“Jonah, daddy is dead”. With just four words on the phone, my younger brother informed me that our father had moved on. It had been a fast-paced day from collapsing in church in the morning, to resuscitation, admission in one hospital, referral to a teaching hospital, admission in the tertiary care hospital, and death just before 5pm. Lacking the emotional make-up of most humans, the only time I would shed tears would be as I fell to my knees to tell God He would be responsible for funding the burial and I had no intention of burying two parents in one year, as I worried about my mom. Less than thirty minutes after hearing my father was dead, my mind switched to burial planning mode, and I would come to realise that it takes a village to bury their child.
Golden Idikibiebuma was the no-nonsense General Officer Commanding of the family. An astute educationist who retired as a principal; he had this devotion to education that he saw as the key to a better life. His last child might have already completed her bachelor’s degree if he had not married at the age of 44. He pushed all five of us towards navigating the educational system and would repeatedly state that he would gladly go naked in public if that would be the requirement to get all his children educated. The easiest way to get something from him was to frame it as a school need; money would show up. Maybe he did not get the memo that Nigerian military dictators, politicians and their accomplices had removed education from its erstwhile status as the “master key” to a good life, although I still hold the view that a well-educated citizenry is vital for national development despite the current disillusionment of many Nigerians.
Interestingly, I spent quite a lot of time talking with my dad while growing up, but these discussions were never on “mushy mushy” topics. We would debate politics, talk about happenings at the global, national, and local levels, including events affecting our Kirike Se (Okrika) tribe. By the time I was eight years old, he would buy newspapers and magazines, which I would read and discuss the summaries with him. He had a quick temper which I acquired but later dumped when I realised the foolishness of saying I was born hot-tempered. Being able to debate with my father gave me confidence to speak out everywhere else; teachers, aunties, uncles, and others quickly got the induction that I was not the compliant child that could be ordered around without any sensible rationale.
So, Golden died and needed to be buried. I am opposed to delayed funerals, as it is not strange in Southern Nigeria for a corpse to be kept for months or even over a year before burial. Thankfully, the Niger Delta Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) had passed a rule that families that want the church involved in burial activities should ensure burials are held within a month of death. While there are exceptions to the rule, it gave everyone some guidance that we needed to get the funeral done as soon as possible. During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, the Rivers State Government had made a rule requiring families to seek approval before holding any funeral in the state. Hence, we submitted three dates to the government, which picked a day that would be exactly six weeks from his death.
The family meetings began in earnest. While my siblings and our mom would meet via WhatsApp calls, our dad’s relatives would have physical meetings with my elder brother as our key representative, and we came to realise that although the dead man was our father, he was first some persons’ brother, cousin, uncle, etc., and they had cultural priority for planning his funeral. He had also been the chairman of the Fiberesima Opukpe War Canoe House, and until his death, was the eldest male in his family. The entire planning process opened my eyes to the elevated place of Okrika culture in the minds of our people. While I would argue that something was an illogical waste of funds, some aunt or uncle would explain how it is a cultural requirement, and I even had an aunt, trembling with emotions in her voice, tell me “we cannot treat Ina like this”; that is, as far as she was concerned, he had attained something in life that it would be dishonourable to him if we did not comply with the culture. So, comply we did, wherever reasonably practicable, while for others, we allowed the Fiberesima Omuaru (dad’s clan) do whatever gave them comfort.
On Saturday, 22 May 2021, we received his well-dressed corpse at the Okrika Mortuary and proceeded to the Fiberesima Polo to present the body to his people. From there, we moved to St. Peter’s Cathedral Okrika for a short burial service. We had earlier held a Commendation Service on Wednesday at St. John’s (Anglican) Church in Port Harcourt, since that was his regular church. After the funeral service, we proceeded to the cemetery behind the church and laid the casket into position.
“Dust to dust”; “Ashes to ashes”. At 11:20am, the grave was covered. Golden Idikibiebuma’s body laid to rest in the town he called home.
PS. I believe life on earth is not a chance occurrence that evolved from an unsupervised Big Bang. I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus Christ as the way to eternal life. There’s more about this belief here.
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