Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Finding My Way in Nigeria

Finding My Way in Nigeria

From my first days in Nigeria, I knew I had to depend on others for help in finding my way.

My school’s headmaster gave me the address of the apartment where I would live. It was 25 Glover Road.

Honda 50 like the one Roger had in Lagos

Honda 50 like the one Roger had in Lagos

Roger, my friend and Peace Corps colleague, drove me up and down Glover Road on his Honda 50 motorbike. It was near the Peace Corps Rest House where we were staying. We found a few other numbers. But no sign of number 25.

After the headmaster described the location Roger and I went back. We found the building. It was near the entrance of Ikoyi Hotel where the Hausa traders sold their wares. The major road into Ikoyi, Kingsway, was the nearest intersection. I moved into a second floor apartment a couple of weeks later and lived there happily for the duration of my Peace Corps service.

In that apartment I first served palm wine to my future husband Clem. It was my second meeting with him. When he came to the door with a mutual friend I didn’t recognize him.

My first meeting with him had been a near disaster. I had been summoned to the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria’s headquarters. The memo I received said the ECN staff had come to inspect my electricity usage. I hadn’t been home. So I had to report to the Chief Electrical Engineer. I was annoyed.

Wedding photo as it appeared in Life Magazine, Jan. 1965.

Wedding photo as it appeared in Life Magazine, Jan. 1965.

But I liked him when he visited my apartment. I got interested after attending a party at his house. I later learned the party had been organized on my behalf! We were married 14 months later.

Finding the Obi’s House

During our Christmas holidays in Nigeria, we went to Onitsha to meet the Obi, as I wrote about last time. We had an address for his house. We drove up and down the road we thought was the right one. We found numbers close to his, but the one we sought wasn’t there.

We asked several people and got conflicting directions. The final person we asked, when we were getting late and desperate, pointed us to a side street. With no street signs, we had been on the wrong road. There we found the house!

Driving to Nnewi

On January 1st we visited Clem’s friend from secondary school days, Dr. Dozie Ikedife. He lives in Nnewi, about an hour and a half from our town of Nanka. Our driver Hyacinth kind of knew the way, as did Clem.

Driving through the town of Nnew

Driving through the town of Nnewi

But at an intersection in a town along the way neither was sure of the road. There was no sign to indicate the way. So Hyacinth got into the intersection, leaned out of the window of our car, and shouted to a passing driver, “O uzo Nnewi? Is this the road to Nnewi?” He pointed to the left, which he thought was our road.

The driver shouted back, “O nya. It’s the way.” So he continued his turn and we reached Nnewi half an hour later.

Two Conference Proposals Accepted

I am thrilled that two proposals I submitted for upcoming conferences have been accepted.

SOAS Legacies of Biafra 

Flag of Biafra - The Rising Sun

Flag of Biafra – The Rising Sun

The first is for a conference, Legacies of Biafra, honoring the creation of Biafra 50 years ago. It is at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London in April. I will talk about my husband’s role in the break-away republic. Here is part of what I wrote in the abstract.

Powering Biafra, One Key Actor

The dream of Biafra was built on the hard work of many individuals. The war heroes and political leaders are known; their stories have been written. The technical people who worked behind the scenes are not known and their stories haven’t been told. I relate the story of one key actor.

Clement Onyemelukwe was Chief Electrical Engineer of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, in 1967. We lived in Lagos. In May he received call to say he was needed in the Eastern Region, as it was then called. Though secession wasn’t directly mentioned, it was clear that this was part of preparation for an independent country.

We left Lagos for Enugu where he led the Fuel and Energy Commission overseeing the Coal Corporation and the electricity sector. He was responsible for the power that kept Biafra alive. The capital, Enugu, depended on the energy from Oji Power Station, run with the Coal Corporation’s output.

When Enugu was about to fall, he oversaw the move of workshops to safe locations. He sourced power from a different generating station. He also installed new generation to supply the needs of war.

Yale African Literature Conference

The second is for the 2017 African Literature Association annual conference at Yale in June. The theme is Transnational Connections.

Nigerwives: A Major Transnational Connection

Nigerwives was founded in 1979 by three women. I was one. Nigerwives has become a fixture of life in Nigeria with branches in the major cities. There are also branches in the UK and the US. It continues to serve its mission of helping foreign wives integrate in Nigerian society.

Nigerwives is a clear source of transnational connections for Nigerians. The wives of Nigerian men come from England and the rest of UK, the US, Jamaica, Iceland, Russia, Japan, Sierra Leone and many other countries.

Although the custom of marriage being between two families is less dominant in the home countries and societies of most Nigerwives, nevertheless the families of these wives are affected by the marriages of their daughters, sisters, cousins, and aunts.

2017 Inauguration and Women’s March

Did you watch one or both? Did you go?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

2 Comments

  1. Congratulations on your two proposals being accepted.

    I was not able to attend a march. So I set up a Facebook event “Can’t March, Can Give.” People could “attend” by accepting the invitation to donate to some organization that helps women on march day. I thought it would be great if organizations such as shelters for abused women, Planned Parenthood and Americans United for separation of church and state could report a noticeable increase in donations on march day. I was disappointed in the number who “accepted,” but I hope other invitees went ahead and donated today even if they didn’t click the “accept” button.

    • Thank you, Margaret. That was a brilliant idea about asking people who couldn’t attend to make a donation to an organization for women’s causes. I didn’t see your post. I think we’re Facebook friends, but I’ll check now!