(Published first on 29TH June, 2006, two days after his death)
I was dressing up for my daughter as she prepared for school last Monday morning when my younger brother appeared to say, ‘Baba is dead’. I froze as tears began to drop from my face. Baba, by the way, means my father and not a political jargon used to humour someone in Aso Rock. I need to make that clarification lest the imagination of some Nigerians begin to run wild and I am then charged for sedition!
How old was my father many have asked and my response has been 86 or 87. It might look odd to some people but those who, like me, come from the village are quite aware that for my father’s generation, birth is most often associated with landmark events. That is the way of birth registration in the village. And my father always told us he was born around the beginning of the First World War. Since the war started in 1914, plus or minus one year would put his age at either 86 or 87 but age is just a number and in any case, it is irrelevant now.
What is important is that my father lived a good life and within his limited space, impacted his own crowd. While I feel the sadness of his death, I am profoundly grateful at having been his son given the testimonies of those who came across him and I am happy by the way he died; in his sleep after leading the household to the early morning prayers. It is indeed gratifying that when the bell tolled for him last Monday, there were no scenes of pain, no death-bed hallucination neither was there any descent into incoherence as it often happens to many old people. My father died peacefully and without stress. He even prayed for my mother and the wife of my uncle, (his younger brother) just before he had his last breath. Nobody could have wished for a better way to die.
Petrarch tells us that to die well brings honour to an entire life. I think he is right since death itself is a fulfillment of life or at least should be. Looking back to my childhood years, I cannot claim to have known my father as I would have loved given that I left the village rather early and I never returned except for occasional holidays which were really few. But whatever I might have missed out were made up for between January 2003 and December 2004 when he and my mother came to stay with us in Lagos.
Having fallen down on the way from the farm while it was raining, my mother had a fracture for which we had to bring her to Igbobi autopaedic hospital. That was how she and my father came to live with us in Lagos for 24 months. I took time to study my father. And without saying anything, by merely observing him, I could see the emptiness of my own life and the failings. In the course of his stay, my father more or less turned our house to a church as he initiated and led several prayer and bible study sessions and he often fasted.
Within weeks of arrival in Lagos, my father had found a church in our area where he registered as a member and was faithful in their midweek services. I never realised this until we started receiving visitors who were always coming to see baba whenever he skipped Fellowship. In the course of their stay, my father, indeed, more than words, challenged me to open my horizons from the material and temporal to the spiritual and eternal. When my mother returned from Igbobi, they formed a prayer team. For the most part of the day, she and my father would be locked in their room, singing Yoruba hymns and praying. Incidentally, we the children and our children would be the subject of their intercessions.
Whenever we had discussions, my father would always say that when we allow ourselves to recall who God is and who we are, we can find a measure to cherish life, serve Him and make a difference in our world. I have no doubts that my father had taught me enough about the real essence of life and what is important as distinct from societal expectations. That was why when I arrived Ilorin on Tuesday, having secured the consent of my other siblings, I decided we should do the burial within 24 hours.
That of course shocked not a few relations who were taken aback that with my ‘status’ as editor of a national newspaper burial goes with some traditions but fortunately for me, the person we were talking about was my father so I had a lot of say in decision-making. The point is that I am yet to see where it is written in the Bible that the body of a Christian should be in the morgue for weeks while plans are made for an elaborate ceremony just to meet the expectations of society. To me burial should be a solemn family affair and that is what I admire about Muslims: the way they bury their dead which is devoid of ostentation, waste and vanity. That is the way I like to go. And that was how I buried my father yesterday among his church members, relations and friends.
From the Pastor to the rural folks who were mostly members of the congregation, I had raw testimonies of what my father meant to them and the graveyard message was profound and unedited. It was a proper burial. Knowing my father, that was the way he would have preferred it. Of course, for the sake of people like my former boss, Mr. Victor Ifijeh, who has volunteered (even without my permission) to be the Chairman of Burial Implementation Committee, a date will be set for thanksgiving and merry making but we all know that is more for the living than the dead.
While staying with us, I watched my father who often spoke of a faith in God that even nothing could shake, telling us to always look to the sky for solutions. I learned through him that our lives would only have meaning if it touches others. For a moment last Monday while my four-year old daughter, in her innocence, wiped my tears with her hands, saying “daddy, don’t cry”, I looked into her eyes as I remembered my father and the love, real love, he showed me. Being a poor village carpenter, he never took me to Tatanlizer or Mr. Biggs as I now have the opportunity to do for my kids but those are not memories that endure. The important things are the values he instilled in me.
As I remember him now, I hope that in years to come my children would also see in me, as I did from my father, a steady calm despite the chaos of life. And I do hope that in those final moments when I am about to retire from this life, I pray that I can go in peace while others around me rejoice in the knowledge that my faith is secure in the rock that never fails.
Just like my father…