Life & Death of Stella: A Commentary on the (WO)men of Nigeria

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

This time last week was one of darkest days in my nation’s history and my heart is heavy. And they all died. But it is not their death that makes my heart heavy, it is the thought of those alive and those unborn that weighs me down. In retrospect it might not have been the death of those men and women on that ill fated flight that hit home most (which it should); perhaps, it was the double tragedy that beset the sit of power. The story of the Nigerian woman is best exemplified by the death of one – the late first lady, Stella Obasanjo was everything you hated and liked about Nigerian women. Stella was flamboyant yet motherly, truly loving yet materialistic. Her death brings home a reality for me- it is this reality I hope I relay in this short essay of mine.

Before her death, not a few first ladies have been derided for their materialism like Stella. Like others before her, she represented the power behind the throne. The only woman an arrogant general called our President referred to as his boss. Obasanjo loved her no doubt; in fact she pulled the strings. She was derided, hated by many and envied by all. Her husband is a controversial figure in Nigeria politics, so it was quite natural she had her own fair share of sworn detractors. Some saw her as the first lady that was power drunk, others saw her as a materialistic woman that spent all to look the part. Quite ironically, even at death some of her detractors saw the circumstances shameful. She refused to be cowed however by what we thought: she was attractive, she was flamboyant, and she was larger in life – even in death.

After many years of witnessing the deaths of a member of the Nigerian ruling class, I am hardly fazed by the honor paid to them at death. Apart from Abacha, few Nigerians deride their leaders at death. Most leaders no matter how evil their legacy is usually get a warm goodbye from their fellow country men. Ingrain in all our cultures is that we speak no evil of the dead. If the dead then happens to be someone whose reach in the powerhouse is still current, the encomiums at death even rings louder. It is usually a part for the sycophants and political jobbers – everyone simply wants to be heard. It was so, that when the first lady died and all those praise singers began – I acclaimed loudly, “they are at it again”. I hate to admit it, most of the praise singers are as worthless as they come, they are crying with the emperor to access the throne. Stella is not a saint and I know I am not one either.

But this time it was different. It was somewhat different because the crowd was simply a different type of crowd. People I will have sworn are dye in the wool enemies of the late first lady and her husband were early callers. People like Wole Soyinka, Bola Tinubu, Buhari etc. sworn political gladiators. Even the erudite and unfazed Chief Gani Fawehinmi noted her big heart in his now ‘famed’ open-letter to the President. Everyone had something good to say- but beyond the good they had to say was some words they all had in common about this woman. Those words included – motherly, caring and full of life. Those words beyond the materialism of Nigerian women describe these unique kinfolks – my mother, my sisters, and my future wife.

The Nigerian woman is different specie of woman. Like the late first lady, she loves material things to a fault – likes to have the shining things of life, she believes wealth and power should be flaunted not hidden. The Nigerian woman evaluates the content of a marriageable material in two non-mutually exclusive spheres – the current size of your pocket book and your ambition (perhaps the possibility that you have the potential to match it). She lives the life of her man and craves the best for him. She knows intricately how to size up your prospect in life, at times I think she plays God. She think she knows the never do well, from the upwardly mobile. The Nigerian woman is pragmatic and realistic about the institution of marriage. At least for those below the unmarriageable age, there is no need to rush into it with a poor man! Love is the last thing on her list, when she makes that decision to go with her guts. The Nigerian woman, alas the women of the motherland!

Beyond this materialism however is something we all find overwhelming. The love and care of a Nigerian woman is simply unmatched. When she loves you, you can simply get away with everything. In one roll she is the working independent woman, and a loving mother and a caring wife. Tending to you like a baby, she prepared those delicacies that turn any proud man to a quiet warrior. Yes, she is not about eating ‘out’ like the counterparts in this land called America, she makes hot home meals. Call me a glutton, but her mother have trained her to know that the way to my heart is my stomach (bad thing is that her mother was right).

Like Stella, the love and care of the Nigerian woman and her ability to be your best friend, your counselor, your advisor and closest confidant in one roll is outstanding. The Nigerian woman is the one you want to have with you in the trenches of war. She makes peace like Stella does with your enemies, even without my permission! She is the mother of all. She tends to my emotional need like no one does- ignores my meat headed Ekiti styled stubbornness at my worst. Indeed, she ignores my petty anger, and those erratic moments of a growing man. She humbles the chauvinist pride of the Nigerian man in me with those tender looks that melts my heart away in one second. Like Stella she stands by me when I am in prison and when my enemies think they have prevailed.

As death stands, it is one of those things we can do nothing about. But when the Nigerian woman dies, like when my grand mother died, we lose a leader. The keeper of the house, that makes grand dad a happy man, dad a strong man and keeps my young mind as sharp as ever. When the female head of the house passes away, the true leader has simply gone to the world beyond to watch over her chickens. The Nigerian woman is bigger in death than in life. In the Obasanjo household like in every one of our houses, this stands to be very true. That is why the public show of emotion was by any standard irritating if not disgusting. The true mourning of Stella will take place in the heart of baba until he himself is laid to rest beside her in that now deserted family compound in Abeokuta. Even though, we Nigerian men don’t admit it, we have a jewel of irresistible value in our women. Our women are our greatest assets – in that I don’t think I have any trouble admitting. Perhaps it is true that those who give up the ghost first, mourn the least. Adieu Stella Obasanjo.

Last Line:

“Birth, life, and death — each took place on the hidden side of a leaf.”

Toni Morrison

You may also like


Anonymous November 17, 2005 - 10:13 am

I am touched by this article and have sent it to my boyfriend who is German and scared of how much I love him. So scared is he that he worries what I will do if he disappoints me or dies. He cries when he thinks of it.

Anonymous November 16, 2005 - 11:03 am

i dont agree about nigeria women not having love on their list.having said all these good qualities about us,what then do you regard as love.or is it the cinderalla "happily ever after" kind of love which in truth are fantasies that you regard as love in general it is a very good piece.

Anonymous November 11, 2005 - 9:29 pm

good they have done well.

Anonymous November 8, 2005 - 1:48 pm

I liked this essay. I don't know many women that would admit to being materialistic but at the end of the day you are right that the place an African (Nigerian) woman holds in a household, country is paramount in our lives.

Anonymous November 7, 2005 - 5:22 pm

As a Nigerian woman, I don't agree with some of the general remarks … especially the references to materialism. This article didn't really tell me much about "Stella".

Death is always a sad thing. And I was saddened by the news of her death. However, I find it distressing that of all the things to die from, this woman died of during recovery of a tummy tuck or whatever she was doing.


Leave a Comment