when that day comes
when you lead the way
to the Great One
we will remember your songs
and your stories.
Here comes Sango, seeking our attention, breathing fire and slapping mourning skies with thunderclaps. Ah, here comes Iku, bag of bones, eager dispatch-rider for the final journey’s harvest. Here comes Iku in his molue, with the sage sign on its sides God’s Case No Appeal. Esu Elegbera is riding the molue’s running board, gleefully lining up weary travelers for the final journey. Esu is humming Shuffering and Shmiling, that ribald anthem of the dispossessed. “Every day my people dey inside bus, 49 sitting 99 standing, dem go pack themselves in like sardines, dem dey faint...”
Beko is ready to go. He has everything packed for one last trip. He picks up his one bag; a cigarette is dying, dangling off his lips, resigned to the coming reunion with the filthy sidewalk of the “bus stop.” We are lined up on the sidewalk, living witnesses to yet another rite of passage. We are afraid to ask Beko where he is going because we know the answer. But we ask Beko: Beko, where are you going? The rueful grin returns to Beko’s exasperated face. He glances at Iku, he glances at Esu, he turns to us, glares at us for an eternity, and he asks us with his trademark stupid question for stupid question: What do you think? One last drag on his cigarette and what remains is another painful butt on the sidewalk of our evergreen memories. He climbs on to Iku’s molue and he never looks back.
Look, look over on the other side of the valley. The clan of fearless warriors is gathered for the final reunion… Pa Ransome-Kuti, Mama Funmilayo, Fela, Olikoye, Dolupo… Fela’s sax trumpets the completion of another journey. Beko steps out of Iku’s molue, remember, the one with the sage’s words scrawled on its panel beaten side, God’s Case No Appeal. He steps out of the journey that knows no end, away from the steamy hot cauldron of 2.8 billion injustices and into the gentle glare of Olodumare’s pantheon. If you peer through the gaze of your sorrows, you can just see Beko now, Ajanaku, elephant, gentle giant of the gentle feet forged with Ogun’s special anvil, you can just see him now stopping in front of Abami Eda and Olikoye. He drops his one bag on the ground between his legs of steel, reaches for his pack of cigarettes, taps on it until a cigarette plugs his lips, he looks around the pantheon and with a twinkle in his eyes he mutters to no one in particular, “I hope this is a true democracy!” Olikoye looks in Abami Eda’s direction and sighs ruefully: Between Fela and Beko, Olodumare is going to be very busy…
Ah, Beko… so you finally stepped into the molue that races newly minted gods to the pantheon of the brave. Good for you, Beko, good for you. You must be in a better place. Hell, you just left Nigeria. You better be in a better place. You need the rest. You left us just as quietly as you came – quietly. But this calm is borne on the wings of jazzy ovations for a journey well traveled. We salute you. May more of you return to this place of infinite injustices. We need help, lots of it.
We told you, good doctor, go, you don’t have a dog in this fight. You said, “Yes, I do not have a dog in this our fight. I am the dog.” You did not have a dog in our fight. But you became our dog. And oh, what a fighter you were. You did not have to do this, you restless traveler uncomfortable in the alien comforts of the privileges of your birth. You who left the big house to come join us in the boys’ quarters, we salute you. You came to us, you saw and you stayed. You did not have to do this but you descended from the rarified air of royalty to fight the injustice of so much penury, so much indignity, so much oppression in a land of plenty. You left the table of plenty to come join us on the floor as we crowded around the begging bowl. And you told us, we did not have to beg, you told us we were princes and princesses and this was a coup you said, wagging your finger at the big house, the thieves and the vagabonds and the real beggars have stolen our places at the table. Beko, there will never be another warrior quite like you. We salute you
Orunmila, fruit of Obatala’s loins, look inside Beko’s shirt pockets. Look behind his pack of cigarettes and reach inside for his map of the Nigeria of our hopes and dreams. In Beko’s map, you will see totems of real justice; you will see happy people, robust hamlets and the magic of a land that derives its power and sustenance from a free and powerful people. Give Beko’s map to Olodumare and tell Olodumare this: Please, please, please answer our prayers!
Ogun, god of iron, father of all male children, pray for us. Olodumare, accept our prayers. We have given you our buglers of the last days of mayhem, dispatch riders of the coming of what hope and industry have promised us. In the absence of our warriors, we ridicule the king who reached into all our pockets and stole our thunder. There will never be another king like this one, we pray. Beko, your oil lamp remains wailing “ole!” at thieves. They are still robbing us blind, these messengers of darkness. But it was not for lack of trying, Beko, it was not for lack of trying. We ridicule the king of thieves. The king lives on in greed. But not for long. Not for long, Beko!
Look, here comes another mammy wagon, listen to what its smoke belches out: If Men Were God… If men were God Beko, if men were God, you would still be here with us. But you are coming back. And this time, we shall all be at the table of plenty staring at the No Smoking sign. And for you, our brother… we raise our manacled fists to your courage and to your industry. May more of you come from wherever you came.
And when the Great One in the pantheon says,
“He came here and he went home like a warri
we will all erupt in song
Sun re o, Ajanaku!