“Understand that Life is not Permanent…but Borrowed”
I found out last night. My mother was, is, inconsolable–she has always been a woman of incredible empathy, so yes, I worry for her too.
There are no words. I can’t tell you if there ever will be words. A “reckless giver” stolen by a reckless accident. Sometimes I ponder what punishment will be given our Nigerian officials for their grotesque neglect. I don’t want to go off on a rant of curses, but this is, yet another, hard one to stomach.
Pain and sorrow is part of this life, but I feel that in Nigeria we are doomed to doubling, if not tripling, our share of this lot. Was it not just last year we mourned the Dana Air tragedy? And now, again, we have been re-sentenced. Who am I to even talk? I am not his daughter, or close family. Just one fortunate to have known him because of his big heart.
The big indomitable heart of Sir Tunji Okunsanya, aka Uncle Tunji, aka MIC.
MIC was the name I grew up seeing at big celebrations. It was synonymous with celebrations even if they were funerals, because Uncle Tunji made them worth celebrating, even if we cried and mourned, we would celebrate the life and love we had been given.
I didn’t realize it until now but it is woven into the memories of my Yoruba childhood. My maternal Grandfather’s burial in the early 90s and then paternal one, Alhaji, years later made this so. But as an adult, particularly in the back-to-back years of 2010 and 2011, month of September that took both Grandmothers–Granmama and Alhaja–MIC came to mean something more. See Uncle Tunji was not just a family friend; he was also a business-friend to my mother–an Entrepreneur Extraordinaire in her own right in the industry of Nigerian Party Business, aka Iya-Rental.
MIC was one of the people that helped my Mum become the Iya-Rental. MIC supported her meager party rental company and helped it flourish. MIC was a name we heard all the time (!!). Go to MIC and collect this; go to MIC and do this; you must go and greet your Uncle Tunji(!!). And when I did greet my Uncle Tunji—never did call him MIC to his face—he always had words of wisdom for me.
We Yorubas have a good and tight community, everybody’s business is your business, and I confess it is one of the least-enjoyed qualities of my heritage. Some are just doing Amébó and Àgbejà, but there are others who really do care. Uncle Tunji was one of them. Though he saw me sporadically he never let up. He was the intentional Uncle. He would look you in the eye so you knew and understood that he was looking and talking to you. And you understood that this man was different. This man cared. Even though he should not, and his thinking, his mind, attitude should be disillusioned by the gra-gra of Lagos, and that his heart should calloused from all the wrongs that can never be made right; but somehow his heart was still soft, beating, and asking you to care.
He wanted me to understand that my mother’s work was not just for her, but also for me (and my brothers), that I should be mindful of what my mother was doing and how she was doing. He seemed to insinuate that I would be heir to it. Something I did not quite share, but I confess, now, I do understand what he meant and what would be expected of me, should I be called.
Uncle Tunji understood professionalism in a country, a city, that does not even know how to spell professionalism–or nationality for that matter. I have no doubt that as the premier funeral company in the city (if not the nation[!]), everyone has a story of how MIC made their moment beyond incredible, surpassed their expectations, and made a time of mourning, bittersweet as they could smile through the tears. I know this story because I saw it in faces, the eyes of my mother and father in 2010 when we buried my Granmama. He was a larger-than-life.
You should have seen him at my Granmama’s burial. You would have thought we were blood-relatives. He made my mother cry (she cries easily though), but my father–not easily given to public emotions–was clearly moved. But they knew this about Uncle Tunji—after all he’s done all our burials—I think I was now mature enough to appreciate it. Uncle Tunji took it on upon himself, he led the procession and apparently didn’t even get paid full price because we were family–an honor he bestowed on my parents.
Uncle Tunji was funny. He was kind. Yes, he was in the business of burying people, but he never let his heart get callous. He partnered with the Ministry of Health to pick-up dead bodies, because it was the right thing to do. He did pro-bono because he was a servant and knew the value being selfless and generous. He always had empathy reaching beyond what is necessary, encouraging the bereaved, causing a smile here or there, and letting them grieve as they needed.
Uncle Tunji was a gem. He fostered hope where there shouldn’t be. Nigeria, Lagos might seem doomed because of its corruption, disorganization, thieving partners and workers, blatant disparity and unfairness—and I could go on, but that would be foolishness, besides I doubt he would appreciate it.
Uncle Tunji lived those things and I just write about them. However, what made him, makes him a gem is that he lived those things, undeterred, and was the Grandmaster at what he did, which was being a light in darkness. He is known as the “celebrity undertaker” not because of his MIC empire, but because he was that person that who made the work seem personal. As Yorubas say, Eyan ni.
I pray the legacy of his character lives on in those he worked with, and of course his family. He who understood the value of life, did live it as one who understood the simplicity of a borrowed gift.
“4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4, NLT, The Holy Bible
Ms. Adepeju O. Solarin, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, contributed this tribute from Freiburg, Germany.
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