“Seinde Arigbede did not die, but unlike others, he did not have broomstick twitches driven up his penis…”
Those were my first storybook’s opening lines. Until I had a sibling in 1997, I’d spent the previous years in solitary confinement. Locked up securely on return from school on weekdays or permanently without air time in the holiday season after both parents had gone to work. I only had tons of newspapers, magazines; my much disliked Tell magazine, old copies of Primetime and Vintage magazines from the 80s which were my favorites with their sensational and fabulous reports – I recall the flooding of Lagos by a vexed Mammy-Water whose daughter was killed by a Lagosian… My comics were Benbella and Wale Adenuga’s Super story and Ikebe Super. Never heard of them, right?
I loved Abacha and the fact that he was rarely mentioned directly: like our own you-know-who, I liked the way he appeared intensely serene in photos, big-rimmed glasses, nice facial marks and the exasperated look of a man misunderstood. And I loathed all the small time players, especially one of them who usually signed government releases, gladly I can’t even remember his name.. There was one Diya whose face on the cover of Tell magazine appeared as if he was pleading not to be admitted in the bowels of Hell…
But Wole was different, my storybook was a difficult read especially for an unexposed 9-year old confined in Benin city’s backwaters. Notwithstanding I trudged on. I loved the man and his ways. Refusing food was something I would have done too, manufacturing Soy-ink was worthy of an award and when it was confiscated I was angry for days just the way I mourned Ikem Osodi’s death years later! Towards the time of his release my interest waned, so did the pace of events, I had moved on. Years later I found the book’s cover that had been missing – the title being “The Man Died” and my revered Wole had indeed won an award, not for manufacturing an ink but a Nobel Prize, an international award for Literature. He was instantly deified in my plasticine mind and would remain so for a few years.
In spite of my exposure to extreme literature, I couldn’t bring myself to study it formally. In fact, I never enjoyed English lessons, especially the comprehension and writing exercises; I felt no teacher was robust enough to teach me English and Literature when I’d been under a Nobel Prize winner’s anointing. They spoke of potential, continually picking me for essays even when I failed with consistency and constantly digressing heavily in my essays. I didn’t like learning adverbials, adjectivals, modes, determiners etc. Though I was proud that I was seen as the best, I would never be able to motivate myself to write for a teacher to grade! It all climaxed with me making a mere C4 in my WASSCE though I would later go on to score 90 in my UME thus redeeming myself. Though the test being purely multiple choice made it less intolerable.
All this while I never forgot Wole, though he appeared to have vanished from the face of the earth. In time I evangelized Wole to my closest friends first then to anyone who cared to listen. “This man is the most sophisticated writer I’ve read, read the Man Died, you won’t be ab…” the former were genuinely not interested – I took a gamble in offering my storybook to my best friend, he promptly lost it. Alas, it was my father’s book. Luckily the old man did not notice another fading brown paperback missing from his hoard. From then onwards I knew there was either something wrong with me or with Wole. Why didn’t they like my book? The problem was me, there was definitely something wrong with me, there was something wrong with the difference between me and my friends. Why else would I enjoy the Godfather, the Count of Monte Cristo and How to Kill a Mockingbird and my friends didn’t even give them a second glance? To preserve my friendship, I never read another Wole book lest I became ostracized and labeled a special child. And till date, I haven’t, though for entirely different reasons. Just like our parents promised us lunacy on reading the 6th and 7th books of Moses, I believe that I may not be fully developed and sufficiently self-aware to grasp the esoteric secrets buried within his works. Constantly rereading them should unravel new meaning and deeper revelation.
I never cared for drama, it insists upon itself.
But I’d follow his statements closely, rarely not seen with a jacket, I loved how his speeches were veiled and direct, the complexities of his sentences, at least to a dunce like me. Lengthy essays that I ritually force myself to complete, His not so distant, not so recent intercourses; the dance with the Shepopotamus, the funeral for common sense, the Green Card affair and the adventures with faceless twittering e-warriors, his reaction to the corruption manual launched in Abuja was interesting, to say the least. I still liked him. He didn’t send a recorded speech or a representative. That’s something that matters. In spite of his age, he still saw the need to address people. He had faith in Nigeria. Or was it hope? Wole is hopeful for a better Nigeria? A return to wealth and nationalism? I’m in my 20s and I’m 100% sure that governing Nigeria is a poisoned chalice, the youth being the blundering fools that we are, devoid of common sense, bravery and tact, irritated by history, casually dismissing facts as propaganda, happy to be uninvolved in the scheme of running government, specialists at war-mongering and hypothetical situations yet unable to think of how the future could be if we continue like this. We’ve mastered the vain repetition of strange phrases; resource control, true federalism, political correctness, without understanding their use and context. Whether we like it or not, whether I’m abused or hailed I’ll continue saying this, we are not on the same level with our fathers, they didn’t have the internet, they had talebearers, and yet they were smarter, faster, more intelligent, braver, more respectful and more faithful. Our internet ate away a huge chunk of our brains, made us pseudo-intellectuals, we would never have gained independence if our fathers left that for us, we would not have designed a flag or composed an anthem, as certain elements would have claimed the Flag’s green is synonymous with Arewa’s green therefore not representative of the country’s diversity, or the anthem sounded too western, and thus imperative that an Arab movement be added somehow to appease the North! Except something abnormal, radical and revolutionary happens to us all, the question is not if we’ll go down but how low we’ll sink before clutching at something. Sadly, revolutions were fuelled by ideology and youthful vigour and our political class have found a way to suppress vigour with cash. Pay a 25-year old N1000 an hour and he’ll do anything for you, protest against his human rights, sell you his vote, sell his birthright and kill for others to sell theirs to you. That’s tomorrow’s leader.
Meanwhile, as I watched him speak, worry crept in. Wole now being in his 80s, armed with a lifetime of healthy habits could still afford to give speeches when some of his age graders are being fed crushed beef and struggling to recall their children’s names.
I don’t call him Uncle Wole or Pa Wole because I believe he is ageless. He is not corruptible, not subject to the laws of time and space, hence we must draw a distinction between Wole and the man, Wole. I know the man Wole would surely have his personal battles, but there was this unnatural calmness about him, acting like everything was the same, and I experienced an unusual ease as I watched him speak. The same way I felt shortly before I was notified of my father’s passing. That same ease that I’ve learned to fear. Anyways I’ve heard rumors. “The torrent of an old man’s water may no longer smash into the bole of a roadside tree a few strides away as it once did but fall at his feet like a woman’s but in return, the eye of his mind is given wing to fly away beyond the familiar sights of the homestead… ” Having swapped youthful virility for profound wisdom, my thoughts turn to you sir, how are you? Are you in health? I know you would have definitely taken measures to insulate yourself from this economic recession indefinitely.But how are you holding up? How does it feel experiencing a very different Nigeria from that you were raised in? If I am enveloped with grief when I remember that a bottle of Coca-Cola was N10 when I was a boy, how do you feel recalling that graduates were given cars and jobs in your youth? Do you have any regrets about things we could have done differently? Or things you could have changed? I wish I could do something tangible for you, do a comprehensive visual exam or review your current spectacles or get you hearing aids or provide you with well-trained guards if you see lapses in the current regime. What would a man like you even need guards for? Only since the herdsmen choose to shame those who mean something to us has it become necessary to hide our sages. I’d give all to meet you in person, and what hinders it? Distance, I’m close to a thousand kilometres away, your busy schedule – I’m aware you have so much to do while striving to get enough rest, and will you sir be open to having a stranger over just because he wrote that he’d idolized you and poured libation to you every week when he opens a fresh bottle of Whisky? And Sir, have you ever stopped and thought about our fate when you’re gone? Or you don’t care? Care about how people like me would survive? What are your thoughts on the afterlife? Is there really something out there? Would it be unreasonable and meaningless if it didn’t all end here?
Someday, a long time after I’ve met you I hope, your time would pass, and the only Nobel Prize Nigeria could ever win ( I have my strong reasons backing this up) and the world would mourn but our leaders would be too thick in the head to say something simple like ” Our guiding light has been lost in the storm”, instead we”ll see tributes and odes conjured up, elegies chanted by vagabonds, newspapers decorated with all manner of posthumous nonsense, written by the same generation who can tell an elder ” Please shut up Sir!” There would, of course, be tales of last meetings, last interviews as though you were a mere social commentator, how you revealed one final secret, the truth about the secessionists or a lifehack you invented! In your own best interests I pray you leave instructions to make the final voyage a very private affair, not a state event, lest it be made a parody and another sterling testimony of the frequent victory of evil over good, or even worse so nauseating that you’d be forced into a hasty return to port and play a Lazarus. We’d love to be there but I prefer we were shut out. Instead, let it be a work-free day.
I’d sit in my house, the sweltering Sahelian heat pumping sweat out of my Wells, as usual, watching from my window as Fulanis exchange pleasantries, their children bickering incessantly, no tears, only a lump in my throat. Not from sadness due to the necessity that had taken place but at the reawakening of madness, the tendency to ethnicize and decrypt your legacy, the hypocritical backlash from other groups, the embarrassment of your peers (if any left) and the absolute vanity in confining your name to an institution of learning or an airport! Presently, the sheer force of your mortal existence prevents these various degrees of insanity. But for how long? Why don’t you intervene sir? Why don’t you call for the odes and tributes so you’d grade them? After all aren’t you the highest ranked English teacher in Nigeria? Why don’t you demystify yourself so that simple folk like me would understand? Help us to understand your perfect ways and how you became a rule to yourself, teach us to oppose injustice with tact, is it not possible for us to write and reason as you do? What made you so brave? Do we need to learn how to use a firearm or were you just acting during the radio hold-up? What can be done to discontinue the “just gimme summary” culture? The battles ahead are numerous, conventional writing may not survive the onslaught from blogging and the internet. Investigative journalism may become cost prohibitive in a time when Newspapers struggle to be read!
I wish you Sir, many more years of clear thought and conscience.
Written by Osaremwinda Osarenokese Osazemwinde