Childhood Memories of Justice Moses Bello
As part of the immense care and attention, I enjoyed from my parents in childhood, I was made to relocate from Lagos to Okene at five years of age even ahead of my parents, leaving behind my mother who was born and bred in Lagos. The relocation was prompted by my challenging health condition as a child in Lagos.
Among the relations at home, my paternal grandfather was very fond of me. Apart from the natural closeness between grandparents and their grandchildren, I was treated as a special child who must be given all-around protection to ensure that nothing adversely happened to me.
My grandfather carried me to virtually every community engagement, social or political, major or minor. I was very close to him such that he hardly went anywhere without me. In fact, if he sat down anywhere, he would ensure that I sat next to him “Abu, come here; Abu come here”, he would beckon to me at regular intervals.
Such uncommon closeness between my grandfather and myself made me know so much about some notable Ebira families in particular and the entire Ebira people in general because I was always around when such stories were told by my grandfather and his contemporaries.
My experience with my grandfather corroborated these Biblical words: “Miss not the discourse of the elders: for they also learned of their fathers, and of them, thou shalt learn to understand and to give an answer as need requireth.” (Ecclesiasticus 8:9).
It was during one of those periods with my grandfather that I got to know about the old man’s decision to go on self-exile. He took such a very hard decision to avoid the persistent humiliation he was subjected to during the reign (1917-1954) of the then paramount ruler of the Ebira land. As an old man full of pride, he felt that it was better to leave his fatherland where his placenta was buried to a different location just to avoid what could best be described then, as endless persecution.
He suffered such a high level of intimidation simply because he shared the same name with the paramount ruler of the land. There was serious pressure from some of the overzealous aides of Alhaji Ibrahim Onoruoiza Atta, the then paramount ruler of Ebiraland to drop his name, Atta, but he refused.
He said he would rather leave Ebiraland than give up his legitimate name which Alhaji Ibrahim Onoruoiza used as a title the Alta of Ebiraland. It was not sure whether the Ohinoyi (Paramount chief) of Ebira was aware of this persecution from his aid. He indeed proceeded to Lagos in 1931 in self-exile.
My relationship with my grandfather before he died formed a memorable part of my childhood experiences. I could not remember ever being beaten by anybody in the family for whatever offense. Even though I did not grow up with my immediate parents, I lived with my grandfather, my sister, and my stepmother among others.
I was never for once discriminated against in the family compound where I was brought up. I ate whatever everybody ate. They would not eat pounded yam and give me uka (amala). If it was uka, it would be uka for everybody including myself.
The same thing applied to other food on the menu such as beans, rice, boiled yam, guinea corn porridge, etc. One of my favourite meals then and now is “Eko” (white fermented corn paste wrapped with leaves). It was equally the favourite of Inya Mechede, my aunt.
My aunt, Inya Mechede so loved me that nobody dare to insult me in her presence. She was ready to go to “war” with whosoever insulted me; be that person my father, my mother, or anybody in our compound. I was so loved by this woman that people called me the favourite child of Inya Mechede. Such love has to date existed between that wonderful woman’s children, grandchildren, and myself.
My father, Bello O.E.S. Atta, later relocated from Lagos to Okene when I was still a child. It was as if he came to continue from where my grandparents stopped in their relationship with me. My father was equally very fond of me. He would attend both political and clan meetings with me.
Some of such political meetings were with eminent political figures of that time. They included the late Alhaji Yakubu Ikunaiye, Late Joe Ohiani, and Late George Ohikere among others. Even when such meetings were held at night, I would be there with him.
Apart from holding my father’s torchlight while going for such nocturnal meetings, I had no other specific role to play. Yet, I had to remain awake and alert at all times. It was as if I was being trained in public affairs and as a future community leader.
They saw me as a child that washed his hands very well and was allowed to eat with the elders (an adage in Ebira). My father brought me closer to the Oziogu Clan. This is because, my paternal grandmother, that is, Bello O.S. Atta’s mother happened to be of Oziogu clan. So, each time my father was visiting his maternal family members who were Oziogu, he would go with me.
Not only was I close to the Eziogu people, but I also grew close to their cultural symbols including their masked and unmasked masquerades such as Okevere Iduka and Arijenu Obanyi Idoji as well as Adokita, who happened to come from the Oziogu clan.
At a point, the interest became so obvious that members of the Omoye clan who, incidentally, were my maternal relations started complaining that I preferred the masquerades of the Oziogu clan to those of the Omoye clan. Unknown to them, my early childhood influences my behavior.
It is also pertinent to state at this point that I had a very warm relationship with the other children in the neighbourhood. The interaction was very cordial. As usual, we formed play groups. We moved freely from house to house, playing. We would quarrel and settle our differences soon after.
Never did our differences degenerate into violent attacks on one another. Such things were unheard of us. Today, I still relate cordially with a good number of them, children playmates such as Damisa now Charles Umanava, Isa Mamman, Tony Ohiani, Jafaru Adoke, and Yunusa Adoke among others.
Also, I had good friends from some notable families within the neighbourhood. They include the Obadaki family, the Atta family (I was particularly close to the late Yahaya Atta), and the Ajanah family (the late Nuhu Ajanah was an intimate friend). Others include the Ikunaives and the Arigis.
From childhood, people call me a man of the people. I had friends from everywhere. This is because I have learned from the Bible not to forsake an old friend; for the new is not comparable to him.