I have battled with this piece for more than four weeks. Not because I do not know how to go about it but because I thought it should not have be written at all. How can I summon the courage to describe such an active, youthful and exuberant life in the past? Where will I start from to reflect the profundity of character, rare sophistication, creative ingenuity and addiction to excellence?
It is now three years since late Mrs. Augustina Alaere Alaibe joined her creator in the great beyond but her seemingly short and extraordinary life on earth and the many lives she touched continue to bear eloquent testimonies to what she lived and died for.
Aunty, I wish to express my gratitude for the examples you gave me during the short period that I knew you and worked for you and with you. I count myself very privileged and extremely fortunate to call you my boss, my mentor and my friend. You were an epitome of style, wit, elegance, discipline, innovation, simplicity, dexterity and humility. You taught me sincerity, compassion and philanthropy. You freely reached out to the destitute, beggars, the homeless, vendors etc hugged them and gave them a feeling of belonging.
As at that time, there were many of us who worked for you drawn from different tribes in Nigeria but we all found a home in rural Opokuma village, Bayelsa State. We often joked that you had almost all Nigerian ethnic groups represented in your kitchen. You treated every one of us with special generosity and gave us the formula for forbearance and forgiveness. You spoke in various slangs, unique pidgin English and had a special nick name for everyone close to you.
Your vision was clear and your passion was both unbeatable and infectious. You had a unique attachment to family values and committed your life to the upliftment of the life of the Niger Delta woman. Your pet project Family Reorientation Education and Empowerment (FREE) is still the most innovative interventions in adult literacy in the whole of Niger Delta Region- and Nigeria. You were an unrepentant advocate of conversion of gun militancy to intellectual militancy and pursued this vision with clarity and vigour all through your life. As at 2007, you had already built thirty three schools across the Niger Delta and a functional hospital and maternity. You had already received the prestigious Global UNESCO Confucius Award for Literacy. I watched you donate a community library and youth esteem centre to your community on the 17th of June 2008 and I can testify to your resilience, organisational energy and commitment. Those were one of the most exciting periods in my life within the not for profit sector because we received daily testimonies from rural people whose lives have been touched by the numerous projects of FREE.
How can I forget the way you made me and many Nigerians proud in far away New York at the United Nations meeting? Your presentation drew such great attention that then Mayor of Harlem took interest in your work and agreed to come to visit Nigeria to meet with beneficiaries. I still remember the big surprise, you sent to me, when you stumbled on the fact I made little sacrifices to ensure the logistical success of that event.
The first African Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, himself was overwhelmed at the magnitude of your vision in extending literary culture, empowerment and self-esteem to the forgotten. You had asked me to develop a comprehensive plan to scale up the activities of FREE before you took ill in June 2008. I continued to call you for four consecutive days without response and when you responded, you asked me to pray. Aunty, I remember you continued to contact me from your hospital bed and you called me after I had my accident in September 2008 to encourage me. Little did I know that was going to me my last conversation with you.
In my more than thirty years of existence and more than ten years of work in the nonprofit sector, I am yet to come across someone as talented, intelligent, compassionate, firm, and disciplined as Alaere Alaibe. I recall vividly that you were in a hurry to do good as though you had a time bound mission to accomplish on earth. You had tremendous foresight and could be said to have some clairvoyance. You had an eye for details and the slightest error and sloppiness could not escape your vigilance. You reprimanded me by phone and encouraged me the next minute by a text message. Words fail me each time I try to describe the impact you made in my life and on humanity. God knows the best.
As a proud beneficiary of your magnanimous heart, I remember today and always that you are resting in peace with that same everlasting smile that is part of you. I will continue to celebrate the exemplary and impactful life you lived here on earth and the indelible footprints you left in the sands of time. Rest in Peace, Mother Theresa of the Niger Delta.
Uche Igwe is a research scholar and governance expert. He wrote in via [email protected].