Okoro father’s funeral
An unrelentless July rain kept everybody talking inside the commodious villa named Basket House because of the resemblance of its conspicuous dome to the capitol harboring our National Assembly.
The rain began from dusk clashing at the zinc top but drizzled into the dawn of the next day. This would be the third resignation for the old man. There have been the same intermittent utterances and anecdotes from each lapse and the same weary, white and blue red-crossed Ambulance that took him to Bishop Shanahan Hospital – an appendage to the imposing St. Theresa Cathedral at the heart of Nsukka town —- which each time returned him back to life leaving his village people of Alor baffled, sad, and disappointed.
This time his breathing had grown heavier, slower and equidistant with the increasing twist of the pain between his left shoulder and neck, finally expiring not from a deep breath, but a whimpering cessation with the receding rain. I opened and shut the towering and massive mahogany doors which yelped after me and stepped outside, to reflect over the dim, text messages from my satless landlord, on what to do with the accumulated rent in my custody from his estates scattered at the various armpit of the nation and its fermenting university environs, relieved from the crowded parlor and torrential rain, away from the dead, and glad to embrace the morning breeze.
Outside, the freed Ambulance appeared thrice its normal size, trailed by the muddy lines from its Michelin tyres and parked among the fleet of black Jeeps with other smaller automobiles rusting from disuse. The mating call of pigeons emanated from the still dark branches and wet leaves of the ubiquitous oil bean trees surrounding the distant ramshackle houses at the outskirts of Alor. Overhead, a lost hawk, abandoned from the normal seasonal migration, soared through the shifting clouds while its sonorous whistling averted the attention of an aimless hen, whose chicks instantly fled behind the wet shrubs and overgrown hibiscus hedges, bordering the expansive compound. A special compartment had been demarcated and barb-wired for the magnificent electric generator Okoro had quickly acquired when he served the University as a Chairman of the Accreditation Committee under the National University Commission when most universities were accredited to function with their unflushed toilets, garbage, overfilled dustbins, mosquito-infested hostels, fed from the broken sewage pipes, and quickly decorated laboratories with inadequate power and infrastructure, manned by hired charlatans, all approved with the appropriate settlement.
Inside Basket House, the long and sorrowful wailing of the first wife of the old man reeled out and was for the first time heard around the village of Alor, followed by the plagiaristic, pretentious and less impressive charter of other voices. Unavoidably absent, from Brussels Okoro texted several messages to his friends, and well-wishers having invested so much energy in their welfare. Had the time not come for him to reap back what he sowed? He had been their Godfather, philanthropist, magnanimous internal and external examiner, editor in chief to three promotion journals, first African Enzymologist and supervisor to many others, Head of Department, Dean, Compassionate Vice-Chancellor and Inventor of the first Nigerian made car, Special Assistant to the nation’s many untouchables, employer and landlord, catalyzing the futile cycle between ignorance, consumption, waste and accumulation, with the consequent national paralysis. As Chairman of the University Fund for Education, Okoro literarily mentored many minions with their research chicaneries and sophistry as proposals by giving them direct cheques to cash from the fund or paying into their bank accounts millions of Naira to ensure their lasting loyalty and submission.
At the spiritual realm, he had not only prepared a place with his numerous donation to funerals but has invested in becoming a humble churchwarden, an excellent evangelist, Knight, Pastor, founder of the Jerusalem Warriors and also Prophet of St. Cucumber. Finally, since his holy disposition prohibited his holding Chieftaincy titles, he focused his attention on the civic duties of being elected President General in the politics of his ethnic state and national constituencies, be it at the university, in Alor, or at any gathering of his people.
Among the first to respond to his text messages were the clergy who instantly delegated three bishops to conduct the funeral while they awaited the approval of the Pope for the attendance of the Cardinal. There was no need to request the presence of the state governor or the National Vice President, a member of the clergy who hearing of the notification of the Vatican had pleaded to be invited to the funeral. From his text message which I repeatedly read, I factored out to tackle the least of his burdens. Buying time as Okoro hinted, from the proceeds of the house rents amounted to paying for a lasting embalmment of the deceased with his expectant return from Brussels, with the new hand encrusted golden coffin now in vogue among Ndi Eze. It also included liquidating the accumulated bills of several years for the air-conditioned ward of Bishop Shanahan Hospital upgraded for his father, with its in-built television, robots and other accessories manipulated by the old man from his wheelchair, through his cell phones. However, it did not include the Ambulance and its ebullient crew which for ten years had been at the service of his father, and made the odd trips from the village of Alor on its rough and uneven roads to Nsukka town, the vehicle being among the auctioned properties of the student union when Okoro served as the Dean of Students.
Also among those who received text messages and remembered their redeemer was Professor (Mrs) Egoyibo also known as Ada-di-ora-nma. Sitting on the red earth in her father’s home with her cell phone held wearily on her head, after articulating the text message, she had asked herself aloud, where she would be today without Okoro. A huge figure, she managed to stand, carrying the wet red patch on her buttocks from the accumulated rain to a corner of the compound where she phoned her chief minion to double the printed copies and price of the Faculty’s Journal of Plant, Animal Extracts and Nanotechnology, mandating each of the five thousand students of the Faculty to buy a copy, and with the proceeds sent twelve fully-grown bulls and thirty-six bearded Igbo goats to the village of Alor, a few days before the return of Okoro.
Even Professor Babanyaro reacted to the text message from far-away Jamaica where he had just been appointed the Nigerian Ambassador. According to him, among the numerous opportunities, he gained from Okoro, being appointed the Exam Officer was of utmost importance as it enabled him to build his first two-storey mansion. With this magnanimity tickling his heart, Babanyaro responded to the sad news by single-handedly changing the venue of the funeral from the family compound of Okoro to the vast but abandoned and dilapidated premises of St. Paul Secondary School Alor. From Jamaica, he had directed the order for twenty-five trailer loads of cement with rods, planks, and other building materials to be delivered from Jos for the reconstruction of the school as the new venue for the funeral. He also in his order remembered to include one hundred tents for the unpredictable rainy season. To truly show their appreciation and excitement to this benevolent Moslem, the Bishops declared Vespers as the mode of conduct for the funeral mass.
In the University, Okoro always seized the opportunity to conquer and incubate his valuable minions and quantified each venture, not in cash but its property equivalent. Before its commencement, he had foreseen the headship of his department as a farm settlement venture. By the end of that tenure, he had acquired several hectares of farmland in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State with thirty labourers and was being fanned to cool off from the Abakaliki heat in his reclining chair by one of his men, at the center of his rice farm. When he dubbed the crown of Dean under the applause of his admirers, he declared it as a car buying venture which, fetched him four Jeeps – two Cherokees, one Navigator and a Highlander, in exchange for his organizing two real and three virtual conferences while establishing four research journals for the Faculty.
But of all his adventures, the most challenging was his arrival as the elected Chairman of the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities, which ab-initio he proclaimed a hotel building venture. While his minions and postgraduate students taught his courses and managed his mundane affairs, which included his countless properties, serving his ailing father at the Hospital and also at Alor with its suspicious and indifferent people, Okoro kept the University Administration as partner and its Chief Security Agent against the restive workers who elected him. As their chairman, he shamelessly undermined their agitations for their rights and demand for equal opportunity, with the privileged class. Keeping a sharp eye on his targeted venture, he was soon invited by the Administration to manage the numerous branches of the University hotels. From the accrued recycling capital, Okoro added his own two-star cosmopolitan hotel at Abakpa Nike section of Enugu town.
Okoro father’s funeral was an immense and immeasurable success. With the teeming august guests, the Bishops who read a short reply note from the Vatican about the deceased, the governor striving to be recognized, the lords both spiritual and temporal, and of course the Vice-Chancellor of the University, all stormed into a once-obscure village of Alor, to bury one of their own. But at the end of the day, they left their wastes – cigarette butts and their empty packets, myriad empty sachets of water, thousands of empty plastic bottles, congealed brown blood of hundreds of slaughtered animals; hundreds of uprooted trees, that were homes of pigeons and hawks, which also shaded the people and their ramshackle houses from the rain and sun; initiated erosions and gullies, blockages of rivers and their tributaries by the wastes with the beginning of drought and famine. They also abandoned hundreds of emptied kegs and bottles of palm-wine, beer, foreign brandy and whiskeys, toilet rolls, empty cartridges of shotguns and even used and unused condoms – all to be cleaned up by the benign and indifferent, toiling people of Alor, to sanitize their land for themselves and the unborn generations.
Onwubiko, PhD is Professor and Head, Department of Biochemistry
University of Nigeria, Nsukka.