Dad, you have been a rock for our family, you have fought in ways I can barely understand, because you love us—Christa Edwards
Chief Godwin Odion Akhaine, my father, passed away on January 2, 2022, while on the fourth drip. My siblings, the family physician, and I thought he would be stabilised and his health restored. We are not God. As mortals, we had hoped so. However, my two siblings left for their abodes, and I went into my sitting room to catch a glimpse of the news.
At about ten post meridiem, I decided to check on my dad before going to bed. I walked into stillness, lingering, and in eternity. I have never had that eerie experience in my life. He had had a laboured breath before then. Now he was gone; gone to meet his creator.
The song of the trado-medical fraternity that he belonged whirred in my mind: Uwu fa eboh lo a, /Oya, oya, khire,/ Uu fa eboh lo a,/ Oya, oya, khire (death has ultimately humbled the healers; it is miserable). Again, I remembered the philosophical lines of Christy Ogba, the Esan songstress who intoned: A mi uwu gui na, A mi uwu gui na, me kha gui n’obhiomen/ Uwu kakagbe bhe ‘mon agbon (You don’t find death to appease. If it weren’t so, I would have done so for my relative; death is a mystery among mortals).
At first, I was somewhat confused. I pulled myself together and called my wife, and we both certified that my father had gone to be with the Lord. On a note of finality, my wife exclaimed emotionally: “the end of an era”. I called all my children who were home for the yuletide and New Year celebration to come and see his remains and be at peace with the knowledge that grandpa was no more—gone forever. And now, I have assumed the status of an orphan having lost my mother in 2006.
What can I say about my father? First, I recalled as a youngster, he would carry me on his shoulders on our way to the farm while minding my faltering infant steps. Our family was highly patriarchal, but mine was moderated by my left ideological leaning. We were trained in masculinity to be bold and fearless as well as to assume responsibility. You did not wait to be told what to do; we always knew our responsibility, a sort of labour emulation, you might say. I accompanied my father to the farms and tended to the yam, rice, and cocoa plantations. Akhaine, our grandfather, was a stormy petrel, bold, and always spoke the truth, a trait carried by many of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
A typical Esan man does not betray emotion even when he is infatuated. So, my father guided me with an iron hand. This was the logic of my survival in the heady days of military dictatorship. When I was moved from the Intercentre in Ikoyi, Lagos to Birnin Kebbi Medium Prisons in the North-west by General Sanni Abacha junta, my dad kept a bold face even when he imagined what fate could befall his first son. My colleagues in the human rights and pro-democracy movement visited him at Ekpoma in 1995, my whereabouts unknown to the public; he assured them that his son would return home and that he was at one with me on the cause of the agitation. The second unforgettable and fundamental moment in our relationship was in 1979 when I was to commence my secondary school as a day student at Opoji Grammar School. He gave a piece of lifelong advice that has continued to rule my life. He took me to the gravesite of my grandfather, perhaps for effect, and said to me: “my son if you want to live long, don’t sleep with another man’s wife; don’t steal; don’t drink. If you observe these rules, you will live long.” As a young man, I took these words like the biblical Ten Commandments that God handed to the Israelis through Moses in the Sinai.
The third issue I could recall is his wish for me to chart a career. My dad wanted me to be a teacher, and in those days, teachers were well-respected in Nigeria. He imagined me in the robe of a village headmaster, who would be around to look after him in adulthood. Somewhat, he had his wish fulfilled in me. Today, I am a university teacher who was able to fulfill his filial obligation to him when he took ill; it is to my honour that he joined our ancestors in my house. The Emaudo-Ide of Ekpoma, farewell!