A burial and two birthdays

A burial and two birthdays

There are at least two times during one’s earthly sojourn when one gets to hear the nicest things being said about one: during one’s birthdays and during one’s burial!

Birthdays are a time for felicitations and good humoured backslapping but burial comes with a cultural sentiment: do not speak ill of the dead. It is believed, I am told, that speaking of the dead person’s shortcomings is morally wrong because the person is no longer around to defend his/her integrity (if he or she had any to begin with anyway). I equally believe that this admonition is principally to protect the living more than the dead. The dead cannot be hurt, only the living can be hurt.

The past week witnessed two birthdays and a burial; the birthdays of two eminent Nigerians, Pastor E. A. Adeboye and ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and the burial of Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chuwkuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Nigerians have sent so many messages of felicitations to the birthday duo that a friend joked that there would be no words left to celebrate a Nigerian who finds the cancer cure. That notwithstanding, I join millions of Nigerians to wish them long life and prosperity.

While scrolling through the media reports, I found some of the congratulatory messages interesting. The one by President Goodluck Jonathan says to Adeboye, “In these critical times in Nigeria’s developmental history, we need more than ever before to seek the face of the Lord.”

Again, Mr. President goes back to the numbing relentlessness of this delusion about the role of God in nation-building. I have yet to see any country in the world that witnessed development as a result of ‘seeking the face of God’. Any country that will work puts its imagination to work and that has very little to do with the location of God’s face. Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, China, Indonesia and South Korea reinvented themselves through imagination and hard work. Steve Jobs, the iconic hardware and software mogul, got his pedestal through innovative synergy of arts and technology. He and China, a patently communist country, have never alluded to any supernatural entity as their guide or fulcrum.

Pastor Adeboye was quoted as responding to the president’s message that “whether the devil likes it or not, (Jonathan) will succeed and there will be peace in Nigeria. Also tell him that the beginning of the end for troublemakers is right now. In less than one week, you will see the evidence.”

I understand the centrality of deviltry to Nigerian Christianity but I do not believe that the devil has anything to do with whether Jonathan will succeed or not. Maybe, that is just the message that the President needs to hear to console himself that the buck stops at the devil’s table, not his.

The message by the Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda, alluded that Adeboye has done a lot to ensure “Nigerians remained morally and spiritually upright”. That is a ‘see no evil’ comment from a politician in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

A relative amount of good wishes also heralded Obasanjo’s 75th birthday. He was gloriously garbed in superlative terms of Olympian proportions, ranging from “patriot” to “incurable optimist in the

Nigerian project” to “selfless patriot” and so on. The most hilarious comment for me was that attributed to his vice-president, Atiku Abubakar. Atiku said that Obasanjo is his only boss! Now, that is a comment, viewed in context of their history, that has several layers of meaning.

And trust Obasanjo to seize the moment. He sent words to his critics, spoke on his ‘achievements’ and once again, lambasted his successors for not continuing his good works in the area of agriculture. Not one to let the klieglights waste, he also spoke about the state of the nation: the insecurity, and the socio-economic crises among others, factors, which he said, hindered a good celebration of his birthday. The way he talked about our hapless situation, one would think his more recent rule as president does not have a concatenated effect on the current Nigerian situation.

But by far, the most interesting are the words of eulogies about the former Biafran leader, Ojukwu. For starters, the man is a hero and nothing can take away that from him. I believe if he had been born some centuries ago, he would, probably, have been deified by now and his book, ‘Because I am involved’ would have become a religious text; after all, the religions that define our lives were founded by men who captured the hearts of the people through their deeds and teachings.

But the way some people have reconstructed and distorted his story in the name of saying good things about him shows that the human memory is not only short, but believes what it wants to believe.

The Nigerian politicalspeak is an interesting one and the burial of Ojukwu shows that, sometimes, it appears people do not always connect their hearts and heads together to say what they say.

One was by the Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, whose post-burial rhetorical flourish was a disservice to the Ikemba. If, on the words of Obi, with the part played by Jonathan in Ojukwu’s burial the Civil War (that ended in 1970) was finally over and the Igbo can now have a sense of belonging in Nigeria, he probably missed the import of his own logic. I understand he has to bend over backwards, do politicalspeak in the presence of the President for the sake of his political future but that statement shows scant regard for the contemporary issues relating to his fellow Igbo.

Then came ex-presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, who paid a visit to the home of the deceased. He was quoted as saying:

“He (Ojukwu) is one individual who made the unity of this country possible. We have struggled to become a nation, but Ojukwu made it possible…. We will continue to associate him with what Nigeria is today.”

Really? Associate Ojukwu with what Nigeria is today? Do people pay attention to the nuances of their own words? Ojukwu fought a battle of secession over well-documented injustices and today Nigeria is still fractured. Ribadu’s comment, in that context, seems more like an indictment than actual compliment. Ills should not be spoken of the dead but neither should we destroy them with exaggeration.

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