PRIMORG’s Executive Director, Agbonsuremi Pens Touching Tribute To Late Wife

The Executive Director of the Progressive Impact Organisation for Community Development, PRIMORG, Augustine Okhiria Agbonsuremi has penned a heart wrenching tribute to his late wife, Mercy who passed on 17th April, 2023.
In a tribute Agbonsuremi, a renowned journalist titled: ‘Mercy, My Friend, My Devoted Companion. Adieu!
Reads thus:

I was privileged that I had her as my wife for 32 years and for an additional five years earlier as a schoolmate and friend in courtship.

Our friendship and companionship were designed like no other. Ours was carved in rare blocks from whichever angle you look at it.

We met in the course of an unusual circumstance and built up from scratch.
On our wedding day, we set out on a bus ride to the marriage registry.

We had no new dresses.
No Photographer.
No guests.
No wedding reception. We could not afford them all.

We had faith in God.
We were full of determination.
The defunct Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnic gave me admission in 1983 to Study Mass Communications.

The same year, she gained admission into Ozoro Polytechnic to study Banking and Finance.
It is not difficult to conclude that unless something extraordinary happened, our paths could never have crossed.

Midway into our programs, both schools were shut down by the General Jeremiah Useni military administration in the then Bendel State.

The forced closure of the two tertiary institutions brought excruciating anxieties for students of both institutions who had their hope hanged in the balance.

Just right inside this anxiety and uncertainty was the story of our lives, our future, and our family.
Following the shutdown of the two polytechnics, Students of both schools were asked to report to Auchi Polytechnic for absorption.

But Auchi Polytechnic, for administrative and academic reasons, could not accommodate all the students.
About half of the students were provided space in Benin City at the Institute for Continuing Education (ICE) to study for the Auchi Polytechnic Diploma.

All the affected students of both
Ozoro and Ogwashi-Uku Polytechnics, including Mercy and I, resumed classes at ICE premises in Benin.
The closure of the two schools had a silver lining for us.
So, there was this beautiful girl, ebony black and well-shaped, Mercy Ogie, one of the students studying Banking and Finance from Ozoro Polytechnic.

We both entered this school arrangement without knowing that this was the most significant event to influence our lives. And it was carefully embedded by providence, destiny and fate inside this seemingly intractable crisis of the closure of our different institutions.

About three months before concluding the program at ICE, I was at the departmental block when I saw this pretty girl again.

Recently my eyes were on her, but we had never spoken to each other, except during our passive meetings at students’ brief meetings, where, as one of the students’ leaders, I explained the efforts to be sure we completed our program in one piece.

It was always like a general meeting where those of us in the forefront addressed the students. So I can say, and she confirmed that she knew me from those public meetings.

This morning I saw her again, smart, beautiful and exuding all the seriousness you can possibly infer from a physical demeanour.

My heart pounded, and my head went turning again. I couldn’t resist it this time.
And was it a voice I heard? It was loud inside of me, and it was clear. “That’s your wife.”

“Wife ke?”, (wife?), I queried, but without thinking, I ran after her to her class, Banking and Finance, about three class halls away from the Mass Comm hall.
I stood at the door and beckoned on her to be excused outside to the car park, a few steps away.
She obliged.

The message was straightforward.
It was respectfully delivered.
No introductions.
Just salutations and I dropped my message:
“I don’t expect you to respond to what I want to tell you. I am not looking for a girlfriend. I am convinced that you will be my wife.“
She didn’t disappoint.
“Is that all” she responded.
I replied, “Yes.”
“Can I go now?” she asked, and I responded, “Yes,” again.
I was not expecting anything more.
The encounter was not more than 3 minutes.
I watched her step off and away from my sight.
She didn’t look back, against my expectations, that she would, at least, look back. .

I was greatly relieved, and I didn’t see her again until three weeks later when I went to her class to invite her for a drink at the kiosk.
That was when we introduced ourselves, and we got to say a little about our backgrounds.
“I am Mercy,” she told me.
She told me she had been trying to process the message I had dropped with her. According to her, she couldn’t understand. I told her that I hardly understood too.

She wasn’t considering marriage, as the current academic challenge was big enough.
I wasn’t thinking of marriage either.
We became friends, got along, and we soon graduated.

I moved to Lagos to join The Guardian on an internship.
She got a job with the defunct New Nigeria Bank, and she picked the offer to resume in the bank’s branch in Lagos.
Five years later, we got married at the City Hall Registry, Lagos.
The entire marriage ceremony at City Hall couldn’t have lasted more than 30 minutes.

We were not quite ready financially, but we avoided unnecessary expenses.
We were packed with determination.
We had a budget of N14,000, about my annual salary on The Guardian Newspapers as a Staff Reporter, for both the traditional ceremonies and the registry.
A week earlier, on May 11, 1991, we were in Benin City for the traditional ceremonies.

It was attended by only our close friends and family members.
She had confided in her parents that our budget was nothing to write home about. .
So in one of those pre-wedding visits, my father-in-law, Pa Gabriel Ogie, of blessed memory, a school Principal, took me into the inner recess of the house for a discussion.

“I know you don’t have all the means for an elaborate marriage ceremony. Just bring in your parents and immediate family members. I will bless you and my daughter in marriage. You don’t need to bother yourself with anything”, he said.
We had a wonderful ceremony: my parents, siblings and a few cousins. A few friends – David Ogah and Edetean Ojo, both of whom were my colleagues at The Guardian Newspapers, Frank Alabi of blessed memory from Daily Times, Gloria Oyerior, my course mate and a couple of my other friends and Mercy’s colleagues from New Nigeria Bank – it was a small group of family and close friends.

From the lean budget, we decided we could only buy new clothes for the traditional ceremony.
She didn’t insist on “standards.”
We couldn’t afford to buy any new dresses for the ceremony at the registry.
In the office, I told Edetean Ojo and David Ogah that we have decided to have them as witnesses to our marriage.
They obliged us.

On Saturday, May 18, 1991, very early morning, my Mercy and I headed to the bus stop.
We had no budget for a taxi.
Edetean and David found their way to City Hall at 8 am.

None of us had personal cars.
We took our first bus from Iyana-Ipaja to the Ikeja bus stop.

From Ikeja, we took another bus heading to CMS.
But something happened.
In Maryland, just before the bus stop, there was a slight traffic build-up on both sides of the road.

I sat near the window in the yellow-painted small FEDECO bus on the side of the inner lane, and right from the other side of the road, I heard a call.
I saw a senior colleague in The Guardian newsroom, Mr. Emeka Okoroayanwu. He sighted me on the bus.

He wasn’t aware of our marriage ceremony. He was one of the three reporters proudly owning a car, a Peugeot 504, in the entire newsroom of The Guardian.

“Austine, where are you headed,” he asked.
“Just get down from the bus and wait for me at the bus stop,” was his quick response when I told him we were going to City Hall for our marriage.
He turned around and took us to City Hall, to our delight.

Edetean Ojo and David Ogah were already waiting when we got to City Hall.
It was a few minutes past eight, and the Registrar was already waiting.

There were usually dozens of marriage ceremonies in City Hall on Saturdays.
I had pleaded with the registry that we desired that our ceremony be the first in the morning, and they obliged and fixed 8 am.

I wore my regular shirt and trouser while she dressed in her typical office attire.
No new dress.
No crowd.
No photographer and no reception party.
After clearing the doubts, which the Registrar very clearly expressed, he joined us together in matrimony.

The only spectator was my senior colleague, Mr. Emaka Okoroayanwu.
The other two, Edetean and David, took turns to sign and witness our marriage.
Both of them were bachelors.

From City Hall, we all, except David Ogah, proceeded to Blue Cross Hospital, Ogba, driven by Oga Emeka, to see a mutual friend, Emmanuel Okoyomo, who was hospitalized.

Mr. Okoroayanwu discarded his weekend engagements, drove us all around and took us home to Iyana-Ipaja.
None of the other tenants in the face-me-I-face-you room and parlour setting of our house knew it was our wedding day.

No family members were involved.
The man whose rooms were opposite our rooms was furious a week later when I told him the story.

He said he would have driven us down in his car if I had told him.
We didn’t know him much as we had just moved into the apartment from a single room where I lived.

I apologized and explained that we didn’t want to bother anyone.
Ours was a firm reliance on God for everything and avoiding unnecessary expenses.

Our experience in school was partly responsible for our desire and decision not to send our children to any university or polytechnic in Nigeria if we could afford it.

This desire was a family prayer point. For this reason, we didn’t have more than two children. We feared more children could hamper our desire to have our children attend some of the best institutions in the world.

The prayer was answered.
We moved our children, one after the other, midway through their secondary school in Nigeria to Southern Ontario College, a high school in Canada.
They ended up at the University of Toronto and York University, to our delight.

They are our story, our success, our perseverance, hope and commitment.
Our joy remains that despite her battle with cancer, which lasted ten years, she saw Bright and Clifford grow into very responsible young adults. They crowned it up with their marriage to the most beautiful, well-groomed and equally well-educated girls who have now filled the space for daughters in our home.

For over thirty-five years, I sojourned with an angel, a woman of class and ideas.
Her respectful disposition, intelligence, discipline, her sincerity and love have enabled our success, my success.
I derived my energy, my inspiration and courage from this woman.

She made more sacrifices to keep us going.
She wrapped up her job in the bank in Lagos to join me in Abuja.
She dropped her thriving telecoms business in Nigeria to join and live with our kids in Canada.

I valued and enjoyed her trust and unimaginable confidence and tolerance.
I saw the efficacy of her prayers over the children and me.
On average, she lived with and managed the children for at least 70 percent of our joint parenting, while I probably did not go up to 30 percent, most times, remotely.

She sets the rules and requests my endorsement.
For instance, at the ages of 14 and 16, when the children were alone in high school in Canada, it was compulsory, according to her rules, for us to stay awake till around midnight because of the time difference to be able to Skype with them before we sleep, every day.

Time-in for the children, even as adult university students, was set by her for 7 pm unless they had evening or night classes. Her love, submissiveness, good home management, sound financial management and loyalty combined to cover my inadequacies and shortcomings.

My huge success as a journalist is largely because she supported me. She gave me peace of mind, and God gave us a peaceful home.

For thirty-two years of our marriage, a third party was never invited to settle any quarrel.

She bridged the gaps at home and allowed me to be away, travelling around the country and the world while maintaining an unusual calmness, efficient control and trust.

I have not been able to stop the tears. It is difficult for me to process. We prayed, and we believed, but God made the final decision.
Her battle with cancer was a battle for the family. Our boys gave it everything they had. I was mostly in Nigeria during this period, but I relocated in 2020 to be with them. I had the opportunity to nurse her, gist with her, eat with her and pray with her.

I was by her bedside in the hospital night and day in her last two months. I took a few hours during the day to dash home, and during that time, my son came in to be with her and to read out Bible verses to her.

As she is laid to rest on Saturday, April 29, I bless the day I met her. I salute her courage, tolerance, trust, commitment and love.

Above all, we give all the glory to God, who formed us and who, from the beginning, permitted us to walk according to his plans.

We thank our friends and family members who believed in and supported our dreams.

Adieu, my friend, my companion and my unconditional lover.
I will meet you again on the day of the resurrection.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *