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Mama Erere? No, it is not true!

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Sunny Awhefeada

Saturday 16th November, like any other Saturday in the months of October, November and December, was a busy one. There were always parties to mark or negotiate different existential phases, mostly marriages and funerals on Saturdays. I had to attend what we call “in-law’s greeting ceremony” part of a funeral rite which a son-in-law observes to celebrate a departed father-in-law among my Urhobo people. An older friend invited our circle of friends to join him celebrate the exit of his centenarian father-in-law. Our drive to the ceremony was complemented by robust conversations woven around life, society and politics. The hot sun and our roads that were so bad we agreed that we were a nation without roads tormented us. We received phone calls from friends about the electoral heist going on in the Kogi and Bayelsa States gubernatorial elections. Our vehicle tore into the distance dotted by bribe collecting policemen and road safety officers. Then the call came, “Mama Erere is not fine. She is on admission at UBTH”. Then we started working our phones. The calls yielded the desired result which was getting a good medical hand to handle her case.

Some measure of relief followed and my crew walked into the venue of the “in-law’s greeting” ceremony. I called our friends at UBTH every twenty minutes and the reassuring report was that prompt and quality attention was on. Then around four in the evening a call came with the chilling words, “Mama Erere don die!” My response bespoke disbelief, “Mama Erere? No, it is not true!” The world reeled. Misty eyes, shaken voice, unstable legs, a whisper to a friend or two and I left the venue of the ceremony. The passage of Mama Erere ruptured that day and of course the mood of those of us who knew her. Mama Erere was Mrs. Philomena Opha Darah who passed on to the great beyond a little over a month ago. Mrs. Darah, until her painful passage, was the wife of my teacher and mentor, the inimitably erudite Professor G. G. Darah, Nigerian patriot, university teacher, journalist, administrator, folklorist, federalist and public intellectual per excellent.

Mama Erere was a phenomenal woman. Born in 1963 into a family of eight she was her parents’ first daughter after three boys. For that she was named Opha, the Urhobo word for bride. Born to a soldier-father who was a World War II veteran who fought in the jungles of Burma, Opha was to marry another kind of hardnosed warrior made a name in intellectual and ideological duels in the person of the then young Dr. Gordini Gabriel Darah who was then a revolutionary teacher at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife. Darah was a fearless and outspoken critic of military regimes and Major General Mohammadu Buhari, then Nigeria’s military dictator, got him detained in 1984 just one year after marrying Opha.

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Professor Niyi Osundare, poet, teacher and long time friend of Professor Darah, once told me of how the young Opha took her husband’s arrest with fortitude and uncommon grace. She refused to be broken as she endorsed her husband’s struggles for the liberation of the Nigerian masses. That incident early in their marital life was a watershed for husband and wife as it offered them a new charter of engagement with Nigeria. Mama Erere enlisted in the radical struggle not only as a staff of the University of Ife library which housed tomes upon tomes on Marx and Engels, but ran a canteen aptly called “Grassroots”.

Professor Darah’s professional itinerary was a compass for Opha’s story. From Ife, husband and wife relocated to Lagos where the former worked as a topflight journalist. Darah lifted the banner for the struggle against military dictatorship and the revalidation of the June 12 mandate. Opha found kindred spirits in the struggle and was among the women who made up the sorority around Kudirat Abiola, the wife of M. K. O. Abiola, and heroine of democracy. She was a great mobilizer. Although, Kudirat and MKO died, the Nigerian people routed the military in May 1999 and civilian rule was restored. Darah and Opha were set to move on to the next phase of life.

That phase came in 2001. He relocated from the hurly-burly of Lagos to the Delta State University, Abraka, to resume as a professor in the Department of English. Much more significant was the arrival of their first child after many years of marriage. She was aptly called Ereremena, an Urhobo name, meaning this is my benefit. Opha relocated to Abraka. It was at that point that many of us got to know her. By that time Professor Darah had taken me under his wing as a young protégé.

Mama Erere was warm, friendly, generous and caring. She was a great cook. She took a great liking to Ufuoma who is now my wife. She advised us and spoke well about marital beauty and bliss in our early days in marriage. Professor Darah had a classroom to government house transition in 2003 and was there till 2007. Mama Erere not only stood by him, but ensured that he rendered assistance to as many people as possible. She was pleasant and unassuming. She provided succor to many until her untimely passing on. As I write, I am still unable to bring myself to accept the reality of her final exit. But the preparation for her funeral and the fact that she was committed to mother earth on Friday 20 December, confirm her exit. The earth has really consumed, “oto riemu” as my grandmother would say. Mama Erere…todeoooo…akpo kedefaoooo.

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