Afolabi – My Condolences, Mr. Obasanjo

by Banjo Odutola

The primary motive for writing this article is not to console Mr. Obasanjo on the death of his friend – Mr. Sunday Afolabi. It is an attempt to sympathise with him for another reason such as the unease of the head that wears the Crown. The secondary reason is to offer a reminder to the president on how to behave, if he attends the funeral of the deceased.

A little background may help to understand that the deceased was arrested and before his death, a prosecution by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) subsisted. As a result of his death, the charge against him was extinguished. Nonetheless, nothing stops the Federal Government from bringing a recovery civil action against his Estate. That could only be achieved, if other defendants are found guilty and the claim would be that the deceased breached the trust of his office. If the deposit of the $330,000 is evident in his account, an action against his Estate will be indefensible by his personal representatives. I do not in the figment of my imagination believe the Attorney General has the nerves to take an action against the deceased’s Estate. Mind you, the assumption is based on guilt of other defendants. If they are absolved, Mr. Afolabi’s name deserves to be cleared as well.

The decision of this Federal Administration to prosecute Mr. Afolabi and Others is a pointer that remains unfair to Mr. Obasanjo. Arguably, it would long remain as the formaldehyde to preserve not the body of the deceased but the memory of his public service. Death, this time has come at an inopportune time; its visit has not only harvested a man; it has redefined a career and a name. It is a common Yoruba axiom that when death comes, may it meet good works in our hands. What death found in the hands of Mr. Afolabi could best be epitomised by the reaction of the Nigerian Senate to the request to immortalise his name.

Even though the prosecution subsisted before his death – the court of public opinion has bequeathed legacies that the children of the deceased shall be considered in the same mode as the offsprings of Mr. Sani Abacha. Is life not ironically cruel? The memory of Mr. Abacha – a declared enemy of the current president is now linked at the umbilical cord of corruption with Mr. Afolabi – a friend of the president. Mr. Obasanjo committed the powers of the State to expose Mr. Abacha – what becomes of the name of his deceased friend and schoolmate? Would the president join the alumni of Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta to bear the casket of the deceased? Or, would the powers of the State be used to protect the memory of the deceased?

When the president next talks of corruption – would the name of Mr. Afolabi rank in the same anal as Mr. Abacha’s? Or, what is good for the gander will be terrible for the goose? It must be noted that Mr. Afolabi was never convicted before death. But, is anyone volunteering that Mr. Abacha was prosecuted for corruption? Well, it is all about the name – is it not?

It is the name that must endure. But, in the circumstance of this demise – what can truthfully be said of the man? It is settled knowledge that he was a kingmaker, who enthroned the present governor of Osun State. He was a close confidant of the president. A friendship that did not absolved him from infamy. Nonetheless, idle and corrupt politicians would want to travel to Iree, Osun State to be seen in the company of powerful kingpins of our democracy. It is for the same reason that taxpayers’ monies will be wasted on the burial. I have never understood the provisions in law that allows State or Federal funds to be used in this manner. The waste is the same for which State Governors give millions of Naira of taxpayers’ money at Book Launches. Is it possible to proscribe this type of waste? If a State Governor wants to give money away – is it not appropriate that his personal funds are used?

So, why sympathise with Mr. Obasanjo? Could the converse of his decision have absolved him? When the Attorney General was presented with what may have appeared on the surface as damning evidence – ought the administration have refused to prosecute because the deceased was specially related to the president? Would that have been fair? Regardless of the gossips that the stress of the prosecution brought about the ailment and subsequent death; the president took a right decision – if at all he was involved in the decision to prosecute. It is time to confront consequences of actions that attract opprobrium rather than apportion insincerity. The sincerity is Mr. Obasanjo’s and he should take comfort in the poem of Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) in “The Adamant”: “Thought does not crush to stone. The great sledge drops in vain. Truth never is undone; its shafts remain…

Truth and death have a commonality that affects not the deceased. It is only memory that is a victim of such whims. Recently, I was bereaved. No. Let me rephrase that sentence. I was not bereaved but my father died. At his funeral, I was an observer – not a mourner. To my late father, I was the child written off. One of his older children opined his reason as: “… You objected to his discipline, his methods and educational drill…” – This is a trite, which scornfully, I could endow a prize for denial of victory over misfortune and abdication of parental responsibilities over reason. It is an absolute balderdash that I have so far not dignified with much comment. Perhaps one day, I will.

Regardless of the differences in life, I am bound to my late father in death because his demise altered my mind and our relationship and its lack became meaningful. I discovered only at his funeral – a righteousness that I expect would count for him on judgement day. His insistence that none of his children was more favoured marks his last testament. So, the last laugh is on the Grandstander.

It is now in death that I begin to make my way home to a father who will be physically absent when I arrive – whose complexities made difficult our misunderstanding of each other. I look at the picture of his corpse and express my gratitude for allowing me that “indiscipline.” However, validation of me as all others made true what he said in life but did not seem to match with actions. His last testament indicates an abode of a higher spiritual level. It is one that leaves his children in peace, so that he may rest peacefully. I am comforted that he is resting in eternal and heavenly rest.

For Mr. Obasanjo, there is the funeral of Mr. Afolabi to attend or shun. Given the president’s encomiums, the gravity and alacrity by which, it pleaded absolution – the president’s words betray not the grief for the loss of a friend but the guilt at expediting the deceased’s early death. As the he struggles with his decision to attend the funeral, I shall proffer an advice or two in that area.

Funerals in our culture are a time to celebrate the achievements of the deceased. His children, even obscure ones may occupy the central podium to be noticed and cherished. And, prayers of well-wishers will ring to no end in the ears of the children. There will be prayers of forgiveness for the dead as if they matter; many would talk of the deceased’s contributions of changing the political landscape of the South West of Nigeria. Whatever the achievements of the deceased – the bribery footnote to his career would remain unattractive. However, only the ill educated and ignorant would blame Mr. Obasanjo. The president deserves no blame. He could not have done otherwise.

Anyhow, here is the advice for the president on how to behave when at the funeral. He must note that whatever is said for his part in the prosecution before death; whoever points fingers at him; whoever questions his rights or obligations to be at Mr. Afolabi’s funeral – he should bite his tongue; count to ten; breathe slowly; engage his head before his mouth. Do not say – Mr. Sunday Afolabi – my foot; that would be considered irreverent to the dead.

Whatever the temptations – he should not even dare claim he is more saintly than the Pope at the Vatican; or consider his righteousness greater than Pontius Pilate. The president must at all costs avoid his usual ungracious attitude, which he demonstrated in Lagos – by asking for gratitude for attending a disaster area caused by the atrocities of storing military assets and munitions within a residential area. He must resist vituperating fellow mourners and not tell them they should be grateful that he is at all at the funeral. Such insouciance would irritate others. Even, if anyone dares ask about his presence at the funeral – he must advise his security operatives not to exercise unlawful arrests or intervene to interrogate any “idiot” – even if he is a Blackcoat and venerable Curate. That, at all costs must be avoided.

If Mr. Obasanjo wishes to be taken seriously that he is not a despot and an embarrassing one for that matter – the “arrest” or interrogation of Rev. Yakubu Pam – the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Plateau State by State Security Services for “upsetting the president” is adequate reason to sack the officer that intimidated and ordered the arrest of a man of God. Nothing else will suffice.

Going to the funeral of a friend to arrest fellow mourners may not go down well. If the president wishes to ignore the advices inhere – he had better stay at Abuja – where he does not invite guests to picnic. Was it not Enoch Powell, the United Kingdom Unionist politician who once said all political careers end in failure? As Mr. Afolabi may have feared before his death – Mr. Obasanjo may in life realise the same truth.

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