By Adeiza M. Abdulrahman
It is an undeniable fact that every single step of our life, consciously or unconsciously, is a sure-step to our graves. In other words, every action of our daily life goads us towards our mortal destiny of exit. Life is like a football match, where the ultimate aim of every activity on the pitch is to hit the net ipso facto; all players on the field are potential goal-scorers.
So it is that in the field of life everyone is a potential corpse walking and working towards his/her grave. An Ebira musical masquerade of high philosophical prowess called Achewuru, succinctly fictionalised the activities of men at the burial ground as an interplay of potential corpses carrying the dead, potential corpses digging graves as well as would-be corpses interring the dead body. Little did I know that this scenario was at play on Friday, February 24, 2017, when Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, fondly called Doctor, Ojo, Kaba, etc., and the rest of us, including Prof. Aminu Sheidu, Alhaji Sheidu Ozigi, Mallam Ibrahim Adaviriku Sadiq, alias Adaas, and a host of others, were at Gudu Cemetery, Abuja, for the funeral of the daughter of our brother, Alhaji Mohammed Aliyu.
Typical of Onukaba, after the funeral prayer at the Area 1 Central Mosque, he rushed to exchange pleasantries with the publisher of the defunct Democrat newspapers. He later told us he was his senior colleague in journalism and hence his respect. That was essential Onukaba at play, humble, unassuming and respectful. We left the mosque to the cemetery for the internment. Afterwards, we discussed a lot on the transience and vanity of life. We discussed the occasional illusion of sublime happiness that life gives, which makes many people arrogant and pompous until they are humbled by infirmity or tragedy. We also talked about how, in actual fact, we own nothing in life and that all our worldly possessions, including our very existence, are held in trust for our benevolent creator, God. We ended our discussion by concluding that one must handle worldly successes with cautious and measured excitement.
March 6, 2017 was a dark day in the history of Ebira nation, a day one would have wished never existed in the calendar. Exactly nine days after our philosophical pontification about our existence, I was woken from sleep with the sad news of the death of the same Onukaba, the quintessential hard-working Secretary-General of Ebira People’s Association. The news amounted to a proverbial head sore that is larger than the head. It was a tragedy that has left telltale signs of devastation, grief and shock. As I sobbed and wept to the point of exhaustion, it dawned on me that I had been indeed discussing with a working/walking corpse.
So, Onukaba was a potential dead man that was helping to inter the dead and even went ahead to discuss the vanity of life with me afterwards? What a life of nothingness. I pondered in my abject helplessness as to why we were created in the first place, if in the course of struggles one can expire at the nick of success. The question then is: why the struggle? The other question on my mind was, what becomes of you if you refuse to struggle? Life is indeed nothing but an admixture of fear and hope. If you become paranoid with fear of impending death, since death is as much distant from us as the distance between the blood and the veins that carry it, then you would never work; but if, on the other hand, you are intoxicated with hope, hope that you may have longevity, then you would over-indulge and become ill-prepared to meet your Creator. The answer to this paradoxical conflict can be located more in the sayings of the holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) wherein he said: “Pray very hard as if you would die tomorrow but also work very hard as if you would never die.”
What a life of helplessness! Simply akin to the dilemma in a saying in Ebira, “Never run, never halt.”
Jolted by the fact that Onukaba is dead, completed his cycle, gone to the place from which no one returns, I was consoled by the fact that he served humanity with all his strength and prayed hard, as a devout Muslim, while living. He is with the Lord now, I consoled myself. The reality becomes obvious now that he has suddenly become abstract, spiritual, figurative, a mirage and an image existing only in the perceptive recess of the brain. His death remains a nagging pain that lingers in the mind to be healed by time and/or when we meet at the other side, where we shall part no more. This reality makes life more horrifying because of the unimpeachable fact that the next victim could be any other walking-working corpse, including me. This underlines the truism in the Ebira adage that “the trumpet blown to eulogise the dead is a frightening reminder of an impending and similar fate in the minds of the living.”
In the Ebira People’s Association national executive council, where he served, we wriggle in pain, trying to come to terms with this horrendous loss. We recognised his exit as having robbed us of a big man in whose shoes there is yet a commensurate inheritor. It is a season of wailing in Ebiraland. Even the monarch of our kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Dr. Ado Ibrahim, wept for the loss of this illustrious son of the land.
To those of us in the executive, the pain in our hearts would defy any analgesic. Our minds are wounded, our hearts are arching, heads are bowed, our hopes are fractured and our conscience troubled.
Three weeks before his death, we had jointly addressed a press conference to denounce the alarming rate of insecurity in Kogi State and Nigeria. We did not know in the least that we were on a prophetic voyage of denouncing what would consume him.
A flip of a page on any social media or newspaper reveals the near state of anarchy to which the nation is heading. Tragic loss of lives has become habitual news, as the nation looks helpless and forlorn. A complex web of destiny and laxity of the state made Onukaba a victim of the same heinous malaise he decried at the conference. He was a good citizen that volunteered his natural right to self-defence to the state hoping to be protected by government but the Nigerian state could not protect him as a citizen when it mattered most. He went the way of the many hapless others that paid the supreme price for the ineptitude of the security agencies. I can assure the good memory of Onukaba that though his country failed him, his compatriots, friends, colleagues and family won’t. His struggles for a better society lives on.
Onukaba was a gentleman to the core. No job was too much for him and no time was too precious for him to spare to attend to any individual, irrespective of his/her status. He had a dual personality that made him blend to the antics of the rural people and yet classical in his interaction with urban friends alike. He had stable manners and could not be caught hands down with indecency, both in language and action. He was an incredible team player, who patiently listened to others before drawing conclusions.
As the Secretary-General of Ebira People’s Association, he made sure every arrangement was neatly and timely made before any meeting. In the last executive meeting we had in Lokoja, about 24 hours before his death, he made sure he arrived early at 9.30am (30 minutes before the commencement of the meeting) to arrange all the chairs, the tables and place the agenda files of the meeting before everyone, prior to the arrival of other members. Upon my enquiry on why he did not call on the hotel workers to help in the arrangement, he had this to say: “It is the responsibility of the secretariat to ensure a proper arrangement of venue before any meeting.”
As the Secretary-General of the association, he wrote about 33 official letters on behalf of the body within two months. He made sure all letters went through proper vetting and inputs before they were sent out. Such was the team spirit in him that no one would work with him and not miss him in further teamwork.
Onukaba’s commitment to the organisation was unparalleled. Very typical of him, whatever he set his mind on, he did with commitment. He volunteered both his material and intellectual resources to ensure a realisation of an agreed team objective. We talked on phone several times daily. We had set objectives and agreed on some programmes to be realised for our land through the association. We agreed on building an Ebira House for our people, we agreed on mobilising all the personalities across the country that we knew in helping to put pressure on the government to complete the Ajaokuta Steel plan. We agreed on his writing a book on EPA and Ebira history in the last 50 years, to commemorate the golden jubilee (1967-2017) of our foremost organisation, EPA. We agreed on initiating the building of a cultural museum for Ebiraland. All these we discussed prior to council meeting, where he took down the minutes of the proceedings about 16 hours before his untimely death. He was a committed patriot of every community he belonged to. In his native community, he was regarded as humility personified and an astute statesman. Among friends, he was seen as truthful, reliable and dependable.
Onukaba was an erudite scholar who learnt more from listening to his students, his peers and his inner mind. He was an aggressive knowledge-hunter who would sacrifice his last dime to acquire same. He harboured no discrimination or ill sentiment on the ground of religion, tribe or race against anyone. He was the master biographer of great personalities, who did not live long enough to write his own. He was a variegated personality that could adapt and blend to any situation or system.
Onukaba’s pen was like the nozzle of a deep intellectual fountain. When he wrote, it oozed words and flowed non-stop without a detour from his object of discourse. His articles may not be flowery in words but he constructed sentences using words with polished edges that impacted heavily on targets, without blisters. He never kept a vault of gold and silver but he possessed a bank of character, virtue, honour and morality. So trustworthy was he that you could almost make a metaphorical safe-keep of salt on his tongue and yet retrieve same without the loss of a grain. He could disagree without dissenting, he persuaded people with superior facts during arguments rather than cajole and manipulate; he respectfully beckoned without an order and cracked jokes without jest. He was a dedicated family man, above every other thing.
No mortal is ever prepared enough for eventual mortality and, therefore, the death of Onukaba was no exception. It caught him and the rest of us flat-footed. We were all frightened at the horror and suddenness of his death, making all of us realise that we own nothing in life, not the least our lives, and we should, therefore, be very careful when we make promises.
In spite of this mortal fear in us, however, we, the entire executive of EPA, are hopeful that, if God gives us the grace of more days on earth, we shall keep faith in our pact with him, sustain our relationship with his children and work harder for the community as he would wish.
This is because his legacies in our association and community are enough illumination that foretells consolation of humble achievements in future.
Onukaba, the son of Onukaba Shuaibu, the grandson of Pa Ikutemi and the great-grandson of the legendry Adayi Avuche, has gone to unite with his ancestors. Ebira people miss you, Kogi misses you, Nigeria misses you and humanity at large still weeps on your demise.
Farewell and rest in the everlasting peace and good company of pious angels, Amen. Nyiyokaa.
• Abdulrahman, President-General of Ebira People’s Association, wrote in from Abuja