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Tribute to Auntie Chinyere

By Donu Kogbara

VERY few of the people around us have significant impacts on our lives. And I want to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to my beloved auntie, Chief Mrs Chinyere Asika, who recently celebrated her 70th birthday and is not only one of the most intellectual and accomplished women of her generation but one of the kindest.

When I separated from my husband, Oliver, my small son, and I were living in an official residence in Abuja that was attached to my father’s job (he was an INEC Commissioner at the time).

Then Daddy died and we had to move out of the house, so that the new Commissioner who was replacing him could move in.

I was at rock bottom and my wits’ end because I couldn’t afford to rent a place of my own. And I was, in addition to being completely broke, bereaved to the point of near-total emotional collapse. I could barely focus on getting out of bed in the morning. Earning a credible income was a distant dream at that juncture.

Mrs Asika gently stepped in at this point and rescued me and Oliver from homelessness, despair, starvation and humiliation. She invited us to stay with her until I had stabilised. And she was such an amazingly entertaining companion and wise advisor. She became a good friend as well as a darling auntie and patiently tolerated my bad habits. I owe her my survival and an enormous debt of gratitude.

Courage that humbles and shames me
I HAVE  been awestruck by the gutsiness that many Iranian citizens have displayed since they decided that the recent presidential election in their country was rigged.

People from all walks of life – including normally conservative clerics – have taken to the streets, waving placards and chanting anti-government slogans.

Some of the rioters who support opposition candidate, Mirhossein Mousavi have been killed by law enforcement agents. A beautiful, brave young girl called Neda has become a global celebrity, posthumously, after her brutal murder was captured by video cameras and screened on various TV channels.

The Iranian authorities are not in a conciliatory mood. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is unrepentantly clinging to his dubious victory.

Predictably, he and his dictatorial Islamic fundamentalist cronies are accusing protestors of being immoral pro-Western traitors. But those who are still standing have not allowed themselves to be deterred by ridiculous diversionary allegations or state-sponsored violence. They have flatly refused to back down.

A couple of days ago, while watching CNN news, I heard a teenage Iranian girl being interviewed over the phone. She had been physically attacked by police on numerous occasions and her little speech sent a shiver of admiration down my spine.

She said that she wasn’t going to be intimidated by her government’s savage crackdown because “when someone gets hit once, the second time doesn’t matter”.

She added that the tyranny that she and her compatriots were experiencing could not possibly last forever and insisted that “I am absolutely optimistic because history has taught me that all revolutions are fought like this”.

So many Iranians are ready to die for their principles and I feel totally humbled by their courage.

I felt the same way when I watched Pakistani women publicly expressing their anger during a period of political turmoil. Their huge strength of character, willingness to take risks and determination to seek justice was truly impressive.

Most Nigerians are too cowardly and too self-interested to complain loudly when our leaders misbehave. It is difficult to imagine any Nigerian talking or behaving as valiantly as the adolescent I quoted above. Most of us are afraid of abandoning our comfort zone to challenge the grandees who control our existence.

I myself have never participated in a robust public protest before, preferring to stay safe in my study at home and snipe at those who annoy me with my pen.

And, let’s face it dear readers, my pen simply isn’t poisonous enough! Because I am personally connected to the establishment and know many of the VIP wrongdoers who have undermined this nation, I hardly ever direct seriously wounding words at them. I settle for fairly mild reprimands that won’t upset them too much.

This diplomatic approach is tantamount to a dereliction of duty if you happen to be a journalist. And I sometimes hang my head in shame in the stillness of the night and wish that I could be like the fabulously feisty females of Pakistan and Iran.


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