“For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well.”
I tell you something about my dad. He was the kind of a man who never left anything to chance, who stressed himself out to make sure things were in order, who always checked and double- checked just to make he was not leaving anything out of place. He was a stickler for details and a strict disciplinarian. He hated negligence, indolence or pussy-footing. He was the type of dad who flogged the hell out of you because you came out second in your class, a position one could be proud of given the keen competition and academic rivalvry that was the order of secondary school days. Being the first runner-up in any contest is an achievement that is good enough. But you wont tell that to a father who wanted nothing but the best, for people around him, especially his children. He always had high expectations from us-me, my younger brother Jude and two sisters Kate and Precious. This expectation is not the expectation of a man who wants the best for his children as a compensation for his failures. It was not the expectation of an illiterate father who wants his children to do well in school. On the contrary, it was a justifiable desire of a man who was an embodiment of excellence himself, who could raise his head high among his mates, who could walk tall in the society, being ashamed of nothing. A flourishing career, a wonderful wife who is a reference point of what any woman should be, especially in a society that is fast losing its sense of moderation and sanity, four wonderful children doing well in their school work, the type any parent could wish for, was more than one could ask for. But I am sure Dad did not ask for all these, he deserved them. He was a hardworking and honest Nigerian, who always wanted to be the best his environment could permit him to be.
He always told us, my siblings and I: “Something that is good enough is not excellent, and if it is not excellent, then it is not good enough for you.” I think he must have read that up somewhere. He was a voracious reader. He read books on virtually any topic you can think of. He had books on motivation, love, religion, society, just name then. His library of literature books of foreign and local authors says it all. His addiction to newspapers and news in general made him always up to date with the latest information flying around. There are two things I am sure of and with pain I say them here, despite that it might break my line of thought. On that fateful black sunday, as that flying monster descended, my dad was clutching a newspaper. Whether it is The Punch or Daily Sun, I cannot say. He reads them all, as far as they contained information. The second thing is this, had it been Dad was home that ugly sunday, he would have seen the news of the ill-fated error-plane on the television. And he would have seen it before anybody else in our neighbourhood. Sometimes, I wondered when he never ventured into literature,or into broadcasting, why he studied mechanical engineering instead. I once asked him if that was what his parents, my grandparents wanted him to study. He took a no nonsense look at me and said: ‘ That was what they told me not to study’.
My dad was our role model. We wanted to be like him. It was our ultimate desire. For instance, I wanted to graduate with a first class, not because I believed in it, but because my dad was a first class product. I studied hard, I prayed, I avoided bad company and the mundane things of life, all in a bid to attain that fatherly standard. It was hard, but it was worth the effort. It was the same for my siblings, the girls especially. They were different from the other girls I saw in school, in church or in the market. No matter how good they seemed to be, they did not just meet up with my sisters. Those girls-my sisters, I can vouch for them anyday.
He was not just a father to us, he was also the husband of our mother. And a good husband he was. He loved our mother, bought her gifts, played with her. Sometimes, he took her on holidays without us. He always had one surprise or the other for her. Like on her 40th birthday when he wore a customized T-shirt with a bold inscription: I LOVE MY WIFE. He had prepared the shirt without her knowledge. They were Surprises that sometimes made my mother clasp her hands in gratiude to God, that made her shed tears of joy, that kindled favourable moments in her life, moments when she relished fond memories of the past, when she would sit us down and tell us how meeting our dad was the best thing in her life, how she ignored her people’s piece of advice to marry our father. He was poor then. He had nothing, she would say and then add: ‘Except that he had a good brain’. She said good brain, as if it was nothing, as if it was something you remebered to use when there was nothing else to use. In this part of the world, that statement of hers may hold an element of truth in it. But I did not like that she talked about Dad’s good brain as if it were a waste product. And I told her, I told her that it was that good brain that gave birth to all the beautiful things we were enjoying. She laughed. We laughed. Mum was our teacher, and sometimes she shielded from Papa’s cane. We ate together, prayed together, lived together. We were such a happy family. And they were soulmates. It was therefore usual of them that they were together even in death,a death in a crash, a crash in an error-plane.
I say error-plane because of the nature of the crash. It was avoidable. It was not meant to be. If only people who should did what they were supposed to do. If only Dana people were like my dad, they would have taken precautionary measures. They have have checked to make sure the error-plane was in a perfect condition. They would have had engineers with good brains, good enough to see that two faulty engines would not arrive Lagos by an act of faith not backed with any action. The management would not have chosen to carry out a costly experiment with an aircraft that is older than I am. I bet my dad would never accept kickbacks to certify an unworthy plane,a plane that was not even good enough for practicals in a flying academy, if he was in the position to do so. I feel pain that he died of the very thing he hated, the very thing he never tolerated. My dad did not die as a result of an air crash. He died as a result of negligence. What is negligence?
Negligence is when the president fails to live up to his constitutional responsibilities, with the vain hope that issuing an emotion-laden statement after a preventable national disaster will calm frayed nerves. Sorry sir, but it wont. It is when the aviation minister cries on national television, but cannot summon the courage to do the right things about our airspace. And she thinks crying will bring back the dead or placate aggrieved souls. It wont. Crying, as I know it, is a sign of weakness, of helplessness. My dad never encouraged us to cry about situations we can do something about. My dad once scolded me for crying after I had failed my exam in my early days in school. He never accepted failure, but he never encouraged showing it off. Crying is a way of showing off your failure, a way of surrendering to defeat, he told me that day.
The cost of negligence is heavy and can be seen on daily basis. Avoidable deaths on the road, on air,at home,at work. Uncountable damage to human and natural resources, bomb blasts, armed robbery, corruption in our polity. Ours is a nation that serves as a dumping ground for fake products from different parts of the world.
Some things are incredible. Some knowledge are too high for me, I cannot attain them. I cannot understand the powers behind creation, or the processes that led to it. I have no full knowledge of who the Almighty is, or where He is. I believe in the supreme being but there comes a time when my faith in Him is dealt a heavy blow, when I find my soul slipping away from my body. I do not understand the intricacies and delicacies of politics, and so I cannot say when politicians who shake your hand before being elected into power turn around to shake your confidence. I do not understand the forces of love, how and why a man and a woman come together despite their visible faults. I do not understand what is life and death. Could it be that life is a misery relievable by death? Could life and death be twin sisters of the same mother? Do happiness and sorrow spring from the same source? I wonder. I shudder. For daily occurences around me leave me in doubt of who I am or of what life is. I cannot explain how one could move from a state of happiness to sorrow in a matter of seconds.I do not understand how my dad, who spoke with me on phone less than a hour before, asking me to come to the Murtala Mohammed Airport with our driver will be a victim of an air mishap, rendering him completely unrecognizable in the rubble that was Dana Air Flight 0992 and a two-storey building.
Oh dad, why did you allow yourself to be swallowed by the negligence of others? Why would you pay for your own death on a carrier that you never boarded before? How did you take mum along as if you were going on one of your vacations. You would have informed us of this. We would have gladly come along this time. You never told us it would be this soon, but say, why would you exit the scene few days to your birthday, as if you were not prepared for the surprises we had for you?You always provided answers to my questions, why not answer these ones?
We are sorry if we had wronged you in anyway as to leave without saying goodbye. But we would have preferred that you flogged the hell out of us or ask us to read the whole of the gospel according to John than have you leave like us. And you were cruel enough to take mum with you. We are sorry if we did not appreciate you enough, if we did not let you know you were the best dad in the world, and that we were happy to be your children. Dad, I am afraid. I am afraid that we could become the victims of other people’s negligence just like you. I am afraid to board a taxi or a flight again. I am afraid that I may not graduate with a first class without you being around to attend my convocation next year. I am afraid of stepping out of this house, for I do not know when or where the next bombs could be going off. It could as well be here. Or it could be that another error-plane will find this house a convenient runway to land. But I am afraid that none of these things will happen. For the earlier any of the above happens, the better for me. I cannot wait to come and join over there. I cannot wait to see you and mum smiling again. In life, they are things that canot be put on hold, like the tears rolling down my eyes, watering this keyboard. I never knew life could be this miserable.
But somehow we take solace. You taught me to be a courageous man, to hold on to life no matter how hard it might seem. You told me never to give up hoping, trusting that all will be well. We take to heart the lessons you taught us and the legacies you left behind. We will do our best to be the best. Kate and Precious will not eat anything since the news came. They wont even say a word. These days, they speak in tears, we think in tears. Your boy, Jude is just a shadow of himself. He says he keeps hearing the sound of your car at the gate. But you wont come in. Maybe you can tell him why. And me? I wont tell you about me. But I make a promise . I will do my best for you, for them, for us. Sure, it is going to be too hard for us, but we will cope. God is with us. All will be well.
Adieu Great Mum and Dad
We love you, God loves you more.
***For all those who lost their lives in the air mishap. Rest in peace***
**May we live to remember, and remember to live.**