The Nigerian Civil War Was a KillJoy…Mama Wuraola Ogundipe, JP Reminiscences @ 90

by feferity

Two significant events re-shaped the history of Nigeria, both socially and politically. They happened between 1960 and 1966. First was the independence and celebration of freedom from the colonial masters on October 1st, 1960.

Although it was six years before, the euphoria of freedom was still very much in the air. The economy was booming, the politicians were in power, the regions are developing, and life was good. 

The second event was because of the killings of Igbos in the Northern part of the country. In the aftermath of the January 1966 Military Coup d’ état that toppled the First Republic government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, the civil war broke out and the joy, freedom and happiness derived from the independence a few years back disappeared, and the country was engulfed. 

Mama Comfort Wuraola Ogundipe JP, her husband and other families, were all caught up amid the two major historical events.

The celebrant, Mama Ogundipe cutting her birthday cake.

Now 90 years old, Mama believed her living up to this grand old age, ‘was divinely planned, and a graceful Act of God’.

The celebrant spoke extensively with the Lagos Correspondent of FEFERITY MAGAZINE after her 90th birthday celebrations. Still feeling excited like a young damsel, she paced up and down her living room, showing us old pictures, memorabilia and all that was.

Sharp, quick, cerebral, witty, with movements belying her nonagenarian age, she recounted several events with dates, names and even describing the environment and season.  She gleefully told the events surrounding her birth, the joy of Independence celebrations, and then the sad outbreak of violence in the Northern Region, from the time Sir Ahmadu Bello and his lieutenants were killed by the rampaging five Military Majors of the Igbo origin, to the eventual outbreak of the internecine Civil War.

According to her, ‘I believed God actually have a long plan for me. Thus, making me live up till this old age’. My eyes have seen so much and I have learnt a great deal indeed.

Another long-lasting experience was the Independence celebration in 1960 in Lagos. Even though her husband was almost a roving civil servant, they were luckily in Lagos during the Independence celebrations.

‘I still remember being at the Tafawa Balewa Square with my friends to watch the parade and the lowering of the British Jack as the Colonial Flag was called, and hoisting of Nigeria’s Green-White-Green Flag’, she recollected.

It was her firm opinion that ‘to the hordes of Southern population living in Kano, in the mid-sixties, the Civil War did not start in 1967’.

‘The first shot’, according to Mama. Ogundipe, while reminiscing on her 90 years sojourn on mother earth, ‘was fired in sometimes early 1966’.

Mama and her family were living in Kano, in the heart of the defunct Northern Region at the time. The husband had been transferred to the core Northern town from Makurdi, another town in the North Central, then middle belt.

Mama was a petty trader, selling household consumables/provisions in a makeshift shop in front of her house. She vividly recollects the booming guns from all over the town. She was not sure of what was happening. Although, was very aware of the tense political situation in the country, yet she was not perturbed. Her husband, late Pa Akinjiola Ogundipe, was a Federal Civil servant, therefore, had nothing to do with politics.

But in a jiffy, a neighbour, a Calabar man, came rushing in. He was surprised to see her in her shop. She inquired if she heard the booming guns in town. Mama responded yes. ‘It was the Calabar man that told me that Southerners, particularly Easterners, are being killed in town. And that Kill and Go Police were everywhere shooting and further killing many.

‘He ordered me to quickly park my wares and lock up the shop’, she recollected.

We were holed up inside the house for days before we could move to the Military Barracks and from there, boarded a Train down South. That was how we landed in Lagos’. She recounted.

To celebrate her 90th birthday last weekend, the nonagenarian was surrounded by her children, their wives and husband, children, grand-children and great-grandchildren, at the Christ Church, (Anglican Communion), Agege, Lagos for a Thanksgiving Service and after a grand ‘owambe’ to mark the day.

Mama was born to late Pa Akinmolayan and Mrs Sabaina on March 3rd, 1930 in Ondo town, in the then Southern Protectorate, now present Ondo State, the second born of her mother, but the first and only surviving child. The other died immediately after birth.

Reliving her birth time, Mama recollected what her parents told her happened when they gave birth to her. “When I was born, no one, except perhaps my mother believed I would live”.

“At birth, I was said to be so tiny, such that no one had expected me to live. It was even said that one of my aunties came all the way from our village, with foodstuffs and gifts upon hearing the news of my birth. When she arrived, and all the exchanging off pleasantries done with, she requested to see and carry the baby. But when she was shown the newborn, she was so much disappointed, that she merely dropped all that she came with and left with dropped spirit”.

What they said then was that “The boy born with proper stature, big and healthy, did not survive, how would this tiny tot now live?” The auntie was quoted to have questioned satirically. That statement referred to my parent’s late child that was born but died immediately after birth”

But Mama survived the odd of birth time and grew to become a smashing beau in Ondo town.

According to her, “In 1937, I was enrolled at St. Peters Primary School, Bolorunduro, a community on the outskirts of Ondo town, and was later moved to Ondo Girls School, Ondo, where I finished my Standard Six Examinations with good grades in 1947”.

“I decided to learn sewing trade in 1948 out of passion. Not that my father could not raise the funds to send me to school further, but I love to trade. I, therefore, joined a popular sewing business owned by late Mrs Akinboluduro in Ondo town where I stayed till 1949’.

Mama spoke about dating and marriage during her teenage years. According to her ‘they are funny and quite different from what you have now’.

‘Sometimes in 1949, a senior brother to one of my friends showed me a photograph of a young man. I told him I was not interested in pictures and besides, I do not know the person. And that was all. But later the man came and showed up. Fortunately, his father was a friend to mine. Immediately my father heard about our meeting and interactions insisted I must marry him. And that was all’. ‘Parents in those days know better’

She believed it was a special grace and a divine plan of God that has been keeping her all along till this age without any major sickness.

‘My sights are good. I have not lost a tooth. I can walk up and down. You saw me in the Church during the Thanksgiving Service reading the Bible lesson for the event. I give all the glory to God’, she concluded.

The day was a day for merriment and there was a lot to eat and drink. Feferity Magazine wishes Mama more prosperous years ahead. May she live long.

Story by Afolayan Adebiyi, from Lagos, Nigeria.

Feferity Media Group, © 2020

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