DEAD MEN WALKING
OKAY, so I confess: I’m a facebook addict. With each passing day, I am finding it more and more impossible to detach myself from the networking site that’s holding millions of Nigerian youth (and, surprisingly, adults too!) hostage. And when I say I’m an addict, I mean to say ‘amateur addict’. I’m wise enough to know that there are the likes of Tosyn Bucknor, Noble Igwe, Kemi Adetiba and others before me, who have taken to facebooking as an auxiliary profession.
So it was, that on Sunday, morning, after looking for every excuse possible for not going to church, I logged in to facebook. My favourite past-time these days is randomly checking friends’ status updates, viewing profile pics and maybe leaving a few comments. So last Sunday, after checking what my ‘friends’ were up to, I changed my own status update from ‘Ayeni is impressed by D’Banj and Don Jazzy’s business acumen’ to ‘Ayeni is going to have a ball and a groove at Encomium’s white gig.
I was in the mood to relax and have a jolly good time. Then as I was still contemplating what to wear, I saw a friend’s status: ‘R.I.P. Sonny Okosuns’. As a reporter, that set my adrenalin pumping, and all thoughts of a ball immediately vamoosed from my mind. I checked a few other status updates, searched through Google and made a few phone calls. Then the truth hit me: the ailing musician, who had been battling with cancer of the colon, had eventually given up.
I’m getting really familiar with death. Before now, I was so naive and stupid cos I thought life was long and fun and even more fun. But seeing my mom die in 2004, it suddenly dawned on me that life, this life, is on long process of getting tired. Life is all about living and dying, then living again. But mom was at least over 50. I thought I had wizened up after she died so suddenly four years ago. But now, in 2008 (and we’re just five months gone!) I’ve lost at least five people that I know directly.
Don’t worry, I wont mention any names, so I don’t make anyone start crying all over again. But what I’ve learnt this year, from the death of so many young people around me (ages from 30 – 49) is that, no matter what we think, we’re all on a death row, waiting for our turns – and it doesn’t matter whether we’re ready or not. We all think we matter, that our opinions count, that people can’t talk to us anyhow; atimes, we even think we’re more important than some less fortunate folks around us; whereas in reality, we’re nothing but walking corpses. Have you ever been around a corpse before?
It has no say about what it’ll wear, what vehicle it’ll ride in, where it’ll be buried, who will attend or who will not. They sprayed perfume in my mother’s eyes. She did not even blink. They forgot to bury her with her favourite glasses, she did not complain. I did not even attend her burial, cos I was lying half-dead on the hospital bed. Guess what? She didn’t come to look for me! Why, you ask? Corpses don’t blink; they never complain; and they don’t look for people.
I think it will help, if we all begin to see ourselves as corpses. Or at least, corpse-to-be. It’ll help in our relationship with God. It’ll help in our dealings with man, and it’ll help us realise that we’re not here on earth to stay forever. We’re here to wait for the time when we die. For some, the complete transformation from man to corpse may take 4 years (like my little sister Wemimo); for others, it may take 32 years (like my friend’s wife Olayinka) or 37 years (like my late friend Tunmise). For some, it may take 49 years (like Howie T’s brother Rotimi), for others, 59 years (like Olufela Kuti), or 61 years (like Sonny Okosuns). Whatever the case, it pays the corpse to be prepared for the journey. For, if you live your life thinking you might die the next minute, there are great chances you’ll try to live right.
Unfortunately, most times, the corpses are not prepared for the journey. And the rest of us corpses-to-be are never prepared either. Take Okosuns. When I first wrote in 2006 that the man had a ‘strange ailment’ and needed help, he rebuked me and told all that cared to listen he was ‘okay’. That was the song he sang until he breathed his last. I remember how he fiercely tore down two of his journalist friends for writing that his condition was deteriorating, and that he was in need of help. Let’s not blame Okosuns. I don’t think he was living in self-denial, for, if that was the case, he would not have been seeking for treatment across continents. I think he was just not ready to die. Oh yes, he was an evangelist. But didn’t 2face sing that ‘nobody wan die/ but them wan go heaven. Ask me, am I ready to die now? Hell no! But, foolish me. If God says the transformation will happen today, pray, do I have a say?
Just like Tunmise and Olayinka and my mother and Fela and many others, Okosuns was not ready to die. But the rest of us corpses-to-be, what do we do to help them live? We seldom do little. Most times, we even do nothing! That’s why it hurt me and made me cry deeply when I discovered that the minister of Culture had paid a visit to Okosuns house; that the governors of Lagos and Ogun had issued statements condoling the family and extolling Okosuns’ virtues. The PMAN presidents Tee Mac and Dele Abiodun) were even close to tears when the talked about the ‘fallen hero’. I wept.
Here was a man that was sick for at least two years. A man who had stopped earning regular income for a while. A man that used his talent to serve his country, influence younger acts, and helped erase apartheid in South Africa . Yet apart from the MON he was decorated with, the government, the people and even his own musicians’ union abandoned him to his own fate. In one of his last interviews, he told of how he was bitter that the government would make you a ‘member of the order of the Niger’, yet, care less whether you had food on your table or not. In his last days, Okosuns needed help. Even if he did not say it, it showed. Look at the man, I always thought he was way over 70. He had emaciated seriously, he had wrinkles all over and looked like he was 10 years older than his age. The man had done his bit for his people. Yet we all ignored him when we could have done a lot to make his life easier.
Even when it was made public that he had been diagnosed of cancer, what did we do? We looked the other way. It was an Indian that helped Oksouns get treatment in India . It was his children that took care of him in the US .
And now, he passes on and we’re giving him a ‘state burial’. What does a state burial, or eulogies, or tears matter to a corpse? And guess what, it’s all hypocrisy and propaganda. All these people issuing statements and weeping and signing the condolence registers – they don’t really care about Okosuns. The government promising a man state burial – ask them, what did they do for him when he was alive? Oh, they gave him MON? What’s MON without EY?!
Once all this is over, everyone goes back to their normal lives, waiting for the next corpse to take the trip before reality dawns on us again. It’s business as usual. It’s 11 years after Fela’s death. What has anyone done since then? From Ikeja local government where he lived and performed, to Ogun state where he was from, to the entire country he served with his music. What has anyone done? Nothing!
Please take a close look at all the corpses-to-be around you. I mean all, including those you think are too young to die. Are you presently doing all you should and can do for them? Instead of waiting until they leave before you start saying how good and kind and great they were; before you start giving all you have to make sure they get a ‘befitting burial’; before you start regretting the things you could have done; why not take time to do those things now?
Our friends and parents and spouses and children; our leaders and followers; they all deserve more than we’re giving them. Okosuns deserved more. Just like Victor Olaiya and Orlando Julius and Steve Rhodes and Tunde Kuboye and Benson Idonije and Tony Allen. Will we wait for them to take the trip and then start weeping and wailing (and promising them state burials) and writing looooong articles in their honour.
Or will we do the little we can now, to make sure they have a jolly good time, while waiting on death row?