By Francis Ewherido
Last year, I wrote about HRH, Ovie Richard Layeguen Ogbon, Ogoni-Oghoro 1, the Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom, Delta State, when we (Urhobo Social Club, Lagos) had a grand reception for him in his palace ground in Ogoni-Olomu. The reception took place on the 16th of January 2016, four days before he turned 99. Yesterday, the Ohworode hit the iconic, magical and milestone centenary mark.
But the news for me is not that the Ohworode is 100 years, even though 100 years is awesome. The news is 100 years in extraordinary health of body and mind. On New Year’s day, I was at his palace in company of my club President, Chief Simeon Ohwofa; Chairman, Board of Trustees, Chief Johnson Barovbe; Chairman, Tink Tank, Chief Samson Okuesa and Legal Adviser, Chief Jitobo Akanike. He recognized all those he knew before then immediately we stepped in. Last year, when we honoured him, he read his speech without glasses; he still reads without glasses. As he flashed his trademark smile, his dentition was intact, no missing teeth. When he spoke, he was firm and coherent, no memory loss, no sign of senile decay. He also hears clearly and recognizes people with their voices.
Ovie Ogbon is very hospitable. He welcomed us with Kola nuts, drinks and siegware (money used to wedge Kola in Urhoboland to prevent the Kola from rolling into the bush or river, as the case may be). At 100 he has extraordinary agility and stamina. No wonder Chief Barovbe, while receiving the kola nuts, prayed for the Ohworode to continue to have the strength to do “everything” men do, even though the Ohworode said publicly somewhere else that he has retired from conjugal activities. This was after his “JT” said enough after decades of meritorious service, including helping to sire 12 children. We all laughed, but you never know. Dry bones rose in Ezekiel 37:1-14. The centenarian monarch is a man of great faith and hot blood can flow into those tissues again and JT will come out of retirement and resume firing on all cylinders.
At his age, he still maintains a busy schedule. After a busy New Year day, he continued on 2nd January, when he led other traditional rulers, as Chairman of the Urhobo Traditional Rulers’ Council, to observe the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) election in Urhobo Cultural Centre, Uvwiamughe, Delta State, where Olorogun Moses Taiga emerged as President General, UPU, among others. Before coming for the election that morning, he had gone to Ughelli for a meeting with the Bishop of Anglican Communion, Ughelli Diocese. Incidentally, he is a canon of the Anglican Church, the only known royal canon worldwide. The centenary birthday celebration was a weeklong activity and he participated actively in the busy and punishing schedule, especially for a centenarian.
The Ohworode can still drive himself around and travels outside Nigeria unaccompanied. In fact, his hobby, besides reading and gardening, is travelling. As I wondered about the extraordinary health of the centenarian monarch, I could not help but reflect on life, lifespan, longevity and health. For instance, “you are what you eat,” many health professionals will readily remind you. In truth it is very difficult to live up to a 100 years, consuming junk food daily. It is no surprise that the Ohworode watches what he eats. In an interview before his 99th birthday, he said: “I don’t eat anyhow; I regulate whatever I eat and avoid any food that would have negative effects on my health. I do not smoke nor take alcohol right from my youth.”
But I know people who have always watched what they eat; they eat only healthy food and in moderation, but fell apart in their 60s, 70s and 80s due to one health challenge or the other. Cigarette is a confirmed killer; that is why it carries the dangers of its consumption to health on its pack. Even inhaling cigarette smoke as a third party is not good for your health. It is that bad. Many people only smoke because it is an addiction they cannot easily extricate themselves from. But there are many who have never smoked, but are battling lung cancer among other ailments in their old age.
Life is very ironic. In younger days, the very tall guys get more attention. As people age, the height can easily become a liability, especially if accompanied with overweight. Many of the tall guys of yesterday are now bent over at the waist; knees and other joints are giving them unbelievable trouble, and they use walking sticks to help take some of the weight off their legs. The Ohworode walks without a walking stick. I guess his moderate size must have become a blessing in his old age. Well, the Ohworode attributes his longevity and good health to the grace of God and who can fault him? There are children under a year on insulin; they are already battling with diabetes. They are teenagers suffering high blood pressure. Some children of two years are already using eyeglasses and hearing aids. Good health is partly a product of lifestyle, longevity can be hereditary, but the grace of God is uppermost.
Longevity is good. For the younger people, Sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians, who are reading this and praying that they live up to 100 years, may God grant you your prayers. But may I add that, like the Ohworode, it should come with health of body and mind. Old age is tough when you lose your faculties, become a liability to loved ones and a nuisance to humanity. Even if you are too old or too weak to jump around, you still want to maintain your dignity by doing the basic things for yourself: bathing, feeding, dressing up, etc. You also want the mental alertness and presence of mind to continue doing those things you love doing until the minute God says “come.”
The Ohworode was born into the family of Akpoduado Ogbon on January 17, 1917. The parents named him Layeguen. Layeguen, his Urhobo name, is a corruption of the English word “liar” (Richard, he adopted when he started school at age 20). Layeguen roughly means “telling lies.” I guess Urhobo people of the time were enamoured with the English words they came across and used them as names for their children. My mother’s Urhobo name is “Powder.” Her father felt she was a very beautiful girl and powder then was a major makeup for enhancing women’s beauty. The middle names of two of my mother’s cousins are Blanket and Lagos; however, I do not know the circumstances behind the names. But it is actually a Niger Delta thing, not just Urhobo. We have names like Government, Governor, Councilor, Director, Majority, Authority, Heineken, President, Bishop, Development, Location, Opportunity, School, College, Tuesday, Saturday, Fineboy, Fynecountry, and many more.
The Ohworode estimates that his father died peacefully at over 120 years and was very healthy until he died. As he marches into another century, we wish him continuous health of body and mind. Ajuwe, Ajuwe, Ajuwe, wo su ton (Your Royal Highness, may your reign be long).