Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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“The year 2020 has been globally described as year of deaths. Those of us the Almighty has spared have great reasons to be thankful for. We can’t thank Him enough. I therefore consider it a rare privilege to wish everyone in the House and indeed the world a merry Xmas and happy year 2021 in advance. May God help us.”
I read the above quotable quote on a Whatsapp page I belong to on December 26, 2020. On Christmas day, I received a call from Mr Jake Orife, an old time friend from Delta state, Nigeria. He called with the sad news of the death of a mutual friend, Mr. Naptali Jelani from Adamwa state who had passed on the previous night, 24th December, 2020. Ordinarily, Jake is a tough guy but on this occasion, he was just inconsolable as he wept bitterly over the phone.
The duo had met only recently at the Abuja Scrabble Club where they were diligent members. That club has many members but somehow I noticed that Jake and Jelani were drifting to the same direction when I saw them frequently in Jakes house playing Scrabble after the club had closed. The truth about Jake is that he takes his friends seriously. Friendship with him most of the times means friendship with his other friends and even members of his family.
Naturally, Jelani soon became my friend. I remember the first day I was introduced to him he remarked, “oh that is a Tiv name.” I also remarked that his name sounded Adamawa. We were all correct and even though I have never been a Scrabble player, I was to be at their club house anytime they were playing. I missed them when they travelled out of Abuja for national Scrabble competitions. We soon all became friends, sharing the ups and downs of life together. When Jelani lost his brother we were at his Lugbe house to pay condolence. Then Jelani decided to move back to Adamawa and later Jake to Delta state leaving me alone in Abuja.
The decision of Jake to take a wife from Michika in Adamawa state explained to me the other side of Jelani which he may have seen all along but which I was experiencing for the first time – his humane disposition and wonderful generosity. Four of us drove from Abuja to Yola in Jakes bus car. We got there tired, worn out and hungry. The car also had its share of the wear and tear of a long wrenching journey. We were in constant contact with him on the phone as we drove into Yola and he directed us to his house. Finally when we got there he offered to accommodate all the four of us.
Next morning he took a casual look at our vehicle and decided that it could not make it to Michika. He led us to the motor park and negotiated a bus that took us along with him to Michika. It was the best decision of the journey. A long stretch of our journey from Yola to Michika was through territory captured by Boko Haram and declared a Caliphate at the height of their power. Among other countless, mindless destructions, we went through bombed out bridges, clear evidence that a group which believes western education and civilization is evil was at work. It was a good thing Jelani accompanied us because coming from Hong, a neighboring Local Government, the people in Michika knew and trusted him better than us. They gave us their daughter without much ado. I am not sure neither the lady nor Jake is regretting that union; they have even moved to his hometown in Emorvon, in Delta state. The last time I visited, they were living happily.
What joins Jelani of Adamawa and Jake of Delta state together is what brings Norman Wokoma, from Buguma in Rivers state into the story. These were men of different backgrounds caught up in the geographical entity called Nigeria. They belong to different ethnic groups, different states; have different political orientations and speak different languages. What I find common in all of them is the same soul – the care for humanity outside the limiting prison wars of ethnicity and religion.
From Buguma, Norman Wokoma did not care to marry my auntie, Dorcas Tersaa Sai thus expanding our family tree which starts from the arid regions of the North-East in Borno to the swampy Buguma town of Niger Delta. So today because of that bold decision he took years back, I do not go to Buguma as a stranger, I go there as part of the community. As a Chief in his community after retirement from the Nigerian Airforce where he served both outside and inside Nigeria with distinction, he was recognized and well respected.
When Dr. Belema, Norman’s first daughter from my auntie, called me in the middle of the deadly year from the US to inform me of her father’s death at a Port Harcourt hospital, I was completely lost. He was more than just an ordinary in law. This was a special friend with whom I could be open and free and tell him when he was wrong. He was open and free with me too and often guided me off harm’s way. I was at Buguma to witness his internment later in the year. It was while attending his burial that I met Mujahid Asari Dkubo for the first time. He and gave me a meal the best fresh fish and rice I have ever eaten after which he boldly told me to the face that his only ambition today is to destroy Nigeria. When I asked him why? He said Nigeria has enslaved his Ijaw people and until he destroys the monster called by that name his people will never be free.
For its survival, Nigeria owes a lot to good spirited citizens like Naptali Jelani and Norman Wokoma. In a society that has become maddeningly materialistic, such men with grandeur of spirit may die unsung. But if not for such spirit, Nigeria would have long been gone.