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By M. Babajide-Alabi
The last three weeks have proved critical times in my life. It was a period of mixed feelings as I went through the process of making a reality the top most wish of every responsible child in this world. And by extension, the dream of every parent. The prayer of every man or woman is to give his or her parents deserving and colouful send off when the final curtain is drawn for them.
It was indeed a great honour for me and my siblings to bury our departed father three Saturdays ago. There was no doubt that we were lucky to have been been fathered by this great and loving man – Chief John Alabi. A perfect gentleman who was incomparable to any other father. A great educationist who imparted so much in the lives of many people he came across in his career as a teacher. He was a worthy example of a patriotic citizen, who served his country not for personal gains or riches but with a mission to leave behind a good name for future generations.
How heart warming it was to read the tributes of illustrious people who had at one time or the other interacted with our father. They were all in praise of him as an easy going, down to earth and very loving individual who was ever open in his dealings. I am proud to say that the riches of this world did not appeal to him in any form. Infact in his private chats with us, the biological children, he marvelled at the selfish nature of some human beings who accumulate so much wealth while their neighbours struggle to feed.
In his simplicity, we realised we had enormous responsibilities on our hands to cater for the diverse crowd that would witness the burial ceremony of this great man. We knew he was a man with a large heart, who dined with the masses and also felt so relaxed in the company of kings and the royals. We also realised that by his works and love for fellow human beings, his funeral would not be an ordinary event in the calendar.
To make life easier for me, a few days to the ceremonies, I “took flight” from all the daily news of terrorism, migrants, economic recessions, corruption and many others. I effectively “tuned” myself out to concentrate on the only important thing that mattered. Sometimes, and if not most times, the news of war, famine, failures, murders etc far and near can bring depression to a “light headed” fellow.
Writing an obituary for one’s father, I realised, was indeed a very tasking job. After many attempts I managed to write one in which I condemned death for snatching the “young man” from us a few days to his eighty fifth birthday in April. To be honest, until his final breath I never in any form entertained the thought that my father “could die.” Do not get me wrongly, as I am fully aware that every man is appointed to die. But when you have a mentally active father with an intellectually sound mind the thoughts of death would be the last on your mind.
The planning for the funeral ceremonies started very early with logistics on how to get myself on ground in Nigeria. This part happen to be the most strenuous of all the preparations. You will understand my plight if you are a “seasonal” visitor to Nigeria in the last one and a half decades.
My last visit was in 2012 when I spent over four months trying to understand my country of birth. It was indeed an “eye opener” visit for me as I was able to observe first hand why the country would only be the “giant” of Africa on paper and not in reality.
In the run up to the recent visit I was “effectively” warned by friends and relations that much has changed during the three years. Despite my protestations that I am “on top” of events in Nigeria, the advice and suggestions that were offered were legendary.
To convince them that I am at home anytime in Nigeria, being a born and bred “Naija boy” I related some of my escapades during the 2012 visit. I told some of them how refreshing it was to jump on “okada” (commercial motorcycle) to take me anywhere I needed to visit. Getting to Ikeja, particularly, through the Alausa secretariat axis on a cool nice day was always a trip I enjoyed. I loved commandeering a tricycle, popularly known as “Keke Marwa” to take me around Ikeja. The freedom, coupled with the hot breezy air blowing on all sides and with heavy “Fuji” music blaring from the speakers as controlled by the DJ/Driver was something from the dream land.
I could not hide my disappointment when I was informed that these means of transport had since been given “restraining order” from operating in designated areas in most states of the federation. I was schooled by a friend, who disclosed that these “kekes” were banned in Lagos because it was alleged they could be used for terrorism.
One area that I got the most advice and suggestions in preparation for this visit was security. In Nigeria, unlike what is obtained in civilised countries, security is a personal responsibility of citizens. Here, the government and the security agencies only support the citizens when they feel like.
As much as I tried to wave all the security alarms off, my friends advised it would not be a bad idea to get the “services” of a “friendly uniformed policeman” who can scare the bad people off. “You must be joking,” I said.
No, they were not. They reminded me of the Nigerian/American musician Jidenna who claimed he had to attend his father’s funeral ceremonies in Nigeria with “loads of machine guns and AK47s”. I laughed at the reminder of the “ridiculous sensationalism” by Jidenna. Some Nigerians!
When the issue of ammunition did not “wash” with me, my friends reminded me that kidnapping is no longer the “misfortune” of white men in Nigeria. As if I did not know, they told me that “ordinary” Nigerians are now kidnapped anywhere, even in remote villages in broad daylight and heavy ransoms demanded for their release. These were not “scare tactics,” but genuine concern for my safety.
Travelling back home is something I always look forward to whenever the opportunity arose. However, on this occasion, apart from the funeral ceremonies, i was eager to have a feel of the country under a new administration. I was excited to feel and see the publicised change that the Buhari administration has been credited with. I was told that the new government’s intention to sanitise the polity is not in doubt, but the scepticism of ordinary Nigerians might have negative effect on this noble drive.
As I moved closer to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos my excitement knew no bounds. Many times I prayed that my high expectation about “change” would not be dashed.
To be continued.
Published in Sunday Vanguard September 27, 2015. CLICK HERE