The police barracks brought us together. He was my late father’s friend. His wife was my late mother’s best friend in the barracks. We all lived at the Egbu Road Police barracks in Owerri. We were the best of family. A good company too. His wife and my mother shared a lot in common.
They weren’t the finest that came off very bright colleges with shining colours. But they were mothers. The best any children would wish for. Deprived of the best of formal education, they toiled endlessly to make sure their children and their husbands lived happily, fulfilled and educated. His wife and my mother knew every corner of Eke Ukwu and Relief Markets in Owerri in their quest to keep the home front happily satisfied.
He lived up to 100 years. His remains would be returned to Mother Earth this weekend. But he was a human being. He lived through the rough times to create a family that the world now knows. Eze Cyril Ibe was better known to us, the barracks kids, as Papa Iyke. Some called him Papa Ngozi, after his first daughter. But he was a lovely man. He loved every child around him. A dedicated father and husband, we would watch as he would trek with his children, especially Innocent and Chijioke, to and from church. He was the perfect dad, ever calm and listening. Never saw him cross paths with anyone in the barracks.
Eze Ibe was an inspector, like my dad, by the time we left the barracks after my dad retired honourably. He was of the police tailoring department and made uniforms for others. It was through him that many of us got to know that the police had a tailoring department, which made uniforms for all policemen.
All that a policeman needed to do, then, was to show evidence that his uniform had aged. He would get a note that sent him to the tailoring unit and, pronto, he got new uniforms made for him. Times have changed that tradition. Uniforms are now made at Mammy markets and at personal cost to the policemen. The tailors? Mostly retired and serving police tailors.
Eze Ibe was dedicated to his job as a police tailor and remained so till his retirement. It was upon retirement that I got to know that he actually started out life as a tailor, having learnt the trade while living with his uncle in the northern part of Nigeria prior to the civil war.
Then, tailoring was simply tailoring. Not fashion designing. Inspector Ibe was just a tailor. And the precision in making uniforms may have influenced his grooming of his kids, which had led to his eldest son, Iyke, becoming the valuable asset he is to Abia State and the world today.
Back in the barracks, we knew him only as Iyke. He was a young restless soul whose adrenalin pushed to try out his hand on every possibility. We would see him breeze into the barracks to see his parents wearing jeans trousers and a T-shirt. He wouldn’t stay long, as he would leave before many of us would catch a glimpse of him. Later in life, I got to know that his other name was Gregory and the chief executive of Skill-G.
He is also today, the founder of Gregory University, Uturu. His restlessness and willingness to try out every possibility has paid off. For him, there are no ceilings, not even the sky.
Inspector Ibe retired from the police force, having seen all his kids through higher education, which his parents could not afford for him, to become the traditional ruler of his community, Amokwe, Uturu. He was popular as Okwelube the first. He is listed as one of the very few in Igboland that rose from the police ranks to retire into royalty as a revered traditional ruler, who worked till the end to ensure the peaceful growth and development of his community.
From very poor and humble beginnings, Inspector Ibe rose through hard work and dedication to the cause of right, to wear the crown of royalty living blessedly up to a centenary. His life as a traditional ruler is a testimonial to the feeling in many Igbo circles that royalty ought to be bestowed only on persons who had risen through professional ranks and retired with accolades and unblemished record of service.
This feeling stems from the narrative that the traditional institution in many parts of Igboland is peopled by shadowy characters who abuse the powers of their office by creating more problems for their communities. The most common allegation against such persons is land grabbing and usurpation. Inspector Ibe, as traditional ruler, did not face any such allegations. He was satisfied with whatever God blessed him. He did not need more. He was only interested in the peace of Amokwe. And he worked for it till his end.
The people of Amokwe mourn Eze Ibe. They will miss him too. This is because he added value to the life of their community during his time as their traditional ruler. He was a devout Christian and conscientious leader who had a listening ear for every issue. Not only did he listen, he also worked out solutions. His children will miss him too because he was a devoted father and guardian.
He gave each of them the best of himself. His wife will miss his company and friendship. But she will be consoled by the fact that Papa Iyke left her in the hands of lovable children who, in themselves, are pushing the limits to announce their presence before the world community. This is best explained by the singular efforts of Iyke, who has created a legacy that immortalizes his dad in a way none of his peers had done.
Eze Ibe returns to his creator a fulfilled man. He saw it all. He overcame it all. Living up to 100 was grace. I see it as reward for candor. Not many enjoy the privilege because the Palmist said at Psalm 90:10, that our span is 70 years or 80 years for those who are strong. Eze Ibe was a very strong man who now goes home to rest peacefully with his maker.