I met Venerable Mathew A. E. Igri about 18 years back when I started running seminars for the Anglican church. I had just relocated from Aba to Ughelli. We found out that we are both alumni of the University of Ibadan. He took interest in my ministry since then. Now he is retired and resides in his home town, Igbide, in Delta State. He regularly attends our Word and Wisdom Conference in our school. I also found out that he was a Physical Education graduate. He informed me that a group of retirees, under the leadership of General Paul Ufuoma (Ret.), regularly did physical exercises by 6 a.m. at Igbide except on Wednesdays, because of my broadcast on Quest FM, 93.1. They call it Apoki Charles Day. Venerable Igri informed me that General Paul Ufuoma Omu was intending to visit me. It was an overwhelming proposal for me. I opted to visit him instead at Igbide on Tuesday, 8th January, 2019. Remember the previous posts on The New Year Has Started, Cascading The Years Into Each Other, and The Principle of Accumulation.
The General went to Asaba, the Delta State Capital, and rushed back to wait for our appointment billed for 7 p.m. The group made up of the following notable persons had planned to keep to time because they said “Apoki Charles will keep to time”. Five minutes to 7 p.m., I was there with Venerable Igri. I met the General waiting with three others. Eventually, the group was complete. They were General Paul Omu, Venerable Mathew A. Igri, Mr. Benson E. Ekpere, Chief Christopher Ukpuru, Mr. Peter Omu, and Mr. Akpode Ukpuru.
Mr. Akpode Ukpuru was not part of the team, but he listens to me on radio and is usually the first to arrive for our conferences. He was able to identify me in the dark as I drove into the General’s residence. I was wondering what would have happened if I had gone there to commit evil; he would have identified me even with the darkness. He called me and I handed the phone to Venerable Igri who invited him to join us. Besides him and I, all others were approaching 80 years or they were above 80 years of age.
Each person I was introduced to wondered out loud, “Is this the Dr. Apoki Charles?” I did not fit into the figure of the type of person they were expecting. One of them said he was expecting me to be taller than James Ibori, a former Governor of Delta State.
You don’t need over-packaging; it is expensive and suffocating.
The General was the epitome of simplicity. His building was a simple bungalow, and the gates were wide open. His fence very low like that of General David Ejoor. Remember, this man was a former military governor, and his wife was a senator.
I told him I was expecting a platoon of soldiers; he told me that he left them behind in the barracks. There was no expensive car in the compound, unless it was hidden elsewhere. I was comparing him to our present-day young “rich men”. He invited us to dinner and asked that I sit near him. These retirees were joking and teasing each other like school children.
The General’s residence was filled with very beautiful flowers and other trees. There were two big fish ponds separated by the road. He told me he had always dreamt of residing in such a natural environment.
After dinner, he personally accompanied me to my room. I was overwhelmed by his simplicity and hospitality.
By 6 a.m., I heard a knock on my window, and lo and behold, it was the General. He was already dressed for exercises. I quickly dressed up and he handed me a face cap. Venerable Igri joined us and we trekked about 1 km to the exercise ground. Dr. Prosper Ufuoma Ahworegba later joined us for the exercise.
I was surprised to see men in their late 70’s and early 80’s doing physical exercises. We later threw the balls around and headed back home. The General however took me to see his piggery. There were some things the General put down in Igbide, years back, that the whole community and now himself and his friends are enjoying.
I walked the 1 km distance back with the General. He had no airs around him. He was just like any old folk in the village. He told me he will not give up anything in exchange for this his simple life in his community. He told me he named himself, ‘Ufuoma’, which means ‘peace‘ in Isoko language.
Some members of the team prepared a special breakfast and plain tea which I really enjoyed.
Lessons of Life
- I was thinking of my life at 70 years of age. Would I be surrounded by such a company of lovely friends in old age?
- I really desired to live this quiet and simple life in old age in a very rural community. My paternal village is already congested and very noisy; our beautiful river has been polluted by sand dredgers.
- There were no children at home, just like my wife and I, alone at home. At that age bracket, fashion, sex, cars, and food might not really be your priorities. So, what next?
- Such a combination of humility, contentment, and simplicity. Then I wonder, why are small men like me so proud?
- He single-handedly built a beautiful church for his denomination to thank God for saving him from a bullet that shattered his hand during the war. Legacy and the Cascading Years.
- During the Christmas period, people from the surrounding villages gathered in one of his gardens, opposite his residence, to have fun. There was a tall structure with beautiful Christmas lights. I was thinking of Effurun-Otor (where I intend to build a university) most of the time.
After breakfast, they saw me off to my car as if I was a dignitary. I immediately applied to be invited again to Igbide.
Ironically, the next morning I did not exercise, but I knew those old men were up by 6 a.m. exercising already. I must start somehow.
God bless you and honour you too.