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.