My mother, Philomena Darah (1963-2019): A tribute
Philomena Opha Darah (nee AYI) was born on February 22, 1963. She was the 4th child of her parents- Pa Ankrah erotere Ayi from Oviri- Olomu and Matilda Okitikpi from Erho, Abrakaall of Delta State. The father was a soldier who fought in Burma in the 2nd world war (1939- 1945). At the time of her birth, the parents lived in Ondo Town, then in the Western Region of Nigeria. My mother was the first girl child after three males; that is why the parents proudly named her Opha, the Urhobo word of Beauty Queen or Bride. She lived for 56 years, yet her elegance and glmour never faded. The eight (8) children of the parents are: Oghenovo (m), Okiemute (m), Onoriode (m), OPha (f) , Oni(f), Ogbodu (f), Oghenerukevwe (m), and Ovuede(m),. Philomena was the English name she chose later. The names mean “friend’, lover, purpose, strength”. True to character, mummy showed all these divine blessings in her life.
She attended Ekiugbo primary school, Ughelli, and Anglican Girls’ Grammer school (AGGS), Ozoro where she graduated in 1982. Always glamorous and athletic in physical appearance, Opha was a delicate dancer with the voice of a nightingale. She was baptised and confirmed in the Anglican Church. As a teenager in Ughelli, she also lived with the family of Canon Oghenekaro, the legend of the Anglican Communion. As first daughter (Omote Okpako), Opha was groomed in Urhobo traditional protocols of culture: high moral standards, hard work, self –reliance , honesty, trust, respect, good home management. She was an expert and consultant on Urhobo delicious dishes of ukodo, amiedi, esha and oghwo-evwri. At Ekiugbo she helped the mother to buy and sell fruits and foodstuff. During vacation in Warri she and the mother handled distribution of frozen fish and foodstuff. Her love life with my Dad started in my grandmother’s shop at Okere- Warri market in the 1980s.
In April 1983, Opha married then Dr. Godini Gabriel Darah, a lecturer at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife.
She was employed in the University library in 1984. In her Spare time she operated the “Grassroots Café” for Bendel Dishes. Her husband was a member of the radical socialist academics. Mummy fitted well into the new life on campus; she joined the Ife branch of Women in Nigeria (WIN), the major all-female advocacy organization in Nigeria. She was active too in Bendel/Urhobo groups as an organizer, cheerful care-giver and dancer. Her political consciousness rose fast. Campus life was exciting, with regular debates, public lectures, drama and music festivals, student peaceful protests, etc. she gave her husband full support as the Chairman of the Ife Branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Barely a year into their marriage, her husband was arrested and detained in secret prisons by the military regime of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in 1984. ASUU backed Nigerian students who protested high increases in education fees. Philo as a radical Amazon addressed a press conference in Ibadan and boldly challenged Buhari to arrest president Shehu Shagari instead if her innocent husband. She was 21 years then.
The couple moved to Lagos in the early 1990s when daddy became the Chairman of the Editorial Boards of the Daily Times and later The Guardian. They both went through the rough years of the military dictators at the time. Philo was a close associate of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief M.K.O. Abiola who is believed to have won the June 12, 1993, presidential elections cancelled by the military. While in Lagos Mummy engaged in business; they registered a Limited Liability Company and were joint Directors. Political and social life in Lagos extended Mummy’s contacts and friends, with regular events in foreign embassies and diplomatic circles. She interacted with many of Nigeria’s best and brightest nationalists and human rights activists. After several mishaps and 19 years of waiting, life was crowned with the greatest treasure of motherhood: my birth in 2001. In gratitude to God, my parents named me Erere (Reward for Patience), the only child of my proud parents. God is awesome! The Couple returned to Delta state after 20 years; my father was made Professor at Delta State University, Abraka (DELSU) and later Chief of Staff to His Excellency, Governor James Onanefe Ibori. We moved to Asaba. With her vast experience in Ife and Lagos, she easily enjoyed political work at the government level. She took part in mass mobilization programmes and campaigns. Always affable and pleasant, she held leadership positions in the Ughelli South and Jeremi Ward 4 platforms of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). She registered an all-women cooperative society for Esaba Community to boost women involvement in the party. In her fashion shop at Jigbale market in Oviwian, she was a darling and mentor of all.
My mother, our mother was a model of womanhood. She was brave, outspoken, honest, diligent, disciplined and charitable person. She would work for a solution. The largest beneficiaries of her compassion were in education, numerous students got admitted through her effort at Ife, Ibadan, Abraka, Benin, Oghara, Ekpoma, NDU, Port Harcourt, etc. she and her husband lived and worked as twins and comrades: she called my daddy GG always and later “ Papa Erere” she remained the evergreen MAMA ERERE.
Erere is a Mass Communication student, Benson Idahosa University.