Good night Ehigie Osifo
“I prefer a lucky general to a brilliant general.” Napoleon.
“If the hunter tells you what he saw with his flash lights while hunting game, he wouldn’t sell you his meat.” “When the yam is put inside the mortar, no-one hears sound until the pounding of yam begins.” “A brilliant enemy is better than an unintelligent friend.” Indian proverb.
The above speech-marks were some that I gleaned from my meetings with Ehigie Osifo. He was tall, more than 6ft, and walked grandly, studied people with judgment before speaking to them. I was always conscious of myself when I find self in his presence.
I met Ehigie Osifo the first time at Moore Road in Ile- Ife in 1999 during a long strike action at the University of Ibadan, I had to go to my friend’s house (Adewuyi Adedini Amos) in Ile-Ife nearby in case the strike action was called off quickly but it wasn’t to be.
He had some business or so it seemed in Ile-Ife and was always with his friend a retired police officer whose wife worked at the Obafemi Awolowo University and who lived near my friend’s. I love elderly people, the same way I forced myself on Chief Agbe, a Shell retiree on the same street and I visited his palatial home many times.
I ran errands for them and enjoyed their words of wisdom especially the retired officer who was from Delta State.
Times without number he told me, “Simon you have a good heart.”
He left Ile-Ife some days after we met and asked that I visit him in Lagos anytime I come to town. I visited him many times in his house in Lagos from Ibadan and even many years after leaving Ibadan and every time I met him at home he was always reading a book.
When I drew his attention to it, he said, “Young men don’t read anymore. In my day intelligent people were judged by the number of books they have read and it showed in their character and attitude. Today they wear their trousers without belts, and it falls off from their waste. Watch the way young men walk, they do not walk like the British youth, so jumbled, young men should walk briskly and straight. The book culture is one that is not taking seriously. You watch politicians debate at the national parliament and you can tell that many do not read one book a year, some even struggle to pronounce words.” It was from him that I first heard of Eva Braun before I read a book on Hitler. He loved Bill Clinton and called him, “Bill oh Bill.”
On religion he told me, “read the Bible but be guided by your conscience. Go to church but love your fellow citizen. Of what use is it to go to church and yet not love people or even help people in need. Nigerians are so easily excitable.
Watch the white men in spiritual homes. They listen to preachers without emotion, not shouting and getting carried away like we do, they filter the truth from sermon preached but the Nigerian does not ask questions and he is easily deceived.
I wish people probe religious leaders more. Many comic actors perm their hairs and address themselves as men of God. Why aren’t people bothered about the proper time to sleep anymore, at times when people are supposed to sleep, they go praying from midnight to dawn, shouting and stamping their feet, does The Lord only hear prayers at set times, didn’t He create such time for rest and for work during the day? “Do you notice how young people stare at persons in public places, they eye-ball you? You could be harried for doing so in the United States. It is wrong to stare at people”
Whenever he remembered the massacre during the civil war, he went over the edge, “I still cannot understand why Ojukwu had to settle for the option of war, a warfare he knew he wouldn’t win. A war he would never have won, that war could have been averted but for pride. Even though Gowon did his best to unite the country, he bungled the chance for a true one Nigeria. Did you know there was no robbery in Nigeria until after the civil war, guns became a common commodity in the hands of people, so also was prostitution. The prosecutors of the war didn’t think about the consequences of war. Southern women were so sophisticated before the war, such that northerners were intimidated by their bearing and couldn’t ask them out for a date, see what the war brought; loose living in the bid to survive by southern women and it angers me.”
On another occasion when I visited Lagos he told me, “I hope you find work after school. Before the war and even after, you didn’t have to look for work, jobs found you, taps in houses and public taps ran, civil servants were disciplined. Not anymore. I wonder where Nigeria is heading to, can you imagine a civil servant proudly told someone “every workers is entitled to” every workers?
He was a moral guardian. “Run away from having emotional relationships with married women.” And he gave me accounts of the people whom he knew and who did have such affairs and how they ended up. He was a traditionalist and believes that the title ‘Chief’ should be earned not bought. “See how everyone is either a Chief or Knight today.” He told me. “Nothing in this country is earned anymore.”
On divorce he told me, “Women are all the same, no need leaving one for another, except in matters of life and death because there is no guarantee that the second marriage wouldn’t fail. Don’t apply hard rules to marriage if you want to live long. Don’t talk all of the time due to the failings of your wife when you get married.”
When Chief Bola Ige was assassinated, he was horrorstruck, “who else is safe in this country. No-one is safe. This country has been overrun by bandits; we have proved to be so incompetent at running anything.”
The last time I saw him (on that occasion he told me the police officer friend of his in Ile-Ife had just passed on, he had relocated to Delta long before then) was when Goodluck Jonathan was still acting president and Dora Akunyili (God rest her soul) and citizens of Nigeria were negotiating on his behalf for him to be president.
“Can you imagine, this man has the option of either negotiating power or take it constitutionally which becomes by force but he chooses to do nothing and expects citizens to go on a crying jag on his behalf. Can you imagine this man?”
Much later and away from Jonathan, he said.
“Sometimes I wonder what kind of country you and your children will enjoy. The people to make life bearable for you, those in politics are not intelligent and disciplined. Obafemi Awolowo was disciplined and was a visionary leader. Regrettably, many people in this dispensation aren’t groomed for office and cannot give a simple speech without help.”
“The youths who should tell these people that they are doing things the wrong way are busy with headphones stuck to their ears and cannot hear or see the destruction to the country. Workers endure hellish economic hardships and no-one politician bucks the trend. I feel sorry for Nigeria.”
“The Nigeria of my early years gave me wonderful opportunities. I met great people and travelled around the world. I bought my first car, a Mercedes Benz before I turned 20 years old. Now people cannot afford the hyper inflated prices of everything, necessities are now luxuries.”
“Your generation should be more prosperous than mine but mine seems to be well-off than yours. In our day we made contingency plans for inevitable times, today youngsters stroll around guided by chance as there are no opportunities.”
“Clearly, there is only one solution to the problem of getting Nigeria to work. Give the right individuals the opportunity to provide leadership, highly cerebral people, the Papa Awolowo type of leader, and people with vision, not these bandits.”
Rest in peace Ehigie Osifo
•Abah wrote from Abuja
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