Mother hen’s battle with the hawks: 20 years remembrance of a priceless jewel - Sina Ogunbambo

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Late Mrs Christianah Towuro Ogunbambo showcasing her trade with a silver catfish Late Mrs Christianah Towuro Ogunbambo showcasing her trade with a silver catfish

For those who did not grow up in villages, tales of a hen squaring it up with a hawk in a battle might be a mere fiction, but for us privileged to have the luxury of growing up in a somewhat somnolent milieu, with mother nature, enjoying the chirpings of the birds and bleating of the goats, it is the best of live matches.

Ordinarily a mother hen panics as a hawk nosedives to pluck one of her chicken, but will still swell her feathers to protect the rest. However, that is not a mother hen one would proudly take a bet on in a battle with the hawk. When a hawk attempts to snatch a chicken from a real mother hen, that is when you know hens are birds that can fight and really fly high. Such mother hen will wrestle at the risk of her life to rescue a chick that is about to be hooked by the hawk or that which is in the firm grip of the hawk. Such mother hens are rare and are henceforth "worshipped" by villagers who cherish their bravery.

Such was the mother that my humble self and my younger Brother, Leke Ogunbambo were privileged to have in life for over four decades. Before us were elderly non-biological children and when we were growing up, younger non-biological children followed.

My mum, Mrs Christianah Towuro Ogunbambo, passed away on January 28th, 2000 in my arms and in my house in Lagos, exactly twenty years ago. She passed away praying for her children and all members of her family. However, that was not the reason I referred to her as, mother hen. Let me give three instances.

In 1965, I was a primary one pupil at Saint Barnabas Anglican Primary School, Okun-Owa, Ijebu in Western Region of Nigeria. That was the era of turbulent politics in the Western Region, then referred to as "Wild Wild West ". It was a time that political thuggery was at its worst. Houses of political opponents were then being torched and some human beings being massacred. I wouldn't know what caused the problem at my hometown, Okun-Owa at that time,  but all what we were told was that the "Commander-in-Chief " of political thugs, nicknamed  Ogberegede, was in town, one fateful day, on a mission to deal with political opponents. We were having our morning devotion in our school premises, when suddenly we heard the staccato of dane guns. Before we could open our eyes, our teachers had fled in different directions and there was pandemonium. Our school did not have a block fence at that time but that of grown tiny trees. I was in primary one, always enjoying the protection of senior relatives who always picked me home to school and back. But the day Ogberegede came, there was no room for such niceties. Everyone was unto himself. Elderly men were already on their farms while those who were not farmers had fled from the community.  How I got back home safely from the about one kilometre distance, I cannot tell. In the midst of this battle was my mother, not minding the booming of dane guns and whatever danger loomed ahead. Villagers were warning her to go back home and save her life. My mother turned deaf ears, raced to my school and ransacked everywhere. I was nowhere to be found. Amidst that tension, she was not shaken. Some advised that she should go back home and check. Finally, she came back home and met me in the company of my younger brother, Leke, still around two years old and my elderly cousin, Folake (now of blessed memory) who attended a Moslem Primary School, that was a stone throw away. She then knelt down to pray and thank the Almighty God.

This incident was just an appetizer to the one that followed in 1969.

Major Owen Ademola Adebanjo rtd, then a Sergeant, was the Platoon Commander and reporting officer for Army checkpoints around Sagamu to Ibadan axis on the old Lagos-Ikorodu-Sagamu-Ijebu Ode-Ibadan road, during the civil war.

He was at his makeshift office at the Veterinary Centre, in Sagamu one morning, when a woman she referred to as "one Mama Demola " came from Okun-Owa to report a soldier whom he said was harassing her and her daughter at Okun1Owa, due to rivalry between him and one civilian looking for her daughter's hand in marriage. Mama Demola, according to Sergeant Adebanjo (at that time) was threatening her life. The Platoon Commander from his records, did not have such a name but from findings got to discover that the then soldier, Taye “Obodujale” (nickname turned surname), was a deserter, having fled the army during the ongoing civil war at the time.

With three soldiers armed with AK 47 rifles, he ordered that the Lance Corporal (who loves wearing the rank of Warrant Officer, otherwise called Sergeant Major), Taye Obodujale, be brought to Sagamu which was about fifteen minutes drive from Okun-Owa. The soldiers left in his Land Rover SUV. After about one hour, Sgt Adebanjo wondering why the soldiers were not yet back came out of his office. To his surprise, he met some traders and lots of plantain scattered on the ground, at the Sagamu check point. The soldiers at the point, then told him that the three soldiers he sent to Okun-Owa came back battered and their three AK-47 rifles seized. The soldiers didn’t have the effrontery to stand before Sgt Adebanjo to tell that humiliating story, hence they told their colleagues. Pronto, the action men, commandeered a "bolekaja" bus and stormed Okun-Owa to  recover their guns and bring back the soldier, Taye Obodujale and whoever must have assisted him. Good enough, Sgt Adebanjo met his Land Rover parked around his office. He jumped in and sped to Okun-Owa.  As he was getting to Okun-Owa, he met many soldiers on the major tarred road and before he could get full briefing, an officer's vehicle pulled by.

The occupant, according to Sgt Adebanjo, was no other person than Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo (who later became military head of state and civilian president of Nigeria), who then was Commander, Ibadan Garrison. He asked what happened and he was briefed. He then ordered Sgt Adebanjo to produce the deserter soldier, Lance Corporal Taye Obodujale, “dead or alive” and recover the three AK 47 guns. The soldiers then stormed Okun-Owa  community but with a firm instruction from Sgt Adebanjo that they should not kill anybody in the community because he was an indigene. Perhaps that was what saved Okun-Owa  from being given what could be regarded as modern day "Odi treatment " where many lives were lost and properties destroyed.

Able bodied men, young and old who had either witnessed or heard how Lance Corporal Taye Obodujale and two of his brothers, wrestled the three soldiers, overpowered them and seized their guns, had envisaged there would be trouble and fled the town into bushes and neighbouring villages. Most women too closed their shops and hid themselves in their houses. Although the armed soldiers were not firing shots, they were applying their horse whip brutally on whoever they met on the road. My younger brother and I, were then still at school. You could imagine what a woman who would go to any length to salvage her first born child during the "Ogberegede" imbroglio would do, when her two biological children were trapped at school. With agility, she sped on her way to Saint Barnabas Anglican Primary School, Okun-Owa and on her way met soldiers who ordered her to go back. She boldly told them she was heading to school to bring her children home and she matched on. One of them ran after her and gave her a horse whip. Despite the pains, she did not retreat. She got to school and did not see her children. I was ten years old at that time and my younger brother was six. I had looked for him and through some hidden corners that only a native could explore, found ourselves home.

Sweet mother came back home and met us. She hugged us closely and then wept. We joined.

Though the soldiers spent three weeks after in Okun-Owa, they did not torture the women again. My mother had gone to report to her lawyer, Late Adesina Odedina (of blessed memory) who got in touch with their superiors, hence they desisted from flogging women. Odedina was my mother's  customer as she traded in fresh sea fish and variety of bush meat.

According to Sgt Adebanjo who retired in the Army as a Major in year 2000 and is 74 years old, it took a search of three weeks to recover the guns that were buried somewhere in the town. This was after the threat to blow up the residence of Taye Obodujale's father and that of his neighbours with grenade.

Finally Lance Corporal Taye Obodujale was found at Irolu, a neighbouring community and he was shot in the leg before he was overpowered and brought to Okun-Owa town hall.

He was thenafter driven to Ibadan along with the now rusty three AK 47 rifles. Col Obasanjo (as he then was) interrogated him and found out he was somehow incoherent. He condemned his action but remarked he was a gallant soldier to have overpowered three other armed soldiers while not carrying any arm. He then directed he should be taken to a Psychiatric hospital for examination. For recovering the gun and the offending soldier alive, Sgt Adebanjo was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer 2. Till today, Obodujale remains a hero in Okun-Owa  for not only disarming three soldiers but for the tales woven around him that while fighting during the civil war, he went with his Commander to the battlefield with a battalion and only him and his boss (whom he empowered with charms) returned alive.

Being a woman who had her biological children at a very late age, the time her age mates were having grandchildren, one would have thought her protective ability were due to such a factor. Far from it.

About five years to her demise,  one of her relations, Folami, had a pretty wife who during hard times just eloped with another man and was bold enough to be living with such an abductor in that same Okun-Owa community.  The very reserved Folami expressed his sadness over the matter to my mother, feeling oppressed. The man who snatched the wife was said to be a violent and disrespectful person, but he commanded a lot of cash at the village level. My mother told his relation not to worry.

He headed for the wife snatcher house one morning and told him she came to greet him. Mum told him that it was not his fault that the woman eloped but that of the covetous woman. She said further that as an original Yoruba man, he should have asked the woman to process divorce papers and return the dowry paid on her and that until he did that, Folami remained her husband. Surprisingly, the wife snatcher prostrated and begged mum, admitting that what he did was bad. He ordered the woman to pack her belongings and follow Mama. That was how the wife returned to her husband's house and was there till Mama's demise.  She has now left my relation and married another man after filing of proper divorce papers.

I was wondering the kind of human rights activist my mother would have been if she had formal education. She never stepped through the gate of any school for education except when she went to monitor the progress of her children from teachers and present them with gifts.

My mother was loving and very caring. She did not believe in beating children but would go at length to chastise them with words when they erred. Even at that, she never cursed a child, when others did so unintentionally. Imagine a mother scolding a child and still calling such, a blessed and glorious child.

In our home, there was no limit to the amount of food you could eat. The golden rule is that there must not be wastage. When it was time for harvest of oranges, she would buy a full basket and all any child, with our legion of friends, required was to hold a knife, peel oranges and suck, till they were full.

She was also a great motivator. When we were in primary school, she only asked us of our positions in class.  If you came first, second or third, you were guaranteed a bottle of Howdy, Mirinda, Lemonade or Tango. At secondary school level, it graduated to nice shirts and trousers. This apart from her advice and prayers that kept us on top.

As I said, she traded in fresh and live fish, with bush meat too. At inception, she sold Titus Ibru fish, which were normally sliced and sold to children and adults. It was a good combination with a meal of soaked gari in the afternoon. Later she graduated into selling our natural fishes.

Her speciality were giant cat fish (eja aro and odupe), Chrysichthys nigrodigitatus - silver catfish "eja osan" (usually purchased by prominent Ijebu people as part of bridal engagement demands), tilapia, and electric fish. Of reptiles too, she dealt in crocodiles, alligators, and snakes. As for animals, she sold grass cutters, antelopes,  porcupine, deer, squirrels, pouch rat (okete), etc.

She also diversified into selling bags of gari and drums of palm oil. She would give her hunters loan to purchase dane guns and cartridges and the fishermen,  loans to buy canoes and nets.

Her human relations was fantastic. Imagine a first time customer wanting to buy nicely smoked fish. The couple came but their bargaining was bad. The husband was willing but the wife kept on shooting down the price. Later they resolved to depart without purchasing any fish. My mother called them back, wrapped nicely two big and well smoked fish with tantalising aroma, which she presented to them as gifts. She told them that the proof of the pudding was in the eating and that if they did not buy from her this time around, they could do so next time. The stunned couple did not only buy fish that day, they became regular customers and like Mama's children for a long time and would only request for final price when they did their purchase.

To say my mother was a workaholic is putting it mildly. She woke up every morning by 5.30am, prepared us for school and embarked on her trading activities in our compound and hardly went to bed until 11pm on most days.

As much as she cherished and cared for her non-biological and biological children, she did not pamper any.

Right from my primary one in school, I have been washing my school uniform. If not washed properly, she will teach me what next to do till it gets to a point where she is satisfied. I was taught how to grind pepper on grinding stone. I don't waste water because I do go to brook to fetch water until the Government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo provided our community and others with potable tap water. Even at that we still have to queue to fetch water. I wash pots, plates, clean the surroundings and cook all types of food. I assisted her tremendously in her trade and appreciate what it takes to make money through hard labour. We were taught how to save money in clay banks.  All these lessons became very useful to me later in life.

Some of her prominent customers for decades include Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and  Late Mama H. I .D Awolowo. It extended to their son, Late Oluwole Awolowo. Others include the Awujale and paramount ruler of Ijebuland, Mr Sikiru Adetona, Mrs Caroline Adebutu (Mr Kensington Adebutu dynasty), Late Adesina Odedina, Late Taye Oworu, Late J. S. Ogunnaike (Olugbon of Odogbolu and Chairman, Western State Civil Service Commission), Late Adetokunbo Ademola, the first Chief Justice of Nigeria (my mum called him adajo olododo - judge of colours, due to his regalia), Albert Awofisayo, Late Oladipupo Olukoya, Late Bayo Oduwole (my Uncle), Late Odufunmilade Odunaiya (my first cousin), Late Oluwunmi Olukoga, Late Olabisi Onabanjo (former  Governor, Ogun State), Late Bode Oliwo, Late Oladotun Odunuga (my school Principal), Late Onanuga (Ona Ara Bookshop) ,Late Funmi Adeyemi (my uncle) and a host of others.

Our early exposure to these eminent personalities made my younger brother and I resolve to pursue education to the tertiary level despite that our father, Samuel Ogunbambo - Odunaiya only had Sunday school education, which enabled him to read and write in Yoruba and our mother who never had any formal education but was an excellent business woman who was marvelous in the arithmetic of money.

Despite her success in life, she remained respectful and submissive to her husband.  When she was waiting on the Lord for the fruit of the womb, she was attending the Church of the Lord Aladura (a white garment  church). When the husband later asked her and the children to go back to Anglican Church (his church), she obeyed without asking questions.

My mum was a cheerful giver and a lover of the extended family, the community inclusive. Always excited when young ones were getting married, she would be the last on the queue for presentation of gifts and her usual gifts were a very large bowl with a live fish inside (significantly for the couple to bath their babies and the fish, as part of their first menu as husband and wife). Everyone would laugh when she presented her gifts and they usually call her “Mama oni basia”.

She was also a great shoulder to lean on for everyone around her. There was a case of a young girl (now a mother) who fled from her home to my mother's place because the dad wanted to beat her for a misdeed. My mother sent for her father and she was made to apologise. Mum also pleaded on her behalf. She was subsequently asked to follow her father home but she refused, insisting she would henceforth live with my mother. When my Mummy eventually agreed she could live with her and the father wholeheartedly consented, the girl who came in pants refused to follow his father to bring her clothes. The father obliged to do this. From that day she became Mama's daughter, had her education while living with her and did not leave until she got married.

I have chosen this approach to remember my mother and celebrate her, hoping that mothers of nowadays, wives and daughters may find one lesson or others to learn from her life.

My precious mother,  Mama Popoola, Mama Oluwasina, Mama Oluwaleke, Grandma Adedolapo, Mama Egbe,  Bobadega age group society of Okun1Owa,  Mama Egbe  (matron) of fish sellers association of Okun-Owa, Mama Egbe of Hunters Association of Okun-Owa, an epitome of beauty,  a quintessence of pure love and affection, continue to rest in the bosom of our Lord.

Though you departed into eternity 20 years ago, it still looks like yesterday. Sweet is the remembrance of the just. You live forever in our hearts.

 

  • Sina Ogunbambo is a journalist and a public affairs analyst.