The heights which great men (and women) reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upwards in the night
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
The above statement by Alfred Lord Tennyson encapsulates the life of our dear mother and matriarch, Dame Dorothy Nsonma Ihedioha who turned 90 years on Sunday 28th August, 2022
The nonagenarian was born into the royal Okereke family of Okpala in Ngor Okpala LGA of Imo state to late Eze Johnson Nwaobasi and Lolo Mercy Nwanyinma Okereke. She attended central school Okpala from 1943 to 1949 where she obtained standard 6 certificate. Thereafter, she proceeded to Bishop Shanahan Teachers’ Training College, Orju in 1980 and obtained the Teachers’ Grade 11 certificate.
She got married to her heartthrob Nze Bernard Ihedioha from Mbutu Mbaise in 1951 and had 13 children, lost 5 with 8 still living, 32 grandchildren and I great grand-child. Among her children is Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha, immediate past governor of Imo state and former deputy Speaker, House of Representatives
Dame Ihedioha, can be aptly described as a woman whose life is a hallmark of sterling qualities, excellent record of service, credibility and patriotism to God and humanity.
Her story is that of a woman that literally pulled herself up by her own bootstraps in the gruelling struggle of life; overcoming and surviving the sordid experiences of child mortality, civil war and losing her darling husband at a period she needed his support in the training of their 11 children- issues that called forth all the survival instincts of every human being and challenged her to play those sterling qualities which distinguish excellence from mediocrity, solid achievement from feeble performance, imaginative insight from visionless bungling, and creativity from idealism.
Given her large heart and humanitarian disposition, Dame Dorothy can be described as Mother Theresa of our time. She never discriminated against any one irrespective of tribe, religion or belief. Her large heart made it possible for many families to find shelter in her house.
The result is that she is dearly loved by virtually everybody that had ever come in contact with her.
As a Christian mother, she encourages her children to imbibe the tenets of Christ-like living, and would openly tell you that she does not support immorality, corruption and indecent dressing. She treats everybody fairly including the daughters-in-law.
The often told story of in-fighting between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law is strange in the Ihedioha family. She doesn’t bear grudges and doesn’t pay evil for evil. Little wonder she was bestowed with the honour of “Ada Zion’ and Ezenwanyi Udo 1 of Mbutu.
She told this reporter that she naturally abhors wickedness, inhuman treatment, fetish sacrifices, ostentatious lifestyle and criminality in all its ramifications.
In this interview held recently at her Abuja residence, Dame Nsonma Ihedioha gives insight into what makes her happy and why she remained healthy and strong despite reaching the nonagenarian age. Excerpts:
Mama congratulations on your birthday. How do you feel reaching the age of 90 years?
I feel happy, I feel fulfilled as a woman, I feel fulfilled as a mother and grandmother of promising and enterprising children. My heart is as if I am already in heaven. And I thank God Almighty the giver of life for keeping me alive and healthy. I pray that He gives me more years on earth, good life and good health
If you examine your life from birth to this age, what would you say is the source of your longevity? What sort of life did you live as a young woman and mother? I ask this question because many had wished to live long and healthy like you but could not. What is the secret?
God Almighty is the source of my strength, my life, my health and everything. You cannot give life to yourself. As a young girl and married woman, I lived a respectful life. I was submissive to my husband. I did not mess around. I lived peacefully with him and we had children and trained them until he died and left them in my care. I am happy with my God.
All these things girls of today do I never did them. I never indulged in immoral behaviours, my God is my witness. My father and mother loved me very well. My husband also loved me. I never had the time to be going from one place to another gossiping. I was contented with what I had and I trained my children same way.
My late mother used to boast that they were among those trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) now known as Anglican Church. As an Anglican, were you also trained same way?
Yes, proper one.
What is the difference between the training then and now?
There are so many differences. Your husband is your husband, nothing like lusting after another man. Two of you live together, plan together and raise children together. We were thought how to take good care of our husbands, their families and our neigbours. We were told to be focused on God as the only savior. We were taught how to read and understand the Bible
What is your level of education?
I did standard six and TTC (Teachers Training College) and obtained Teachers’ Grade 2 certificate. I was a primary school teacher. I taught in Mbutu central school, Mbutu Town School amongst other institutions
How would you compare education and teaching then and now? Who should be blamed for the poor standard of education in Nigeria today?
I think the blame should go to the students because many of them are not ready to learn
How did you meet your husband?
I got married in 1951 at the age of 20 years. As a beautiful girl I had many young men that sought my hand in marriage, but each one that came my father would reject the person until this young handsome man, Bernard Ihedioha came and my father accepted him.
Even after I had agreed to marry him, there were oppositions from people who said I should not marry an Mbaise man, that if I do, hunger would kill me there, that there was no food in Mbaise. But I said no; I will marry him that hunger will not kill me and indeed, as you can see today, hunger did not kill me (laughter).
Can you narrate the type of relationship that existed between you and your husband before he died?
My husband and I lived a good, fulfilled life. We had children and God gave us strength and resources to raise all our children. I had 15 conceptions, (two miscarriages) 13 births (two died at infant age) while 11 grew and became graduates. Later another three died leaving 8 alive today. We lived peacefully until 1995 when my husband died and left the children in my care.
Since 1995 when your husband died, how has life been with you without him and how were you able to raise the children?
First, it was God Almighty that saw me through to this day and age, giving me good health and protecting me since 1995 when my husband left me with the children. Secondly, I was a teacher. With my little income and support from the grown up children I was able to train the remaining ones to degree levels. All the eleven children were graduates.
What advice would you give to young couples and those wishing to get married in view of frequent cases of divorce in marriages today?
It is unfortunate that young girls of today are not ready to stay under their husbands, but that will not stop us from advising them. The main reason for divorce and violence in marriages is bad behavior on the part of the women who refused to submit to their husbands as enjoined in the bible.
A woman will leave her husband and go after another man. That is not a good behavior. It is abomination. They don’t tell their husbands the truth; many of them don’t support the training of their children. In fact, there are so many other bad behaviours associated with today’s marriages. This is very sad as it negates the essence of marriage
How do you feel that you are alive and one of your sons, Emeka Ihedioha became Imo state governor as well as notable personality in Nigeria?
Honestly, I feel like someone in heaven, because this God so much loves me that I cannot tell it all. He has been the pillar of my life and that of the children. Emeka is a child God blessed beyond measure. I am always happy and rejoicing in the Lord for His grace in my life and in the life of my children. I would have died last October, but God kept me till today, healthy and strong.
Finally, at the age of 90, many people would either be sick, blind, or unable to walk, but your own case is different. What would you attribute it to?
God knows that my hands are clean; that I am honest and sincere in all my dealings with fellow human beings. I cannot see black and call it white, or see stout and say it is malt. I have never done that and will never do such until death. I will therefore advise people to emulate my lifestyle, be honest, sincere and truthful all the time. In everything and in all situations, let your Yes be Yes and your No be No.