Guest Columnist By AKIN OSUNTOKUN
Let me begin by bearing witness to the strength of character of my friend and brother, Muyiwa Ige. He is one hell of a tough guy. His father, the late Chief Ajibola Ige, had the matchless grace of endearing himself to the younger generation and the closer you get to him the tighter you get drawn in by his charm. We were family friends and I subsequently became his ‘political son’, to borrow the coinage of another father figure, Chief OlusegunObasanjo.
We spend the Christmas season in our neighbouring towns of Esa Oke and Okemesi. He usually arrive Esa on December 22nd and so I headed to his country home in the evening of that day in 2001. I was mildly surprised to learn that he had not yet arrived and was devastated to learn the following day that he was murdered the same night in his Ibadan home. Chief Ige would be sorely missed by all who know him and boy did we miss him! Easily given to tears and emotion I literarily cried my eyes out. The rain that was beating us dramatically escalated to a heavy downpour, when, a little over a year later, his wife (and Bola Ige proxy for us) Justice Atinuke Ige, equally answered the call. This is all too much for us! I bellowed in anguish and self-pity. If I felt like this, how then will Muyiwa and Funsho fare? I wondered. I began to pay particular attention to Muyiwa and monitored his recovery from the cruel blow fate had dealt him. He was rock solid through it all. To be suddenly divested of two such formidable parental shields was guaranteed to render vulnerable and overwhelm even the reasonably self-assured bereaved. Whatever his private agonies and grief Muyiwa bore it all with uncommon fortitude and emotional stability. He neither succumbed to the habitual post traumatic experience of over the board extroversion or introversion. He rose to the occasion and made it easy for family and friends to put the tragedy in perspective. He was the role model I needed when recently I became an ‘orphan’ by the default of the passing on of my mother. He kept the tradition of spending Christmas at home in Esa and I became the beneficiary of that custom in 2012. He found his way to Okemesi early the following day of my loss to console with me. I couldn’t have wished for a more inspiring visitor in the circumstances I found myself.
The other remarkable end of year season I had was in 2005. I had not heard from my friend Dapo Adelegan for a long time and was pleasantly surprised to receive his call on January 2nd 2005. I was even more taken aback by the peculiar tidings he brought. A cleric praying for him had got him alarmed by the revelation that I was programmed to die that year. I was amused and bewildered. I got in touch with the cleric and he prayed for me and enjoined me to be prayerful through the year. I have the yearly routine of spending the evening of December 31st with another friend whose birthday falls on that date; and from his house go for the overnight Christian night service that ushers in the New Year. I had joked all through the party that I was eagerly looking forward to the remaining hours of the year to lay the ghost of a troubling prophecy to rest. I left his house at Victoria Garden City at about 11pm and proceeded to our church at Ikeja through the Third Mainland Bridge and the Alapere road intersection. At the approach to the Lagos Ibadan expressway came a most bizarre encounter. Five hooded guys in jumpers and blue jeans materialised 100 metres ahead and stood across the road brandishing assault rifles and flagged us down. Standing further down was another one whom we later learnt was their chief marksman. To aggravate our sense of peril, all vehicular traffic seemed to have abstained from that route at that particular moment. I instantly recalled the prophecy and marvelled at the uncanny manner it now speaks to my present situation. And I was amazed at the surreal calm that washed over me. The gang nervously hovered around the car for a minute and just as mysteriously calmed down and waved us on. Well, there, in three dimensional reality, was the manifestation of a prophecy, and just as equally, the revelation of the redemptive power of God almighty. Did God not say he would never expose us to a yoke we would be unable to surmount?
And then came the year that just passed, which started quite unnecessarily on a sour note for Nigerians. The Nigerian government had chosen January 1st (of all dates) to introduce a punishing but rational regime of deregulated premium motor spirit prices. The date, much less the policy, was a public relations disaster. It negated the age old commemorative greeting of that date as ‘happy new year’ and the year truly lived up to this negation. I have been very reluctant to criticise President Goodluck Jonathan’s government for a number of reasons. First is that by definition, the contemporary governance task Nigeria faces is such that entails tough and difficult policy choices that would exact gruelling sacrifices from the public in the interest of medium and long term viability of the economy. This projection roughly translates to lack of popularity for the government in the short term. Second is that the government is validly and credibly elected for a four-year tenure and this demands a commensurate mentality of tempering criticism towards recognising the distinction between democracy accommodating criticism and system subversive condemnation. Third is the consciousness of a nationhood affirming potential of an elected president of a hitherto politically disadvantaged background of the South-south geopolitical zone. Fourth, there is the severe and crippling distraction of a debilitating security situation spawned by the Boko Haram insurgency; and fifth; the government has more than enough critics already - which makes an additional one with regular access to publication an overkill. Most important is that it still has time to make necessary amends and take a turn for better performance.
Regardless of these sentiments and extenuation, there are still some signal and symbolic imponderables that have proved difficult to live down. I will mention a random few in no particular order of significance. How for instance, do we justify the expenditure of N16 billion for the construction of the official residence of the vice-president (at this moment) over several other priorities with destabilising potential for the nation? Of what consequence is the lack of a new residence for the VP to the peace and stability of this nation? Can we say the same of youth employment; the welfare and training of the armed and security forces? And then there was an advertisement the other day in the newspaper which identified the Minister of Petroleum Resources as her excellency. The problem is not so much the toadying and deliberate subversion of public service ethics and etiquette implicit in this mis-identification but that this advert was actually signed by a Federal Permanent Secretary. The year ultimately culminated in the tragic helicopter crash in the swamps of Bayelsa State and the terror attacks on churches in which scores of fatalities were harvested.
In its relationship with the Nigerian public, the Jonathan government cannot afford another year like 2012. Neither can I - in my personal capacity. After a year-long health crisis, my mother, Chief (Mrs) Hannah Folorunso Abeke Osuntokun of blessed memory finally gave up the ghost on Christmas Eve. My most iconic recollection and image of our mother-son relationship was that of me and her, hand in hand, fleeing the arsonist attack on our residence during the political crisis of January 1966. As she struggled in her final years with poor health, we were equally hand in hand in the effort to rescue her and delay the inevitable. You see, at the entry and exit of our sojourn on earth, roles are often swapped such that the son becomes the father of the mother. It is with heartfelt gratitude to God that I feel consoled and comforted by the realisation that she lived long enough to witness her children attain to good estate. One conspicuous evidence of this is that her son is sufficiently reputed and valued to earn the privilege of been availed this national platform to pay her an important last respect. It is also evident in the distinguished company I keep, one of whom Chidi Amuta gave me this closing remarks “when you lose your mum, you have lost your best friend. Mothers are the primal chemists of the universe - the only specie with the incredible capacity to transform water into life”. The life-death cycle is eternal and revolves with iron necessity. And so as death came calling on our mother, a new life is kicking vigorously in her granddaughter (my niece Olukemi,) to come forth and fill the emotional void in our lives. It is now time for me to say ‘Sayonara’. It is a Japanese word for farewell.