Unwa Afen Inah was a neat, meticulous, dutiful, patriotic, disciplined and refined individual who was a good friend and brother to me and an exemplary citizen who discharged his obligations to his fatherland. As he has journeyed to meet his creator, I have no doubt in my mind that he will be allocated a big mansion in heaven as a reward for the type of life he lived while here on earth and the service he rendered to God’s kingdom as one of his devoted and able servants.
Although my late friend and brother, Arch-bishop Boniface Olah Afen and I were born about the same time and were related by birth to Ubepa, the small Bekwarra community that has become famous as the birthplace or taproots of prominent Bekwarra sons and daughters, we never met nor knew each other until about 17 or 18 years later. And that was in 1980 in faraway Calabar at the home of the late Registrar of the defunct Calabar Polytechnic, Chief Godwin Onugba, who was married to a kind-hearted Ishibori woman. You will soon see the significance of my reference to Onugba as being married to a good woman.
He was a student of Accounting and Finance at the Polytechnic and I, an English and Literary Studies student of the University of Calabar from 1978-1982. Some day in 1980, we Bekwarra students at the two higher institutions of learning had a meeting, a social gathering, at the home of Chief Onugba, the then most prominent Bekwarra man in Calabar. Such a place will naturally become the den and watering hole for usually poor, hungry and needy students, always in want of one thing or the other.
Ubepa was Olah’s birthplace, while it is the birthplace of my maternal great-grandmother, a woman named Ocheke Alama. Alama, the father of Ocheke, I understand, was the younger brother of the legendry Achipo Ukaani of Ubepa. Ocheke got married to so many men in Bewo, two men in Gakem and another in Tiv land, leaving a brood of many sons and daughters to each of her men. Through her marriages and high fecundity, Ocheke my famous ancestress, made me one of the most connected men in Bekwarra land. I have many cousins and nieces in many parts of Bekwarra, such that it was only the miracle of God that I got a Bekwarra girl who is not closely related to me by blood to marry!
As I said earlier, the two of us were traceable to Ubepa and my maternal grandmother, Emene Agabi Irigam, who was born to one of the two men she married in Gakem, took me to Ubepa several times, yet Olah and I never met there. But when we eventually met, our relationship took off and we remained friends and brothers until his passing a few days ago.
Sometime in 1981, both of us decided to contest for positions in the Bekwarra Students Association whose meetings used to hold at the Bekwarra Secondary School, Abuochiche. He went for the presidency and I for the Secretary-Generalship of the body and we both won our respective positions.
When we finished our studies in 1982, we were posted by the National Youth Service Corps scheme to Borno State and were subsequently deployed to Maiduguri, the state capital. He served at the Audi Department of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, while I was sent to serve as a lecturer at the College of Agriculture, Gamboru-Ngala Road. The country was good then and we were on top of our world as citizens of a middle level income country that was seen as the true giant of Africa.
For me, my life and times in Maiduguri of my youth corps year is probably the best times I have ever had in my life. A crate of egg from our school farm then was N45 and as a staff, I got it at a discounted rate of N30.
During our youth corps day in Maiduguri, we used to be frequent visitors to each other’s working places and homes. As a child brought up through strict African customs in which a boy child is not expected to be found in the kitchen, the provincial headquarters of women, when I got to College of Agriculture and was left on my own to fend for my food needs for the very first time in my life, I never knew how to cook. “What do they use in frying meat?” I would cry out to myself. I honestly did not know.
I didn’t have to die in silence. I made my plight known to my brother and friend. As a son of one of the early teachers Bekwarra produced, Olah, on the other hand, was properly brought up and trained in such domestic and ‘womenly’ chores as cooking. He, therefore, took time to give me culinary tutorials and in no time, I became an able chef who could give him and other visitors to my home treats. He took to reminding me of my earlier inability to cook, referring to me in jest as the man who uses water to fry meat.
I can’t remember now what led to it and whether the idea came from him or from me but during those our memorable one year (1982-1983) in Maiduguri, we got fascinated by the Biblical style of identifying certain prominent individuals as the “son of somebody”, such as “On the son of Peleth” or “Isaiah the son of Amooz”, and I started calling him “Olah unwa Afen Inah”, with him calling me “Idang unwa Alibi”, “Unwa Alibi” or “Unwa Afen Inah” for short. These were the identifications and greeting references we made to each other until his time came.
After the youth corps year, we went our different ways, getting jobs, he at the NNPC and me, in various newspaper houses. We got married to our respective heartthrobs and begat progenitors in colourful lives that God had ordained as our portion.
Unwa Afen Inah was a neat, meticulous, dutiful, patriotic, disciplined and refined individual who was a good friend and brother to me and an exemplary citizen who discharged his obligations to his fatherland. As he has journeyed to meet his creator, I have no doubt in my mind that he will be allocated a big mansion in heaven as a reward for the type of life he lived while here on earth and the service he rendered to God’s kingdom as one of his devoted and able servants. Adieu, Unwa Afen Inah!
Idang Alibi was a columnist and member, Editorial Board of the Daily Trust newspaper.
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