On August 15, 2008 members of the African Diaspora Communities in the Maritime Region of Canada woke up to the shocking news of the death of one of their own, Ms. Ifeoma Stella Obi. Ifeoma was a Nigerian by birth who, like most members of her African circle of friends in Canada, migrated to that country in search of quality education. She left Lagos for Canada in the fall of 2004. By the spring of 2007, she was done with her undergraduate studies. Before she could settle down to begin a new life and apply her skills as a fresh graduate and perhaps nurture other ambitions of youth, she passed on to a new life in eternal glory, leaving her parents, friends and colleagues in bewilderment about life and its purpose.
Ifeoma’s obituary announcement provides very revealing information about her life and the quality of her worldview. It reads in part: “Ifeoma traveled to Antigonish [Nova Scotia, Canada] in 2004 and obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree in 2007 from St. Francis Xavier University. She was actively involved in Brothers and Sisters of the African Diaspora and International Students Society, Sickle Cell Anemia Society of Canada. She collaborated with United African Canadian Women’s Association and Health Association of African Canadians raising awareness about Sickle Cell Anemia, promoting coping mechanisms for the condition. Ify worked with Canadian Blood Services promoting blood donation by people of African descent…”
In addition to her commitment to the promotion of the spirit of community in the African Diaspora, both during and outside her days in the university, Ifeoma had a unique commitment to loftier ideals as evident in her public spirited ministry with the Canadian Blood Services and the Sickle Cell Anemia Society. She was active in promoting awareness about Sickle Cell Anemia in the endemic communities, challenging them in her interviews with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the need for blood donation and to commit to cooping strategies to live with and fight the condition. In her death, the African Diaspora community lost a wonderful partner and an excellent model. For the Sickle Cell Anemic Society of Canada, Ifeoma’s death marked the loss of a budding activist and a fresh voice in its worthy cause. In regard to the members of the African Women’s groups who have mentored Ifeoma in several ways since her sojourn in Canada, her death represents a major setback from the future that Ifeoma represented.. And for St. Francis Xavier University, Ifeoma was a veritable asset and a bridge builder, who through her association with the International Students Society, promoted the promise of African-North American trans-continental university experience. She was always proud of her alma mater and was ever ready to promote it as a model for African students interested in university education in North America.
Apart from these public-spirited endeavours, Ifeoma’s close friends, colleagues, school mates and associates of diverse backgrounds attest to other dimensions of her purposeful but short life. In partnering with these wonderful peoples in our collective determination to give Ifeoma a befitting burial in Halifax this last month, one could appreciate their consistent and resonating testimonies in regard to Ifeoma’s charm, good nature, strength of character and infectious presence. For her friends, Ifeoma was quintessentially altruistic; ever willing to place the needs of other before and above hers. She never placed any limit to the sacrifice she was willing to make for others. She was so graceful that, in the words of one of her friends, “she lacked the capacity for confrontation and was quick to forgive”. Despite a short life punctuated by challenging health condition, she was ever-smiling, hardworking and exemplary in courage. She had a deliberately positive approach to life. I recall her sense of expectation in regard to her plans to travel to Nigeria by the end of this year, potentially the first of such visit since she came to Canada in 2004. She was excited about the then impending transition in her immigration status from student visa to Canadian permanent residence. As fate would have it, she did not see the letter of approving her application for permanent residence which arrived in her mailbox three days after her death!
Perhaps nothing demonstrates Ifeoma’s wonderful life more than the outpouring of affection and painful sense of loss felt and demonstrated by all segments of the society and specific lives that Ifeoma touched during her short sojourn here. In unity and solidarity, they rose in salute of this young woman whose life affirmed in the words of a song writer that it is not the number of days one has lived that counts, it is the life one has led how much one cared for others. Ifeoma was interred like the heroine that she was. Remarkably, her funeral rite of passage was supervised by an interdenominational service organized principally by the members of the Nigerian clergy in Diaspora from all faiths, including the Catholic Church, the Redeemed Christian Mission in Halifax and the Adonai Bible Center in Boston. Symbolically, the interdenominational service is indicative of Ifeoma’s approach to things of faith. She was comfortable with and worshipped in every credible Christian Church knowing that the focus should always on the Redeemer and not on the denomination.
In Ifeoma’s death, we saw the best in us: our ability to come together irrespective of race, colour, religion, creed, politics and those artificial barriers that tend to stand in the way of the things that matter most: the fraternity of our common humanity. The members of the Nigerian and Sierra Leonean communities in Nova Scotia, the African Diaspora Community of the Maritimes (ADAM), the United African Canadian Women’s Association and Health Association of African Canadians, the Canadian Blood Services, the Faculty and Staff of St. Francis Xavier University, the Nova Scotia Department of Communities Services, the Sisters of Eucharistic Heart of Jesus in Halifax, Minacs in Halifax are worthy of mention for their support in facilitating the celebration of Ifeoma’s life last month.
For Ifeoma’s parents, Mr. Samuel Ezekwesili Obi and Mrs. Margaret Eyiuche Obi (Need Okeke), who braved all odds to travel from Lagos, Nigeria to witness Ifeoma’s last earthly journey to the grave, there is ample reason to be comforted. Ifeoma lived for others, and in her death, others testified that hers was a short but immensely purposeful life that touched other lives in many positive ways. I wonder what more could be the purpose of life, long or short. Ify Obi, you will be missed, but thank you for leaving us with enough reason to be comforted and to carry on. God night and God bless!