In his hay days, Pius Ukaga was a simple, easygoing, ever smiling, hardworking and amiable man. Agriculturist by profession, when he became Eze Obibi in 2003, he took those qualities with him, aided by a reliable cabinet, peaceful community, supportive children, especially a resourceful first son.
But the jewel in his crown was his Emii-born witty wife, a diligent and resilient woman, the Eze’s one and only spouse and companion of 55 years. It is she, the Ugoeze, who has held his hand in good and bad times. With her by his side, there was no obstacle the crown couldn’t overcome. Ugoeze Beatrice onyegenonu, a retired school teacher is a woman who knows her community well and understands its challenges.
The palace was always friendly and held an open door. People could visit their Eze whenever they wanted and get his attention. They could count on him for leadership and support in every situation. But Eze Pius Ukaga, Eze Obibi 111 of Uratta is unwell now, following an unexpected stroke in 2009.
“He lost two younger brothers within an interval of two weeks and that broke down his health. He was no longer concentrating but thinking about them,” said his son and heir Barr. Jude Ukaga, popularly known as J.O.J,
Because of his ill health, he now depends largely on his cabinet and knowledgeable son to do his bidding and keep the community together. The Eze still represents his people anywhere in the State but in proxy. He holds court, attends meetings and confers with his people at various levels the same way.
But none of these could have been possible without the hidden hand behind the throne – the lively Ugoeze Beatrice, a mother of nine children. Although her son Jude and cabinet members are the ones who make the public appearances on the Eze’s behalf, the Ugoeze remains the one keeping the dignity and pride of the palace together, in her son’s words, “the pillar!”
“Mum has been fantastic. She is indeed the pillar that holds it all together. She has a way of persuading me to do things I would not have done ordinarily and go places I would not have wanted to go. She’s good,” said the vivacious Barr. Ukaga.
Besides helping to run the palace from behind the scenes, Ugoeze also has to physically care for her ailing husband. Although the children are ever behind their sick dad, funding overseas trips and proving medication, the weight of his sickness falls heavily on his wife and companion. As the number one caregiver, the day to day care of the Eze rests on her. Talk of married for life! Asked if there is anyone helping her to physically attend to him, she smiled and said in jest:
“Ask Jude, he is his first son, they have not provided anyone and besides, I don’t know how somebody else will handle him. I am just like that. When I send the children to cook; I also go behind them and they are wondering why I sent them to do it in the first place.”
Like many mothers, the Ugoeze is a meticulous woman who wants things done well and on time. Every morning, she attends to her sick husband first, making sure he is looking his best, relaxed and comfortable. She ensures that the illness doesn’t get the better of him and that all the trappings of his office are secure and regularly within his grasp. She helps him in the bathroom, feeds him a healthy meal, ensures he gets his medications and is dressed properly as required by his office. Once he is ready, she guides him to the living room or the front of the palace, where he could look out, enjoy the scenery, getting fresh air and receiving visitors.
These days, her husband doesn’t talk much but she ensures that he is not left out of the conversation. She patiently relays every message the way he would understand it and respond. Talk of Love! He would nod or respond in short sentences, as well as his traditional smile. The Eze’s demeanor is always calm, cheerful and visibly at peace.
Life in the palace is as normal as it can be under the circumstance. Yet major activities go on as usual, with people coming, going and making requests. Special assignments are carried out with the combined effort of the Eze’s cabinet and his family.
“My father has had a cabinet in place from the beginning, and cabinet functions are assigned to members. Whenever anything comes up, it is just a matter of getting his approval and forwarding it to the respective member in charge of such a thing,” Barr Ukaga said.
“Mine has been kind of liaison in that I make sure I attend the functions that he ought to attend and then pass on the comments as was told me to the cabinet. I go to the Government offices, as directed by the cabinet, shop and get information as to what Ndi Eze are required to do and get back to the cabinet.”
Community members are generally pleased with the level of organization at the palace and how important issues are handled. For example, when the Rochas Government asked people to go to their communities for screening, Obibi people received a quality service, just like when their Eze was well. It was a stressful period for the palace, but they put their best foot forward and the event came off without a hitch.
“Eze Ukaga was overseas receiving treatment and some people didn’t even know,” Ugoeze explained.
Asked how she has managed to keep it all together for these many years, she paused for a moment, shook her head and replied with a smile,
“I don’t think I am the one managing but it has been the grace of God.”
__________________________________________________________________________Patience Ejimofor @ THE LEADER NEWS ONLINENote here: CORRECTION:His name is Barr. Chukwuemeka Pius Ihunna. Please note the correct spelling and title. We apologise.