I was just a teen out of secondary school and looking forward to the prospects of university education. On one of those visits (ordered by my father to give me a better sense of my homeland) to my village, I chanced on a burial ceremony. The words of the officiating Reverend Father had transfixed me to the spot. And here I was listening to tributes of a woman I never knew but whom I had formed a strong affinity with in those brief minutes I had been given an insight into her story. The bottom line was that she was a good woman, a stoic Christian who was plucked away like a rose flower at scorching noon. But it was the essence of her story that resonated with me. She was the lead singer coming back from a choir competition where her Parish had prevailed. She was leading a procession home when a truck hit the group.
Unfortunately, she, the one who sang like an Angel, was the one that death took away. The cup, that symbol of their victory, which had perched gingerly atop her head, had been dumped by the impact of the hit somewhere near the bush were this woman laid stone-dead. Miraculously, the cup lay unscathed until it was retrieved. But not so the woman, who embodied the very best in her choir group. I was troubled and took issues with God for having taken away the very best among His creations.
But I would not be troubled for long. Exactly a week after, on a Sunday, I chanced on a Radio programme on the Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS) titled “Akuko Ifo,” which means Tales. I was captivated by the Radio programme (and I must admit that up to that time I was not an avid Radio listener). And at the end of this particular edition, I found answers to the questions that had been posed by the death of that good woman the previous week. The tales went like this: There was this good man and his good wife who had no children of their own for the decades they had been married. Yet their home was a place where children had found love and travelers had a transit home. Several trips across valleys and mountains to men gifted in clairvoyance drew blanks until a visit to a certain wise man who informed him that his wife will take in at a certain market day. He was, however, urged to retire his gun, being a hunter for the duration of the pregnancy. His wife did take in and in tandem with that directive, he stowed away his gun up in the rafters. Good news came to him that his wife had put to bed a baby boy one beautiful ‘Orie’ market day, as he was resting on his ‘nkpoko’ (reclining seat made of bamboo). But tragedy also struck swiftly with no notice: the gun that had been stowed away for months dropped from the rafter on him and went off with a bang, snuffing the life out of him. He’s just had a child who just lost his father. The community was thrown into mourning but the hardworking wife did the best to fill the space of his absence.
But not long after, death came calling and took her away, too. The young lad was now an orphan. But the community, as characteristic of most societies in Igbo land of yore, took up the task of nurturing the boy. He was intelligent and respectful and a toast of the community. He excelled in academics and gained scholarships to pursue his dream. And having completed his education, he got a job and by dint of hard work got to the zenith of his career. But he never forgot the community that had rallied round to give him a second chance following the death of his parents.
He gave the indigent students scholarships and set up schemes for the widows. He then chose an ‘Orie’ market day, the day he was born as one to celebrate with his kith and kin. The night preceding the celebrations, all manner of goodies were prepared ahead of the appointed day. But that night there was thunder and lightning and ferocious wind and it rained as if the heavens and the earth were going to be conjoined. In the morning, folks took time to check on their neighbours to be sure that everyone was okay. But alas a huge tree had been uprooted by the wind in that fury of nature and had killed the young man in his house. This was one tragedy too many. And for the umpteenth time this community had been visited by another tragedy. But the people were not going to take this tragedy lying low. They unanimously resolved to deploy the bravest of the braves amongst them on a mission to the land of death to inquire why death has dealt them too many unkind cuts. The problem, however, was that because of the love the people of this community had for this young man and his parents, everyone – able and not so able – were prepared to go on this expedition.
But finally the lot fell on three – a brave young man who had killed a lion bare-handed, another who had taken on a tiger and prevailed and the bravest man who had to his credit the highest number of human heads in the wars they had fought. The three brave men left with high hopes and assurances to get to the root of this tragedy.
But as I write, these men are yet to return. Is it possible for them to come face-to-face with death and come back to tell the story? As I watched Mrs. Veronica Ogbodo enveloped by grief on Thursday night when The Guardian Abuja family and friends went on a most difficult mission to break the news of the demise of John Abba Ogbodo, husband, father to four wonderful children (the girl oblivious to the tragedy that had befallen the family sought to console her mother), quintessential journalist and extra-ordinary gentleman, the tales of so many years ago on the IBS took on renewed meaning.
Rest in Peace John until we meet to part no more!
Paul Ibe, former Editor at THISDAY Newspapers is Deputy Coordinator of Atiku Abubakar Media Office