By Patrick Ochei
The undisputable foremost Anioma culture promoter, cerebral public speaker, passionate image maker, die-hard agitator for girl child education, resilient innovative leadership teacher and undeniably lover of the Nigerian project, HRM Obi Martha Dunkwu, the Omu Anioma/Nneoha has bared it all on the rough journeys of her life from birth to her present status.
Omu Dunkwu revealed the woman in her while granting interview for a documentary – ‘The Woman In You’ with the Delta Broadcasting Service, DBS Asaba, anchored by Joy Ochei.
It was noon and the clemency of the weather was friendly and bright. Radiating in her signature attire (Akwa Ocha), Obi Martha Dunkwu emerged from her inner chamber to welcome the DBS crew for a tour of the Palace before granting an interview.
First thing that caught the fancy of the visitors was the big bold signpost that read “Image Is Everything”. And while reading it aloud, the Omu responded to the presenter, saying that ‘Image is Everything’ remains her slogan and interprets her philosophy in the business of public relations.
After a thorough tour of both the Palace and its extension, the Omu told them the story of her life with a start that ‘All that glitters is not gold’.
“I came from a prominent family of the Dunkwus of Obodogba in Okpanam, but my parents were very poor in that lineage. I was told I survived a premature birth and at age two, I was taken to live with an aunt in the North. We hawked to survive and there was nothing wrong with that, because we needed to support the family income to eat and to go to school.
“However, we came back to Okpanam as a result of the civil war. We were the pioneer students of St. Murumba’s College (now Okpalani Secondary School).
“I came back to meet my parents still very poor. I was troubled as a little girl with siblings and I determined to break the chain of poverty. I moved to Benin City after my Secondary education where I worked as a clerk in the Ministry of Finance.
“I left Nigeria on study leave to England. I attended the L.T.C College of English and Secretarial Studies and later South West London College, England. I resigned my appointment with the Ministry of Finance in England before proceeding from there to America where I also studied at Henderson State University, Arkansas and University of Nevada, United States of America.
“My sister, at the end of my studies and at the verge of receiving my green card to stay and work in America, I just picked my bag and said I was returning to Nigeria. My friends were surprised but my mind was made up.
“I returned to Nigeria without anything. I rented a house where I paid three years and lived without job. People here too were perplexed and gossiping if I ever travelled overseas or may be I went there to do drugs.
“Well, I eventually found a source of survival when I met some persons who were dealing on broken bottles. They introduced me into dealing on broken bottles and through this means I made money to finally set up my professional outfit – Afamat Nigeria Limited. It was at this point people began to understand my focus.
“I came back to go into politics and begin to change things just as it was boiling in my heart. I wanted to become a lawmaker. I never planned to be an Omu. Nobody becomes an Omu by choice; it must be by calling.
“At a point in my life I started having health challenges. People thought it was drug having returned from abroad as a young woman. When I was eventually approached and told that there was a call on my life to become an Omu, I doubted it. I couldn’t fathom me fitting into such a lifestyle. Then I was consulting for the Omo N’Oba Erediauwa, the Oba of Benin, and my relationship with him helped solved the puzzle. He advised me to answer the call on my head by accepting to be an Omu.
“Do you know that when I eventually agreed to becoming an Omu, all the health challenges disappeared. I never dreamt of becoming an Omu. Nobody wants to be caged. So it takes providence to cut off all the lifestyles you are used to. That is why I always say that being an Omu is a physical manifestation of a spiritual conclusion.
“Coming to the institution of Omu, this is a seat that our forefathers kept for over 700 years ago. Sometimes I marvelled how our forebears were able to achieve women friendly disposition for over 700 years, when in actual sense, women inclusion started 100 years ago in Western world. It shows that our forefathers were futuristic. And this is an institution that was created by men and managed by men even till date.
“The only difference is that I have been able to fuse the good of the old and the good of the new together, for what will definitely come – a bright new day. I have used my professional leaning as a media practitioner to promote the institution, the reason it didn’t go into extinction at my coming. I was crowned Omu of Okpanam on the 26th January, 2002. And because of my activities, the Anioma Traditional Rulers decided to create a central Omu seat for the purpose of helping to promote and propagate the Anioma identity in terms of culture, language, attire, food and other good things that make us unique as a people. For this reason, I was crowned Omu Anioma on the 15th January, 2010. And just last year, on October 19, 2020, I was crowned Nneoha (Mother To All and Mother Without Borders) by the Traditional Ruler of Nsukka in Enugu State.
“Now talking about the challenge of women, because even as an Omu, I still face challenges. Those who don’t want the good of our community still see me as a woman, competitor or even overshadowing them. However, I am not deterred. If I had swam through the Atlantic Ocean, the flood water around here can never swallow me. I am a woman made by God and guts.
“So I say to you, the major and only challenge of women is education, education and education. If you are educated as a woman, over 90 percent of your problem is solved. And that is why over the years, I have been advocating for Girl-Child Education. On this note, I had registered the Obi Martha Dunkwu Foundation to give scholarship to indigent Anioma girl children in both formal and informal education. Also, another registration is in the offing for the study of Omuship and Women Development in Anioma. These are my innovative thinking to help advance the academic course of women in Anioma.
“Education is the universal key that opens all doors. It makes you a critical thinker and makes you always determined to pursue your purpose in creation. The world is patterned around man; and so, if you don’t have education as a woman, it becomes difficult to fit into the system and survive. And that is why again, I always tell the men that they are not doing a favour to women by not training them. When you train a woman, you not only favour her, you are doing favour to yourselves and our society, because it is the woman that trains the man who becomes anything in life.
“The ideal place to bring up a child is under the loving comfort of a father and a mother; that makes a complete home. And so the sanctity of the home must be kept at all times for the upbringing of healthy and morally sound children. I tell women that when you decide not to marry, you must live a decent unmarried life. However, if you are married, you must submit to your husband, become a confidante, a wife, a sister, a mother, a helper and a progressive partner to him.
“So, women must rise above board to help our nation. When a man is trained, it is an individual that is trained. But when a woman is trained, a nation has been trained. Women must discourage being used to pull down other women, because that is what society does. Who is society? Men. The men groom women to hate their kind.
“Never be tired of challenges. In life, challenge can jolt you, but it can take you to a higher positive level in life. In the midst of challenges, you can find your purpose and actualize it. Just believe in God and be kind to fellow human beings, because by so doing shall you find help and happiness.
“Let me tell you a story. I never married by choice but of recent, I have come to realise it was providential. Then as a consultant, it was carried in the media, ‘The Woman behind the Oba of Benin’. And to clear the misgivings and insinuations about that publication, the Oba during a media parley, brought out that paper and said, ‘I don’t need a subterfuge, I have always known her; as a matter of fact, we have a personal relationship’.
“In all of my life’s journeys, God has been merciful to bless me with an only child who is today a lecturer in the University of Benin. He is married with two children. What else can I ask of God, but the strength to continue to add value to creation and succeed in my dream of giving scholarships to indigent girl children in Anioma”, Omu Dunkwu concluded.