By Donu Kogbara
A FEW weeks ago, a friend of mine adopted a very sobering new WhatsApp profile picture – a plaque on which the following words are inscribed:
“O Friend, the cloth from which your burial shroud will be cut may have already reached the market and yet you remain unaware.”
This quotation comes from a book authored by Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, an Islamic scholar who lived (1058-1111) in Persia in the Middle Ages; and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.
Tragedy, danger, hardship and pain have always been more commonplace – within the context of the precarious human condition – than triumph, safety, comfort and joy. And 2020 has been a particularly sad year for the human race, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed so many people in so many countries and driven entire populations into terrified domestic isolation.
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I first laid eyes on Al Ghazali’s gentle reminder about mortality when Abuja was in lockdown mode and distressing film footage about coronavirus casualties in Europe were dominating TV screens.
Al Ghazali’s reminder about the possible imminence of one’s death has haunted me, night and day, since I laid eyes on it because it is so poignantly and profoundly true that anyone can die at any moment.
Whether we are Muslim, Christian, Animist, Buddhist or whatever, our lives may, unbeknownst to us, be drawing to a close. Even if we are gloriously young and healthy, death may be around the corner.
Whether we are reckless risk-takers by nature or sensible types who take every imaginable precaution to protect ourselves from coronavirus, other potentially fatal diseases like cancer, crime, car accidents, etc, life can be snatched away from any of us now.
My somewhat morbid preoccupation with mortality has been intensified by the fact that I live with my once vibrant but now fading mother and the fact that I’ve just completed 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, a fabulous novel by Elif Shafak.
It’s about Leila, a warm-hearted, once-innocent Turkish girl who falls into prostitution after a series of mishaps and is eventually murdered and dumped in a trashcan on the outskirts of Istanbul.
The title refers to the anguished and happy memories that fill her head in the minutes and seconds before her brain grinds to a halt.
Leila is fictional but feels very real to me because she is a kind of Everywoman…in the sense that what happened to her can happen to any woman who is short of decent opportunities and unlucky.
Violence is one of many ways in which our time on this earth can be unceremoniously truncated. I was kidnapped in 2015 in Port Harcourt by gun-toting drug addicts who told me that they had assassinated some of their previous victims. It was a miracle that I survived.
And here I am. Still alive. But for how much longer? Who knows? I can suddenly keel over because of an unforeseen cardiac arrest or be finished off by an intruder before I finish writing this column.
The coffin that will contain my remains may already be in the undertaker’s store. The legendary Grim Reaper – the cloaked, skeletal, scythe-wielding personification of death – could be lurking.
So many inspirational sages – Steve Jobs, the genius who invented Apple Macs and Iphones, for example – have urged us to live each day as if it is our last. And I figure we should take their advice!
Whenever I look at my poor mum, who – thanks to dementia – has lost the power of speech and mobility – I think I see regret in her eyes.
As she and I wearily await her end with trepidation, I strongly suspect that there are several things she would have said and done – or not said or done – if she could relive her life…or even just temporarily escape from this state of enforced silence and paralysis.
You or I may not be around next week or tomorrow or tonight. Even if we reach ripe old ages, life is scarily short. The decades speed by.
Toddlers rapidly become adults. Nurses become the nursed. Today’s pensioner feels as if his or her adolescence was only yesterday.
Nothing lasts forever. So let’s make the best of whatever time we have left…and remember that if there is a life after death and a day of reckoning in the presence of the Almighty, we need to be able to justify the way we lived our lives, the impact we had on others.
All those greedy and deliberately inefficient Nigerian legislators, governors, ministers, parastatal MDs, civil servants, etc, who are poisoning this country and feathering their nests, instead of doing their best for the nation and its citizens, should ask themselves whether they really need billions and retrace their steps.
It is never too late to repent and become a truly good person.
SIX hundred and one repentant ex-Boko Haram terrorists are being reintegrated into their communities and have been given N20,000 grants plus equipment with which to pursue wholesome new jobs.
For example, some trained as barbers and were given clippers and generators, as well as the 20k. Their shops will also be paid for.
According to the Borno State Commissioner for Information, Babakura Jatau, these funds and “starter packs” were given to the repentant terrorists by the North East Development Commission, NEDC, and the International Organisation for Migration, IOM.
Jatau added that only about 10 per cent of the 601 repentant terrorists were originally Boko Haram members. Apparently, the rest were abductees who were forced to become accomplices.
I have no objections to government assistance being extended to abductees, but the idea that diehard terrorists can ever be trusted or successfully reabsorbed into decent society is beyond me.
Boko Haram fighters are religious zealots who have indulged in the most barbaric acts. They are kidnappers who abduct schoolgirls and rape and impregnate them. They are disgusting animalistic mutilators and homicidal psychopaths. And I do not believe they can change.
Since my liberal streak makes me oppose capital punishment, I will not lose my temper and say that they should be executed.
But I totally understand anyone – especially victims and their families – who calls for them to be strung up on a gallows or shot.
And I would like them to be jailed forever in super-tough prisons, not pampered with oil money and taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.