Our Personality of the Week is a repetition in honour of Late Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Amaechi who passed on recently. She was a renowned politician and former member of the defunct Mid-Western House of Assembly, one time Chairman, Bendel Hotels and the first titled female Chief of Agbor Kingdom. In this all revealing interview she granted Ika Weekly on Monday, June 12, 2017 at her residence in Agbor, she gave a detailed account of her daring mission to free the late Obi Ikenchukwu of Agbor from captivity at the thick of the Civil War and her harrowing experience while in detention over trumped up coup allegations at the Kiri-Kiri Maximum Prisons. READ ALSO: OKOWA WILL BE CELEBRATED IF HE UNITES IKA NATION SAYS ASHIEN
May the soul of Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Amaechi rest in perfect peace
Good day Ma. May we meet you?
I am Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Modupe Amaechi
Tell us about your family?
I was born into Engr. Onwuemezie Odirin’s family from Agbor-Obi, Ihogbe Quarters on August 3rd 1929. We were eight in the family. My father had only one wife, Lady Elizabeth Odirin. I was the 3rd of the eight children. I was born in Enugu. My father was a senior Mechanical Engineer with Nigerian Railways. I schooled at Our Lady of Apostles Primary School, Enugu. My husband’s name is Dr. Augustine Amaechi. He was a medical doctor based in Lagos. We had four children, two boys and two girls.
What about your early life?
I got married in class four. My secondary school was at Holy Rosary Secondary School, I stopped at class four, before I got married to my husband at the age of 20 and after my wedding, my husband and I moved to London.
Tell us a little about your work experience
I was into catering in Lagos where I was based after I came back from London.
You are known to be the first female titled Chief in Agbor Kingdom. How did that come about?
My mother was from the Agbor Royal House. During the Nigerian Civil War, the Federal troops took the Obi of Agbor to Asaba, then I was in Lagos. When I heard about the Obi being taken to Asaba, I went to General Yakubu Gowon to tell him that I wanted to go to Asaba, so he could give me a permit letter, because there was war in Asaba. He consented and gave me a letter to the Commander at Asaba, he made the arrangement for me to get to Benin, where Ogbemudia gave me a van and escorts to take me to Asaba because the war was still on and that was my first encounter with Ogbemudia. On our way from Benin, I branched at the Palace to get more information from those that were around. When they saw me with the van and some soldiers at the palace, they thought the soldiers had captured me too, until I told them I was on a mission to see the Obi. I requested for two Palace men to accompany me and they appointed Late Mr. Akpenyi, the father of Sunny Akpenyi and Mr. Christopher Aliagwu to go with me to Asaba. On our way, I bought packs of cigarette and drinks which I distributed at the numerous check points. On getting to Asaba, I requested to see the Commander, a request which was initially declined, but after much persistence, I was taken to the Commander who was at the battle front then.
When I saw the Commander, I handed over the letter to him, which Major. Gen. Gowon gave to me, and he granted me audience and allowed me to see the Obi, who had not been crowned at that time. When the Obi saw me at the cell, he thought I was arrested by the soldiers as well, until I told him I came to see him. He was so elated to see me, that he shed tears while he held me. After I left the Obi’s cell, the Commander called Gowon to inform him that the Obi was still alive. On hearing that, Gowon instructed Ogbemudia to bring the Obi back to Agbor. As soon as the soldiers guarding his cell discovered he was an Obi, they prostrated before him and told me he was the only one still alive out of the three other persons he was captured with. They did not know he was an Obi because as at the time of his arrest, he was not putting on any royal apparel.
When I came back to Agbor to inform the people what Ogbemudia said, there was rejoicing and dancing everywhere. That same day, I went back to Lagos in a military plane and I went straight to meet Gowon to thank him for making it possible for me to see my brother even in the heat of the war at that time.
The following day, the Obi was released, and it was after my first encounter with Ogbemudia at the airport that he made me join his cabinet. He made me the Chairman of Bendel Hotel. After the Obi was released, preparations for his coronation started, in the process, he said he was going to make me a chief, an offer which I declined. Unknown to me, he had told Ogbemudia about it the day he came to Benin to see him and they made arrangements without my knowing. So on the day of the coronation, Ogbemudia asked me to accompany him, with E.K. Clark and others to Agbor. When I asked why, he did not give me any reason. On getting to Agbor, the Obi came out with some old chiefs, and put beads round my neck, announcing that he has made me the Oriuwe of Agbor. Everybody there including Ogbemudia and E.K. Clark started greeting me. I was astonished because I had rejected the offer when he brought it up to me, so I thought he had forgotten about it. The coronation took place even while the war was still on. So that was how I became the first female Chief in Agbor.
What is your relationship with the royal house?
My mother was the daughter of the Obi of Agbor, So, I was an aunty to the Obi.
How were you able to gain access to Major General Gowon at that critical time of the war?
My senior daughter who schooled in Kaduna was in the same convent with Major General Gowon’s wife and also Major General Gowon’s ADC’s wife, so when I told them about my intention to meet Major General Gowon, they arranged it for me, because they had a free access to him.
Chief, how was life in Lagos after you returned from London?
We lived in the Medical quarters in Yaba and that was where I had my four children. Life was fine then. My catering business was at small scale level then. I stayed in Lagos for 66 years. I came back to Agbor 5years ago.
How did you come into limelight in the mid-western era from being a small scale caterer to the Chairman of one of the biggest hotels in the Midwest then?
I was not so much a politician, the little politics I involved myself in was with Action Group. I was the Women Leader of the Action Group political party in Benin and Asaba. It was while in that position that I established Mbiri farm, along with two agriculture officers, Mr. Robert and Mr. Durumgbe, they were Agriculture specialists.
I brought them to the Obi of Mbiri to acquire the land. I also took them to Kwale to open a farm. I built the Bendel Hotels in Benin, Warri, Agbor, Sapele and Bomadi, E.K. Clark’s town.
How do you rate politics of then and that of now?
The Action Group was plain and straight forward; there was no hanky-panky in the politics of old, unlike what is obtainable now. There was nothing to hide, transparency was our watchword.
Were you still involved in politics after the creation of Edo and Delta State from the defunct Bendel State.?
Yes, after the Action Group faded away, I was in PDP for sometime.
What do you engage in now?
I am retired and I sell Cemadon Table Water.
What was your relationship with E.K. Clark?
We were in Ogbemudia’s Cabinet together. He was the one that informed me of Ogbemudia’s death.
Why did you not play active role in Delta State politics?
They were too crafty. I am a straight forward person. They see the right thing, but resort to the bad. So, I knew I was not going to enjoy it.
If given the chance, what would you change in the present day politics?
I will like to see women given more appointments. Majority of the appointments given now are to men. Women should be given more opportunities.
How do you rate our cultural heritage now?
Our culture is not fading away, because we still do Osizi and Ibu-Onu, a period of fasting before the Osizi festival. There is also a period where Agbor people do not eat new yam, they eat only old yam. Each home especially old men and women must have up to two mortars because they don’t use the same mortar to pound the new and old yam. The old men fast for about 6 weeks. The Dein has promised to do Osizi soon, though no date has been fixed yet.
What are the features of Osizi, because most of the new generations do not know about it?
It is a period of dancing and singing, the event lasts for 3 months. There is a particular song sung by everybody. People come to witness the occasion. The song usually sang at time is only reserved for Osizi, you don’t sing it on any other day, if not, it becomes a taboo to whosoever sings it any other day. It is a very happy period. It usually holds from October, during the raining season. During that period of dancing, there is usually no rain in Agbor even when it is raining in other places. The rain stops at Ali-fedeke and starts at St. Columba’s. Rain-wavers usually hold the rain. There was also merriment and different communities and quarters come to pay homage to His Royal Majesty.
Looking at Agbor today, has there been any development from the way it was then?
Not much improvement, but the hospital has been expanded, more schools have come up, like Ogbemudein, Odirin Primary School, which was started and built by my father, and the local government office has been built also.
What are your philosophies?
Hold on to prayer. We all have rough times. Going back to one of my most difficult times, I was in Kiri-Kiri prison for five months. I went on holiday to see my children in London for three days, and I was arrested when I returned on allegation that I was among those who planned and executed the coup that killed the then Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, led by Col. Dimka. I was in Auchi cell for 12 days without food and water and taken to Kiri-Kiri maximum prisons for military trials. During that period, Nigeria lost a lot of innocent lives.
When it was my turn to be tried, I requested that they should call Dimka to testify if I was really part of the coup he planned. Through prayer, Dimka came forward and told them he did not know me, that they should kill me if they so wanted. After his testimony, I was released through the grace of God. When I came out from the prison, E.K. Clark showed me a publication of my arrest, and how I demanded for Dimka to identify me. During the period of my arrest, my properties were confiscated, but later released after I contested it in court. Chief Rotimi Williams in Lagos was my lawyer. A lot of people died, but I kept praying to God, and He saw me through. Open up to God and God will hear you.
What would you say are the lessons of the war? Where do you see Nigeria heading in the light of recent ultimatum given by Arewa youths to Igbos?
Only God can save this country. Some leaders lead with wickedness. From the unfolding events, I don’t know where Nigeria is heading to.
Recently, we lost a notable Ika son in the person of Sir. Fortune Ebie, how close were you to him?
We were cousins. He was a very nice man and I pray his soul rest in peace.
What word of advice do you have for illustrious sons and daughters of Ika land who do not come home to invest?
We should just pray that God should touch them to think of the home where they were brought up. We can only pray for them.
What advice do you have for the youths?
They should take life easy and clamp down on the urge for quick money. We should pray for them because they are our children.
How would you rate Okowa’s two years in office?
Okowa is doing well, last week he commissioned some roads in Ika South and at the town hall meeting he listed so many achievements so far. We pray for him to have the strength to do more.
What is your favourite Ika delicacy?
My favourite Ika delicacy is pounded yam with okro and vegetable soup. I do not eat garri.
What are your likes and dislike?
I like good environments, dancing, meeting friends and things that bring me happiness.
What repels and attracts you to people?
I like straight forward people because truth is life; it gives you health and makes you feel alright. But when you are cunning it gives your life a dent.
Chief, how was life with your husband?
My husband was a doctor. He was the only child of his mother who was the daughter of the Ata of Okene. I enjoyed my husband and his family. He died in London 3 years ago. He was a doctor in two fields of medicine and a gynecologist.
If there is re-incarnation, would you like to come back as Mrs. Margaret Amaechi?
Yes, I would love to come back as myself, because I enjoyed my husband and mother-in-law.
What are your final words?
I pray that the youths would be cautious, eschew rough life and cultism. I always caution youths when I hear them greet women with the term “morle” because “morle” is a name of a shrine in a certain village. I always rebuke them when they call me morle, it is very wrong. Nne, Mama or Titi sounds better.
To the government, I urge them to take care of us (old people); we want government to give us stipends. In other states like Lagos, they pay what is called “Old People’s Allowance”. But here, nobody cares about the welfare of the aged people.