REMEMBERING MARTHA ENIKPA ATTAH, 1933-2006
Nats Onoja Agbo
A great woman who tamed the world she met, is how well to describe Martha Enikpa Attah. By the time she joined her ancestors in 2006, she had created history on many fronts because she was among the first Idoma girls to embrace Western education. At every point, she was usually the first Idoma girl to attain the feat.
Indeed, Martha Enikpa Attah was lucky to have been born into the family of Chief Lazarus Ikpa Ogbole, a Dispenser with Idoma Native Authority who realized early enough that girl-child education held the key to the development of Idomaland. At the time he enrolled his second child and daughter at St. Mary’s Primary School, Otukpo in 1941, not many parents were willing to send their female children to any school. Chief Lazarus Ikpa Ogbole’s vision was further amplified when he sent Enikpa, as she became popularly known later in life, to Holy Rosary Convent Girls School, Enugu, where she studied between 1946 and 1948. She was one of the most outstanding pupils in her class, sometimes topping the class in examinations. She was later admitted into the Holy Rosary Convent College, Enugu, from where she graduated in 1950 and became the first Idoma girl to attain secondary school education.
At the time Enikpa was graduating from Holy Rosary Convent College, Enugu, she had a fair idea of what she wanted to do; she wanted to be a Nurse/Midwife. She gained admission into the School of Midwifery, Catholic Holy Rosary Hospital, Enugu in 1951. She later completed her Nursing/Midwifery training at the Catholic Hospital, Emekuku, Owerri and became the first Idoma girl to be employed by the Idoma Native Authority in 1953 as Nurse/Midwife.
With her status, she was the toast of many young men of that era; the man who eventually won her heart was Chief Benedict Ode Attah, with whom she had five lovely children. Her marriage in 1953, just when she started her career did not stop her from performing her roles as a Nurse and Midwife. She traversed the entire Idomaland, attending to women in labour. Stories were told of how she travelled, usually on foot, for several kilometers to attend to women in labour, sometimes with one of her children strapped to her back. Each time she had difficult cases, she had to travel with her patients to Makurdi, where there was a General Hospital. She had the unsavoury experience of having to return to Otukpo with the corpses of some her patients who could not survive the poor condition of the road that linked Otukpo to Makurdi at the time.
In 1958, the Idoma Native Authority sent her to the Kaduna Community Public Health Center where she trained as a Community Nurse. She was one of the first graduates of that school. That training, no doubt prepared her for greater roles in serving the health needs of people in several communities. With the establishment of the Combined (now General) Hospital, Otukpo, Enikpa threw herself into her job as a Community Nurse.
With the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war, Enikpa joined other compatriots in treating soldiers, especially when the General Hospital, Otukpo was converted into a Military Hospital. Conversion of the hospital to an essentially military hospital meant that women in labour could not get the required attention. As a result, Enikpa’s home witnessed scores of women who sought her assistance. She attended to many of them, often without charging any fee. The influx of pregnant women and those in labour to her matrimonial home touched a chord in Enikpa and she decided that the best option was her to establish a center where she could take adequate care of them.
It was in her desire to take care of pregnant women that she retired from the Idoma Native Authority and established St. Theresa’ Maternity and Clinic at Otukpo in 1969. Again, it was the first of its kind in Benue-Plateau State. Although she died about eleven years ago, St. Theresa’s Maternity and Clinic remains one of the best-run in Otukpo. Unechi ol’Enikpa, as the hospital is fondly called, has continued to cater for the needs of pregnant women in Idomaland.
For a woman who was a pioneer in many respects, it was not surprising that she held many positions in the Church and society and received many awards, including the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger, MON. At various times, she served as Leader of the Legion of Mary, President, Catholic Women Organization, Otukpo Deanery and Treasurer, Diocesan Sacred Heart. She also served as the President, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Church, Otukpo, National Treasurer, SS Peter and Paul, and Leader, National Council of Women Societies, Otukpo. Enikpa also served as Matron, Nigerian Red Cross Society, Member, Governing Board of St. Anne’s Secondary School, Otukpo, member of the Governing Board of St. Monica’s Girls secondary School, Otukpo and member of the Board of Benue State Health Services Management Board. She also received awards from Women in Nigeria, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Benue State chapter and Otukpo Diocesan Catholic Women.
Though dead, the memories of this great Idoma icon will continue to live in the minds of many people who encountered her in her lifetime and those who will hear or read stories about her extraordinary life and contributions to humanity.