I was always fascinated by the story my father told me when I was growing up of how protocol was broken for a girl child. It was an electrifying and positively disruptive moment in history, never to be forgotten, when the then King of the Ancient Benin Kingdom, Oba Akenzua II, adorned in all the royal glory, befitting of his god-king status, shook hands with a woman, who was not his blood relative. My Father told my starry-eyed five-year-old self, this story in one of the many lessons I got from him to buttress his teachings that when one is exceptional, impossible means nothing.
That was my introduction to the girl child borne by Albert Frederick Arthur George and his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon both of whom became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. So, for me, I have always known her as the special girl child for whom my people broke our cultural protocol in February 1956 when she visited Benin City as the newly crowned Queen of England and the Head of the Commonwealth Nations during her post coronation tour. The larger-than-life image of the global matriarch is something that I grew up with and lived with until recently, when it all changed.
Yes, I had a light bulb moment in June 2013, when Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II had an exploratory operation (laparotomy) on his abdomen. Watching the media frenzy at the time, and footages of the Queen’s body language, it dawned on me that within this Queen who bore the world on her shoulders and who I had always thought was larger than life, was a woman. A woman, whose husband was unwell. I asked myself who this woman whom everyone looked up to was looking unto. How does one meet the demands of such a role and remain wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother? How does one who to many, was the face of the relics of Colonisation, Imperialism and even Slavery manage to hold it all together and evolve with the times? How does the one who has access unlimited to almost all world leaders, carrying the vast secrets of many states and holding the key to numerous multi-lateral world negotiations, think about making dinner for an unwell husband? To everyone else, she was the Queen but to her children, Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, transcending world ‘diplomacy’ ‘politics’, ‘politricks’, ‘party-lines’ ‘religions’ ‘conflicts’ and ‘controversies’, she is, was and will always be Mama.
On the 8th of September 2022, after 70 years and 214 days, the old gave way to the new as this woman and Queen transitioned to the great beyond. Once again, as the tributes poured in from all parts of the globe and as people thronged in their thousands to Buckingham Palace, London and the royal homestead in Balmoral Scotland, what fascinates me is not the sea of flowers. Rather I am in awe of how the woman in the Queen, managed to hold a complex life all in, till the very last. I am sure she summoned all her “girl-power and will” two days before her transition to the great beyond, to perform her last official duty and meet with the third female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Elizabeth Mary Truss as she assumed office.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary who was born on April 21st, 1926, died on September 8th 2022 having in her long life of service engaged with fourteen American Presidents, was served by fifteen Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and has seen seven Popes. She never hid her devotion to God and her love for her family. She was one woman, with an intimidating sense of respect that was tampered with the trademark mischievous glint in her eyes and branded by her perpetual calming smile. This Queen from whom I have learnt the tenets of stoicism is also the same woman those close to her, speak of, as having an unparalleled sense of humour. In her perfect imperfections, she was one of a kind and I dare say, that love her or hate her, we cannot deny how the world has lost a component of the glue that held it all together. A legendary paradox of a woman who was the Queen of diplomacy and protocol and yet the doyen of how girl children and women can be positive disruptors for change across continents.
I join millions of people across the world, my fellow Nigerians, inclusive of the unique Edo State people of Ancient Benin Kingdom to say a heartfelt farewell to the girlchild my father first told me about, over forty years ago. She is also the one, who according to the Washington Post, is the only British monarch known to 90 percent of the world population. The one for whom protocol was broken – Elizabeth the II, the Gallant Servant Queen. We are our Fathers’ Daughters.
Dr Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor is author of the book My Father’s Daughter