Margaret Ekpo, of blessed memory, was a Nigerian women’s rights activist and social mobilize; a pioneering female politician in the First Republic and a leading member of a class of traditional Nigerian women activists, many of whom rallied women beyond notions of ethnic solidarity. She played major roles as a grassroot and nationalist politician in the city of Aba, in an era of an hierarchical and male-dominated movement towards independence.
One of Ekpo’s associates, who served for many years as her personal assistant was Lady Harriet Ihuarulam Obiefule, an alumnus of renowned Ovom Girls’ Secondary School. Armed with her education, she went on to become one of the trainees and mentees of Margaret Ekpo in Calabar now Cross River state, under whose tutelage she discovered and honed her natural entrepreneurial and leadership gifts.
With the blessing of her mentor and the help of her older brothers, Israel and Geoffrey Etumnu Duruigbo, she established her first business, a women’s training institute called Miss Etums, in her home town of Amaigbo, Imo State where she taught Sewing and Home Management to young newly married girls. Most of those girls later as mothers and our aunties, told us stories of Harriet’s wisdom and compassion, and how they all respected and looked up to her. This week Saturday August 5th,, the remains of this legendary woman of substance will be laid to rest at her home town Okwuomee, Ishiala Umuozu in Nwagele LGA of Imo State.
Fondly called Ayam, Lady Harriet Obiefule was born as the 4th of 6 children and the only surviving daughter to Etumnu and Oyidie Duruigbo of Umuokwara Ubahu, Amaigbo in Nwangele LGA of Imo State. She lost her mother at the tender age of 4 and later became an orphan before her teen years. As a very young impressionable girl, she watched her baby sister die in her father’s arms as he pleaded in vain for his idols to heal and restore his baby girl. Consumed with grieve and loss of faith in the idols, her father burned the idols, denounced idolatry, gave his life to Jesus Christ, and became a staunch member of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Witnessing her father’s profound act of faith in God became the foundation of her unshakeable Christian faith and spiritual prowess. As an orphan, she endured the excruciatingly harsh life of a housemaid well into her early teens when her older brother, Israel Etumnu Duruigbo rescued her from that bondage and sent her to school. Rather than break her spirit, that painful experience helped to make her the strongest, wisest, most resilient and enterprising woman we were privileged to know and call our mother.
In 1954, she met and married the handsome love of her life, late Nze James Ozuomba Olugburu Obiefule. Their union was blessed with 11 children (5 sons and 6 daughters) including 3 sets of twins. She survived the loss of all 5 sons, and is now survived by her 6 daughters. She affectionately called her children “the Jewels with which God decorated me”. And for her Jewels, she gave up her training institute to build a home grounded in the love and fear of God. After her last child, she went on to complete her Teacher Training, and then accepted an Elementary School teaching position to help support her husband, our daddy.
Until her marriage to James Obiefule, she was the venerable lead chorister at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Amaigbo, a talent she imparted in most of her Jewels and grand Jewels. According to many of our maternal uncles and aunties, church services never started until she arrived. She was so active and devoted to the service of the Lord through her singing ministry in the Anglican church that most of her Anglican brethren boycotted her wedding because they could not believe she abandoned her Anglican faith by marrying a devout Catholic. Regardless of denomination, she continued to do God’s work - living (caring for the less privileged, etc) and raising her Jewels in Biblical principles. In fact she was in love with Jesus. Everyone who came in contact with her got to know Jesus Christ for the first time, or know more about Him. She did not want anything to do with you if you did not want to know about her Jesus Christ. She would always say “if you have anything better than Jesus, do not share with me”. Her faith in Him was unshakeable even until He called her home on March 22, 2017. Because of her love for, and faith in Jesus Christ, she devotedly helped her husband build a close-knit family with a solid spiritual foundation anchored on the word of God.
As a wife, she was the wind beneath our daddy’s wings. She was his best friend and confidant. They often talked with their eyes, and lovingly completed each other’s sentences. She encouraged him to seek university education, and supported him through the successful completion at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Besides, she encouraged and supported him in helping members of our extended family system, and training anyone of them who was willing and able to pursue an education.
As a mother, she was both a loving intercessor and a strict disciplinarian. She proverbially “hit with her right hand, but lovingly pull back with her left hand”. More importantly, however, she imbued us with Biblical wisdom such as “good name is greater than material wealth”, “always stand for the truth because it will set you free”, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no”, “your body is the temple of God, and you must respect it and keep it pure”, “you must honor and respect your parents so you may live long fruitful lives”, “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the God”, etc.
As a child of God and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, she was an ardent peace-maker, and she hated divisiveness (aki gbara mkpi) with a passion. She brokered peace in several families in Nigeria, London, and America as many here today can testify. She embraced all God’s children, and cared for the down-trodden and less fortunate as if they were her own (Ochiri ozuo). She passed up the offer to be a secondary school matron so that an unemployed young woman abandoned by her parents will have the position instead because the young woman needed the job more than herself. She took in an abandoned quashiokored orphan child, and nursed her to good health. She was one of the first twelve apostles who said “YES” to the inception of Divine Women of Purpose Association (DWOPA). She cherished her visits to the orphanages and her time with the orphans. She believed that no child should ever be denied the opportunity to experience a mother’s love and affection. As a gifted leader, she successfully championed the causes of Okwuomee, Umuozu as well as Isu women with wisdom and compassion for several years. Under her leadership, Isu women became a more unified, stronger and more formidable voice in the socio-economic development of their era.
As an entrepreneur, she established and successfully managed different business ventures until her Jewels persuaded her to give up the pursuit of business to help raise her grand Jewels. She had a unique relationship with each and every one of her jewels, grand Jewels and even great grand Jewels. She had a special name for each one, and we all had special names (Ayam, Ezigbo nne, Amamalolo, Yayam o, Agbogho Obiefule, Ada Jesus, Arim, Nwishi osa m, Ada Etumnu Duruigbo, Nwa Amaigbo oso okwa, Nwa Ubahu ori ede, Nwimi ananma, My own Mother, Elelebe eje oru, etc.) for her. Beside her training institute before marriage, she also during her marriage established a successful food supply contract with area secondary schools, and later a restaurant. In her restaurant, she did not serve any man who came in with an under-age child or any female who was not his wife or sister. As a skilled farmer, she won the coveted best agricultural product contest in Kaduna with her cassava and avocado pear. Her thriving poultry farm produced award-winning eggs and chicks as well.
Just as Margert Ekpo is always remembered for using her God- giving talent, wisdom and strength to promote women solidarity as a platform to fight for the economic rights of women, economic protections and expansionary political rights of women, her associate, legendary Lady Harriet Obiefule will equally ever be remembered for these and other qualities, selfless lifestyle, positive contributions to economic empowerment and for her large heart..