Tuesday, June 2, 2009

R.K. OPALUWAH: The Life & Times of A Matriarch

Saturday the 4th of June 1932 conveyed many significations to different people in different planes. On the spiritual, was the Lord seen, sitted pleasurably on His throne with the heavenly host of angels enveloping in Davidic splendour round about Him. Tantalising the heavenlies to this frenzied height was the birth of a child that would yield the expected harvest of souls as well as usher in a generation that will please God. And lo, it happened, beyond the sweltering congregations on the earth, from the luminous mountains of theologian heights, to the glorified high places of divine servitude, it happened in Dekina town of all places!

 

On the physical plane was the rapturous joy and celebration that erupted in Dekina following the birth of a baby girl to the family of Mr & Mrs Gabriel Arinka on Dekina market day! To Mr. Gabriel Arinka, the Kabba-born Road Overseer and his lovely wife, Mrs Mary Tonidunni Arinka an astute businesswoman, the decision to settle down in Dekina was indeed divine, what with the coterie of blessings that came their way and the loving acceptance of the Dekina people. In appreciation of all these, they decided to name the then little bundle of joy as RUTH KASUWA GABRIEL.

 

Growing steadily with strong religious inclinations and spiritual belief, which stemmed from her parents’ unflinching Christian background, little Ruth was introduced to the CMS Church where she was led into the Christian faith and was baptized. She rose to become a Lay Reader and was later confirmed – an Anglican faith process which must be accomplished before partaking in the Lord’s supper. Also, owing largely to the beguiling attractiveness of western education and the need to harness her intellectual potentials which her enlightened parents saw a far-off, Ruth Kasuwa was made to acquire education when it was considered the exclusive preserve of men in Africa! She triumphed excellently where others failed and fell by the wayside thus justifying the confidence reposed in her by her parents.

 She began her academic pursuit at Native Authority (NA) School Dekina before proceeding to Government Middle School where she passed out brilliantly with a Middle II certificate in 1950.  Shortly after, Ruth Kasuwa Gabriel met and fell in love with a Medical Officer by name Mr. John Akor Opaluwah (of blessed memory) who she later married amidst pomp on the 1st of January 1954. The marriage remains till this day, the first inter-tribal marriage in Igala land’s recorded history. The newly married Mrs Ruth Kasuwa Opaluwah went further to Women Training Centre Kabba where she successfully bagged her Grade III certificate in 1954 and then a consecutive Grade II certificate from Our Lady of School Anyigba in 1958. Still not comfy with the apparent status quo, she further upped the ante in her teaching career by bagging her National Certificate in Education from the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in 1984.

Armed with these credentials, she bestrode the teaching profession like an inscrutable colossus beginning from her stint as a Pupil Teacher/Grade III in N.A Schools at Dekina, Odu Ogboyaga, Agojoeju and Anyigba respectively. She later held forte as a Grade II Teacher in Bishop Crowther Memorial School, N.A School and Qua Iboe Primary School all in Idah. On the 1st of November 1984, She finally retired as Headmistress II at Qua Iboe Primary School Idah after putting 33 years of untainted meritorious service to the nation thereby advancing the frontiers educational system in Kwara, Benue, Kogi states and Northern Nigeria in general. She was indeed a Teacher and a Citizen with a track record of extensive investments in the educational and moral resuscitation of her nation.

 

Shortly after retirement, Mama R.K lost her husband to the cold hands of death and faced with the harsh realities of widowhood, she took a plunge into the world of fulltime business, distinguishing herself once more in both wholesale and retail distribution of household items and appliances with extensive contacts in Onitsha, Ibadan and Kaduna. Thereafter, she became a Member, Board of Directors, Samsonite International Ltd.

It is noteworthy that all through Mama’s life, she never lost touch with the essence of her spirituality as she ceaselessly dwelt in the epicenter of God’s will for her life. The biblical injunction of “whatsoever thy hands findeth to do, do It to the glory God” found its truest expression in the life of Mama as she tirelessly contributed her time, treasure and talent to the expansion of God’s kingdom on earth. Her footprints in the annals of Christianity in Igala land and beyond remain indelible. From the Lay Reader position in the CMS Church, she became an active member of the Baptist World Alliance following her marriage and the establishment of the First Baptist Church in Igala land. She started from the lowest rung of the ladder as an Usher and then Secretary of the Baptist Women Missionary Union (WMU), Sunday School Superintendent, before becoming Women Representative to several Nigerian Baptist Conventions and Kogi Baptist Conferences. She later rose to the highly visible post of Vice President of the Kogi Baptist Conference. In recognition of outstanding contributions to the growth of the Baptist faith in Igala land and Kogi State, she was ordained a Deaconess of the First Baptist Church Idah, Kogi State in 2000.

Still in pursuit of greater good for the greater number of people, Deaconess R.K Opaluwah in 1989 identified with politics of the progressive hue in Igala land, led ably by one of her ex-pupils – Dr. Stephen Achema (of blessed memory). Her focal commitment to the selfless ideals of the Achema political school of thought catapulted her to the position of Caucus Leader of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and later National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), which comfortably won elections into various offices at all levels in Igala land. The inception of the 4th republic saw her emerging as the Inaugural State Woman Leader of Kogi State’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1998.

Her flawless mastery of all the eight major languages in Kogi state (which is not unconnected with her cosmopolitan upbringing in the old Dekina town) and extensive network of contacts throughout the three senatorial districts in the confluence saw her re-elected a second time in 2000, and a third time in 2003! Mama Opaluwah (as she was fondly called by her teaming supporters and followers) was always at home in Kogi west senatorial zone (her zone of origin) with the likes of late Senator SB Awoniyi, Generals Jemibewon, Ogbeha and in Kogi Central, the likes of late Senator A.T Ahmed, M.Y Obaro and Senator Salihu Ohize (who served in the same state EXCO with her) all fondly referred to her as “Mummy”. In Kogi East, a zone she represented for ten years, she was a darling mother to all irrespective of political affiliation. 

It is prudent to note that Mama R.K Opaluwah’s tenure as State Woman Leader and Chairperson Kogi Women Mobilisation Committee (WOMBCO) witnessed the return of Kogi state to the mainstream of Nigeria’s politics as she vigourously campaigned and mobilised Kogi women for the 2003 gubernatorial polls which saw the PDP coasting home to victory for the first time in the state. It is to her credit that her tenure witnessed an unprecedented participation of women in Kogi politics as well as the election and appointment of Kogi women to commanding heights within and outside the state. This she achieved through effective advocacy and enlightenment campaigns throughout the state.

                                       

To further translate her vision for Kogi women without governmental or party restrictions, she established in 2003, the Ruth Kasuwa Opaluwah Foundation (RUKOF), an NGO that is primarily dedicated to the promotion of the rights of women and children, advocate respect for the rights of widows and create awareness on the needs and problems facing them, campaign against gender-based violence and build peace in the home, advance the health, sexual and reproductive rights of women as well as mobilise women against the societal ills of HIV/AIDS, child Abuse, labour trafficking and poverty.  She organised several workshops, training conferences and advocacy campaigns, which went a long way in translating these objectives into tangible realities for her beloved Kogi women.

Mama R.K voluntarily stepped down from office at the end of 2007 before the expiration of her last tenure in 2008. This according to her, wasn’t unconnected with her dissatisfaction with the dangerous descent to self-serving and do-or-die politics of the present era. In acknowledgement of her selflessness and passion for development, the President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her as a National Commissioner with the National Consumer Protection Council, Abuja in 2001. President Umar Musa Yar’Adua also followed suit by appointing her into the Governing Council of the Federal College of Education, Katsina, Katsina State in 2008. In addition to these, Mama received numerous awards, which include the Africa Woman Achiever’s Gold Award 1996 by Vision Africa, and the Woman of Merit Gold Award in 2006. In her citation by at the award ceremony, the magazine described her thus “an indefatigable social activist and a known defender and advocate of the rights of women and children. A time-tested educator, she put in 33 years of meritorious service as a teacher. Mama was a reliable force in politics. In Kogi state, she is respected across party lines as a venerable Women Leader, having been elected three times consecutively as the Woman leader of Kogi State PDP.” She was also a recipient of the Nigerian Religious Leadership Merit Award (NRLMA) in 2007.

                                                

Another award came her way in 2007 when she won the 3rd Voice of Africa International Magazine Achievers’ Platinum Award for Global Excellence in Women Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development of Kogi State and Nigeria. In her citation, the magazine stated thus: “ we have been following your activities and noted the sterling qualities exhibited by you in your endeavours and service to the nation. The positive impact you have made in the life of those fortunate to come across you and for the development of the nation has not gone unnoticed and is worthy of recognition and celebration.” Widely traveled, Mama has been to Israel, Holland, China and South Korea.

                   

After about a year in full retirement from activities, Mama Ruth Kasuwa Opaluwah, who gave birth to eight distinguished children namely Engr. Samson Ameh Opaluwah(Ph.D), Mrs Comfort Ajifa Daniel, Dr. Emmanuel Ali Opaluwah, Mrs. Esther Quddus-Okele, Mr. Amade Peter Opaluwah, Mrs. Ojone Julie Adebayo, Mr. Ojodale Amos Opaluwah and Mr. Atâyi Ezechiel Opaluwah,  finally breathed her last, transiting peacefully to eternity in wee hours of 7th May 2009, exactly 27 days to her 77th birthday on earth. There is no gainsaying the fact that Mama will be affectionately missed by all who came in contact her, what with the warm smile, large heart and a convivial spirit that are all patently hers! Mama is survived by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

 

Atayi Babs

Ikoyi – Nigeria. 

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