By Muyiwa Adetiba
Lagos (from the toll gate) to Benin was a three hour trip or thereabout in the late 70s and early 80s. The road was that good. Many people my generation often boasted about making it under three hours. But it entailed taking those unnecessary risks which, pumped up by youthful adrenalin, we largely discounted.
Forty years ago to the month, I was on my way to Benin. The car, a Mazda coupe was good and fast and had made the Lagos – Benin trip under three hours before. But this time, I was queasy about speeding. We were only two in the car. I was right to be cautious. We were going for a wedding and I was the Bridegroom. But Paul, my friend who was driving wasn’t particularly comfortable with the speed I had urged.
It said it would make him sleep. He needed the adrenaline of speed to keep him alert and awake. Fate must have smiled at us because we made it to Benin in one piece. Fate also smiled at Paul because he sighted a tall, light complexioned lady whom he fancied at my wedding. She was the bride’s cousin. A couple of years later, they were to meet again at one of my functions. Serious dating started then which eventually resulted in marriage. Like all marriages, they had their ups and downs.
But she was there for him when it mattered most which was during the last three or four months of his life. Paul died this October just a few weeks to his 69th birthday. I couldn’t be more proud of her as she abandoned almost everything to take care of him and I told her that. Paul couldn’t have wished for a better way to spend his last weeks on earth because he never really stopped loving his wife.
Although Paul liked to speed when driving, he did almost everything else on a leisurely lane. Not for him was what he called the rat race of life. He loved music. He loved, and was good at dancing. Many of those who frequented the top Lagos clubs of the 70s and 80s would remember Paul. He was easy going and he made friends easily. He had connections that cut across different strata of the society but you would hardly know that because he would never drop names; or make demands on the people he knew.
He lived a simple but contented life and was satisfied with the cards fate dealt him. He didn’t push for money and if you gave him, he might not know what to do with it. Instead, give him a T- shirt and a pair of jeans and he was good to go – I never saw him in a complete native dress all his life; even at weddings.
Yet he had an eye for style and was generous with compliments. Little wonder that his day job was to design for and clothe those who value fashion and were willing to pay for it. He was also good with his hands and would often raise a dead generator back to life. Although he didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, he was very spiritual. It was his faith which kept him going when he was ill and could have sought medical help earlier.
He was addicted to squash. I was sure to meet him at least twice a week at the club and that kept us in touch when we had lost touch with many of our friends from the 70s. Outside a couple of my school mates, I can’t think of many friendships that had endured the years like Paul’s. Adieu Paul Ojeme. He travelled light on the journey of life and so it was easy for him to make his peace when it was time to go.
The old, despondent feeling surfaces again and again when a close relative or friend passes on unexpectedly. You wonder what the fuss about life is all about. Everything you have worked for passes on to other people deserving or not. My friend Paul died around the time PDP and APC, the two big parties, were having their congresses. Few were the States that did not have parallel elections.
Few were the States that did not scream rigging or imposition. And this was still at the intra-party stage. At a time like this, you wonder to what end? For many, it is just for the power. For others, it is for the money. Yet, some of them will not even be alive by the time the real elections hold. Many of those around will not win.
Even for those who would win, none would take anything away when the final curtain falls as it will for all of us. We are like grass which grows in the morning but is withered by evening. The Psalmist begged of God ‘to teach us to number our days so we can apply our hearts to wisdom’. But do we apply our lives unto wisdom? To do so is to first realise how finite life is. It is to realise that human real needs are very few and the older we get, the fewer those needs become.
It is to realise that we don’t own anything. We are at best, custodians. Like the late MKO Abiola would say, what you spend is really what is yours. How many people have promised to do things but never lived long enough to see them done? To apply our lives to wisdom, is to live a life of service.
It is a thing of pity to see how our politicians scheme, lie, maim and kill just to get to positions of power and money without any thought for the common good. They refuse to apply their hearts to wisdom and the same Psalmist says as if to them ‘your evils lie open before God. Your every sin is in His presence’. One politician who applied his political life to wisdom was Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
He did not put his treasures where moth would destroy it. His treasures were in the betterment of his people and in things which outlived him. That is why till today, some 35 years after his death, he is still remembered with fondness by his people. He is still the benchmark.
To live a purpose filled life should be our goal; to live in service to others should be our desire because life is really short. We started as dust and before we know it, we are back to dust. Paul Ojeme, after about 45 years of having you around me, our journey together has ended. We will miss you like ‘kilode’ – his favourite slang.