Contemplating the Year/s that Pass/es By/e

Every year leaves its marks on the zeitgeist of history. The year 2022 was no exception. There were so many earth-shaking events like the war in Ukraine, global environmental crises, the centering of Otherness at 10 Downing Street, the death of the Queen and, on a very personal note, the demise of my father. What all these events point at is the fact that events usually affect us at two levels – personal and collective levels, public and private, official and unofficial, formal and informal – and that this is also how their discourses are constructed. All human events are connected and these connections have their implications in human relationships. The reason is that despite all the attempts to segregate the world into classes and races, there is only one humanity and this should help us understand how we are inextricably bound together in fate and in faith.

It is sadly interesting that though we share the same world, many people try to create different worlds in that same world and want people to live separately in these worlds. So the rich tells the poor, ‘You do not belong to our world’ and rue their ignorance on life-revealing occasions. We are so all connected but we are so busy creating differences that we fail to establish the connections. When the war in Ukraine broke out, it sounded so vague and far away until the staggering statistics started coming in – the number of Nigerians stranded in Kiev and in danger of death, the disruption in the education of our youths, the huge humanitarian crisis the war threw up and how it even impacted the supply chains of some resourceful worldly goods like gas and grains, as well as its implication in altering the dynamics of the world economy. As you read, you might even have known one or two persons affected by the Ukrainian war. This raises the question: why is it that a war fought so far away affected so many Nigerians back home, kept many in fear for months and even led to attempts to recruit Nigerians for the war?

The answer to the foregoing question is that we cannot claim for sure that when we throw a stone to a place so far away, we are not likely to hit our relation just because it is so ‘far, far away’. Analogically then, we cannot fold our arms, sit on the fence, keep mute when things happen just because they do not affect us due to the literal or metaphoric distance of the occurrence. What happens in the US capitals is likely to reverberate to our towns and villages in Nigeria. And whatever happens in our towns and villages are likely consequences of our disinterestedness in what happens in the US capitals. We must sit up and begin to establish the connections in all the events around us, in all our actions, because it is by so doing that we will begin to realise the meaning of our existence and why things are the way they are in the world, even in our little private and exclusive world.

Events can be earth-shaking both on a global scale and at a personal level. If the demise of Queen Elizabeth II was earth-shaking on a world-scale, the passing of my father shook my personal world to shivers. I could not help but contemplate the contrast in the two deaths. My Dad passed away on Thursday 7th July 2022; the Queen died on the 8th of September, 2022, two months apart. Both lived on the same earth but belonged to different worlds – the Queen was of class higher than Dad’s class. The Queen was richer, more powerful, famous and highly-placed, and by her standards, Dad was the complete opposite. I see both the Queen and Dad as cultural symbols – one representing the might of the British Empire, the coloniser, the oppressor; the Other representing Africa and its Otherness, the colonised and the oppressed. Yet both had lived out their existence, perhaps completely unaware of each other’s existence and both succumbed to death! Imagine if the Queen had known Dad, spoken to him and related with him in their lifetime. How would their lives had been! Human relationship is such an interesting phenomenon. It intrigues me all the time how we can make and mar our lives by the people we have met and those we never met. I keep saying that we need to spend time nurturing our relationships: it is all that we have to make the world a better place.

The year 2022 taught me great lessons and these lessons will guide my actions as I navigate the new year 2023. It was the year I lost someone for the first time so close to me. Until Dad’s demise, death had always been vague and ‘so far, far away’; at least not as close. It is torturing to watch a loved one fade so gradually away and you are helpless in reversing the course of nature and of time. Again, it leads me to place more emphasis on human relationship since we shape and are shaped by the nature of our relationships. We need to love and value the people in our lives, create amazing memories that will outlive the years.

I have also come to understand the impact of post-loss trauma and depression. You try to hold on to anyone you could for support, you find it hard to do the normal things you used to enjoy, you withdraw more and refuse to be drawn out. You think if there are things you could have done differently to bring about different outcomes. You might even be haunted by guilt. Life becomes more boring and the days pass meaninglessly by. Work becomes your salvation from the stress of trauma, because it is a safe distraction that helps you to forget. However, if you have sources of support, people who really understand what you are going through, you will come out of it alive and better prepared to face the future.

The process that led to Dad’s burial also taught me important lessons, again, in human relationships. Without people, we are nothing. Let me repeat that, if you are poor in terms of meaningful human relationships, you are, indeed, poor. People are the wealth of this world. People usually talk of the quality of people in your life. Yes, that is important. But it is more important to have people both in quantity and quality. Lesson learnt; now I move to other lessons. One is the need for self-reliance and counting the cost in all that we do and being less dependent on people and their vain human promises. People are important but it is more important to depend on yourself more when embarking on any project. Take no chances and make sure that everything is planned to the last details. Another lesson learnt.

We can also learn lessons from the life that my father lived. He was a sojourner both literally and figuratively. Life and business took him to different places in his time both in Nigeria and in Cameroun. He also lived as if the world was not his home but only a place that he was passing through. He was a humble, hard-working, honest and contented man. In all his dealings with people, he was fair. He was known for the peaceful life he led and for encouraging others to sheathe their swords and live in peace. Surely, there is something everyone can learn from that, especially in these war-infested climes torn apart by divisive politics, tribalism, religious bigotry, terrorism and banditry.  

2023 is an election year. We must be intentional in the choice of leaders – no sentiments. All the candidates must be listened to and judged by their words, manifestos and precedents. The electioneering processes must be PEACEFUL, FREE and FAIR. In the end, only accountable people should have the opportunity to lead us. Violence in all forms – verbal and physical – must be eschewed. Nigerians must not die in order to enthrone their leaders.

I must thank everyone who contributed in making the funeral of my Dad such a huge success. These people have made me realise the value of human relationship and the need to cultivate quality human connections by being there for people in their time of need. I appreciate the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the Akwa Ibom State Government, Comrade Ini Ememobong, for his love, kindness and support shown to me during the time of our grief. He is, indeed, an epitome of selfless leadership which many people have attested to and which I have also found to be true. I thank my bosses in Akwa Ibom State University and colleagues both in the University of Uyo and Akwa Ibom State University whose presence at the burial gave the event its taste and class. I appreciate friends like Mrs Mercy David, Itoro Noah, Mr Michael Bassey and Ms Bodunde Awodeyi who were kind and generous to me. I appreciate the Dean of Arts UNIUYO and the Dean of Arts, AKSU, Prof Joseph Ushie and Associate Professor Iniobong Umotong, respectively, for their presence at the burial.

My spirit was lifted by the presence of Prof (Mrs) Inyang Udofot, Prof Luke Eyoh, Prof Ima Emmanuel, Pastor Eyo Umoh, Mr Aniekan Eyo, Mrs Elsie Udofia, and Pastor Robert Udoikpa. The Head of English, AKSU, Dr Eventus Edem, led other members of staff of the Department to the burial. I am eternally grateful to him and to Dr Iniobong Utin and Dr Jackson Etuk for their kind sacrifices to make the event a success. I appreciate my students whose presence enlivened the elegiac mood of the event, as well as making it colourful. I cannot recount the offer of help and the sacrifices made by my students to ensure the success of the burial. Indeed, I have come to find out that my students are my strength. They are amazing people who you can rely upon at any time. At the burial, they were well organised and of best conduct and behaviour. They showed leadership and class as young people.  

2023 is a blessed year and so I wish you all a blessed New Year.

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