Friday, March 2, 2012

Mary, Asukwo's only child, witnesses father's burial in Cotonou

Despite heavy pregnancy, Mary attends father's burial in Cotonou

Clement Asukwo, the Nigerian man that died after earlier reports he was lying critically ill at a private hospital in Cotonou, Benin Republic was buried last Saturday, February 25, 2012.
Pic 1.

Interestingly, Asukwo’s only child, Mary, was among the 20 or so people that witnessed the moment when the late man’s remains were lowered into the bowels of the earth at Ancien Cemetaire (Old Cemetery) in the Zogbo neighbourhood of Cotonou.

As was reported in Daily Sun (Travels) penultimate Thursday, difficulty in locating any of the man’s relations, to sign hospital papers, made it impossible to transfer the patient to a specialist hospital, where he would have got proper treatment. Nurses at Polyclinique de l’Amitie said, when the man was brought in on Saturday, February 12, 2012; he could still speak, but by the next day, Sunday, February 13, Asukwo had lapsed into a coma.

He never regained consciousness and eventually died in the early hours of Thursday, February 16, barely hours after being transferred to CENASU, a properly equipped specialist hospital, according to a source at Polyclinique de l’Amitie, where Asukwo was initially admitted.  

In a determined effort to locate any of the then dying man’s relations, we had stumbled on Mary Clement, the man’s daughter and only child. Although she would not disclose her address, Mary who lives in Abeokuta, Ogun State; had said she could not travel down to Cotonou because of her pre-natal state. 

Initially, when told of the then patient’s plight, Mary had sounded somewhat ill-perturbed; but, after her dad’s transition; there was no doubt she was deeply touched. Even though we only spoke on telephone, one could sense her agony.

Although her parents parted ways decades ago, Mary must have felt something for her dad; otherwise, she wouldn’t have gone visiting him in Cotonou two years ago.

But, when it came to whether she would go to claim the body, Mary had expressed doubts on this score because she is heavy with a child. “In my present state, it could be dangerous to travel far by road; I am pregnant and heavy”, she had said.

Against all odds, Mary nonetheless managed to make it to Cotonou to pay the proverbial last respects to her departed father. Before the coffin was put in the grave, the pall-bearers had opened the casket to reveal the one for whom the bell tolled and Mary was among those that saw Clement Asukwo’s face for the last time.

I had seen Asukwo a few days before he died and could still recall images of his face contorted by pain and his body rendered immotile by stroke as he lay in a bed at Polyclinique de l’Amitie. Interestingly, the sight of the late man inside the coffin exuded an aura of peace. The face of dead Asukwo bespoke of tranquility and contrasted sharply with the one of agony, while the man was still alive.

We were, however, jerked out of our reverie by one of the under-takers, who suggested to his assistants to put the cover on the coffin. That done, they proceded to removing a gold-plated cross that was screwed on the dead man’s wooden last home. The cross, we were told, never goes down with the corpse.

The cross was then handed over to Mary as memorabilia of the day her dad went home. Thenafter, a shovel was given to Asukwo’s lone child to scoop the soil on the coffin. Having done so, the undertakers collected the shovel from the bereaved and went on to heap more soil on Asukwo’s coffin. From dust to dust, many must have mused.

All together, the rite of passage lasted barely an hour, but it was a befitting send-forth for Asukwo, who spent the last 25 years of his life on earth apparently as a recluse.

Interestingly, Mary did not come to Cotonou unaccompanied; one of her aunties, the youngest sister of Mary’s mom, travelled to the Beninese economic capital with her. She had come as comforter but at the end of the day, niece and aunty sobbed inconsolably. It would take the intervention of many of those at the grave-side to get Mary and her aunt to make any attempt to rein in their grief.

At the graveside were Chief Ebuka Onunkwo, Leader of Igbo Community in Benin Republic; Mr. Kufre Udofia, Chairman of Akwa Ibom/Cross River States community in Cotonou; and, a representative of the president of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Cotonou Chapter; among others.

Although Asukwo was not Igbo, the leader of Igbo Community in Benin Republic, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo, had taken care of the bill for the patient’s treament. After footing the bills arising from Asukwo’s hospitalisation, Chief Onunkwo also provided money to take care of the morgue fee, following Asukwo’s death. And, in his characteristic philanthropic manner, this Igbo Leader still went ahead to bear the burial cost.

After the burial, there were suggestions that Mary should visit the last residence of her late father, to see; if there were any valuables to inherit. The last time Mary saw her father was two years ago, and; in her distraught state, it came as no surprise, when the mother-to-be said she couldn’t remember her way to her late father’s residence.

At this point, a former co-worker of Asukwo was called in to help. But, when the man eventually showed up, he pointed out that “things are done differently here. This is Benin Republic, and I have lived here for about 20 years. We don’t even have the key to Asukwo’s flat, so are we going to break into the house?”

The man said that, though the late Asukwo’s neighbours knew him, he couldn’t take anyone to the dead man’s abode to break the doors and cart any property away.

“We need to go to the police with Asukwo’s death certificate and explain our mission. After we have convinced them that Asukwo had died and that Mary is the man’s only heir, the police will give us an officer to accompany us to the compound. After discussions with the landlord and other tenants, we may then break the door and take away the things Mary wants to take away. And, with the police present, an inventory of any item taken by Mary will be taken. That way, everything will be legally done”, the man concluded.

1. Asukwo’s only child, Mary with her aunt at the Old Cemetery in Zogbo, Cotonou.

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