Wednesday, 08 July 2020 07:59

[OPINION] Remembering my father - Tundun Abiola

Chief Abiola Chief Abiola

It was really pleasant to hear my father died on CNN. It wasn't even announced categorically. No, that would have been too kind. It was a lady saying, "We have breaking news. Unconfirmed reports say the presumed winner of Nigeria's June 12th 1993 elections, Chief Abiola has died." She confirmed it minutes later but it felt like hours. This is what happens with public figures. We all found out at the same time. There was no opportunity to break it gently to the children. All hell broke loose then I went into some sort of catatonia. I'm the feisty one in the family. I'm strong. But not in that period. God makes no mistakes. There's a reason why I'm the second-born. Ayo showed what first-borns are made of while I embraced some kind of void. He didn't die.

He was murdered. It was too much. Because of the circumstances of his death and the public outpouring of grief that I can only compare to Princess Diana's passing it was decided that we shouldn't fly home for the funeral. We watched it on TV from London. That part was nothing like Diana's. The crowd was so out of control it was both moving and frightening. The right choice was made not to fly us out but there was no "closure" (though I'm loathe to use that awful word).

My first foray out into world weeks later was naturally to the hairdressers. I saw this beautiful little boy who was there with his mum. I said, "Come. I'm your sister, Tundun." It was Layi, my gift from Daddy when I needed him. I don't know how anyone wife, girlfriend or child can claim to love a man and not love his children. It makes my heart so happy to see my dad's face, my face in his children, my siblings even though there are so many different mothers. The day before they killed my dad my mum got a call asking her to come to Abuja. It was the first time in four years the family was being allowed to see him. She went with my step-mother and my sister. God bless the instinct that made Doyinsola give her mum a group picture from my graduation with my mum's children, Muri and Doyinsola. Mama Doyin said he'd be home soon so there was no point but she indulged her daughter. Daddy saw some of us before he died. We had grown so much in four years, he was happy to see.

We really did think he was coming home. We dared to hope. He told us in August 1994 that he was ready to die there. When Shehu Yaradua was killed I was so afraid for this stubborn man. When Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed I was on my way somewhere in a car, got that call, turned round and went home. But now Abacha had died. Abacha who my dad said put him in an open grave but didn't pour sand. Even then Daddy wrote his wife a condolence letter. She could do nothing for him. That's the kind of person he was. Mummy had new clothes made for him and stockpiled his Aramis. She actually thought they were being asked to come and bring him home.

After catatonia came rage. I used to ask him if he'd never heard of condoms, why he was always on TV and generally fret. If I knew I'd be 17 years old the last time I saw him I promise I wouldn't have. He'd tell me he's the only father I'd ever have. How then could he get himself killed? Who defies "mad dogs"? Who would be my father now? All of us? We needed him. I thought he was so selfish. After that I segued into the firm belief that he had faked his death and was in Cuba. I just knew it. I kept it to myself. I wouldn't blab his secret.

When I moved back home my mum said, "Won't you visit Daddy's grave?" I didn't. She said it again a few times then stopped. She acted like she didn't notice that I would never look in that direction when we passed it. One day from nowhere, she grabbed my wrist and told me I must go there today. I said no and resisted. She proceeded to drag me like a Christmas goat through the whole compound. I was hysterical all the way. It was quite the scene, most undignified. We arrived there and for the first time, I looked down - and broke down. There's an inscription on his grave. Twenty two years later I can't tell you what it is. Can't read it. I don't have the words to describe the sensation of looking down at a man I looked up to literally and figuratively and having to accept what had happened. He wasn't in Cuba. He was dead. Those who murdered him are walking free and will remain free. There is a Judge, though. Vengeance is His. He will repay but I spent the Obama years changing the channel whenever I saw Susan Rice's face. I delete anyone who posts praise for Abacha no matter what our relationship is or how funny your memes are.

I can't be friends with anyone not even in the superficial Facebook sense, who bristles when the Abacha loot hits the headlines and feels compelled to attack those merely reporting it as if they're lying. I dream dreams. You know how my subconscious warns me that someone is bad? I dream of them dressed like Abacha. I'm not sorry to delete whoever throws that in my face. He was no longer Head Of State but my father's description is haunting. He was in the custody of Abdulsalam when he died. That one headed a peace-keeping committee during the last elections. I've never voted PDP. Everyone who joined hands to kill my father joined hands to form that party yet one bastard attributed by antipathy to tribalism. My sister is a member. I fully support her choice and was consulted in her decision but its not for me. Its been hard to live here under the democracy my father died for seeing the way its abused, seeing the poverty and the suffering caused by indifference and ineptitude. Many of his killers and their conspirators form our ruling class and if you understand that love transcends death, you must accept that hatred and enmity do too. His enemies are our enemies and powerful enemies they are.

Someone asked me if its true that he was the first of his father's children to survive infancy. I said yes, 23 babies before him died. He lived. Its not folklore. He was special. I feel such pride and admiration but these things have a lasting effect. I love Stan Lee thus Marvel movies. Its about to go down in the Battle of New York. Captain America wants Hulk to appear. He says to Banner, "Now would be a good time to get angry." Banner seamlessly morphing into Hulk says,"That's my secret, Captain. I'm always angry." I can relate but should I be happy he died the way he did? Since as Shakespeare said death, a necessary end will come when it will come? So many moguls and politicians have died and are forgotten. He will never be. This is what he wanted. If you doubt that imagine the psyche of a father of so many children. Immortality was his thing. He achieved that.

Solitary confinement for four years with only a Quran and a Bible for company purified him. Before he could return to the world, its vices and his vices his Father took him home. His detractors who died like dogs could only wish for such a noble end. As we pray about our lives we should pray about our deaths. Make no mistake, there are good deaths and bad ones. God denied that man nothing. If he had been allowed to serve it would have helped Nigeria but which of our former Presidents and Heads of States do we observe a public holiday for? They have their term or two and go. Not Kashy. Rest well, Daddy. Till we meet again.

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