By Donu Kogbara

MY brave, brilliant,  beloved father, Ignatius Suage Kogbara, OON, died exactly two decades ago. I am a typical Daddy’s Girl; and not a single day goes by without me remembering him with a heavy heart for several minutes. The pain of loss is supposed to fade with time, but my pain has never faded.

He was an intellectual par excellence, a deep thinker, a diplomat (Ojukwu’s ambassador to the United Kingdom during the Nigerian Civil War), a politician, a bank chairman and a Minister of Industry.

But most important of all: He was a jolly decent human being, a refined, quintessential Old School gentleman who had a great sense of humour, tons of integrity and a strong compassionate streak.

He did plenty of top jobs and got a national honour for his services to the nation. A road was even named after him in a salubrious Federal Capital Territory district. But while he appreciated the honours and privileges that were bestowed on him, he never allowed himself to become boastful. Modesty was his default setting. He often said that materialism and vanity were spiritual ailments.

He could have had a much more luxurious existence, but didn’t steal and invested most of his excess income in others who needed help. My father, an Ogoni from Rivers State, went to the University of Leicester in England in the 1950s, made friends from all over the globe and was admired by so many people both at home and abroad.

He ensured that I had self-esteem – by constantly lavishing encouragement on me when I was growing up. And he taught me so much, not least the value of having an enquiring mind, constantly educating oneself and being a cosmopolitan citizen of the world.

He told me that what I learned at school to pass exams was not enough. He urged me to read beyond the academic curriculum, to be as open-minded as possible and to spend the rest of my life immersing myself in quality literature and actively seeking information about every continent, different cultures, famous political and religious philosophers of all races (regardless of whether they were Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, etc); and so on.

He respected his African roots and loved high-life music. But he was also an unapologetic Europhile and classical opera afficionado.

Daddy was a staunch Catholic from his youth until the day he died. I, on the other hand, have spent the past few decades gradually losing interest in church, largely because I resent the Almighty for allowing too many innocents like blameless children to suffer and too many destructive die-hard sinners to thrive. Especially in places like Nigeria and Afghanistan where corrupt ruling elite abuse the ridiculous amounts of power that they have at their disposals.

But, seeing as it’s what Daddy would have wanted, I grudgingly dragged myself to an early morning mass at the Papal Nuncio’s chapel in Abuja, yesterday, (January 13, the actual 20th anniversary of his departure from this mortal sphere). I went with two Catholic guys from my village, Bodo City, who kindly offered to accompany me.

And something very strange happened. We had told the chapel authorities to please help us remember Daddy; but we hadn’t told them anything about him. And yet, much to my utter amazement, the closing hymn was: “God’s Spirit Is In My Heart”, one of Daddy’s all-time favourites.

He adored that hymn, not just because of the catchy tune but because the wonderful lyrics – the chorus and line about nobody needing more than one shirt in particular – echoed his views of his moral obligations and what a True Believer should feel and do.  

I’d like to share those words with Vanguard readers:

God’s Spirit is in my heart,

He has called me and set me apart.

This is what I have to do,

what I have to do.

CHORUS

He sent me to give the Good News to the poor,

Tell prisoners that they are prisoners no more,

Tell blind people that they can see,

And set the downtrodden free

And go tell everyone the news that the Kingdom of God has come,

And go tell everyone the news that the Kingdom of God has come.

Just as the Father sent me,

So I’m sending you out to be

My witnesses throughout the world,

The whole of the world.

CHORUS

Don’t carry a load in your pack

You don’t need two shirts on your back

A Workman can earn his own keep

Can earn his own keep

CHORUS  

Don’t worry what you have to say,

Don’t worry because on that day

God’s Spirit will speak in your heart,

Will speak in your heart.

CHORUS

Go to YouTube and listen to it! It’s so uplifting.

The Catholic song book at the Nunciature contains about 400 hymns; and only three or four are chosen for the average mass. I hate to sound superstitious, but I don’t think it a coincidence that this one hymn appeared on the roster the day I went there to please my Dad!  

As far as I am concerned, it was a message from Above – as in Daddy telling me not to lose faith and to abandon cynicism and focus on what really matters: The sacred duty to assist those who most need assistance, the need to not always prioritise one’s comforts.  

I will never be as innately unselfish and understanding as he was. I am impatient by nature and tend to look down on ordinary folks who aren’t super-smart or fast learners. And I’d rather enjoy various luxuries like holidays than make sacrifices for someone who is not a close relative or pal.      

But I will try harder to be less snobbish and more generous in future…In other words, to be the daughter my father deserves.

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