The remains of big sister, Iyadunni Sarah Oluwalami, were interred at her husband’s hometown of Owo in Ondo State, Nigeria, on Saturday. Auntie Iyadun, as we all in the Abitogun family used to fondly call her, eventually lost the battle to a strange form of cancer which the most formidable medical team at the oncological department of the University College Hospital in Ibadan could not curtail.
For us in the Abitogun family, the passing was a terrible loss. And a prayerful person hers for all it could impuy.
Auntie Iyadun was born the first girl child after the death and funeral of our paternal grandmother, Mama Oyinseku Abitogun (nee Olagbemi). Grandmother died in 1960. Auntie Iyadun came a few months later in 1961. She was given the name Sarah, mother of nations, to accentuate the Anglican faith of our family and heritage into the salvation bought by the blood of Jesus Christ at Calvary. And my sister and her husband’s quivers were indeed full raising their children.
She was a special daughter, not just because of the circumstance and the timing of her birth, not just to our father, Cornelius Ojo Abitogun who passed into glory in 2001 after living for 92 years, she meant so much to all of us in the family and her friends everywhere because she was full of life, smiles and hopes. She never stopped radiating those qualities even as she stoically faced the cross and bore her pains for the last one and half years.
Indeed Auntie Iyadun was older than me by 9 years, but I warmed up to her and viewed her as a mother from early in life. Her mother is my father’s second wife. But we were so well bonded that it was never easy, especially for outsiders, to tell who was whose mother.
In 1983 to 1984, we had suffered the loss of some good people in our extended family to the political killings of August 16 1983 in Ondo State. A little after peace started returning to the state in 1984, our big brother Bashorun Banjo , and later our father, C.O. Abitogun (everybody called him Oga Koni) had near-death experiences. My mother, as the youngest wife spent a long time away from our Ayede-Ogbese home. The beauty of polygamy bloomed in the middle of the sad situation as Papa’s second wife, Mama Emilola Christianah Abitogun (Nee Fagboyegun) took charge of things.
Mama did not have to wait for reimbursements from our Dad before the bills were paid and the unity of the family was maintained. This was the time my sister, Iyadunni made sure that food, especially Amala and Okro, and sometimes Ewedu, never missed out of our regular menu. She took care of us like our mother and I am eternally grateful to her.
Aunti Iyadunni lived with our eldest sister, Mrs. Julianah Owoduti Ajayi for a time in Lokoja. And then she embraced the Gospel Faith Mission which she claimed was only an interdenominational movement. That was the time she flooded our home with rich gospel tracts and our lives would never be the same again. She for sometime maintained her membership of the Anglican Communion but after marriage, she became a member of the All Christian Fellowship in Owo.
She overcame her initial challenges as a student at Crowther Memorial College, Lokoja and later came closer home by transferring to Uso Grammar School, Uso, where she completed her secondary education. As sister Iyadunni chose a career in teaching and started attending All Saint’s Teacher Training College in Usi Ekiti up till her graduation in1983, I never saw her wear a frown. She laughs and her teeth will show that she really meant well. We, those of us who were her younger siblings, were inspired and encouraged to be dogged and dedicated in our own academic pursuits.
On the job, auntie continued to train and improve herself. But the steady ascent of superstition and ignorance in Nigeria can hold captive even the most enlightened.
As we were preparing to leave primary school, Auntie Iyadun and a few of her friends like Folashade Oluwateru, Jumoke Olalusi, Kehinde and Taye Olubi, Abigail Moses, Ejide Ogunsusi, Ajayi Ogunsusi, Ebun Ojo (Now Mrs. Fasemore), Bade Olagunju, Benjamin Abitogun, Adebowale Abitogun, while home on holidays ensured that we took our place in the church choir and the community for the continuation of a legacy of self-help and development.
One never knows that most of our advertized miracle workers, in churches and mosques and native healing homes in Nigeria, are fake and empty and can never perform any wonder. Only God heals. Just a simple goiter growth that would have been removed through a minor procedure was what my sister had. False prophets sowed fear in her. They said if the surgeon’s scalpel touched the spot, she would die. They held her hostage to their trade in fear mongering and extorted her dry.
It took a while before we realized that she had been spiritually duped. Doctors said that the case had been mismanaged, but they also came with their own complications. For months, my sister was left unattended because of strikes. And when she eventually got attention, their cocktail of pills, chemo and radiotherapy only gave her pains. Even in her lifetime, the government of Ondo State listed her as deceased and would not pay her salaries. But we knew that her rare courage, tenacity of faith and hope of resurrection means she would continue to live.
Aunti Iyadunni Sarah Oluwalami finally journeyed into eternal glory on Sunday, June 10, 2012. We choose to celebrate her instead of mourning her. As Christians, we know that she has not died. She lives because Jesus Christ lives.