FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiFriday, April 21, 2017
cyril.nwokeji@wol.be
Belgium

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GLORIUS EXIT OF MY SECOND FATHER AND MENTOR:
SIR CHRISTOPHER ALADE MGBEKWUE: A MAN WITHOUT CANT

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y late mentor and second father: Sir Christopher Alade Mgbekwue, was actually my in-law. He was married to my cousin: Mrs. Bridget Mgbekwue. But because of the close ties between us: a sort of "father - son" relationship, I prefered to call him" brother!" At the time he got married to my cousin, yours sincerely was too young to know him.

However our paths crossed in an intimate way, when as a consequence of my failure to gain admission to the boarding facilities of my then new school: St Gregory's college, Obalende, Lagos, my late father, sought a last minute alternative. This was necessary since my parents considerd me, then, an eleven year old student, too young to cope with the hustles and bustles of Lagos transportation, if one were to go to school from my house at Apapa, Lagos. Thus having tried other alternatives without success, my late father, came to the family of my cousin and her beloved husband, who lived close to St. Gregory's college, Obalende, for help, to provide me with boarding facilities, by allowing me to live with them during the school days. Notwithstanding the last minute request, that it was, my in-law, whom I fondly called "Brother Alade," or" Brother," agreed, but with a proviso, that his father: the late Chief John Mgbekwue, of blessed memory, whom we fondly called "Baba," who also live there, must be in agreement. Baba's consent was subsequently gotten and as a consequence, the problem of getting my long sought after boarding facilities, to attend secondary school, was solved! When my father, offered to contribute to my feeding and maintenance, Brother Alade, flatly rejected the offer; claiming that he didn't consider feeding me a big deal. It was indeed a very kind gesture which my family very much appreciates till this day! As a matter of fact, during my five-year stay, at the Mgbekwue family's house, at Obalende, Lagos, during my secondary school days, your sincerely got free boarding: free accomodation and feeeding! It is a kind gesture my family and yours sincerely will never forget! I have already told my wife and children about it. During our visit to Nigeria, in 2008, I took my wife and children, in the company of my father, to Obalende, to show them where I spent a very important part of my formative years! My wife and children and the bigger family, will forever be grateful for the warm and kind gesture, I got from the Mgbekwue family; the man at the centre of it all, was my late mentor and second father: Sir Christopher Alade Mgbekwue! "Brother mi," thank you very much!!!!!!!

My stay at Obalende for five momentuous years, were some of the best and finest in my entire life! I was warmly recieved as a member of the Mgbekwue family, an honour which is still valid till date! Yours sincerely not only got free boarding facilities, at the Mgbekwue family home, but I also got a decent upbringing that complemented my parents' efforts at home. At the centre of it all, was the man I fondly called" Brother!"

Brother Alade, was a very kind and fair-minded person, who never discriminated against any body. My father described him, as a "rallying point," for all and sundry! Every one regardless of tribe, or whatever distinctions, were considerd as one and the same and there were no discriminations, as far as he was concerned! We all ate letterly and figuratively from one pot!

At the young age of thirty-seven, Brother, was entrusted with patriarchial responsibility of the Mgbekwue family, as a consequence of the death of his beloved father: Chief John Mgbekwue, of blessed memory. Notwithstanding his relatively young age, he undertook this responsibilty, with distinction. By not only being a father and husband to his immediate family, but also to the extended family! Brother, though, not having had the opportunity to pursue his educational standards to the highest levels, according to his intelligence quotient, no thanks to the family's then financial challenges, nevertheless, bounced back from that slight disadvantage, to become a successful business man! As a consequence, he not only provided educational opportunities to the highest levels to his biological children, who are all university graduates; he did same to his family members, friends and even strangers, he barely knew! Brother Alade, was very kind, kind to a fault! I remember the case of a Jamaican man, in the eighties, who was homeless, and ran into brother accidentally. After recounting his ordeal, brother Alade, immediately, admitted him into his house hold, where he got free food and accomodation! When he said this to me, I criticised his action, by telling him, I considerd it risky, admitting to your house hold, someone you barely knew! But that was brother Alade for you; he was kind to a fault! My late father described him as a man with the "kindest and largest heart in the world!" Indeed there can never be another Brother Alade!

Brother Alade was a man who rejoiced at the success of others. He was not given to petty jealousy. When yours sincerely graduated from university, at the age of twenty -one, he was the happiest man in the world! He rejoiced abundantly, telling all and sundry, that the little Cyril of those days, had become a university graduate!

Brother Alade, was born to an Igbo father and a Yoruba mother; in his actions and deeds, he bridged the divide that existed between both tribes. While staying at Brother Alade's house, I also had brothers and sisters from the Yoruba tribe, some of whom were related to Brother Alade! I became the brother of: "Aunty mi" Kehinde, Aunty Taiye, Aunty Iyabo, Aunty Idaya, Aunty Tawa and my sister Idowu. I also became the brother of: "Brother mi" Rahman, "Brother mi" Niyi, Brother "Ariko" and also became the adopted son of" Baba Idaya,"" Baba Iyabo;" and all the other beautiful brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, who due to the limitations of the human memory cannot be mentioned. I love them all, they were and still are true relatives, whom I was priviledged to know, thanks to that wonderful man:" Brother mi" Alade!

On the side of the Mgbekwue family, my involvement with brother Alade, further strengthened the already existing family ties between my family and his sisters: Chief Mrs Celestina Mbah and her family, Mrs. Elisabeth Okwumah and her family. During my stay at the Mgbekwue family house, I also stayed with Mrs. Elisabeth Okwumah and her husband: Barrister Pius Okwumah and their lovely children: Nonye "Nono", Uchennna, Nkechi, Late Barrister Pius Nnanna, of blessed memory and Ngozi. My sincere thanks to Barrister and Mrs. Okwumah, for the role they played in my upbringing. Of course certainly not to forget "Baba" and his wives, who also played a role in my upbringing: "Mama Mary ", Late" Mama Ngozi," of blessed memory and" Mama Mgborie". And of course Brother's brother and sisters, who also became my brother and sisters: Florence, Mary, Victoria, Chinyere, the late Richard of blessed memory, Nwamarabia, Ifenyinwa, Mgborie and Ngozi. And certainly not to forget my late aunty of blessed memory: "Mama Obodo"!

Brother Alade, not only bridged the gap between the Yoruba and Igbo tribes, he went further, he was a detribalised and patriotic Nigeria, who had friends from all over the country. Through my stay at his family house, I became the brother of: "Brother mi" Abu, Brother Coleman, Brother Abubaker, Brother Anoghena, Osunene, Brother Eze, Brother Ali, Brother Issa, Brother "Tinubu," Brother Azuka and his lovely wife, Brother Sunday, Brother Mike; my sister" Iyawo Abu," my sister Omosi; my father" Papa," and my mother" Mama," my mother" Mama Ijebu," and his daughter, my sister, Funmilayo. And of course the other fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, who cannot be mentioned, due to failings of the human memory. I indeed love them all!

Brother Alade, was one of those few Nigerians, who was fluent in the three major Nigerian languages: Igbo, Youruba and Hausa!

He had a progressive mentality and didn't have difficulties accepting my Belgian-born wife. One of the last things he told me when I last saw him in Lagos, was to continue to live in peace with my wife!

Brother Alade was a very sociable man, a good mixer, who mixed hard work with social life. He was a jolly good fellow! He told me that wearing a long face as a consequence of life's difficulties, was a bad way to live. He was an optimist, who believed that no matter how difficult today becomes, tomorrow was another day, and could be better! However, for all his joviality and friendliness, he was a stickler for discipline and correctness. Brother, would brook no nonesense from anybody. There was discipline in the family!

He was a very devoted member of the Catholic church; a knight of the Catholic church! He never missed mass on Sundays, and partook in many christian activities and insisted on same from his family members.

He had that uncanny ability, to do many things at the same time. As it was the custom in Africa, unscheduled visits, was the norm. During unscheduled visits from friends and family, Brother, would give them a very warm welcome, and at the same time ran his business, which he operated from his house!

During my subseqeunt visits to his house hold, even after I left the University, apart from the warm welcome I usually received, Brother always gave me money for transport, even though I always had transport money. The posibility of Brother not giving me transport money, can be likened to the posibilty of a day without night fall!

In conclusion, I thank the good Lord for the life of this wonderful man, who played such a big role in my upbringing. I regret the fact he didn't visit me together with his wife, in Belgium, as he promised. I still had hope this would take place, I certainly didn't expect his death at this time. It is difficult to imagine I wouldn't hear again that beautiful, warm voice that usually welcomed me at Obalende:" A ha Cy;" or that friendly voice that answered my phone call:" How are you Mr. Nwokeji?;" or that warm voice that greeted family and friends:" Ah glory be to God!;"" A ha Jolly boy ;"" Arico;" "Let them say." I would never again hear the beautiful and warm voice from family and friends that inquired after Brother Alade:" Where is Papa Caro? ;" or" Alade re!"

The news of his death struck me like a thunder bolt out of the blues. Since I learnt of his death, the tears have flowed freely! On one occassion, in the early hours of the morning, my wife had to console me. I was and am still devastated at the news of his death! I have decided to avoid calling his children for now, because one wouldn't like to cry before one's siblings. My sincere condolences to them and to my cousin, his beautiful wife: Mrs. Bridget Mgbekwue and to the Mgbekwue family. Brother Alade, was a rare gem, who lived a very fruitful and succesful life in every possible way. He lives the Mgbekwue family, in a much better shape than he met it. This in my late father's opinion, is the mark of a successful man: a man who improves his environment, in his life time!

May the soul of Sir Christopher Alade Mgbekwue, rest in the bossom of the Lord, Amen!!!!!!!

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