“Death is . the absence of presence. the endless time of never coming back . a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound.”
— Tom Stoppard Czech-born, English playwright.
“Something startles where I thought I was safest” — Walt Whitman (quoted in George Lamming’s novel, In The Castle Of My Skin)
Nigerians are generally very good, passionate mourners. Most of the time, the extent the mourning could be stretched depends largely on the calibre of the deceased, and the possible political, social or material capital that could be reaped from the most enchanting and elaborate eulogies by those who are able to formulate them. We cannot, however, deny the existence of genuine mourners (sometimes, also, made up mostly of those whose boundless privileges have been brutally terminated by the person’s demise), but, it is still evident that mourning periods in these parts seem to have become the most suitable period for advertising crude, repelling dissembling, by men and women, with less-than noble motives.
About three weeks ago, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo (nee Abebe), the most prominent among the several wives of Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, was buried in Abeokuta, amidst tears, eulogies and great pomp. She had, reportedly, died in far-away Spain of complications arising from cosmetic surgery. The dominant thinking, re-enforced by statements here and there by her friends and acquaintances, was that since an elaborate, and probably multi-million Naira, “talk-of-the-season” birthday bash was being put together to mark in style her sixtieth birthday which would have taken place on November 14, she had gone to undertake the surgery (tummy tuck) to trim up herself and look really pleasant and ravishing on that day — a quintessential birthday girl. Unfortunately, that frivolous pursuit turned fatal, and the rest as the cliché goes, is history. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
I have taken time to examine the various tributes paid to late Stella Obasanjo by several characters that have over the years over-tasked the public space with their uninspiring presence. The most prominent description of her, which was later seized upon by countless unimaginative mourners and plagiarized and recycled several times over to the point of almost turning it into a national slogan, was the one in which she was called “the mother of the nation.” It would be interesting to look out for the inventor of this ingenious phrase, who, most unfairly, stands the chance of being denied due dividend for his “intellectual property,” as his voice has been effectively drowned by more strident ones in the battle by mourners to out-mourn each other.
Indeed, many people may want to contest the propriety of describing Stella as the “mother of the nation.” Well, that one is their business. What no one would be able to deny her is the fact that she was a very good, caring mother — to her only son, Olumuyiwa Obasanjo. She loved the boy so much, and was hundred percent committed to his welfare, happiness and comfort. Now, the young man has just qualified as a lawyer, at 27 (don’t ask why so late), and while his peers are pounding the streets looking for job, a comfortable mansion, at the staggering sum of $537,129 (over N75 million naira) has already been purchased for him at No. 704 Carol Street, Brooklyn, New York. When you look at that sum, in a country where human beings are practically feeding from dustbins and sleeping under bridges, where people die because they are unable to provide the five thousand naira required to pay for drugs and sundry treatments at our dilapidated hospitals, you would then begin to appreciate the
true worth of the love this mother had for her son.
Now, remember that Stella was merely a housewife, and had no employment from which she earned any income. Remember also that her husband is a loud anti-corruption crusader, and so would not bring himself to commit state resources to purchase such an expensive house for his son. The implication then is that Stella, an unemployed housewife, may have “struggled hard,” more than other housewives, to raise this over N75 million (don’t shudder), maybe, from the aprico she usually squeezed out from house-keeping money and from her wardrobe/cosmetic (surgery?) allowance, to buy this palatial mansion for her beloved son. And as soon as mourning period is over now, Olumuyiwa, a fresh law graduate, the beloved son of his mother, would invite the world to his exquisite palace in Brooklyn, for his predictably lavish wedding banquet, the type his mother would have ensured he had, and give Owambe, sorry, Ovation magazine and other promoters of vanity like it, fresh, glossy photographs to splash
on their pages. Certainly, this lucky son of an extremely fashionable mother, would be counted upon not to disappoint in this regard, at least, to show his peers, whose mothers were not caring enough, what they really missed in not having mothers like his. Swee-eet, Mother, I no go forget you, for de suffer, you suffer me-o-o-o!
And what happens after this? This lucky son would certainly have enough balance in some accounts, carefully placed above the gaze of London Mets, to wallow in every imaginable luxury that suits his fancy. It would be unlike his exceptional mother not to have taken extra care to ensure enough resources are laid up for him, to last him a lifetime. So grateful was Olumuyiwa that he recently called upon everyone that cared to listen to celebrate his mother. “Indeed, as you mourn her passing, please, also remember to celebrate her life,” he declared at the special session of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting convened to sympathize with President Obasanjo.
Those who insist that Stella was their “mother of the nation” certainly know what they are saying. If anyone is in doubt, let the son of another public officer make that kind of purchase, and let’s see whether Nuhu Ribad
u and his EFCC would not whisk him and his father away, even in front of his mother’s corpse? Yet, this beloved son of “the mother of the nation” walked free, with his fiancée, and even addressed a FEC meeting in Abuja, right under Ribadu’s nose. For all you know, the story about the house and its scandalous purchase has been securely buried with “the mother of the nation” in Abeokuta amidst profuse eulogies and enthralling dirges.
Stella was also a darling sister. During her burial proceedings, I saw one grief-stricken young man on TV, Somebody Abebe, lamenting bitterly: “Imagine, she just gave me a job last month. She just gave me a job at NDDC. And now, she has died!”
What a pity, losing such a nice sister. How many sisters can just wake up and “give” their brothers plum jobs at places like NDDC! It’s so unfair, losing such a sweet, big sister like that. What now would be the fate of other Abebes who would soon graduate from school? Who would “give” them plum jobs at NNPC and NLNG? What a pity!
A TV report listed the NTA station at Iruekpen as one of Stella’s “legacies.” I would remember that when that TV station was commissioned, our inimitable Reuben Abati, (who incidentally turned forty last Monday) had described it as “Stella TV.” But in some reports last week, the people of Iruekpen, Stella’s hometown, claimed that they had nothing to show for giving Nigeria a “First Lady.” And people are asking, what really is the meaning of “first lady,” and what does a nation profit from it? Well, it does seem that while some are counting their gains, others are complaining bitterly. Na so dis world be.
Well, if the Iruekpen people are complaining, I don’t think the Abebe family would join them. Stella had their comfort and welfare uppermost in her heart. Remember the Ikoyi House Scandal which led the president to publicly say that he was embarrassed by the way choice houses were wantonly allocated to several members of his wife’s family. The minister who supervised the allocation was fired, and the matter ended there.
Indeed, a unique mother of a lucky son has gone — to face her Maker. She loved life, especially and the frills and thrills of it. Money was not her problem, and so she sought vanity and fulifilment anywhere they could be found. She spared no cost to seek to look beautiful and younger, irrespective of the prevailing mood in the country. The tummy tuck she had gone to do at the elite hospital in far away Spain was at a huge cost. This at a time, when the nation is bored stiff with endless calls from her husband and his countless aides to tighten our belts.
Indeed, many were surprised that despite the still fresh scandals of the purchase of houses in Ikoyi and Brooklyn, a lavish sixtieth birthday bacchanalian revel was still being planned by her and her like-minds to paint Nigeria red, and show everyone that in her coffers, there is always a surplus to spend. This must be painful thought to the generality of Nigerians battling for survival in an impossible economy worsened by the directionlessness of a wayward leadership.
She had powers and wielded them without reservation. She once gave orders that Atiku’s wife and wives of state governors should desist from allowing themselves to be addressed as Her Excellencies, a title she felt should be reserved for her alone — even when there is no constitutional provision for the “office” of First Lady. This attracted a harsh reaction from the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka. Till today, Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo still insists that she was the one who ordered the arrest and detention for two weeks of the publisher of Midwest Herald, for the magazine’s cover story captioned: “Greedy Stella”
Despite all these Stella deserves to be mourned. She was after all the founder of Child Care Trust, that sought to bring succour to a couple of physically challenged children. She was also a man’s wife, a boy’s beloved mum and some people’s sister. It is painful she had to die, and more painful that her death was clearly avoidable.