16th July 2021 was the colourful day the 78-year-old Ezinne Uche Iyiegbu (Odoziaku) was buried and celebrated. It was a flamboyant funeral, a fascinating jamboree, and a red-letter day in the history of Igboland in particular, and Nigeria in general. Friends and well-wishers came from far and near to warm and dazzle the event. It was indeed a remarkable day.
Late Ezinne Iyiegbu was the good-natured and amiable woman that gave birth to Chief Obinna Iyiegbu;
Okpataozuora of Oba,
Mmili of Idemili,
Eze Ugo-ano of Igboland,
It was not by mistake that currencies rained like manna from heaven on that never-to-be-forgotten day in Aboji village, Oba town, Idemili South LGA, Anambra State. It sprouted majorly due to the fetching love Obi Cubana had for his mum, whom he adored as his most loving role model. He saw in her a kindhearted bubbling personality, and an incredible example of strength, honesty, and generosity. Why shouldn’t Obi Cubana celebrate his compassionate mother – a retired teacher that prayed for him when hopes were vague and cared for him for fifteen years after his father’s death? Before her journey to the ultimate stage, Obi Cubana and his selfless, affectionate, and well-to-do siblings had planned to make the 80th birthday celebration of their mother historic, significant and carnival-like. However, God knows the best – He giveth life and taketh it. May her soul rest in peace. Amen.
Igbo people value befitting burial and funeral so much that it is believed that any dead Igbo person denied such rites, his spirit would not commune with pride of place among ancestors in their abode. Thus, in Igbo cosmology, such a person would wander restlessly in the spiritual dwellings, often causing troubles for the living. It’s for these reasons and the need to enjoy a fitting resting place, that the Igbo strive to give their dead relatives befitting burials/funerals. Having done this, the deceased would be benevolent in the ancestral abode, wading away all forms of malevolence. Thus, he would be appealed to during inexplicable difficulty and would be beseeched to commune with the living during the breaking of kolanut and other rites Igbo people specially revere.
Therefore, Eze Okpataozuora was not wrong to “cubanise” her mum, in a way only seen once in a blue moon. Ezinne Iyiegbu’s funeral was a boisterous ceremony of overt splendor.
Before her funeral, other Igbo departed had enjoyed a similar magnificent display. In the 19th century, prior to the invasion of Igbo land by the colonial masters, Obi Ezeokigbo, the son of Obi Ezeike, and former leader of Nnobi town, celebrated his father’s funeral with pomp and pageantry. His maternal sympathizers (Nna-ochie) from the Udoye family in Obiafia Nnewi-ichi supported him richly. Those days, burial/funeral would last for days. Wealth was might. The value attributed to a bereaved was measured by the strength and caliber of his sympathizers, and the gift they presented. Thus, Ezeokigbo’s maternal grandfather appealed to his Nnewi-ichi relatives to support his grandson immensely – a son that happened to be the only child of his mother. The plea was taken as a challenge. They decided that all the able-bodied men would contribute gunpower for one cannon shot, Ukwu Ego, one pot of wine, food items, and one cloth. All masquerades of all brands in Nnewi-ichi must be in attendance. All men and wives must attend. Then, the Udoye family extended the invitation to all their extended families, friends, and well-wishers. They requested them to extend the invitation to their friends. The plan was to shake the foundation of Nnobi town, which shared boundaries with Nnewi. Added to that, Nnobi was/is the citadel of Idemili deity that gave deific birth to Edo deity, the mystical mother of Nnewi and other towns answering Ana Edo – the land of Edo. Hence, the Udoye family had reason to make the condolence visit worthwhile.
On the fourth day of the funeral, when folks expected that Ezeokigbo would be brooding, the Nnewi Ichi sympathizers, each with gifts, marched in a single file as their tradition demanded, stretched more than two kilometers, extending from Okigbo’s palace to beyond the Idemili sacred shrine. It was a condolence visit comparable to the visit of the Queen of Sheba to the King Solomon of Isreal. “The cannons were fired 120 at a time, five times. He [Ezeokigbo] collected 27 pots of cowries, several tubers of yam that filled his barn, plantain, bananas, and seven lines of all types of cloths. The arena could not accommodate the visiting sympathizers. Masquerades and drummers lacked space to perform. It was a glorious day for Okigbo. Nnewi had done him proud.
Just like Obi Ezeokigbo, Obi Cubana’s goodwill attracted a trailer load of cows (46 cows) from Chief Paschal Chibuike Okechuwu fondly known as Cubana Chief Priest. In all, more than 400 cows were given to him for the funeral. The numbers of rams and goats contributed were too numerous to be counted. Another friend of him supported with a trailer load of Hero lager beer. Other people contributed other brands of beer and beverages. Amusingly, Johnmary Chukwumesiri, a popular comedian known as I GO TUK (Ogbuefi: Main Market Man), condoled Obi Cubana with over thirty fowls secured in two cages. Be that as it may, a litany of well-wishers contributed more than 300 million naira for Obi Cubana.
The funeral atmosphere was convivial, pleasant, and hospitable. Varying hues of sympathizers thronged the nooks and crannies of the funeral place in Oba town to peddle their interests. It was like a pilgrimage reminiscing the 14th century impressive pilgrimage of Mansa Musa of Mali Empire to Mecca. Sultan Musa was so generous and showy in the hajj that he gave gold to the poor, fed more than fifty thousand companions, and built a mosque every Friday in a place he stopped to pray. Mansa Musa was so lavish in donating gold to the poor that the Middle East witnessed a 10-year gold recession, which in return flourished Mali Empire that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Gao in the east.
Opulent display by E-money (Emeka Okonkwo) at the funeral was sky-high. He came in a classy motorcade similar to the visit of King Jaffe Joffer of Zamunda to America to see his son, Akeem, in the movie titled “Coming to America.” With his enchanting physiognomy, social etiquette, and boundless generousity, he became the centre of attraction. Prophet Chukwuemeka Ohanamere’s (Odumeje: Indaboski) charismatic prowess was evident in his visit. Hundreds of people followed closely his car to get a glimpse of his humorous exuberance. Jowizaza, Quincy Nippon, Livy, Ike Nnobi, Ekene Newage, and more than 200 hundred billionaires graced the occasion with luxurious and eye-catching vehicles. The interment almost turned to a national convention of Nigerian billionaires. Some of the Anambra governorship flagbearers were seen striving to catch the attention of the billionaires. Davido, Phyno, KC Fresh, D’Banj, and so on, did not miss out. They turned music into a sumptuous meal for the yawning enthusiasts, as mint notes rained down from the firmament. Some notable actors like Kanayo O. Kanayo, Zubi Michael, Alex Ekubo, made the funeral comical on social media. Hon. Mike Onyeka Obidi, the CEO of Mega abattoir and Suya spots turned over 78 cows into a mass-hanging barbecue. It is doubtful that such barbecue had been recorded in any funeral done in a single day in West Africa.
Late Ezinne was not left alone. Apams Limited, the most thriving funeral service provider in Eastern Nigeria, gave her a glamorous burial service. Apams’ costliest cart was used to drive Ezinne’s body in an expensive casket worth over 30 million naira. The height of it was when the Master of Ceremony jokingly told sympathizers whose parents were above 85 years of age, to pay Apams in advance to avoid excuses. Many even laugh at the painful joke. Simply, it was a funeral crafted for public figures, business moguls, elegant celebrities, and wishful sympathizers.
Later, it was like a race as to who would outpace the other doling out handfuls of wrappers and bundles of money to Obi Cubana. At a point, currency denomination and volume determined the value attached to the pyramid of crispy money displayed openly for eyes’ assessment and approval. All these were given to Obi Cubana, in appreciation of his generosity and love for his family, especially his accommodating mother, whom he spent over 40 million naira to make a diamond pendant in her memory.
To those that may not know, the 46-year-old Obi Cubana was not born with a silver spoon. His upbringing was not rosy. His parents were teachers and disciplinarians in Oba town where Obi Cubana was born and bred. His kindhearted father, Mr. Alex Iyiegbu, who was the French teacher of Merchant of Light Secondary School Oba, was known for his forthrightness, exemplary living, and sportsmanship. His affectionate mother was a moral instructor, obedient woman, and prayerful Amazon. It was these sterling qualities from Obi Cubana’s parents that formed his good character evident even in Primary School, before gaining entrance into Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) – a prestigious Secondary school founded by the Christian Missionary Society in 1925 at Onitsha. His quiet lifestyle and the ability to prioritize his academics attracted the school authority to him, and he was made a school prefect. Owing to his brilliance, Obi Cubana later got admission to study Political Science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka(UNN). He graduated with flying colours.
When Obi Cubana finished his National Youth Service Corps’ assignment at the National Assembly in Abuja, it dawned on him that a satisfactory job was extremely difficult to be found. Where hope was alive, nepotism quickly elbowed him out considering his ethnic background. His rich school certificates became promissory notes that have failed to be fruitful, caused by avoidable political instability, economic strangulation, misappropriation, embezzlement, nepotism, unemployment, and inflation to mention just a few. Curriculum vitae and job application letters of many graduates became readily available papers that the roadside traders used to wrap groundnuts, Suya, Akara, etc. It became obvious that trading, apprenticeship, and self-made jobs were the available options for Obi Cubana. He became a freelance land agent and later a casual contractor with PPMC in Abuja. From the gain he made, he started a small-scale bar/eatery, which transformed from Ibiza bar to Cubana Group. The Group includes Cubana Hotels (Grand Cubana Hotels, Caledonian Suites, Cubana Signature), Bars & Lounges (Crave Cubana Abuja, Opium Cubana Owerri, Pablo Cubana Lagos, Grind Cubana Lagos, Montana Cubana Lagos, Gustavo Cubana Enugu), and The Kiek Foundation. Added to that, the video of Obi Cubana and his loyal and devoted business partners’ tour to Glenfiddich brewery in Scotland, showed the extent of his business organization and wealth.
In-toto, Obi Cubana is an example of a self-made and hardworking billionaire. The perishing thoughts of some armchair critics that Obi Cubana’s source of wealth could be illegitimate stems from ignorance and envy.
Igbo people are naturally independent-minded, hardworking, creative, and goal-getting. They see opportunities where others may see doom. It is understandable when such people, who through thick and thin climbed the ladder of success, would be seen every so often expressing their wealth in a fashion marked with opulence and luxury. Thus, to the languid critics, unprovoked condemnation and unhealthy criticism became their comforters.
Good a thing, Obi Cubana, in demonstration of the meaning of his title-Okpataozuora (a wealthy man that cares for all), has pledged to give 300 indigenes of Oba the sum of 300 hundred million naira, which would in the near future turn out many multi-millionaires in his town, thereby drastically reducing poverty, envy, and bitterness. In memory of his mother, he promised his people to build a church that would be opened this year. It is what Igbo people call AKULUOUNO (taking wealth back hometown) – think home philosophy.
The lively funeral helped in re-energizing Cubana Group brand after the devastating effect of Coronavirus in the entertainment and hospitality industries. It has succeeded in projecting Cubana as one of the most thriving hospitality businesses in Nigeria. Obi Cubana, who was a quiet personality before the funeral, has become the highest trending name in Nigeria. If another thing should be remembered about the burial and funeral of Ezinne Uche Iyiegbu, it put a lie to the notion that Anambra and Igboland were extremely insecure and vulnerable to crime. It is incredible that such a crowdy, imposing, and grand funeral sailed through without records of stealing, rape, or death. The funeral shows that generosity and being big-hearted have a reward.
However, Dr. Ruben Abati, a seasoned journalist, and highly respected social critic seemed to differ from the majority of Nigerians that were captivated by the immoderate show of wealth during the funeral of Obi Cubana’s mother. If Abati had limited his criticism to the need for moderation in the handling of currencies, many would have taken his thought as a patriotic and genuine observation from a thrifty conservative. But the excessive bashing in pushing his points tilted public sympathy to Obi Cubana. Some began to see his reactions as bitterness deep-rooted in envy and tribalism, especially where he portrayed his Yoruba-speaking people as a “fun-loving people of the southwest Nigeria” while he allegedly depicted Oba in Igboland as a “metaphor for the collapse of values in Nigeria.”
The truth is that Abati, though a well-read personality, possibly lacked sufficient knowledge of Igbo sociology. Abati could be surprised to see an Igbo billionaire sticking out his neck to claim a contentious little currency note, which classy people like him could easily let go to avoid embarrassment. It was not out of drunkenness that bales of money were thrown to Obi Cubana and sympathizers. It was showmanship that appealed to the givers and receivers. From an Igbo perspective, it was a generosity that should be reciprocated later. Abati’s alleged attribution of some of the alluring female sympathizers at the funeral as the artificial skin-whitening women, fitting as the “new definition of womanhood in Oba” is appalling, inexcusable, and unworthy of note. Obi Cubana was less than 3 years old when Fela Anikulapo Kuti that shared the same geographical area with Abati officially released a song titled “Yellow Fever” in 1976, a song that mocked black women passionate to have European white skin colour. It is obvious that the women that influenced Fela to sing that song were not Oba women. That Abati’s eyes observed “cleavage-bearing women” was normal, and it showed that a body is not leather. But to make meaning out of it could be hypocritical.
The alleged questioning of the source of Obi Cubana’s wealth by Abati, without exhaustive and in-depth investigation is malicious and contemptible. Obi Cubana has a clean record of building Cubana business empire and paid his taxes regularly. Abati may be embarrassed to discover that Obi Cubana has more than 500 workers on his payroll. His hospitality business is open for government evaluation. If Abati is not a salary earner, he should have understood certainly that wealth creation is not an easy expedition. No wonder Pastor Ntia I. Ntia, who earlier criticized Obi Cubana’s extravagance, after listening to the interview Okpataozuora granted to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), retracted his statements and apologized openly for his ignorance.
If Abati had known the class and cost of some of the drinks shared at the funeral venue, he would have been desirous to sing “Ameno Dorime” – a trending song for the wealthy, which Eric Levi wrote and titled “ERA.” Seriously, sympathizers did not need to know Obi Cubana’s mother before celebrating her funeral. His mother was celebrated because of the love sympathizers had for her son. It was symbiotic and ‘synergetic’.
Abati was quick to forget that Igbo women, just like the Jewish women, have overbearing influence in the affair and welfare of their children, whether young or old. Obviously, it is out of order for him to have allegedly asked[in Dailypost]: “What kind of person was she? How did she relate within the community? Did she ever see, handle, spend, a bundle of crisp Naira notes in her lifetime?” The truth is that Obi Cubana’s mother lived a fulfilled life, both in wealth, generosity, and prayer.
Dr. Ruben Abati should not be offended by whoever questioned his sincerity and genuineness in his interrogation of Odoziaku’s funeral. Whether intentional or omission, Abati failed to mention the three hundred-million-naira youth empowerment fund that followed the funeral – an observation that would have balanced his essay and remove tons of suspicion. More still, he glossed over the fact that the funeral venue had no swimming pool where the so-called “scantily dressed” women were partying. Abati failed to envisage that many uninvited sympathizers that attended the burial cum funeral were expectant of the kindness that would flow from the ‘once-in-a-blue moon’ funeral. He would not appreciate the money randomly given to the poor sympathizers who had been so impoverished by corrupt Nigerians and their foreign collaborators that have made basic living extremely difficult. If “the Nigerian establishment from politics to business and civil society,” as Abati allegedly put it, were “faithful, loyal and honest,” abject poverty, agitation, banditry, herders’ attacks, kidnapping, bogus furniture allowance, Ghana-must-go diplomacy, budget padding, nepotism, and corruption would not have been an endless anthem. You will not beat a child and ask him not to cry. There is an Igbo adage that says that it is the person that carries palm leaves that a hungry goat follows. Many Nigerians would be humble enough to take money thrown to them at such events than continue to live in penury.
It may be a distraction to note that Abati, a self-styled preacher of moral values, has always not practiced what he preached. That he became a running mate of late Senator Kashamu Buruji, who was PDP flagbearer during the 2019 Ogun State gubernatorial election left much to be desired in his moral standard. Kashamu Buruji was wanted in the United States of America for drug-related charges. The US government was alleged to have requested for his extradition to America to face trial. Respected President Olusegun Obasanjo was vocal about his extraction. But Abati, rather than bow out in honour, blighted his morality and accepted the unholy alliance. Ogun people later rejected them notwithstanding the tempting promises they tossed around. This occurred after the Economic and Financial Crime Commission had arrested Abati on 21st October 2016 for questioning over his alleged receiving from National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, some money budgeted for arms procurement.
The tears that came out of Abati’s eyes on the day his affectionate mother was buried in 2013 was enough to discourage the stoutest of hearts from criticizing the elaborate funeral celebration for his mother, Madam Maria Taiwo Abati – a celebration that saw her remains paraded around the streets of Abeokuta, with Yinka Ayefele, a celebrated musician, entertaining the sympathizers at a luxurious reception held at Bishop’s Court, Abeokuta. The passionate manner with which Abati thanked his sympathizers showed his full knowledge of the importance of honouring the dead and commiserating with the bereaved. Channels television provided elaborate coverage of the event. In his words then: “I will like to just use this opportunity briefly, to thank all of you, for attending this event, and more so, for the support you have shown, either through letters, FINANCIAL SUPPORT, and even PHYSICALLY attending this event. On behalf of my siblings and the rest of the family, we are really very grateful and feel truly inspired. I’m particularly happy that, people consider it necessary to come but not just to HONOUR us [family members] but to HONOUR OUR MOTHER.” But, in the case of Obi Cubana’s mother’s funeral, Abati allowed his pen to run amok, without deference to the dead, compassion to the mourning family, and empathy to the sympathizers. His punches should have worn human face and brotherhood. He threw sentiment associated with the dead to the wind and let all hell loose.
Nevertheless, it will not be rational to throw away a baby with the bathwater. Dr. Ruben Abati, a graduate of the University of Calabar and an experienced newspaper columnist, has an innumerable rich repertoire of sound presentations and essays that are visible in the treasure of great minds. He deserves doffed hats.
The alleged Facebook post of DCP Abba Kyari, the Head of the Inspector-General of Police’s Intelligence Response Team, said much on what could have caused the large crowd of well-wishers witnessed at the funeral. According to Kyari- an exemplary elite police officer, “Obinna Iyiegbu popularly known as Obi Cubana is one of the most hardworking entrepreneurs and Humble personalities that I’ve known for many years. He’s a brother and Good Friend. For his good nature and Good heart, I had to Squeeze out time from my busy schedule to honour him by attending the burial of his Beloved Mom in Oba town Anambra State.” Who would have said it better than Kyrari, an epitome of good policing? The humility and compassion of Obi Cubana are second to none. Even at Maldive, an Island in the Indian Ocean, where he has gone with friends for tourism and leisure, he continued praying for his well-wishers to recoup the expenses they incurred for the sake of his mother’s funeral. “If GRACE is a person, he is Obinna Iyiegbu. I am still trying to figure out what happened last weekend but all I can see is GRACE,” wrote Obi Cubana’s wife on her Instagram. “The man is grace personified. Don’t get it twisted. Stop the hate & celebrate God’s grace upon his chosen one. What you celebrate is what you attract. Like he said, WORK HARD.”
Ezinne Uche Iyiegbu lived her life with a passion for love and acceptance of all the people. Her funeral was not “a celebration of money” but a celebration of Ezinne Odoziaku for a life well-lived – a celebration of love and generosity. The funeral gave the poor and wealthy sympathizers a rare opportunity to commune together richly and happily. As Ezinne Iyiegbu rest peacefully in the hands of Almighty God, may the light of love and generosity she lit in Nigeria bring hope, peace, and prosperity.
Chidozie Omenife Okigbo
Pictures…credit to Thenaijafame, ABTC, Theparadise,