He died on Friday, 1st of January this year. It was “Happy New Year” day. His death was sudden, so sudden that it hit his family and friends, old-timers and new-timers, like a blow to the heart. And one of the new-timers, the secretary of the Sapele Boys’ Club (SBC) he led, rightly called the Friday that the good man closed his eyes forever “Black Friday.” He was not sick. He had no ailment known to himself or to his dumbfounded friends of old young men and young old men- some are greying, some balding, some with a paunch. They are old-timers and new-timers of relaxed attitude especially on their monthly day of meeting when they unite in joy and thought to re-light Sapele, Papa’s land, that has fallen into lean years, and that has taken more than a bit of a battering. They know what they want to re-invigorate and to take Sapele, their city of birth or of nurture, where they were raised, groomed and bred to the glorious, positively turbulent decades that famed their Papa’s land. They are ever so joyously joyous, so eagerly eager to help re-born, to help relieve the old guard, Safa, city of cities.
Chamberlain Akarue was the helmsperson of the united gems called Sapele Boys’ Club. How sad to speak of Chamberlain, the chairman of SBC, in the past tense now! He was a man who was more than a gentleman of vigorous pleasure patriotically committed to the city that nurtured him and to which he was well-adapted even though his old man who sired him was Ovu-born. Ovu is a hinter-land Urhobo growing town in what is, today, in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State. Chamberlain Akarue, a Sapele original, rightly highly popular there and up to and beyond there to several Delta State’s towns and cities, was buried in Ovu on Friday, 12 February, 2021 in the afternoon just before the 4:30 or so time-mark of his sudden departure on the afore-mentioned “Black Friday.” The bell tolled its knell to his grave on that day, that new Friday of 12th February. His faithful friends from the two great colleges, St. Malachy’s Grammar School, Sapele and Government College, Ughelli (Higher School Certificate) where the vigorous, marvellous Sapele big shot distinguished himself with his academic brilliance were there to honour our fallen friend. So also were other sundry persons who benefitted a great deal from Chamberlain’s legendary generosity in his professional years of public service especially as general manager of the now defunct Nigerian National Shrimps Company (NNSC) in Oghara (near Sapele) in Ethiope West Local Government Area.
Of course, some of his mates at the University of Ibadan where he was taught Drama and Literature by our Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka in the sixties/seventies also graced his burial event. Some of his colleagues in journalism, advertising and the civil service of Mid-West of the then years also hopped to Ovu to pay their last respect to the beautiful man of beautiful heart. The scope of his social reach and leanings was equally underlined by worthy members of Rotary Club within and outside Sapele, and of the prestigious Sapele Athletic Club, the oldest social club the English colonialists founded in Nigeria and West Africa. Members of the Sapele Boys’ Club which, as already indicated, he led (as pioneer chairman), were there in their huge and large numbers.
Their invited guests from Lagos and Warri were also present in numbers. The Warri Rebirth Group was in the forefront of the Warri invitees. As a firm Catholic by his religious leaning, Chamberlain’s church members of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Sapele were similarly at the event to add religious colour and glory to it.
All the while I was at the event I suffered from a chronic maladaptation that un-nerved me. As is the case in many obituary ceremonies in our part of this country, there were urchins and tramps looking unkempt and not well-fed struggling for unfinished, throw-away foods pointing to the pain in the land. I reflected on the presidency of Buhari. I nodded in astonished pain – as my thoughts were ravaged by the cancer of disappointment his presidency has caused and is still causing us. “Nigeria does not deserve this fate.”
I kept humming to myself. “Why do we have this president we call our president”? My humming to myself continued. There is no development that is development in the Urhobo hinterland I saw. There is no federal presence whatsoever there. There is also no presence whatsoever of the Delta State’s government/administration in the Urhobo hinterland that has produced great Urhobo sons and daughters. The burial trip to Ovu reminded me of a similar one I made to Orogun, another Urhobo hinterland town in Ughelli North Local Government Area, three or so years ago. There was nothing physically, practically and practicably tangible in that region of rich vegetation being ruined by oil-explorers. I equally found Agbara-Otor and the Agbara villages and towns I journeyed through despairing in every respect. The places were alienating despite what the Ibrus rightly have planted there in terms of solid developmental infrastructure.
Without mincing words, the majority of the interior villages and towns in the Niger Delta of buoyant aquatic life and rich mineral resources are like one another in terms of their devastation, exploitation and oppression of their people from hard ground villages to the ones in the waters and rivers. Everywhere there is the stench of their oppression even from their local political big wigs and money-bags. Hell!
As we departed Ovu well before sun-down, my friends and I, who journeyed from near and far away, despite the fear we nursed of COVID-19, and despite our anti-COVID-19 gears, were kind of buoyant in spirit when we re-entered our memories of yore and re-played events that buzzed us endlessly. The events and tales we recalled and re-told in the un-imitable manner and mannerisms of the typical Sapele brought-ups were of the sweet and not-sweet years of the decades that were our decades in the fabulous coastal city. We all agreed that Chamberlain will never forget this his great city even in Heaven.
May God grant Ifeoma the Igbo wife of our detribalized friend and brother the forever presence of mind to accept the will of God.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.