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The condolence register

By Debo Adesina
13 June 2016   |   3:23 am
I was 29 years old when TA, my illustrious father, Timothy Adebimpe Akanbi Adesina, died in June 1994 but we did not inter his remains until the middle of August ...
(FILES) This file photo taken on October 30, 1974 shows the fight opposing former world heavyweight boxing champion the American Muhammad Ali (R) and his compatriot and titleholder George Foreman (L) in Kinshasa. Ali won and got back his title. Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. "After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / -

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 30, 1974 shows the fight opposing former world heavyweight boxing champion the American Muhammad Ali (R) and his compatriot and titleholder George Foreman (L) in Kinshasa. Ali won and got back his title.<br />Boxing icon Muhammad Ali died on Friday, June 3, a family spokesman said in a statement. “After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74,” spokesman Bob Gunnell said. / AFP PHOTO / –

I was 29 years old when TA, my illustrious father, Timothy Adebimpe Akanbi Adesina, died in June 1994 but we did not inter his remains until the middle of August to give room for a befitting burial.

To me though, those weeks, more than a room for preparation, gave some comfort, albeit a false one. They allowed me the psychological feeling that with his body still ‘alive’ somewhere, I could wish away or endure the agony of his passing better. Childish, that would seem, for a 29 year-old. But to my inconsolable soul, the man who had said ‘goodnight’ would be there for me every dawn. And, truly for those two odd months before the dust-to-dust rites, I felt his ever-piercing eyes digging holes on my fore-head as they were wont to do. It was as though he was still there! And I thought I heard the goading voice of my main cheerleader very clearly, every morning.
Of course, it was all wishful thinking.

Death is final. But interment makes too much finality of it!

So it was that not until the remains of my idol, Muhammad Ali, were interred over the weekend, did I get the full gist that he was dead!

The story of his life is already too well told. The exploits in the ring, life with the world’s most beautiful women and association with the world’s high and mighty who would do anything to be counted as Ali’s, are too well documented. He was generous, with his soul and possessions, and the door of his life was opened to all. He was the Louisville Lip, the poet, the boxer, the showman, the philosopher and The King.

Oh, he was The Greatest! Indisputably so.
If you did not hear the rumble in the jungle, when a younger, seemingly unbeatable George Foreman was outwitted in the game called rope-a-dope in the forest of Zaire, you must have been dead. If the ‘thrilla in Manila,’ when he cornered his old nemesis, the hard-hitting gorilla, Joe Frazier, in Manila, the capital of Philippines, remains news to you, you are better dead! And that would not be such a bad idea, considering that both life-long rivals admitted that bout was the closest thing to death for them.

Talented, young and handsome, he often seemed superhuman as he went from conquest to conquest in and out of the ring. He was almost blasphemous in his self-knowledge of the blessings bestowed upon him as well as his ability to advertise those blessings with words and physical showmanship.

In rhymes uniquely his, he correctly predicted the rounds in which most of his opponents would fall.

Stephen Keshi

Stephen Keshi

When he won the Olympic Gold Medal at the age of 18, in Rome, he had this to say:

To make America the greatest is my goal
So I beat the Russian, and I beat the Pole
And for the USA won the medal of Gold
Italians said, ‘You’re greater than the Cassius of Old’
We like your name, we like your game
So make Rome your home if you will
I said I appreciate kind hospitality
But the USA is my country still
‘Cause they waiting to welcome me in Louisville.

Against his conscience, he would not fight a war he did not believe in. And at the draft for the Vietnam war after so much persecution as could have broken any ordinary mortal, he was emphatic in poetry:

Keep asking me, no matter how long
On the war in Viet Nam, I sing this song
I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong

He was always and remains an inspiration. Every morning, for years, I read his soul-stirring lines after he was beaten by Ken Norton, and committed them to heart.

“When a fighter is beaten, everybody who believes in him is beaten too – his family, his friends, his children, the people who cheer him on, who give him their love, their hope, their pride. No fighter can survive who feels sorry for himself when he is defeated.
When I accept a fight, I accept the consequences. I do everything to make the fight come out my way, but if I am defeated I have to get up and come back again, no mater how humiliating the loss.”
After that fight, his signature tune,

I dance like a butterfly
And sting like a bee,

lines in self-celebration of his quick pace, or ability to shuffle to the confusion of an opponent in the ring, and his biting jabs, were thrown back at him:
‘The butterfly has lost its wings
The bee has lost its wings’

Amodu Shuaibu

Amodu Shuaibu

This, accompanied by the taunt that ‘you are through, you loud-mouthed braggart. Your mouth has bee shut up for all times. It’s a great day for America. You are finished,’ only served to cement his will to win again!

He never saw himself as fighting for Ali. He fought and won all bouts for the dignity of the Black race. Look at me! I am gifted! I am pretty! And I am Black! Uuuuuh! Ain’t nobody like me!

He spoke Black superiority, oozed and lived it! Not in any bigoted way, but in ways that awakened the colonised, enslaved or dehumanised soul of the African. In Ali, a liberating force came forth. A force that was human, brilliant, excellent, radiant, luminant and domineering. And was it pretty!
Uuuuuuh! There was nothing like it!

Those with the gift of the Spirit say he was sent.
With Ali’s coffin draped in black and gold as the funeral ceremonies were beamed all over the world, across homes and pubs, even those high on spirits at what was one global celebration of the boxer once known as Cassius Marcellus Clay acknowledged the passing of a Black god.

Muhammad Ali’s life was certainly too much of a lesson book in humanity, humility, brilliance, Black consciousness and pride! Pride in being an athlete, an American and, above all, an African! Pride in hard-work and in an indomitable spirit. His death has only written a new chapter in that guide-book for human excellence which the world would do well to live by for ages to come.

For Stephen Okechukwu Keshi and Ahmadu Shuaibu, both former players and coaches of the Nigerian national team, what can one say, other than to ask: Death where is thy sting? And you, the tomb, wherein lies thy holding power?

Keshi who died at 54 was not only captain of the dream Super Eagles of Nigeria, he was in the caravan of great African footballers. He, alongside Mahmoud El-Gohary of Egypt are the only Africans on record to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach.

After a playing career in Nigeria and mostly with Belgian clubs, he went to the United States of America for his coaching education and badges.

Between 2004 and 2006 Keshi coached Togo’s national football team, bringing them to their first World Cup tournament in Germany in 2006. He worked as manager of the Mali’s national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal. Keshi was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Keshi became coach of the Nigerian National Team in 2011 and led the country to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win against Burkina Faso.

On November 18, 2013, Keshi set a record in African football by being the first African coach to successfully make two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) qualify for the World Cup Finals. He also helped Nigeria become the first country to achieve an African Cup of Nations trophy and World Cup qualification, both in 2013.

On June 25 , 2014, Keshi’s Nigeria progressed to the knockout stage of 2014 World Cup.
In July 2015, following Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup, Keshi quit Nigeria’s national team.

Ironically, he was replaced temporarily with Amodu Shaibu, who also died two days ago at the age of 58. Shaibu, from Edo State and one of Nigeria’s most accomplished football managers, had been the Super Eagles’ coach even before Keshi and had managed many Nigerian clubs successfully ahead of that temporary assignment and later appointment as Technical Director for the Nigerian Football Federation.

Both men died within one week of each other, causing the most effusive outpouring of grief, in one of the most telling indications of what a demented hen Nigeria has always been: a country that savages the best of her offspring only to turn up in black at the graveside with flowers, in tears, with testimonies of her irreparable loss!

Flower in hand and flowery words at the ready for deployment, no one pays tribute to the dead like a Nigerian! The demented hen, indeed!

But there is a lesson: There is no better condolence register than the one filled with a man’s own words and deeds while alive. The fiction book that is the condolence register is full of pretentious words that can only be confirmed or disclaimed by the life a man or woman lived.

Adieu Muhammad Ali. Adieu Stephen Keshi. Adieu Amodu Shuaibu.