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Why are we here?

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By Muyiwa Adetiba
Last week Saturday, exactly a week ago, Mr Bode Fadase known to many as Barry, passed on. He was 71. The news of his death filtered into the social circuit shortly after his demise and spread like wild fire. His was a death that shocked many especially his peers who still have memories of him in his imperial element as he often was for Barry loved life. He loved to have people around him. He loved camaraderie and jokes. Simply put, he loved to hold court.

He was also a first class brain. He was one of the best Geologists of his generation which included the late Olusegun Agagu and went on to have an illustrious career in Mobil Exploration. His extraordinarily quick wit coupled with his persona which tended to dominate his environment, made him to be often dismissive of contrary views especially if they were not well thought out.

He could cut down a tree with just one sentence. Such was the power of his tongue. I had a taste of both—his intellect and wit—when I had a game of chess with him almost 40 years ago. He won handily not so much because of what happened on the board, but what happened in the head. He kept talking to me; he kept making dismissive and deriding remarks on my moves.

Cemetery in Yaba
Cemetery in Yaba

Of course being much younger, I couldn’t tell him to shove it. In the end, I felt my brain was totally scrambled. I couldn’t even ask him for a second game. It was a strange experience for me and a learning curve. But he was a generous man who would go out of his way to help those he considered his friends—and they were many. On his day, he could share just about anything.

If he had a say in his death, he would not have chosen last Saturday as the time to go, and if one could plead with death, he would have asked for at least a couple of hours extension because he loved sports especially soccer, boxing and tennis and had been known to skip social engagements in order to watch a game. Last Saturday was the much talked about match between Manchester United and his favourite Arsenal. It was simply not in his character to miss such a match. And when my brother, his friend called him earlier in the day, it was his daughter who picked the call and passed on the unwelcome news of his demise.

His was one of many deaths this season and another sobering experience if I needed one. The last time I saw Remi Olowude was at a wedding where we sat at a table and shared jokes. Although I later heard he was ill, I didn’t think his illness was unto death. Then there was the mutual friend of Remi and I who flew to the US to see his first grandchild and give support to his only daughter who was about to give birth. He collapsed at the airport and it was his corpse that greeted the daughter. Or this brilliant professor at LASU and husband to my wife’s colleague and friend who suddenly complained of being very tired and before you knew it was gone.

Life often calls for introspection but death especially if it’s close to home more so. These and the many incidences of the season have made me to once again question our purpose in life. What is the meaning of life? Of our existence? Are we here just to be picked like cherries on a tree at the pleasure of death? Or is there some deeper, more fundamental, more spiritual meaning to existence that many of us are missing?

One minute you are full of authority and pulsating with life as you dominate your space. The next minute you are just a lump of flesh that can’t even answer your phone. Your privacy and all the secrecy you have guarded all your life are suddenly out of your control. Your friends and enemies say whatever they like about you and you who once loved a good fight can’t say a word in defence. The death of General Sani Abacha taught me a few lessons. He coveted power and material acquisitions and in the end left with nothing. He lived as a god who could do and undo, who could dispense life and death at will but had no control over his own life.

Since it is pretty obvious to all of us that we can’t take any possession with us and even what we leave behind is often a source of discord and rancour to the beneficiaries, then material acquisitions cannot be the reason we are in this world. And since power and positions cannot be transferred after we are gone, then they can’t be reason for our existence either. And since we are not allowed to pack a briefcase of essentials including drugs or the holy books, then nothing we have on this earth is needed at our new destination.

Vanity upon vanity says the wise Preacher; all is vanity. But is all of life nothing but vanity? I don’t think so. Our priorities, our predilection for material things, our chasing of shadows give credence to this impression. However, a book I once read on the subject said “an evolved life is a life that shares, that seeks the common good”. In other words, the least evolved lives are those who continue to acquire and acquire. So when we realise that life is not about us but about humanity and the common good then we will use our time and talent to add value to others.

Many rich and famous would be shocked if they were to read their obituaries because the words would not be about their fame and wealth but the use to which they put the fame, wealth and power at their disposal. One man, Alfred Nobel read his obituary and it changed the course of his life for ever. ‘The Merchant of death’ became the purveyor, the advocate of life and peace throughout the world.

Confucius the philosopher said ‘that an unexamined life is not worth living’. Alfred Nobel examined his and made amends. Let us also examine ours. Why are we in the world? What have we done with our time and talents? We can still help rewrite our own obituary.

 

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