She was the beloved mother of Obiageli Ezekwesili, formerpresidential aspirant and minister of education, sure to be found at her side at many public events. But she was also many other things, to many different people.
Depending on whom you ask, Madam Cecelia Nwayiaka Umeh-Ujubuonu was a preacher, peace maker, teacher, director, counsellor. Several of these roles were held in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the faith she had embraced later in life.
In a statement by the family spokesperson, Madam Umeh-Ujubuonu passed away in the late hours of Sunday, June 21, 2020. She was aged 78. She was comforted by the presence of her closest family at the home of her daughter, Ezekwesili.
President Muhammadu Buhari via a statement released by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina in Abuja, urged Ezekwesili and her family to find strength in the good works of Umeh-Ujubuonu, whose “testimony of reverence for God, and service to humanity continues to resonate.’’
According to the tributes that have come in since her passing, Umeh-Ujubuonu lived a full and rewarding life, one that took origins in Ghana when she was born in 1942 to the missionary family of Mr and Mrs Emeribe. Her parents hailed from Iho village in Ikeduru, Imo state but spent most of their lives in Takoradi and Lagos.
Umeh-Ujubuonu grew up in Lagos where she attended primary and secondary school. She had to put a pause on her educational pursuits because funds were limited and it was decided that her brother would go all the way instead.
She got married to Benjamin Umeh-Ujubuonu, a civil servant and indigene of Ndodolu Village, Umunuko, Ukpor, in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra state. While her husband worked at the Nigerian Ports Authority, Umeh-Ujubuonu supplemented his income with her small business. It was a modest living but one they were both content with. She instilled this value in her children, impressing on them through personal example, the importance of being earnest.
When the civil war broke out, the family moved back to the East only returning to settle in Ajegunle when they were given the all clear. In an interview with Punch newspapers, Ezekwesili fondly recalled her childhood memories, “My mum used to go to Tejuosho Market, Yaba, to buy grade one Okirika (second-hand clothes) and she would launder the clothes. By the time the laundry was done and I wore the clothes, I would look so good that my mates, who went on summer vacations, often asked me where I got them from.”
Widowed at the young age of 44, Umeh-Ujubuonu devoted the rest of her life to caring for children and ensuring they did not lack the resources needed to be successful in life. She continued to run her business selling jewellery and fabrics. She enforced discipline in the home but as long as it was in her power, she provided for her kids. After her retirement, she devoted herself to service in the church where she often performed odd duties like providing outfits for the children’s choir, served as cook for the Easter camp and mobiliser for the teens conference.
Umeh-Ujubuonu is survived by four children, Oby, Nkiru,Chudi and Onyeka as well as seven grandchildren.
As part of her homegoing, a service of songs is set for 27, June, at a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Abuja. Compliant with the protocols for social gathering under the Covid-19 rules of the Federal Government, an online participation link has been provided to close members of the family, church and friends unable to join physically. This will be followed on Wednesday 1, July by a private family funeral at her hometown in Ukpor, Anambra State.
Madam Umeh-Ujubuonu’s life can be wrapped up as one lived in service of others. Ezekwesili summarized her feelings for her mother thus, “She lived her life entirely for us… I love my mum so much and sometimes, when I think of her, I cry because of the kind of sacrifice she has made.”