By Kola Animashaun
“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.
This week my mind goes to the men and women who had walked on this earth and had taken their byes. I remember Nigerians who had names and not without names. I remember them particularly in this time when many of them did one thing or the other. Take for instance M.T. Mbu; Sam Aluko. Now remember the one just interred – Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who had so many names from his Igbo compatriots.
They have lived variously. Mbu was a politician and a lawyer. Sam Aluko was an academic, an administrator and politician, eventful it was limited. Oh, yes, Ojukwu was an historian, a military man and politician – I would not know of what grade. Of course, he headed a Biafra that was fated. That made him famous among the Ibo and that goes to say that “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it,” according to Oscar Wilde.
I remember thee first Nigerian political martyr whose troubles we have yet to live down. You cannot forget Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and late Premier of the North. There was Samuel Ladoke Akintola, a journalist, lawyer and politician. He was the Premier of the Western Region after Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was noted for his flowery language and political savvy; but went into a political alliance that was also fated.
I also remember Sir Tafawa Balewa, our first Prime Minister and the Viceregent of Sir Ahmadu Bello in Lagos. He was gentle but firm and I believe it was his firmness that was responsible for our first troubles and our first coup. His first Finance Minister was Okotie-Eboh. He was a colourful man.
They were all first class Nigerians and “I am always aggrieved when a man of real talent dies. The world needs such men more than Heaven knows,” according to Aphorismen.
The gallery was full: there was Lagama, Ademulegun, Maimalari, Shodeinde and others. They call it pogrom and the reprisal followed. I recall thee death of Ironsi, the soldiers’ soldier – tall, heavy and athletic. He fell in Ibadan with the military governor, Adekunle Fajuiyi and governor Taiwo in Ilorin.
And so “The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings;” so the House of Commons said in a speech of 1855. And that many, many years later in our time.
This second wave claimed Victor Banjo and Ifeajuna, a Commonwealth gold medalist. Banjo was an engineer and Ifeajuna was a scientist but both are in the military. Victor was Yoruba and Ifeajuna was an Ibo. “Nothing is easier than to blame the dead,” said Gaius Julius Caeser in The Gallic War. Ojukwu blamed them and they were executed.
The one that “escaped” was Obafemi Awolowo. Because of political alliance between NPC and “Demo” he suffered imprisonment and his eldest child, Segun, a lawyer died during his travails. But he triumphed and became the Vice Chairman of the Supreme Military Council.
He died peacefully. And so was Mike Okpara. Afterwards, “Death is the privilege of human nature, and life without it were not worth our taking,” so says Nickolas Rowe in The Fair Penitent.
And so Ojukwu has left to continue on the other planes and like it is customary, we have been told not to speak ill of the dead. I am amazed at the people. They have so many good things to say about him. Of course, that was what they say about Adedibu.
No wonder, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe insisted on knowing what monument will be erected for him while he lived. So, he would know whether they would be true or false. Because the world is so lip.
“Death… It’s the only thing we haven’t succeeded in completely vulgarizing,” says Aldous Huxley. Of course, Dr. Samuel Johnson in Boswell’s Life of Johnson says death is final and does not matter how a man dies, but it matters how he lives.
Afterwards, “Death hath ten thousands several doors, for men to take their exit, “Death should not surprise the wise man; he should always be ready to leave,” so says Fables: La Mort et le Mourant.