Port Harcourt City, the capital of the oil-rich Rivers State, was unmistakably boisterous Friday, November 6, 2020. This was as Rt. Hon. Austin Opara, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, interred his late mother, Mrs. Sarah Ihunda Opara, at Saint Thomas Anglican Church, Port Harcourt. She was aged 96. Unprecedented heavy vehicular movement within the city and unbroken blaring of sirens were instructive that an uncommon event was taking place.
Prior to the commencement of the funeral service at about 10 in the morning, long convoys of vehicles snaked incessantly through the ever-busy Ikwerre Road. They streamed into St. Thomas Anglican Church premises, venue of the event and its neighborhoods. Hordes of security operatives were at hand to control the traffic. In compliance with the Federal Government’s safety protocols on COVID-19, health workers dutifully ensured that everyone was given free face mask and hand sanitizer. This was underpinned with intermittent announcements on the urgent need to wear the mask properly and to ensure social distancing in the sitting arrangements.
However, in attendance and organization the event was historic. It intrinsically attracted throngs of people from various walks of life, particularly those in the top political echelons and highly-placed clerics. It was a distinctive assemblage of top political officers from across the six regions. The roll call included: House of Representatives Speaker, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbalabiajemila; Governors Nyesom Wike, Rivers, Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta, Aminu Bello Masari, Katsina, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Sokoto, and Douye Diri, Bayelsa; former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan; former Governors Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State, Peter Odili and Celestine Omehia, Rivers State; and national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, among a host of others.
Apart from the Primate of the Anglican Communion, Nigeria, Most Reverend Henry Ndukuba, notable church leaders came in their numbers. They included: Dean of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Most Reverend Buba Lamido, archbishop of the Province of Niger Delta, Most Reverend Tunde Adeleye, and bishops of Niger Delta and Niger Delta North, Rt. Rev. Wisdom Ihunwo and Rt. Rev. Solomon Gberegbara, respectively.
Saint Thomas Church building, venue of the funeral service, an imposing edifice in the centre of Diobu, an ever-busy part of Port Harcourt, was filled. As the dignitaries were ushered in to take their seats, the magnificently ornamental and expansive church hall blended harmoniously and charmingly with the exquisite outfits intriguingly paraded by the guests. Rt. Hon Austin Opara, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third child of Mama Sarah Opara, led the congregation into the virtues of the deceased. According to him, his mother was an image and exemplification of faith. He told the story of how she kept faith with the Lord and remained bonded with her husband in spite of 11 years of childlessness after marriage. He added with a nadir of inspiration that his mother’s faith did not even wane when the first child that ultimately came died shortly after in the hospital.
Primate of the Anglican Communion, Most Reverend Ndukuba, in his sermon, affirmed the deceased’s legacy of faith. He urged her children and the congregation to emulate Mama Sarah’s legacies of faith, hard work, piousness and community leadership. Noting that this year has been characterized by crises of high magnitude, he urged the federal and state governments to adhere to the demands of the youths, as expressed during the #EndSARS protests that cut across the nation.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in his condolence message, observed that the deceased led a quality and accomplished life. Akin to the Primate, President Buhari, whose message was signed by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, enjoined those “who succeed the deceased to keep her memory aglow by maintaining her virtues of piety, community spiritedness and industry.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan reinforced that the deceased left behind an exemplary footprints that will continue to serve as a moral compass for many. “ I knew her as an honest and caring mother who diligently served God and humanity to the best of her abilities”.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who is a family friend described Mama Sarah Opara as an extra-ordinary woman of substance who lived a long but fulfilled life. He noted that the state had lost a true mother, an epitome of goodness and a dedicated humanitarian whose “legacy of love, affection shall forever remain.” He described her as a kindhearted, inspirational woman who raised her children properly to be responsible and successful and a source of encouragement to many.
Speaker Gbajabiamila, Governor Tambuwal and former Governor of Imo State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, eulogized Mama Opara for the unique and upright fashion she charted the course of her children lives. Ihedioha amplified deceased’s invaluable sacrifices towards the success of her children by effectively guiding them to rise to prominent positions in their various endavours.
•Dr. Uganwa wrote from Port Harcourt