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Passing through the earth

By Tony Momoh
I DO not know about you, but I, on my part, try to find joy in every happening. Some may say I am insensitive doing so, but that is what the good Lord told us to do. The injunctions are all over there in the Holy Books.

Believe me when I say that, may be like you, I cannot just make sense of thanking anyone that I have a broken rib in an accident or that my friend defrauded me or that a gully erosion is eating up my town. I have always said that the reason I thank Him, grudgingly because the understanding is beyond me, is that He is the Lord and He spoke.

Oh yes, I can understand the great outing of presenting four books and being hosted by my colleagues in the media. I have said how happy and grateful to them and to God I am. But I am told that I should equally be grateful and happy that someone died! I know we came and we must go, whether we like it or not. But that going has its pains, its pangs.

And are pangs and pains happy signs? I felt these pains and pangs as I thought of two persons who meant so much to me that when one of them told me he could not come to the presentation of books because traveling from Auchi to Lagos was quite stressful, I told him to pray for a successful outing for us.

I do not know if he had time to do that, but the next I heard was that he took ill and that plans were fast on to take him abroad. Yes, abroad. Oh God, to go abroad when there is a serious case to attend to here is the most humiliating neglect of the human condition we as leaders can be accused of. He ended up at the National Hospital, Abuja, and an operation was carried out.

Engr. Said Khalaf, my friend and his associate and friend, told me when I called him that the operation was successful, that when Alhaji wakes up, he would ask him to speak to me. I can then come over to Abuja to greet him. I didn’t have to do that.  I wrote out a story which is a brief announcement that speaks for itself. That was on Wednesday, last Wednesday.

This is what I said, “The leader of the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo North Senatorial District of Edo State, Chief (Alhaji) Inu Umoru, is dead. He passed on at the National Hospital, Abuja in the early hours of Wednesday, August 26, after a brief illness. He was 73. His body has been taken to his home in Warrake, Owan East Local Government area of Edo State for interment according to Muslim rites.

Chief  Umoru was the chairman of Setraco Nigeria Ltd, one of the foremost construction companies in the country today which he formed in the 70s with his long-time friend and partner, Engr. Said Khalaf who was the vice chairman of the company. Chief Umoru, known for his philanthropy, was a founding member of the PDP and its main financial backbone in Edo North.

He had many chieftaincy titles, was a Justice of the Peace and was honoured with a national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON)…”

By the time I was writing this piece, the body had been taken home to Warrake and buried in his compound which had been a meeting place for the high and low in the political arena. So the man every one knew as “Sea Never Dry” because of his continuous giving to help people in need had gone and my people in Edo State have lost one of their most illustrious sons.

The second person I expected at the outing was Mac Alabi. We knew him simply as Oga Mac. He was one of the veterans of the media, even a father in the sense that he trained many of us in the Times Group. I did rise years later to become his editor, but he remained a father to me.

I went to his residence at Alapere estate in Lagos and signed the obituary register when I heard of his passing, last Sunday, August 23. And as I did so, lapping up the whole space of a page in the remarks column, memories of what I wrote about him once upon a time came back to me.

It was contained in a letter of apology I had written to Zik as minister of information when the media reported that he had passed on. See page 166 of Reflections on Letters to My Countrymen. In that letter, The Death of A Profession, I spoke generally of the history of the media in Nigeria, the roles many had played to grow it.

I came to my era, and told Zik about Mac Alabi because of a point I wanted to make about mistakes of the head which anyone, however, accomplished could make in the course of his profession. I told Zik, “We called him Oga Mac, and still do. Mac retired at 55 from the Daily Times and went straight to The Guardian as their night editor.

Up to now (in the 80s), Mac is there, the  great man who has shared vibrations  with so much ink and lead and paper and fume that he must, in nostalgia, be feeling most uncomfortable with the computerized outfit that knows no heat or metal, no slugs, no cranking movements of the monotype caster.

Sir, Mac made me cry, and that was in 1962. He had asked me to rewrite a story as a trainee sub-editor. I brought to that job the thoroughness and pride of the school teacher.

But there was Mac ticking almost every word I had written and subjecting my story to unedifying underlinings. I could bear it no more. ‘Are you telling me that I cannot write English?’ He angered me more by laughing at me, but he explained patiently that what he was doing was to indicate to the printer how to treat the copy.

What words would be in capital letters, what would be lower cases, what would be bold, what would be light; how many points the copy would be set in, across how much space, et cetera. But Mac, and his army of experienced bastions at newspaper houses across the country, did not always just deface copies of reporters or sub-editors.

They deliberately spiked such copies if basic questions were not answered..”  A tear escaped from my left eye as I recalled the past, the days of Mac Alabi and what massive changes have come to the media both in diversity and expansiveness. Need we cry for Mac and for Inu?

walked into this earth, stayed awhile in this school of life, and stepped out, to other vistas where the journey of life continues. We are asked to celebrate everything that happens, including the comings into here and the goings out of here of people, not cry. The Lord says so; and so, we must obey. Hip! Hip!! Hip!!!…


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