UGO DIG T! JUST BE HAPPY TO BE A LIFE.
I was born on 3rd August, 1949, in Afikpo, Ebonyi State, one of the south-eastern states of Nigeria. My father, Omezue Nnali Mbe Agada (1914-1990), and my mother, Odoziaku Ude Eke Agada were Igbo, from Afikpo, Ebonyi State.
Three persons had tremendous influence on my early life—the father I loved and hero-worshiped, the mother I loved and adored, and the aunt I held in awed admiration and great affection.
My father had lived a chequered life—born in Afikpo, brought up in the Cameroons and Lagos, and worked in all the major cities of the then Eastern Region—he was a highly enlightened man. Born at the on-set of the colonial era, he was a true product of his time, and served his country in many capacities at different stages on its journey towards nationhood. During the colonial era, he was one of the nationalists that fought doggedly towards the emancipation of Nigeria from colonial rule under the political party, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) from 1944-1957, under the leadership of the great charismatic leader Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, popularly known as ‘Zik of Africa.’ Omezue Agada was a trade unionist with Federal Union of Native Administration Servants (FUNAS), covering the then Eastern Region and the Cameroons (1949–1951). He was the Administrative Secretary, Abakaliki Divisional Native Authority (1954-1958), and member, Eastern House of Representatives (1954-1957). He later became the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Local Government Council, Eastern Nigeria (1957-1971). On the attainment of Independence in 1960, he was advised by the party leadership to go back to the Native Authority Administration, in which he had been trained and was an authority; thus positioning him to take over from the colonial administrators at independence, to avoid a vacuum.
My father, Omezue Nnali Mbe Agada
He rose to become—Town Clerk Aba Urban Council (1961-1963); Town Clerk Port-Harcourt Municipal Council (1964-66); Town Clerk Onitsha Urban Council (1966-70). On retirement in 1970, he was appointed Chairman of the Panel on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Imo State (1974-78); and Associate Magistrate, Imo Judiciary (1978-1983).
But in pursuing those varied interests he still had time to spend quality moments with his children. He had pet name for each child, who was usually named after either a special person in his life, an ancestor or an ancestress. I was named after my paternal grandmother, Ugo Idam Ukah, but Papa fondly called me, Nne nnia, meaning ‘father’s mother;’ while my mother simply called me—Nneé, meaning, mother, in honor of the mother-in-law she loved so much.
Me, centre, flanked by some of my sisters and my daughters. From left to right: late Mrs. Idam Ibiam, Eke Agada, Mrs. Uhiechi Agada, Ugo Angela Paula Uyah, Ude Joyce-Mary Uyah, Ugo Agada-Uyah, Ihuoma Miriam Therese Uyah, Mrs Rose Ikoro Mbe Agada, late Ms Chinyere Agada
I can’t recall when I or any other sibling was ever admitted into hospital for illness. Sickness dared not show its ugly face when Papa was around. When any of us was sick, Papa would apply what we children called TLC, meaning, Tender Loving Care. He would soak the child in a hot bath, rub hot balm all over the child’s body, usually aboki, and take the child to the dining table for a meal of deliciously fried dodo and egg. Then the ultimate treatment—he or she would be wrapped in Papa’s special blanket and lay on Papa’s bed to sleep. The sick man would be all smiles, the envy of his or her peers. In an hour or two, after a peaceful slumber in Papa’s bed, the patient would be completely cured—a swaggering, arrogant, insufferable puppy that needed a little konk on his or her swollen head to knock him or her back to size.
My brothers, left to right: Chief Okechukwu Agada, Nwaegiejemba of Ehugbo; Engr. Chidi Agada, late Chief Michael Ikoro Agada, Oderi Oha 1 of Afikpo; Chief Thomas Okpani Agada, Ohamadike of Ehugbo; late Mazi Dominic Mbe Agada and Sergeant Nathaniel Nnali Agada
1st Pic on the left: Papa’s only surviving wife and some of her children & grandchildren, affectionately known in the family as Mama Nne Iyalla. From left –right: My senior brother, Mazi Iyalla Douglas Agada, Matron Rita Duncan Orji (nee Agada), Onikara Chi Letitia Agada (aka Mama Nne Iyalla), Elder Ugo Letitia Onyemaechi (nee Agada), Chief Okpani Tom Agada, Ohamadike of Ehugbo.
2nd Pic on the right: Mazi Iyalla Douglas Mbe Agada & his amiable wife, Mrs. Theresa Ugo Agada
Below, Mama Nne Iyalla’s grandchildren By Iyalla in the USA. Front row: Mr. Chukwuemeka (Chuks) Nnali Agada, Ms. Chinyere Adaeze Agada, Mr. Azubuike (Azu) Elu Agada; back row: Mr. Uchenna (Uche) Okpani Agada & Mr. Chinedum Chine Iyalla Agada.
That was my father. To his children—love and tenderness personified; but to those outside his family, an intimidating combination of intelligence, courage and selfless dynamism. He had a famous saying when there was need for someone to go an extra mile to save a critical situation: Onye bu onye oje chu ura? Which literately meant: ‘Who will it keep awake?’ But figuratively meaning: ‘Who will make the ultimate sacrifice to save the situation?’ In nine cases out of ten, he usually ended up going that extra mile.
Ours was a large family, with five wives and eighteen children; my mother was the first wife. She was an industrious, cheerful, beautiful woman of immense charm; famed for her virtuousness, honesty and good cooking. She was a role model to many. Young men used to leave their brides with her to be trained in the art of homemaking. She was also highly creative. She was a weaver of a special fabric called Popo cloth. She had four children, three boys and me, her only daughter; and a fifth child in that huge family.
I was a loved child, no doubt, but not a spoiled one. The moment Papa thought my mother was over pampering me, he bundled me off to Enugu to live with my aunt, Mrs. Agnes Esiaba, who had just returned from studies in England.
My aunt, Mrs. Agnes Esiaba
For few weeks I resisted the charm of that wonderfully talented woman, I wrote constantly to my father pleading to be taken back to my adoring mother. Papa visited constantly loaded down with presents, but all my pleads to be taken home fell on deaf ears. During the holidays all of us, me and my aunt’s family used to go to my family to spend some time. With time I realized I now had two families and loved it. I gave up wanting to go home and knuckled down to learn all I could from my aunt. My aunt’s daughter, Ogeri, became my very own little sister. Don’t be deceived by the word ‘little,’ for the ‘little sister’ rose to become an Assistant Inspector General of Police in the Nigerian Police, and is twice my height. But at the time, she was a skinny, little, mischievous thing. One major thing Ogeri and I had in common, and still have, was a wicked sense of humor that demystified any difficult situation we found ourselves which helped us survive many trying moments.
Left: My cousin, Dr. (Mrs.) Ogeri Azuogu & me
It was from my aunt that I acquired the thirst for the theater, love of reading, cooking, sewing, gardening, planning and hard work! Mama, as I fondly called her, was like a whirlwind; there was never a dull moment with her. After school, some evenings were either spent at home doing homework, needlework, and/or working in the flower garden in front of the house. Other evenings were spent at the British Council reading, playing, or watching plays staged by the Oguiyi Players, a theater group of the early 1960s in which my aunt was a prominent member. At twenty plus Mama was an extremely beautiful woman. She had a commanding presence—tall, light complexioned, vibrant, with an over dose of charismatic appeal. She always played the leading lady. Saturday mornings were either devoted to baking biscuits we children would take to school the following week; or weeding the vegetable garden at the back of the house; while the evenings were usually spent at the Sports Stadium.
Of course, I did not realize the rare upbringing I was getting from my aunt until I went to boarding school and discovered that most things I took for granted were not commonly known by other girls my age. It was only then I came to appreciate what my aunt had given me, and what my father had done for me by refusing to take me home. I would have been thoroughly spoiled if Papa had obliged me. That rounded upbringing nurtured my leadership qualities and organizational acumen. It also thought me to be accommodating, tolerant and considerate of others’ feelings. Too much so, Ogeri used to think a times.
My senior sister, late Mrs. Patience Aja Item
My junior sister, late Mrs. Elizabeth Ugo Nwachi