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Vera Oshowole, heroine who rescued coup children

'Her warmth and her eagerness to help others made a difference to so many live'

20 February, 2018 — By Angela Cobbinah

Vera Oshowole

VERA Oshowole, who has died at her home in Belsize Park aged 92, was a far from average officer’s wife.

Married to a senior doctor in the Nigerian army, she single-handedly rescued the children of military families who had been shot dead during the coup of 1966, commandeering a Land Rover in the immediate aftermath of the fighting and delivering them to the safety of her own home.

Many had been sitting besides the bodies of their slain parents, she later recalled. It was the sort of bold and selfless commitment that distinguished her many years in Nigeria, where she enjoyed a variety of jobs and threw herself enthusiastically into all facets of life in her adopted country.

The youngest of five sisters, Vera nee Willey was born near Liverpool and, after graduating in sociology at the London School of Economics in 1947, worked for GCHQ deciphering codes from the Soviet Union.

It was at a university dance that she met her future Nigerian husband, Olatunde Oshowole, a medical student in Germany who had come to London to visit friends.

In 1950 the two wed and nine years later made the journey to Nigeria on a boat packed with people excitedly returning home to prepare for independence. Over the next few years Vera found herself travelling around the country with her three young children as she accompanied her husband on his various postings.

Having joined the new Nigerian army in 1961, Olatunde eventually became commander of the military hospital in Kaduna, where Vera worked as a librarian but also became involved in the welfare of junior soldiers and their wives.

The family later moved to Lagos, where she helped run the medical practice her husband joined after retiring from the army, becoming its manager following his death in 1997. Vera was active in many organisations including Nigerwives, which was set up to help expatriate women married to Nigerians. As its first vice-president she played a leading role in the successful campaign for them to be granted permanent residence permits and other legal rights.

In 2000 she returned to London, living in a flat in Glenloch Road where she indulged in her passion for Scrabble and the Guardian’s daily cryptic crossword.

“My mother’s warmth and her eagerness to help others made a difference to so many lives,” said her daughter Judi. “The number of wonderful messages the family has received since her death shows how much she was valued.” Vera is survived by her children Judi, Richard and David, grandchildren Tola, Tsakissa and Xongisa and great-grandchildren Sade and Anya.

The funeral arrangements are to be announced.


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