all these, the community and the children tend to come to acknowledge that hidden strength in her. The male claim to superiority does not allow for public celebration of this acknowledgment but it is there in the salutations by which she is acknowledged. Of course, the tendency is for the children to become tied to her in deference and permanent acknowledgment and which manifests in different forms. The climax is always the burial.
How far the above context applies to Mama Theresa Ochugboju is the question since she wasn’t a typical woman/mother in the rural spatiality but the wife of a tough military officer. But the difference might not be that great as we are told by Barrister Manni Ochugboju, the chief mourner in his tribute to her. The lawyer-politician says that unlike his dad whom he never bidded goodbye, he did so to the mother. Still, he is crying partly because the many great things he planned and by which to demonstrate his adoration of her had not matured before her departure. And he is pledging to accomplish them in her memory.
Reading in between the lines, it is the sort of tribute male children more than their female counterpart pay to their mothers for intervening mostly in their favour against the typically tough dad. By the testimony of Barrister Ochugboju, Mama Theresa Ochugboju performed that role in subtlety and smart, soft power diplomacy, being of the generation that grew up in the dying days of the colonial era and the immediate post – colonial period. That refers to when traditional or communal values still held sway – integrity, self discipline, propriety and culture-boundedness. As such, she was able to cope with a military officer who married an extra wife and who, typically, manifested the military essence – an emergency sense of life that make him or her permanently looking over the shoulders to be sure no one who fits the caption of an enemy is springing a surprise. So, the deference is as much a case of fulfilling the Biblical demand on children to honour their father and mother as much as it is enacting a lived experience.
With 13 children and their grand children, the burial yesterday at Udabi in Adoka District of Otukpo Local Government Area, Benue State was bound to be 13 fold of the deference. The diversity of attendees was interesting, from the wake-keep at the family home in Otukpo on October 3rd, 2019 to the internment. There was a GOC who served as a young lieutenant under Major S.A. Ochugboju, (rtd) and still fondly remembered Mrs Ochugboju as to insist on being personally present at her burial.
He was there with Colonel Chris Ezigbo, another friend of the family and retired Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed who never tires in reminding all that Mrs Ochugboju was also his mum. There was Dr Steve Andzenge, former Commissioner, NERC who was at both the wake-keep and the burial. There were Barrister Linus Idu, Barrister Eddie Idom-Morphy, Mr Sam Ogeh, Mr Mike Onah and his sister, Aggie Onah, all from Mary Knoll College, Ogoja, the Barewa College of COR as well as Joe Ochelebe, retired Comptroller of Customs. Dr Carter Ikpe of the Open University, Lagos and the Odutola of the Middle Belt, Chief Ignatius Ijegwa Adaji were also there.
There was Her Excellency, Justice Mary Abounu, the wife of the Deputy-Governor of Benue State. There were the children from far-flung corners of the world – Danjuma Ochugboju, a New York based Attorney; London based Mrs Duniya Ochugboju Ekele; Owoicho Ochugboju from the Republic of Ireland; Barcelona based Samson Ochugboju and Mrs Meg Ikpe of the Benue State Education Board;
Others were Mrs Jummai Ese Ochoga, Mrs Ladi Ochugboju Abidoye, Mrs Martha Ochugboju Ogaje; Mrs Omeyi Uloko, Mrs Onyemowo Ogbo and Mrs Omeche Ochugboju Ebute of NTA, Makurdi and, of course, Barrister Oche Ochugboju. This is not to discount the members of the Norcross Methodist Women Fellowship, the Army Officers Wives Association and grandchildren.
It is thus the sort of burial that Mrs Ochugboju would have wanted to attend herself if the dead could.