An instructive story seems to capture my mood as I reflect on the life and times of my dear mother, Madam Victoria Morenike Komolafe, who died at 87 late last year and whose remains will be buried in Igbara-Oke, Ondo State this Saturday.
It is a story told by my comrade and friend, Femi Falana (FF), a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The lawyer was invited to address some graduating students of a secondary school. Parents and teachers were also in the audience. In his inimitable manner, FF upended the conventional wisdom on the occasion. He, of course, amplified what other speakers had told the students – they should pursue their careers diligently so that their parents would be proud of them. Then FF quickly turned to the parents saying that fathers and mothers should also behave in a manner in which the children would be proud of their public image.
I am very thankful that my mother lived her life in such a way that as her son I remain proud of her memory given the generous testimonies to which I have listened since she died.
Mama, of course, related to all her children as a dutiful mother. She could sacrifice anything for the well-being of her children.
Any time I attempted to moderate her emotions in matters relating to us, her children, she always compared her mood to the behaviour of a hen while incubating its eggs. For instance, as a day student in secondary school, I liked staying back after school hours to do some revisions. A few minutes into my study my mother would appear in the school premises expressing fears that something might have happened to me on the way. Her refrain was that nothing should be taken for granted in what she called aiye gbomogbomo (the world of kidnappers.) Meanwhile, between the school and the house was a distance of barely a five-minute walk!
In addition to this motherly care, she also had a unique relationship with each of the seven of us. So you could say that apart from being a mother she was also something else to every son or daughter.
For me in particular, she was my mother and friend in the true sense of the word.
We simply enjoyed the company of each other and we relished endless conversations on every topic imaginable. We spoke as many times as possible a day as if we were teenagers just beginning to date. Some of the time, telephone calls were made from either end just to hear each other’s voice as we were wont to say, obviously. And, of course, we laughed a lot (in Ugbara dialect, if you like!), saying memereyin rin o (my teeth are aching because of laughter).
For about 18 years that my mother owned handsets, there was practically no day I did not hear her voice from anywhere I might be in the world. The only four days or so that she did not hear my voice were the four days of recuperation from a surgery that badly affected my voice box. Even at that at a call was kindly put through to her for me to hear her voice while I could not talk. She always said with a lot of pleasure that she knew my location at any time as I would inform her if I travelled out of Lagos.
With her death, this is one of the things I will miss most. She told me many stories in different situations. At times she would fondly refer to me as awe mi, Kayo (Kayode, my pal !) as a preface to a conversation. On my handset, her number is stored against the pet name Madam Moreks in acknowledgement of her smartness, neatness and elegance. While we addressed her as mama or eye in her presence, it was only recently I mustered the courage to tell her that Madam Moreks was the name my wife, Funmi, and I fondly gave her in her absence! She just laughed heartily and then smiled in response the way a mother would do to the pranks of a naughty boy, saying eh eh.
She often asserted her comportment by remarks like this: me seye ko deti (I am never a dirty old woman). She was scrupulous about her hygiene and look. About two weeks before her demise, mama still cared about her pedicure while on drips in the hospital. A few days before she passed on, Mama insisted on walking without support to the bathroom to brush her teeth despite her frail look, telling those of us around her that it was wrong to have a meal without cleaning the teeth.
My mother was a brilliant lady with a terrific power of recall. Her intuitive power was also noteworthy. Each time I listened to her analysis of situations and interpretation of events I felt a sense of regret that this exceptionally bright woman had no opportunity of even a day in school. I often told her she could, perhaps, have been a professor of history or literature if she had the opportunity of education at all levels.
She was gifted in orature. Perhaps, nature compensated her with such a sharp memory because she was not formally literate. At her feet, I learnt the history of her ancestors and those of my father. I particularly enjoyed the way my mother dissected the stories of the escapades of my famous grandfather, Pa Pakoada Komolafe, who was married to 11 wives! My mother used every story to teach me some lessons about life. She told me she herself learnt the history of the Komolafe family from my paternal grandmother, Madam Alice Oreyeju Komolafe.
In addition to being versed in family history, my mother was an eloquent authority in reciting the oriki (cognomens) of her ancestral roots and those of my father. She too felt great any time I recited in her honour the oriki of the Elemo family which she taught me almost imperceptibly. It was always her joy saying the oriki to my little children – Kayode, Taiwo and Kehinde- urging them to learn how to speak Ugbara dialect for easy communication between the grandmother and her grandchildren.
My mother’s cultural consciousness was exemplary.
Beyond her nuclear family, mama was passionate about her extended family. She was a woman of the clan. She always warned that one should never break the okun ajobi (the chain that connects one to the ancestor.) She was very meticulous about how cousins related to one another across generations.
She was very respectful and proud of her roots.
My mother was well informed about public affairs. She listened attentively to news on the radio including newspaper reviews. She participated in phone-in radio programme offering her views with clarity of purpose and freely providing words of wisdom. On some occasions, I felt embarrassed that the woman in Igbara-Oke, who could neither read nor write, was the one breaking news to me, a Lagos reporter, on phone. Her major source of news was radio.
It still remains a marvel to me how mama more or less skipped literacy to be part of the digital civilization. She could make and receive calls unaided. She ably operated her gadgets to have video calls with me and exchange photos and videos on WhatsApp. While I hardly checked the status of my contacts, my mother sometimes drew my attention to what she saw on the status of others.
It is a profound duty to her memory that without the benefit of formal education, my mother was fully part of the first quarter of the 21st civilisation.
Now death has struck bringing an end to the highly treasured friendship, but my consolation is that we both savoured the love and genuine humanity that subsisted in that friendship as mother and son.
To paraphrase an Igbara-Oke popular song, if reincarnation were a possibility I would like to be a son of Morenike, or if you like, omo Madam Moreks, again!
Kare o, eyemi. Omo opo Elemo kuye ke sororo osu, omo opo Elemo Kuye ke soruru ude.
Omo olope ainde, omo olope ko ti kekere sola.
Se ni mododobale ki ki mi k’Elemo linipa, se l’ipekere bo lapo mi.
Oni ba ria k’Elemo jomirin oso lalo o, eyemi…
Kayode Komolafe is the Group Executive Director of ThisDay Newspaper. He can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0805 500 1974