Thursday, 21 March 2013


My grandfather died on the 1st of January, 2005. They say his wraith roamed the breadth and length of the town on the last night of the year 2004. He went to the house of his mistress and walked around till the neighbour’s dog started barking. He came to our house and tried to open the door of our small bungalow. He tried repeatedly until my father and my eldest brother went out with a bottle of holy water and a gun. My brother held the gun and walked behind my father as he poured the holy water he had gotten from the fiery priest Fr. Baka round the house. In the morning, as my father called a family meeting and talked, half-shaken, about the incidents of the night, my uncle Paul, walked in and interrupted the meeting.  He looked my startled father in the eyes and said: Our father has gone.

My mother flung herself on the harmattan-cold floor that had beaten my naked feet as I walked into the sitting room that morning for the meeting.  As she rolled freely on the floor, her wrapper unfurling in the process, my father went to the udala tree at the centre of the compound and howled like the Odo masquerade on its last journey before it disappeared into the anthill. The neighbours soon ran into the compound, some through the bamboo gate in front of the obi, others through the torn openings in our reed fence. Our neighbor Aaron and a few other elders carried my father into his room and consoled him. The women gathered around my mother covering her with their wrappers as I had seen women do to a woman delivering a baby at the Eke market. Later, I’ll ask my Aunt and she’ll explain that newborns are never allowed to see the tears of a mourning relative  as this brings bad luck to the innocent child. Now however, I just walked close to my younger brother and hugged him tightly and we cried freely.

As I cried, drying my cheeks with my palms, I remembered the last time I had spent with my grandfather. It was just a couple of days back. He had not been sick. Even as I dried my cheeks with my palms, his laughter resonated in my head. He was his jovial, lively self on Christmas day as the whole extended family sat round the goat he had slaughtered and roasted. We cut pieces of it and ate with the small plate of pepper sauce that Mama Nwanne, his second and only surviving wife had made. After the meat, we drank palm wine before we played in the yard. I remember that evening as the eyelids remember each other in a blink. Grandfather drank his palmwine with a maggot wriggling in continuous motion in the froth. And when I pointed it out, he used his pinkie and carefully removed the maggot before muttering, ‘Go and buy your own’ and all of us burst out laughing. That evening,  he told the stories of the Odo masquerade after all the girls and women had gone to the kitchen. A song emanating from one of the compounds around- a song in praise of the masquerade Ike Ugwu - was what provoked the story. He had been the masquerade on the day the song was first sung and all the women in the village had gathered at the village square singing. It was Oyidi, the village belle that led the Umu Ada:

WOMEN: My Lord, Dawn always finds us lost in thoughts of you.

                For my Lord, you”ll soon go down the Anthills in the burnt fields   


WOMEN: O, my Lord! Look around at the bevy of beauties here

                        So please, do not be quarrelsome and let us fete you


 WOMEN: O my Lord, I beg again, look around at the bevy of beauties here.

                        Remain with us, my Lord, remain with us.

                        You belong to our laps and not to the red of the anthills.

As he sang, he recalled how the women burst out dancing, stamping their feet on the sand until dust rose above their heads and buried them and he danced with them. He had a smile on his mouthsides as he finished the story. Then he hummed on the song until Dad commented on how times have changed. And his face fell. In the distance, the sun had plunged into the hill, Ugwu Amokofia and children made their ways back home after the days festivities. A sudden calmness descended upon the house.

Grandpa died six days after. Yet I still remember the blue shorts he wore that evening, the ones that showcased his huge, well carved calves with a singlet brown from dirt and age. I remember the way he threw small lumps of food to the gods in front of the house before he invited us to join in the meal.  I remember his deep throaty laughter. I remember his calm eyes sometime covered with the milky essence of the hoary phase.


Grandpa comes to me sometimes in my dream. He never fails however to come every new year day.  And when he comes, wearing his blue shorts and brown singlet, I let him sing the songs of the masquarades. The songs to the fiery Ike b’ lak’ri and the songs to maiden Nwa Ada. And then we’ll dance and laugh and hug each other until I start singing in mournful tones, ‘you belong to our arms and not to the red of the earth’ and then he’ll vanish and stay away from me. Until the next new year day.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Nnanyere called me two days before his death. He was one of my cousins that always checked up on me just to make sure perhaps that this carnivorous city had not swallowed me. At times, he’ll send a “Happy New Month” text message wishing me well or just forward one of those messages that called down a floodgate of blessings on one’s head. Two days before that, he had sent me a text informing me of his Matriculation ceremony at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology. “Broda, imagwo le ob’g obere iphe” “It’s no small feat”, he enthused. I agreed, aware that he had waited four long years to get admitted. He said he needed new clothes to keep up with the undergraduate status. Again, I agreed. “Then, there ought to be beers and pictures”, he chirped excitedly half-laughing. And I agreed yet again and asked for his account number. Alas, that text message was the very last communication I had with him.

I readily confess to a personal weakness: I’m powerless before death; it numbs me. I believe there is always a critical psychological moment in one’s adult life when one comes to a sudden, shocking realization of death and all it’s varied consequences. My awakening, if you may so call it, came with the death of my bosom friend Ojide Henry in the year 2000. On a subconscious level, you begin to come to terms with how much you are diminished by death…any death. The English philosopher-poet John Donne is often quoted as having said ‘Every man’s death diminishes me because I’m involved in humanity’.  Death shatters something palpable in the human spirit.  One is confronted by its illogicality…its absolute finality. And worse when it is a death like Nani’s that one owns so intimately!

Within my extended family, death had hitherto assumed a certain sanity, it knew its place: the grey and grizzled go before the young and youthful. So, Uncle Raphael, my grandpa Papa Ugwuode and Uncle Jacob….we grow old and we die.  One has indeed assumed illogically that death had itself assumed its ‘propermodus operandi :That we all go in the order we came. Then, Nnanyere! At the prime of a life replete with dreams and promises! And one is powerless. A powerlessness further underscored by a lack of understanding which sadly is the nature of mysteries. Of course, it is possible to totally expunge from the psyche such an enervating emotion by a complete comprehension of the pain-inducing experience. With death, you lose every time! There is no logic, no answer, no modus operandi.

So why Nnanyere? Vivacious Nnayere! Our people have a phrase for his convivial disposition towards us: omar’ egh’ nwenne ( He is a superlative relative). The last time we were together was at Virgins’ Spot in my hometown of Ukehe at Christmas. I was with my brother Jnr. Pope, the Nollywood star. We all drank hot bottles of beer since the mammoth crowd at the venue had depleted the hotel’s stock of cold drinks. We talked about his dreams and plans? “Why Economics?” “Why ESUT?”Why not UNN where you have people?” “Who is your girlfriend?” And he laughed freely and poured out his heart to me. He trusted me in a totally disarming manner. Then, in a flash, he was all over Jnr. Pope taking pictures and proclaiming to all who cared to listen that we were his GOOD brothers. He said it sincerely, innocently…the way a child says chocolate is good. Nnanyere was fundamentally propelled by a commitment to the ideals of life: love, forgiveness, happiness etc. He was one who lived in the moment; one who bore no grudges…the first son of his father. And all his dreams – dreams the size of cathedrals- now lie wasted and dead before our eyes. Fiery flames turned to weak embers in one tragic fall!

My cousin Onyebo pinged on my Blackberry Messenger at 8:43pm on the Friday Nnanyere was supposed to have matriculated to say he is dead. He fell from a seat he had stood on attempting to repair some electrical fault in the students’ lodge where he lived. He wanted merely to iron his matric cloth and look smart. (His Whatsapp profile reads: I’m the most unique guy in my department. *winks*) He fell from the seat, hit his head on the hard cement floor and died a while after. Before he died, he was long stranded in the crossroads of here and there, hanging in the darkness as he was rushed to three different hospitals before he died. Nnayere’s death is yet another reflection of both the state of health care in Nigeria, a sector that our thieving leaders expend millions of naira on yearly. But that’s a story for another day. And yet for another day is the story of the ignoble decision of the parish priest in Ukehe to deny Nnayere the privilege of a holy mass because he had not paid money to the parish!

So today, I mourn Nnayere! I mourn his youthfulness. I mourn his life cut short at the zenith of his life. Yet he cannot die if our interactions and experiences with him live in our memories. Our tears will water the seed of love he planted in our hearts and its efflorescence will overwhelm the blight that death has cast on our horizon.  For those who let pride, privilege, property, the amassing of wealth, even the rat race…for those who let mundane things (some of my cousins don’t talk to each other) come between their relationships with others, here is a lesson for them: Life is fleeting, shockingly ephemeral. In a family where the cracks of disunity and strife have long appeared, the response that I expect is not a reiteration of the varied aspects of sham mourning but a personal introspection geared towards a better relationship with one another. By this death, those who are convinced adherents to that principle of love for which Ngwunwiyoke my great grandfather is legendary should be reinforced in their conviction; the rest should be jolted to action. The ideal to which Nnanyere aspired –indeed to which every human being must aspire- is to live life in the service of others.

We do justice to his memory if we learn to love and help one another.

Rest eternal Nani King my good brother. I will miss you.

Friday, 22 June 2012

From My Dog-eared Diary

15th November,2009: We wave a cab down. He stops and when we asked, ‘Kuramo beach. How much?’  He looked shocked then yelled , ‘ Enter! Enter! Up Nigeria!’. Nigeria had just got a ticket to the World Cup in South Africa by a miracuolous mix of events.The cab man was a fat Yoruba man with  yellow teeth. He could not contain his glee. As soon as we were sitted, he continued,’ Dis country too much. I no believe say we go fit qualify even when I hear say Pastor T. B Joshua talk am. Ha, God love dis country.’ I didn’t know what to say but my friends Edu and Cross were already saying something in agreement. I was lost in the pseudo  beauty of Victoria Island. For a minute, I wondered if this man knew that Nigeria was a failed state, that it’s very existence was being contested. I wondered if he knew that Bode George,the former Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party had just been sent to prison for looting the state treasury to the tune of 300 million Naira. Then I wondered if he ever wondered why Nigeria was still one of the poorest nations on earth mindless of her vast oil wealth. I really wanted to say ‘God has cursed this country’ but instead I echoed,’Up Nigeria’ perhaps to widen his smile.
When we got down, he said,’just give me anything, anything….’ We gave him 200 naira and he zoomed off, blaring his hone as he disappeared into the distance,  still shouting UP NIGERIA and waving his hand.
The boys at the Kuramo gate seemed to have come from Madagascar. Mindless of how many times we repeated UP NIGERIA, they still wanted their money. Actually, they are a bunch of touts who extort people in the name of tourism charges that, they explained, they used to maintain the beach. In fact, when I said, ‘We go deal with dem for South Africa’, seeking their concurrence, one of them said,’ Oga abeg pay me my money. Na Nigeria abi South Africa go give me chop make I chop this night? It was an incontrovertible logic: This country wont give him dinner. In fact, this country had done nothing for him. They must have come from nearby Chad, these boys.
At the beach, the roar of the waves is almost drowned by the million voices blaring from the speakers. Timaya. Terry G. P-Square.Bracket…. To the left, a long line of sheds and shanties. Some double as homes and whore houses, others as bars and game houses. A long long line…as far as the eyes can see. To the right, very close to the waves, the scarlet ladies, skimpily dressed, anything from 14-40, calling out alluringly to unsuspecting men…and women! These too were the people Nigeria had failed.
We pick the most ‘decent’ bar.  Yori Yori was on the speakers and a fair dancer was on the stage entertaining. A bottle of beer goes for 250 and as soon as you sit, some boys approach you with long white wraps of marijuana saying,’100,100 Naira, make I bring am?’ Before you have time to express your shock, you notice; the dark lanky fellow on the next table is seriously smoking it and gently nodding his head to the music. A phrase comes your mind: SIN CITY.
After your second bottle  of beer, you move towards the ocean and sit on the white sand looking out to the distant Apapa port all lighted in the surrounding deep darkness. The sea sings a familiar song to you. The breeze blows in your soul. You close your eyes and take it all in. YOU ARE ALIVE.
Next to you, a lady robed in white spreads her hands to the ocean, spewing unintelligible incantations, standing  while shaking, almost unconscious of the dark skinned girl saying in Igbo,’ O di ka o na-acho nwa’.
When you are tired of leaving your footprints on the sands and of the sands tickling your toes and of the ocean playfully wanting to sweep you off your feet, and of Chi running around in your mind and of the voice of all the dead poets you know especially Sylva Plath… and of the smell of decay and squalor and of the death merchants beckoning … and of Nigeria, this Nigeria…

…You walk to the road and take a cab back to Law School  thinking, ’IN THE MIDST OF LIFE,WE ARE IN DEATH!