The Odezuluigbo royal family of Nike and the people of Enugu will never forget the 9th day of September 2017. It might not have been preceded by reports of a lioness giving birth in the streets of Rome, the dead rising from their graves, warriors fighting in the clouds, horses neighing, dying men groaning, apparitions and ghosts shrieking, and comets slicing through the dark skies, and Calpurnia’s nightmares like in the days of Julius Caesar.
Nevertheless, the gloomy skies were enough premonitions, just that mortals could not readily place fingers on what was amiss. It was not until the news filtered in, first in hushed tones, followed by exclamations of disbelief, then loud wailing that the big Ijele, Princess Anne Nnenna Nnaji had danced her last that a sense was made of the dullness of the day, the ceaseless cloudy weather, and the roaring thunderbolts.
I do not know if it is culturally acceptable in Igbo land to describe a woman as an Ijele or Iroko, but I do not also know how else to describe a woman whose life and legacies were majestic and uncommon like the Ijele and whose legacies will stand tall and strong like the Iroko for a very long time to come.
We have so much to learn from the works of William Shakespeare on life and legacies and on the reward for good and evil. Some of his assertions, I totally agree with. Some, I humbly disagree with.
The lines from Mark Anthony’s moving oration for his friend and ally, Julius Caesar, such as “The evil that men do lives after them”, while “The good is often interred with their bones” count among the most popular quotes from Shakespeare’s works. In other words, he believes that whereas the good and noble deeds of people are often quickly forgotten and buried along with their remains at death, their mistakes and ignoble deeds are not interred with them. Instead, they are remembered from generation to generation.
Put in the context of our everyday life and the circumstance under which Mark Anthony makes the statement, Shakespeare is very right. After Caesar’s murder, the conspirators like Casca, Cassius, Brutus, Metellus, among others, try to paint Caesar as an overtly ambitious man, who is out to enslave the freedom-loving Romans and bestride their lives like a Colossus. So, it becomes imperative for Anthony to remind the Romans of the noble deeds and glorious exploits of Caesar that brought Rome fame, power, and fortunes.
Yet, there are exceptional humans, who leave us with only fond memories of their good work to talk and write about for ages. Princess Anne Nnenna Nnaji falls under this category.
Passing on at the age of 48, her life could be equated to a good folktale. It is not how long, but how interesting. Although her beauty and brains will be spoken of for almost eternity, having won the Most Beautiful Girl on Campus Pageant at the former Anambra State University of Science and Technology (now Nnamdi Azikiwe University) way back in 1987, her kindheartedness, which was the major theme flowing through the endless tributes to her by the high and low cast her name in gold on the sands of time.
Like Caesar, the poor cried, and Anne wept. She was philanthropy personified. She was a friend of the orphans. She searched out many so abjectly underprivileged that even the poor called them poor. She brought them under her roof and gave them succor, education and a new lease of life. In a moving tribute paid to her by the wife of the Deputy President of the Senate, Lady Nwanneka Ekweremadu, she described her as a symbol of grace and charity without limits. And that was exactly who Anne was.
On her deathbed, what must have pained her the most was not death- she was a valiant woman even unto death. She had chariots of angels eagerly waiting to take her to eternal rest. Her transition to eternal glory was only delayed by her thoughts of the loved ones and her many unfinished projects with the poor. And if tears could revive the dead, the wailings of the poor, their roaring rivers of tears could have awakened her. As in the days of Dorcas, the widows, orphans, and destitute wailed out their hearts. And if death, that grim reaper, were disposed to substituting his targets, thousands would have gladly laid down their lives that she might live.
Lady Anne’s legendary humility will also live long after her, for she was a typical Waawa (Enugu) woman, maintaining a very low profile when arrogance could easily have taken over because of where God placed her. She was such a humble character. She saw humanity as equals, focusing on the humanity in people, never on their social backgrounds. She was unsoiled by affluence, uncorrupted by influence, and never got intoxicated by her glittering beauty.
It must have been against this backdrop of inevitable mortality of even the greatest gifts of God to mankind that Shakespeare must have concluded inMacbeth that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And is heard no more”. If life were not a walking shadow; if it were not a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more, great people like Anne who impacted mankind so massively should not have tasted death. Sadly, as Isaac Watts writes in that favourite hymn, “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away”.
But, at the risk of taking the playwright, Shakespeare, literarily (for he is probably expressing helplessness and frustration over death), I disagree that life is “a tale…signifying nothing”. At least, Lady Anne’s relatively short, but impactful life bears me out that a life well lived will signify something till eternity.
So, let the lights deem for mortals all it can. Let the long day wane, the slow moon climb, and the deep sea moan with many voices, I will always go with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s evergreen lines in Ulysses: “Death closes all: but something ere (before) the end/ Some work of noble note, may yet be done”.
Before the end, let every mortal, therefore, work out his or her immortality, just as the five-star princess had done, leaving us with sweet memories of the good she did to cherish for eternity. Goodnight, the beautiful heart. Goodnight, the beautiful Lady.
–Anichukwu is Special Adviser (Media) to the Deputy President of the Senate