The idea of money comes from the Latin root “moneta”, meaning “be warned.” This suggests that money is a double-edged sword. When it does well it becomes sweeter to the taste. And when it becomes a bad master, it leads to untold evil. Leopold Sedar Senghor (1906-2001), a poet, a writer, a politician, and the first President of the Republic of Senegal once told a story about a King who invited a philosopher to write a beautiful phrase that will be written in his family epitaph forever. The philosopher wrote: Father dies, Mother dies and then the Son dies. The king was enraged and summoned him. Why this disgraceful write-up, he questioned. Then the philosopher explained thus: “If the family dies in the order which I have written, that should bring happiness and fulfillment to your family. But if the reverse was to be the case that the son dies, mother dies and then the father dies – Oh, king you will die a broken man.” The case of Obi Cubana mother’s funeral is a subtle reminder of a happy family that flows from such a happy transition of life. It was not surprising, therefore, that her son and his siblings should celebrate in a manner that they deem necessary. And if a family decides on the best way, considering the historical circumstances of their own existence, then why should it suddenly become a headache to others alien to the family? Could that be a sign of joblessness to a society that has millions of unemployed youth? Your guess is as good as mine.
Truthfulness as a paradigm of all speech is reflected in the interview granted to BBC by Obi Cubana on July 20, 2021. My deduction from the said interview is that Obi Cubana looked to Jesus as his model, given the ragged and staggered status of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. He chose, at his mother’s funeral, to feed the hungry poor people of Oba, her surrounding neighbours, and all who came from far and near (celebrities are not left out among the poor herein). As much as people create stories, stories do create them. We need more Obi Cubanas daily in Nigeria. It took the death of Obi Cubana’s mother for us to catch a glimpse of how a feeding program that went sour in Nigeria could be corrected and implemented in a transparent manner.
Having listened a great deal to his interview, what I saw was a man of honesty and perhaps integrity who could re-tell the story of his humble beginning. I have equally heard such stories of humble beginning from some of the past excellencies in the country who also love their mothers dearly. No doubt, I truly identify myself in their stories as well. By honesty here, I meant saying what we mean; conforming our word to the truth. And by integrity, I meant meaning what we say; conforming our truth to our word. After now, was the interview meant to address the negative opinions that came during and after the funeral of Mrs Ezinne Iyiegbu? I would think so.
And what are some of the criticisms? Permit me to focus on the person I love listening to in Arise Television Morning Show – Dr Reuben Abati. His excerpts and write-up on this issue were quite catchy and readable too. And I must say that I am not surprised at his views. Even the story of Mary who took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair in the gospel would have aroused similar interest today (Cf. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). One of the apostles whose faith is known only to the Lord, Judas Iscariot, had a problem with such a waste. I am not here to apportion blame but to offer my take on the matter. I must confess that I have never known or seen Obi Cubana prior to his mother’s funeral wherein I saw his trending pictures.
Funeral: A send-forth event: Traditionally speaking, the Igbo-speaking part of Nigeria has diverse special ways of celebrating the funerals of the elderly with diverse rites of passage. Sometimes the tools that the person worked with while alive are buried with him as though he/she is going over there to continue from where he stopped on this side of the divide. Herein, Dr Reuben Abati is spot on. Thus, the celebration of the elderly is something that cuts across the entire Eastern Nigeria.
In my little town of Owerre-Ezukala in Anambra state, my grandma used to sing this song with her peers: “O nwere aku ri be aku ya. O nwere ego ri we ego ya ngwa ngwa. Obi adighi uwa nma ma ncha. Onwu ajughi ese ego we gbube. Mgbe mmadu kpara- aku ma ya erighi-eri, ndi di ndu ewere aku kporibe ndu.” I may render the literal interpretation thus (let he/she who has wealth begin to eat it. Let he/she who has money begin to eat very fast. The heart of the world is not good. Death does not ask for money before it kills. When a person makes wealth and fails to eat it then those alive that is left behind will enjoy it).
I did watch how the old women were thrilled and enjoyed this particular song with special dancing steps. This was the scenario I grew up in. At every death of the elderly, you certainly know that food will return from the funeral. The quality of food, however, differs; depending on the strength of the person’s children. After all, when the person was alive he/she partook of the same meal at the death of others. The feeding of the entire Oba and the world at large that were present is culturally acceptable and has nothing to do with dehumanizing the poor. The joy I saw on the faces of the hungry poor was something memorable. For some families, they were there to get something that will carry their family for a while. It looks like something Senator Arthur Nzeribe was doing in the ’80s. Tell me if Nigeria has moved forward since then or retrogressed. However, if we accept that we have retrogressed as a country then why the sudden hypocrisy? We should all applaud the donations that served the needs of the poor that we as a nation have neglected.
The abuse of naira notes: My little research tells me that the printing cost of the naira note is more expensive than the dollar. Yet, everyone will crave to have the dollar in place of the naira which ought to be the pride of our nation. Why? The dollars, pounds and euros have already abused the naira beyond recognition. Even the penalty or fine of fifty (50,000) naira placed on those who abuse the naira note at any event tells you that the abuse meant nothing to those who legislated on it. If we have a generation of elderly men who worship money and are ready to do anything to have it as we witnessed recently in the legislative chamber, then the young generation must up their antics and learn how to celebrate their adoration and worship of money that has taken the place of God in the world.
Are these not signs of the end time? It all depends on your interpretation of the end time. All those that have died met their end time. Chidinma, one of the musicians would say, time is running out and we need to recover all the devil has taken away from us. Money is meant to do good and nothing more. The worship of it is idolatry and that is uncalled for. I stand with Reuben Abati on this. Also, to Cubana’s family and associates, I say moderation should be the key. Perhaps handing it over to them would have been more dignified. Nonetheless, if my submission would lead to hoarding, please keep throwing it to the poor. Your courage to spend it on the hungry poor is very well appreciated. I know what hunger is in practice. Those who read it in books can go on with the analysis.
Lessons Learnt from Cubana’s Mothers Funeral
Hunger is a shared experience of all humanity. Indeed to be human is to be hungry. The burial has in attendance virtually all manner of people, class, and background. The people the society considered affluent prior to the funeral we suddenly realized are among the poor. Some celebrities were drinking some expensive wine and whisky that if they were told to buy it from their pocket may leave them broke. Thus, they could be classified among the vulnerable poor. Is Cubana’s mother’s funeral a theatre of shame? I don’t share that view in toto. Spirituality is about what we do with the energy and fire inside of us and how we channel our life-force energy so that we do not lose our vitality and all sense of beauty and joy of living.
In this regard, therefore, who are we to judge another person’s spirituality? That will be tantamount to mocking a pain we have not experienced. Listening to all the sacrifice Obi Cubana went through and how he died to self in order to put others needs first, we should encourage him to do more and provide better alternative platforms through which his generosity can flow. This is a lesson for all those who have buried money underground or in septic tanks or outside the country while the populace are dying daily of hunger. As Benedict Spinoza would argue, “True happiness and blessedness, consists solely in the enjoyment of good not in elation at the fact that others are excluded from it. Nobody is better or wiser or more virtuous for others being less so. Whoever rejoices in his superiority over others is to that extent malicious and vicious.”
As regards to human rights abuses alluded to at the funeral. How can we deal with cultural relativism that seems to suggest that some variations found in some cultures are exempt from legitimate criticism by outsiders? If you recall the president’s speech about the wife’s role centered around the kitchen and the other room that generated so much controversy on the role and dignity of women. Such a statement is alien to Igbo culture where women work hard and are well respected even in the political space. Therefore when it comes to moral conduct, what may be frowned at in another culture may be celebrated in another. Nevertheless, what is certain is that you cannot give away kindness. it will always come back to you. Aware that they are never alone that are accompanied by noble thoughts; I will encourage Obi Cubana to expand his frontiers and take some of the criticism with a positive outlook.
Don’t sit and wait – look for the next opportunity. This was echoed in his interview; a sound message to every Nigerian youth. Every youth should commit themselves to a life of self-improvement. Could there be a disconnect between the man BBC interviewed and the anchorman at his mother’s funeral? We know that God strictly speaking does not love (much less hate) anybody, for he cannot be affected with pleasure or pain – in God there is no transition from one level of perfection to another. Thus, it is proper to say that God is Love. In us, there is a transition from lower love to higher love. Such a transition is what can be likened to the experience of one of my favorite artiste whom I still celebrate her recent conversion – Chidinma. We know that no mortal is wise at all times.
Hence if after the celebration and reflection, Obi Cubana decided to put the event in perspective then that should be well understood. After all, he is a mere mortal. He should not be put on the unnecessary trial desk.
Again, without prayer, the preacher in the BBC programme, Obi Cubana said that we stand naked as he went on to say that nothing great was ever achieved without much enthusiasm. And to the young, he encouraged that patience and time can be their best friend. Why then the rush from the young, he giggled? It is true that one crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name. Given that life is all about donation and not duration, yet we know there is no road to success that will not go through a clear strong willpower which requires to be trained within time. Let us condemn some faults that we saw at the event which Reuben Abati observed but not the actor of it. They only set out to leave a memorable message to all and sundry as a sign of love for their mother. And anchoring such celebration was the best way they felt as a family to show love. Just as we say in Igbo adage, “aku ruo ulo amara onye kpara ya (when wealth comes home we know who acquired it).” He let his wealth return home. As one who understands the culture well enough, I will now offer my take below.
It is important to note that while Obi Cubana may have had the best intentions, the actions need more work. A person who cannot fix their own situation has no moral duty to tell the Cubana family how to fix theirs. This is very true. Given that no one who wears a rag can make a commendable speech. So, the family is right not to listen to the patronising well-meaning pity of some Nigerians who have taken to social media to criticise what they do not understand.
Again, the position of not judging is a bit extreme because it could be used to justify almost any crime and criminal. You can judge his actions without necessarily condemning the person. The failure of the system should not automatically mean everyone should act as he wills. This point applies also to the abuse of the naira. More abuse is seldom the best response to preexisting abuse.
In love, I wish to fraternise with Obi Cubana family and their well-wishers. Having appreciated your natural birth and thankfulness to God for what he did through you at the funeral of your mum. I wish to say something concerning our common spiritual destiny. The parabolic story of Lazarus and the Richman (Luke 16:19-31) is the common lot of every created person. At their existence here on earth wealth separated both of them.
In death, they were united. After death the angel carried Lazarus and the Richman was left. In judgment, they were finally separated. The rich man in the story has no formal name, and his crime was that he never cared for Lazarus (which means God is my helper). The show is over, the best you can do for your mum; Ezinne Iyiegbu is to keep touching other lives on her behalf through foundations for the poor. On this point, I also agree with Dr Reuben Abati. After all, it is said that a deed is done once but the interpretation of it lingers on. How perfect that deed must be, therefore, to emerge victorious from the changing mood of history. My heartfelt condolences to you and your entire family. On a lighter note, if the casket costs over thirty million naira and a thief goes to steal it be warned (moneta) that I will not sit in judgment over the thief. May the good Lord rest Mrs Ezinne Iyiegbu (Mama Obi Iyiegbu – alias Obi Cubana).
Evaristus Afam Ekwe is founder, mentoringlives.org, a governance expert and doctoral candidate, Catholic University of Eastern Africa – Nairobi, Kenya