| By Maureen Chigbo | Sep. 1, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
SHE was radiant and beautiful. This is the way very many people will always remember her. Even when she turned 80 on January 24, 2014, many people who saw her said she looked 65 years, and expressed surprise at the smoothness of her skin and wrinkle-free face. This youthful look prompted one of her daughters to ask her on a certain day, after she had had her breakfast, “Mama you look so beautiful. Why?” With a captivating smile she answered: “I am at peace”. While she lived, late Mrs. Victoria Chinelo Chigbo, mother, matriarch, teacher, librarian, disciplinarian, and director, Realnews Magazine and Publications Limited, publishers of Realnews Magazine, an online publication, strove to be at peace with God, herself, man and society. Thus she obeyed the age old dictum: “Man, know thyself, be at peace with all”.
But her peace was shattered the night the vagaries of old age came knocking. And she fell. I heard her shout, quickly ran to the kitchen, lifted her up and carried her back to bed. Unknown to us, her last journey on earth had just begun with that fall, just a week to her 80th birthday anniversary which she so much looked forward to. She was eager to celebrate her birthday. She told us it had to be at Umuoji when we marked her 79th birthday in Arepo, Ogun State. She wanted to be at her best, graceful and elegant as always. She wanted to be sure of the kind of preparation we (her children) were making and sought to know the type of clothing we were making for her to wear on her special day.
In her no nonsense voice, she said: “If you are not going to get good clothes for me to wear, you better tell me now so that I can go to the market by myself to get it”. This made her children to have a good laugh the evening she said this with all seriousness because they could not remember the last time she went to the market to buy anything for herself. But they got her what she wanted and on that day, she looked gorgeous and did not complain with the choice they made. She loved every minute of the celebration, danced when the birthday song was sang for her by the life band music group. Everybody present, especially her children could not have known that she hurt her hip bone all through the celebration.
We only realized how bad the situation was when we returned to Lagos and her leg began to swell. And that was when her peace was absolutely shattered. And things got worse when we landed at the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, because we thought that was the best place in the country to handle an orthopedic case.
The first team of doctors who examined her could not say exactly what the problem was until the digital X-ray was done which confirmed that she had a fracture on the hip. A born survivor, who survived all odds, Mrs. Chigbo summoned all her will power and, against all expectations, survived the surgery. After staying four days in the intensive care unit, she gradually recovered. The wounds from the surgery healed nicely. She came back home and we were happy that with proper home care, she would recover very well. And with proper physiotherapy, she would work again.
But it was not to be. There were complications arising from the lackadaisical attitude and complacency on the part of the doctors who handled her case. Mrs. Chigbo was most heroic in enduring the pains that racked her body post-surgery, a reminiscence of her resilient and strong personality. Most importantly, it was God’s time to give her rest and restore her peace once again and forever more. And so on that appointed Sunday morning, she became breathless. She was rushed to the hospital. On reaching there, she was confirmed dead by two doctors. She died on Sunday, June 22, 2014, at 1 PM, with her last son, Udochukwu holding her at the back of the car. That was her last trip to the hospital she was frequenting and the very last on earth. But that’s not the end of her life story and journey on earth.
The journey of Chigbo’s life started when she was born, a bouncing baby girl, in Forcados, in old Warri province, now in Delta State, on January 24, 1934, to Late Chief Mark Muoghalu, a marine engineer of Anogu village, Umuoji, and Late Mrs. Christiana Muoghalu (nee Idemili), a renowned birth attendant in Umuoli Village, Umuoji, who was popularly called Mama Lagos because she lived in Lagos. Vicky, as she was fondly called, was the first daughter and for 14 years, an only child, which made her parents dot on her. Her mother was a strong disciplinarian, who never spared a rod to spoil her only surviving child. Both parents were strong Catholic Christians and they made sure that Vicky was given a strict Catholic upbringing.
In her unpublished brief biography which she wrote for her 70th birthday anniversary, which did not hold because she was sick, she recalled her striking early childhood experiences, especially when she received her first Holy Communion. “There was no resident priest in Forcados in those days. During the exam for first Communion, I was the only one who passed it. Through the hand of Reverend Father J. J. Heely, known then as Father Bear Bear, because he had long beards which became a fright to most children. I was very happy and sad then at the same time. Being an only child and receiving the 1st communion alone. Some children who did not pass the exam jested at me. Some were antagonistic, saying: ‘E too sabi sef…” she wrote.
Vicky started school very early at the Catholic School, Forcados. She was a brilliant girl. She never came below the 6th position in her class. Due to her father’s employment, the family left Forcados for Lagos on transfer. In Lagos, because of lack of vacancy in the schools, her father sought for permission to send her to a non-Catholic school. She attended Baptist School in Lagos for one year before she was sent down from Lagos to Queen of the Rosary College, Enugu. Because of her brilliance, she entered Queen of the Rosary College (QRC) from Standard four. It was something very rare at that time.
When she left QRC, she was employed by the Department of Statistics, Lagos. Her mother did not like it, saying that the best work for a girl was teaching. To make matters worse, she was transferred to the North. Vicky had to resign and transfer her services to the teaching profession out of obedience to her mother. Vicky taught in the Western Region, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo, premier of the Western Region, started free Primary Education scheme. She taught in some primary schools in Lagos. They included St. Theresa’s School, Apapa, and Ladi Lak School, Yaba. She also taught at the Municipal Council, Port Harcourt, then in the Eastern Region now Rivers State.
To strengthen her teaching capabilities, Vicky attended Nazareth Teachers’ College, Ibowon, Epe, Lagos. She also attended a library course at the Defunct Anambra State Library, Enugu. On her return, she was in charge of the school’s library project, a post she enjoyed very much because of her innate love for books. She retired as headmistress from Shanahan Memorial Primary School, Odakpu, Onitsha, in the early1990s.
In 1960, Vicky left Lagos to return to the East to marry late Pa Adolphus Chigbo, her late husband. They were married for more than 50 years before death claimed her husband. The marriage was blessed with six children who are also doing very well in their respective endeavors.
As a mother, Vicky, like her mother, also did not spare the rod to spoil her children. She was very firm in discipline and also pampered them when it became necessary. She spoilt them with gifts during festivities and always remembered to mark all the milestones in their lives. For example, she showered presents on them for any remarkable achievement like passing out from secondary schools, first matriculations in the university, birthdays, etc. She toiled had with her late husband to train their children. Despite spoiling her children with gifts, anybody who stepped a foot wrong was sure to get caned. Vicky believed that she was the ultimate teacher to refine the abilities of her children and so she made sure at a certain stage in their primary school level, they passed through her class and God help any of her kids who failed in any subject she was teaching or forgot to do any assignment. She was sure to cane the devil out of them.
An incident happened when one of her grown up daughters (Maureen) came back from the university in Enugu, and her kid sister asked her to help her with her assignment. She was helping her when she noticed that her hand was swollen and enquired to know what happened. At first she refused to say anything but when Maureen insisted, her sister said that her Miss flogged her. An angry Maureen threatened fire and brimstone on whoever did this to their lastborn, insisted on knowing who the teacher was but she was very reluctant to say. Maureen’s younger sister, Anthonia, who knew what happened but was not going to say out, mischievously suggested that Maureen should ask her sister the name of the teacher.
Surprisingly, Nwakaego refused to say the name of the teacher only casting a furtive glance at her mother who was busy on her sewing machine pretending not to hear what was going on. After a while Anthonia let out that the teacher in question was, indeed, their mother. Maureen was short of words and turned and asked her mother why? Initially, she ignored her but when she persisted, she quietly reminded her to ask her sister why she was caned. Maureen totally deflated asked her kid sister and she confessed that she failed to do her assignment the previous day. And when she got to the class the next day her Miss asked the class to sumbit their homework, she didn’t do it and so she got caned. Maureen now bereft of anger mumbled: “Mama but the caning was too much”, and to her sister: “at least you have learnt the lesson all of us learnt while we were in her class: Always do your homework before any other thing if you don’t you pay badly for it the next day in class.” Suffice it to say that this hard lesson has guided the actions of Vicky’s children throughout their life.
Until her death, Vicky practiced her Catholic faith. She belonged to many Christian societies. She was received into the prestigious Catholic Women Organisation Life Member organization in 1975. She held several executive posts in the Catholic Women Organisation, CWO, at the Christ the King Parish, Odakpu, Onitsha, the CWO, Onitsha Archdioceses as well as in the Life Member Organization. In the 1990s, she was the president of CWO, CKP, Ward Three, vice president, CWO, CKP, financial secretary, Life Member Organisation, Public Relations Officer, CWO, Archdiocese, and Patroness, CKP Youth in 1970s. She was also the Vice President of the Catholic Women Organisation, Umuoji. In recognition of all the work she did, the Catholic Women Organisation, Christ the King Parish, Onitsha, recently made her the Patroness of the Organisation.
Humble and skilled in conflict resolution, Mrs. Chigbo was involved in settling disputes in her community and the various organisations she belonged to. Lending evidence to her crisis management qualities is a letter dated 17/3/2001 and signed by F. A. Chukwuka of C.W.O, St. Theresa’s Station, Dimechem Umuoji, and addressed to Mrs Vicky Chigbo, Arunne, stating: “You are one of the C.W.O. members selected to deliberate and settle the crises rocking Ideoma Village C.W.O. since about six months now. The crisis is now getting out of hand…. Remember them in your daily prayers. So that God will help us to defeat the work of satan”.
Late Mrs. Chigbo’s commitment to the Catholic church was total. For instance, when there was a major crisis between the Catholic Church and its members in Umuoji community, she and her late husband, who were in the minority, sided with the church to uphold the truth. Because of their action, they were banned from participating in the activities of the larger Umuoji community until the matter was settled and the ban lifted. She led a lot of souls to God and made sure that unmarried women got wedded in the Catholic Church. She cared for the poor and widows in her community. Every Christmas whenever she was home, she had gift items for everyone especially the poorer members of the extended family.
The story of Vicky cannot be complete without stating the role she played during the Nigeria/Biafra War. She worked with the Red Cross as part of the Biafra War effort. Fearless as ever, she was one of the Biafran women who weathered all odds and put their lives at risk to cater for their families and ensure that they survived the war. She trekked miles and embarked on afia attack”, a very risky enterprise to trade.
Vicky was a very talented woman. A great seamstress, what in modern times is called designer. She was gifted and even without any formal training except what she learnt from her mother, turned out to be one of the sought-after seamstresses in Onitsha, even without any form of advertisement or shop to display her work.
Despite being a very hardworking, multi-tasked and resilient woman, Vicky understood that all work and no play could make Jack a dull boy. And so as a sociable person, she belonged to the Udoka Social Club of Umuoji, whose goal is the advancement of women empowerment. She had flair for languages and spoke Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Efik among others fluently, a sign of the different places she lived and worked. She also learnt the languages from the people she mingled with. According Udochukwu Gerald Chigbo, son, Vicky loved life completely and lived it intensely. “She ventured into politics and was nominated to contest for the 10-man delegate on the platform of the Social Democratic Party but your brother, Chief Pius Idemili, told you to stay off politics. “She was not only an outstanding teacher, through her profession she immensely contributed her quota to the emergence of strong, united and prosperous Nigeria through all the children who if not for her would have gone astray. Some of them are now doctors, bankers, pharmacists, successful business men etc. Their mothers who felt helpless when they brought them to her are now happier because she changed their life for the better,” Udochukwu said.
Her many hobbies included reading and sewing. Her great achievements will endure for some time to come as she left behind well brought up children and grandchildren to carry on from where she stopped. As Udochukwu said: “Even in death, your voice rings clearly as urgent and resonant as perhaps only you had the ability to do, bearing messages of restraint, justice and restitution. Our beloved mother may lie inert, but her intrepid voice speaks to us still from beyond the grave”.
As she finally disengages from the stress of this world to rest peacefully in God’s bosom, it is worthwhile to recap the biblical quote from Psalm 90:10 she used in the opening paragraph of her unpublished biography to serve as her final exhortation for the living as we mourn her: “Seventy is the sum of our years or eighty if we are strong and most of them are fruitless toil, for they pass quickly and we drift away.”