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In Memoriam of the Nigerian civil war civilian deaths

In Memoriam of Mrs Adeline Omorinre Johnson and other civilian deaths of the civil war.

Mrs Adeline Omorinre Johnson, neé Ajai was my dad’s elsest sister. She was also called Mama kekere – small mother because she was the mother of the Ajai clan after the death of her own mother, Mrs Keziah Ajai, neé Shaw. Mama Kekere was beautiful inside and out. My paternal grandfather has ‘abijo’ genes. I can’t explain it in English. You know how you would know MKO’s children? Yes. You knew my Papa Idunmota’s children too. His daughters all looked alike regardless of who their mother was. And my Papa Idunmota gave all his daughter’s ‘pele’ – small horizontal marks on their cheeks that seemed to enhance their beauty even more. I begged my dad for the longest time to give me the pele as well but he refused. My aunts all had (have in the case of my only surviving aunt, Mrs Apara) the pele and they all were (is in Mrs Apara’s case) ebony beauties, Mama Kekere being the matriach of the clan.

My parents ‘moulded’ me on the template of my Dad’s Mama Kekere. Mama Kekere was not only my grandfather’s first child, she was also his right hand person till she died. She died before her dad you see. She died during the civil war. I was a baby when she died but in the Ajai family, her legend lives on. She was compassionate yet firm. A curious mix of soft love and tough love. She was actually my dad’s step or is it half sister? I always get confused with step and half. She and my dad were the same dad but not the same mum but she did not differenciate between full sibling and half or step sibling. She was the eldest of the clan while my dad was the baby of the clan. She actually named me OLUBUNMI. In Yoruba culture, the name the child will be called is traditionally given by the paternal grandfather. My paternal grandfather gave her this honour of naming his grandchildren on his behalf. And my dad passed this honour on to me as well. I named my sister, Yemisi’s children on behalf of my dad. Whenever my younger sisters annoyed me and I lashed out at them, my dad would tell me how Mama Kekere would have dealt with the situation with love and firmness.

So, Mama Kekere is on on my mind. Why? She died during the civil war. A death that was still felt by my dad till he died. She died a preventable death and in his arms you see. She was asthmatic and had an attack in the middle of the night. She needed to be rushed to the hospital but there was a curfew and a war going on. My father did not drive in those days and as she kept getting worse, my dad had to do the unthinkable. He rushed out into the night and was almost gunned down by Federal soldiers. At that point, my dad said he did not care if he died or not. He could not sit wringing his hands while his beloved sister gasped for breath. Luckily for him, the soldiers were not trigger happy. He put up his hands and explained the situation to them. The soldiers then got a car, I suppose it would have been a military car to take my dad and his beloved sister to the hospital. She did not make it to to hospital and died in her brother’s arms, in the car.

So, yes, my family was touched by the tragedy of the war too. She was the most loved member of the family, my Aunt Adeline Omorinre Johnson, neé Ajai. May her soul and those of other loved ones who died preventable deaths on all sides of the war rest on in peace.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. its appalling. i didn’t witness the war but i had so many family members die during the war. my maternal grandmother died with my maternal uncle while crossing the niger river from asaba to onitsha, there were bombed by a nigerian plane or artillery (no one is certain). my maternal aunt died of malaria or starvation or one of a million other diseases killing children in refugee camps. not to talk of the scores that died in kaduna during the pogroms. you see, my maternal grandad was an officer in the nigerian army and he escaped during the genocide. and also the asaba people massacred by murtala mohammed and his troops after they retook the city. i can go on and on about my people that died during the war but of what good is it

    1. Hmmm… Asaba was badly affected wasn’t it? May the souls of these departed rest in peace. So, your mum lost a few people then.

  2. My first exposure to the Biafran war was Chimamanda’s book -half of a yellow sun. Today your story brought it home. The ripple effect of civil unrest cannot be estimated.

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