Before the death of obituary

Before the death of obituary

Tatalo Alamu

The times are stressful and distressing indeed. The lights are going out in many homes. They may not be back for another generation.  And when they do, it will be to host new stars on parade.

Things will never be the same again for many families. Some will struggle to adjust. Others will never make it back to their old prominence. The old world as we know it is going under. And there is nothing to replace it. A terrifying void is out there.


This sudden and often dramatic exit of prominent Nigerians has never been witnessed before in the history of the country. Whether the mounting casualty is pandemic-related or not is beside the point. What cannot be denied is that something nasty is abroad.

Some of the deaths and departures are so senseless and traumatising that they make nonsense of the whole idea of death and dying.  Our concept of dying and living is about to change or at least undergo a revolutionary modification.  Death is finally dying. It is not be a bad idea. Even obituary is in coma.

Unfortunately, there are no guides, no pathfinders and no visioners to plot the way through the eclipse and to offer solace and succour. Nobody ever saw this coming. As the Yoruba people will put it, you cannot offer forbearance and dignified submission to one whose mother has been killed by a tiger without being asked whether the same fate had befallen yours before.

Yet there was a time when this Covid-19 business was treated as a joke and with the heroic nonchalance known only to the Black person. It has turned out that the joke is on us. A few weeks back, a serving minister in Burundi let it be known to the world that no one in his country had tested positive to Coronavirus. When he was asked how he could be so cocksure, he retorted that it was because there were no testing kits in Burundi.

At the last count, the Burundian president had succumbed to the plague while his wife and the entire cabinet are gravely ill in hospital. At least in advanced democracies, we know what is going on with the containment of the pandemic despite the occasional tweaking and sexing up of figures.

In totalitarian nations, despite the opaque nature of their society and the constant fiddling with data, we can come to a fairly accurate guess about what is going on.

But in the feudal autocracies and semi-democracies of sub-Saharan Africa, a combination of hair-raising incompetence and endemic corruption has turned the fight against Covid-19 into a nightmare of unreliable data, official dishonesty and half-hearted treatment. No one can be sure of what is going on any longer.

With the soul dulled and the spirit stilled by the unfolding tragedy, yours sincerely suddenly woke up from a midday slumber this past Monday and decided to put a call through to Ambassador Oladapo Fafowora who one had not heard from for some time.

A brilliant and gifted diplomat, the retired ambassador even at the best of times has a morbid sense of humour and a heightened awareness of the macabre drama of our desperate political existence.

This afternoon, the voice came across with an underlying tragic tenor and a hint of brave disillusionment.

“Ha, ha, you want to find out if I am dead? No I am not dead oooo!!!” the ambassador hollered with gusto, his spirit obviously lifted by the prospects of high intellectual gist and some diplomatic jousting.

“Ambassador, it is not funny, it is not funny at all sir”, your sincerely noted and then went on to tell the retired envoy how one had been stranded in London for three months after attending the daughter’s wedding. There was no way round that one.

“Ambassador, I live with my son and I am now the Ambassador Plenipotentiary of Nigerian refugees in Canary Wharf, London”, yours sincerely stated solemnly and matter-of-factly. There was a deep guffaw at the other end as the ambassador regained his macabre sense of humour with its hint of boyish mischief.

Wo, let me tell you, I am tired of this nonsense. If I can push it till early next year when I will turn eighty, the rest of you can get on with it”, the old envoy who was Nigeria’s emissary to the court  of Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, the cannibal of Kampala, responded without any hint of self-pity or pathos.

He then went on to narrate how his neighbour, an oil magnate who was being treated for malaria, collapsed and died the previous week while he was being taken to the hospital. The man was not even on one’s list of deceased compatriots. Death has become two a penny.

Conversation drifted to the recent diplomatic fencing with Professor Ibrahim Gambari which led to the faithful on both sides of the divide taking up arms in a fire fight that reverberated across the cyberspace.

A loud chuckle came through redolent of an attempt to pass off the whole thing as a non-event and a diplomatic storm in a tea cup.

“The thing about that is that it was not originally meant for public consumption. It was a contribution to a private forum that I belong to.

But somebody for reasons best known to the person decided to externalize it. Since at my age I am not afraid of anybody and I am not looking for anything from anybody, I have to own up”, the ambassador summarized with a laconic flourish.

At this point, yours sincerely reminded the former top diplomat that he (columnist) was the reviewer of the book and that the old envoy had sent him a letter of commendation for a job well done thereafter. Like a vintage Ijesa warrior, the former Oxford scholar does not take hostages and the book is littered with many diplomatic body bags. One wisely side-stepped the booby traps.

“The good thing about all that controversy”, the ambassador began on a note of cagey satisfaction,  “is that the book went viral after that and Amazon republished it. I have signed off the royalties to those who need it better than I do.” (Details withheld)

The political jungle of Nigeria bristles with Papua New Guinea head-hunters,  and it is always better to make your own enemies and on your own terms rather than inherit other people’s enemies. In diplomatic fencing and fence-mending, there are no permanent foes only permanent influence peddling.

At the book launch and in an emotion-laden author’s response, the ambassador apologised to those he had wronged and took time out to forgive those who had wronged him.

The cost of the transatlantic call was getting prohibitive and it was time to leave the illustrious son of illustrious Ijesa forebears.  The mood darkened as the ambassador returned to the subject of death and the dismal call out of many prominent Nigerian citizens in the past fortnight. He rumbled something about a late Senator Oshinowo and yours sincerely, obviously in denial, felt he didn’t quite hear him.

“Which senate did he serve?” you demanded from the old guy.

“He was a serving senator. He lived in the neighbourhood. He died this morning”.

“O my God, that must be Pepper!” yours sincerely screamed. Senator Adebayo Oshinowo, aka Pepperito, was as humble and playful as they come, but he was also politically canny and fanatically loyal. You could only underestimate him at your own peril.

One returned to the desk which had been abandoned in sadness and frustration at the plight of the nation. The bloggers and websites were breaking news about the passing of the senator. In the interim a major elephant had fallen in the jungle.  Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe had joined his ancestors.  Ancient memories erupted.

Sometimes in 1995 as General Abacha began to bare his fangs, one had gone to Premier Hotel Ibadan one evening to “check out” the hotel and its vintage topography.

A few hours later upon coming out to retrieve a document from the car, one had noticed one or two people hovering around the car in the distance.

An eagle-eyed security man who had observed one going in informed that there had been an accident and that they had searched everywhere in the hotel looking for one.

At one’s approach, the broken pieces of glass on the paved floor and shrapnel of twisted metal told their own story. The car had taken a direct hit.

As the shadow receded one could pick out a tall distinguished looking elderly fellow. The proud aristocratic carriage of an Ondo nobleman was now unmistakable. It was the famed distinguished professor of Medicine.

Snooper was quick on his feet. He would not give out his true identity. No academic worth his salt in those glorious last days of the Nigerian intellectual renaissance would allow himself to be caught negotiating car repairs with such an iconic figure in the Nigerian academia, a man who had done so much to project a positive image of the country. Some things are simply not done.

Yours sincerely ignored the elderly fellow and began inspecting the extensive damage to the Mercedes Benz.

“Good evening”, the elderly man called out.

“Good evening”, yours sincerely replied glumly.

“I have been waiting for you. I asked them to call out the owner on the Public Address System but nobody came. My name is Akinkugbe”, he stated with calm assurance.

“I am Martins. Mr Martins from Lagos”, one replied.

“Mr Martins, I am sorry about this. I came to the Chinese Restaurant over there to host my niece who has just got married and her husband. I was backing out when I hit your car. I said I must wait for the owner. Do you have your card? Here is mine”, the professor courteously offered.

“No, I don’t have a card here”, the columnist replied. By this time, one’s mood had softened considerably. The professor was a good person and a noble human-being at that.

There was something profoundly admirable about him. He volunteered to repair the car, either it should be taken to his own preferred workshop whose address he offered or the cost of the repair should be passed on to him.

We parted on a note of mutual appreciation.  You repaired your car without referring the cost to the professor. But after some time, one was worried that the great man had not got in touch or bothered to find out what had happened.

A complaint was lodged with Peter Ajayi, the late veteran journalist, convivial and consummate networker, who was known as an associate of the professor.

The response was swift. The professor had been travelling on foreign assignments. He requested Peter Ajayi to bring the columnist over to his residence in Ibadan at an appointed date.

And so on a rainy afternoon several months after the Premier Hotel incident, yours sincerely arrived at the plush well-appointed pile of the professor at the Iyaganku Government Reservation Area.

Husband and wife were an amazing couple. The wife, a Dina by birth, was the courteous but reticent hostess personified. Snooper apologized to the old man for giving out a false identity. When he explained the reason why, the professor exploded in mirth and great humour. As an academic he could understand. According to him, he had also been preparing for the rainy days. He pointed at two brand new cars boarded up in the expansive well-manicured premises, obviously for the rainy days.

Then came the business of the day. When yours sincerely declined to pass on the costs of the repairs to the professor and then politely offered to bear half of the cost in the circumstance, the professor would have none of that nonsense.

The Ondo-born aristocrat felt he was being mildly patronised by a much younger academic flaunting some mysterious wealth.

Wo aburo, awa l’owo ju e lo. (Listen young man, I am richer than you are)”, the grand man of medicine bellowed in good humour whereupon he brought out his cheque book and wrote out the cost of the entire repairs.

Our paths were to cross several times thereafter. Later that year in particular, a bemused and rather intrigued Professor Akinkugbe sat on the front row with Chief Rotimi Williams and other dignitaries as the self-same “Mr Martins” and Professor Anya Oko Anya emptied their vitriol on the Nigerian authorities over the state of the nation at the Awolowo Foundation Annual Lecture. Here is the great and honourable man who has left us. May his noble soul rest in peace.

With so many political scoundrels escaping justice on outlandish technicalities, we hear that our musicians are also returning to the studio en masse to wax lyrical about the returning heroes. We hear that one of the itinerant praise singers has tentatively titled his album: Abanikanda, ikan o lej’okuta, which roughly translates into termite cannot terminate the boulder.

It was amidst this crisis of core national values and orientation that we heard the strange case of a man making brisk business out of selling the talisman of instant disappearance or what the Yoruba call àféèrí in case the state buckles under the epic stress.

As soon as snooper learnt of this brilliant scam, our mind quickly went to the old scam-master and hell-raiser himself. And so to Ojuelegba we headed, on this cool and delectable June morning. The queue stretched from the Ayilara junction to the old Yaba Mental Home. From the expensive embroidery and even more expensive perfumes, you could tell it was the Nigerian elite in terminal disorientation.

Lo, and there was the old pirate himself, amidst a posse of riotous miscreants, smoking himself silly and cracking expensive jokes at the expense of the ruling class. As soon as he sighted snooper, he went into a delirious frenzy.

Ah Agbadagbudu boy, this one no be delinquent state again ooo, this one na kaput state. Dem come craze patapata. Can you please tell the fools to disappear?” he crowed with a crooked smile. At this point, an affluent looking man came forward.

“Oga, this thing does not work at all. Na ofege juju”, the man moaned.

“How do you know?” the old man snarled.

“I put it on my goat and the thing didn’t disappear. I could see it with my korokoro eyes”, the man lamented.

Korokoro ko, covid-419 ni. Are you a goat? “, the old man screamed. Another man who has just bought the talisman wanted to know what will happen if Magu appears and the talisman fails to work.

“Isn’t that like a trainee pilot asking his instructor what will happen if his parachute fails to open?” the old logician asked with Socratic scorn.

“So?” the distraught man wailed.

“So, so.  Isn’t that what they call jumping to conclusion, you fool?” the old man screamed and dismissed the man. At this point, a pompous and self-important Igbo man forced his way through the queue.

“Nna, all this yeye talisman you de sell sef. Just give us the medicine that will make EFCC disappear forever. I wear this yeye thing go bank yesterday and dem mobile police beat Amadiora out of me”.

“Case closed!” the old man announced with satanic glee.

“Nna, this Yoruba crook has fixed me again”, the Igbo baron lamented with a deflated gait and slunk away. At this point, the crazed old genius seized a nearby drum and began a perfect rendition of an old Tatalo tune.

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