John Ibekwe Buries His Mother
By: Deji Yesufu
My friend John Ibekwe will be burying his mother, Elizabeth Ibekwe, next Friday, 23rd, April, 2021, at their family compound – that of Late Chief G. C. Ibekwe, Ofeahia Umuduru Egbeaguru, Onuimo LGA, Imo State. I never met John’s mother but there is a sense in it that I met her through her son and thus the writing of this short note in her memory.
When I wrote my book Victor Banjo, I never envisioned where it will take me. I had taken up the challenge to pen this thorny piece of Nigeria’s history because I thought it was a story we needed to remind ourselves of especially in the face of a country that is fracturing away in diverse ways. So when I got the invitation at Radio Nigeria Enugu to come and give a talk to young people on my book, I took up the challenge. I boarded a bus and took a ten hour road trip to Enugu State in October 2018.
I do not know many people in Enugu but I know one man: John Ibekwe. “John, I dey come Enugu o…”. “No wahala now, Deji, when you arrive…” I had met John via social media interaction and our friendship had grown over the years. When things happen in the East, I call him up for on the ground assessment. He does the same when he needs to know what is happening in Ibadan. I had hoped that when I finally saw him in person he will not be any different from the person I have gotten to know on the phone.
I was not disappointed.
I arrived Enugu late and after getting in touch with my chauffeur, I called John. “We go see tomorrow..” he promised. John kept his word. My stay in Enugu was going to be an arduous one. I arrived on Friday night. I had a book presentation the following day and the appointment with Radio Nigeria will not be until the following Saturday. A very kind brother had opened up his home to me to stay but it was John Ibekwe who filled the space between those two monotonous weekends.
I will spend my morning studying. I was reading C. H. Spurgeon’s lectures to his students, one of the texts for my seminary course. Then I will have a long motionless afternoon. Then John will come in the evening and pick me up at home, after work, and take me out to see Enugu. John Ibekwe loves Eastern Nigeria. He loves Enugu. He is a fiercely committed Igbo man. Yet John thinks that Nigeria’s unity is worth preserving. His philosophy is that of each region building up themselves, yet maintaining a united Nigeria. John demonstrated his love for Nigeria by his hospitality to me – a Yoruba. John took me to different places every day of that week – I don’t know how much he must have burnt on fuel. However the trip we made to Nsukka is the one that occasioned this write up on his burying his mother.
John told me that a friend of his was burying his father the coming Friday at Nsukka and he wanted me to come and see how Igbos bury their dead. I was interested.
Now the beautiful thing about going to Eastern Nigeria by road was that I encountered almost all the major towns I had written about in my book. Now here we are heading to Nsukka. This was the town where war first broke out in July 1967. It was where many gallant Eastern soldiers lost their lives – including Kaduna Nzeogwu and Christopher Okigbo. The distance between Enugu and Nsukka was less than 100km.
When we got to Nsukka, John diverted his car and drove me through the premises of University of Nigeria (UNN). Then we headed for the burial celebrations. As we went, John told me something of the Igbo culture and burial: In Igbo land the man raises his first son (not first child) to be his heir. After he is dead, the first son owns his father’s property – everything. With the asset comes much liability too. The first son also takes care of the mother after papa has gone. He buries his father and mother; his siblings have a choice to support him. The financial burdens is so heavy on the first child that the father ensures that he is well trained to handle it when he is gone.
When we got to the compound, John’s friend sees him from afar and calls out to him. He tells us to sit at his right hand. We are served food. Later John extends a financial gift to him and we leave. I observed that next to the host – who is the first son of the dead – is an individual writing something in a note book. John says it is a book that records everything everyone gives to the family during burial. If family A give a cow at Papa death, when their own patriarch dies they must return a cow to family A. And so on.
It is the thought of that burial that makes me realize how much responsibility my friend is bearing at the moment. My contribution to John’s mother’s burial is this write up. I will be receiving a gold mine if John writes me a similar essay when I am about to bury my own Dad – because John hardly writes!
Sometimes in 2006/7, John’s mother fell gravely ill. My friend, first son that he is, abandoned his work and sought medical intervention for his mother. This quest led him to discover some realities about Nigerian church life that led him to quit a certain popular church in this country. It was what led to our getting to know each other. John loved his mother and after his father’s death, he became her nurture. He did this faithfully. Helping her out of that illness and getting her to see many days after. When modern feminists condemn Eastern Nigeria patriarchy, they do so with very little understanding of the rich tradition and culture that has helped preserve family life for centuries. What Pete Edochie said is the culture of the Igbo people and it will take years for it to be overturned. While culture has its downside, in John’s life I see a real and true positive.
John was in Lagos yesterday for a wake keep for his mother with the community she lived with most of her life. When I told him I will not be making it to Lagos because of work, John will reply: “Deji, no wahala… me sef I go just come there, chop rice and commot”. The only reason he will be able to do this is because he would have handled the financial responsibility of everything very well. The ladies who wish to change Eastern Nigeria patriarchy should also come to equity with a deep pocket.
This is me wishing my friend, John, successful burying of his mother. If you are anywhere close to Onuimo LGA, Imo State, kindly drop by John’s fathers compound and leave an envelope for yourself and put my name in bracket – somewhere ????.
God bless you John Ibekwe.