I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. The magical novelty of electing a new pope while the other one who is our friend and brother is still alive is beginning to wane. Regardless, the mystery and splendour of the Vatican are still intact.
Already, reality is extorting a harsh penalty. While the pomp and pageantry of electing a new pope were in full swing, Italy where the Vatican is located was struggling to cope with a dose of what Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe described so elegantly as “things fall apart”.
The president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, is in a desperate search for a new prime minister, but there is none in sight. There is no government. How tragic! More and more Italians are openly jubilating over their good fortune – ‘No Government’ is a wonderful bonus! All they got from the last government were harsh austerity and economic woes. In their slipstream, according to a report aired at primetime on CNN (anchored by John Wedeman), suicide has become a cruel national report.
As for the “Seventy Senior Elders” from Nigeria, who have gathered in a corner of St. Peter’s Square, we are mourning. The Vatican as well as both the old pope and the new pope have overwhelmed us with their sincere sympathy and heartfelt condolences as we celebrate the life of a great Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, whom God gave the exceptional talents which propelled him to write the masterpieces, copies of which we are giving away for free to our Italian hosts who have been so generous with their hospitality. It turns out most of our visitors and sympathisers are already familiar with Achebe’s books: Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, A Man of the People, Anthills of the Savannah, There was a Country.
It is a moving spectacle to watch Nigerians grieving in dignity without reference to tribe or religion. The Italians have no cause to complain – these are Nigerians at their best. Huge screens have sprung up and we are besieged by journalists from all over the world. They are only too eager to join in paying well-deserved tributes and exceptional accolades to the departed man of letters and quintessential wordsmith.
As the crowd begins to swell and the queue of frantic sympathisers gets longer and longer, we are invaded by another set of mourners. They started off quietly by lighting candles in honour of the departed British Prime Minister, Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher. Achebe was 82, while Thatcher was a grand old lady who sang her “nunc dimittis” (let your servant depart) at the age of 87.
I have plenty to say about Margaret Thatcher. For many years we were neighbours in Chelsea, London. The only way you would know she was around was that a single policeman stood on duty outside her gate. As for her husband, Denis, the press (especially “Private Eye” the satirical magazine) gave him hell with unrelenting mockery of his drinking habits and apparent preference for living in a world of his own. Ironically, it was at a party hosted in Ikoyi, Lagos by the British High Commissioner in honour of the visiting Margaret Thatcher that I observed her at close range. I was at the table next to hers and when it was suggested that Britain should consider writing off Nigeria’s huge debt, she exploded with fury. She went ballistic: “Britain will never write off those debts. I have a list of Nigerians who can pay off the debt. Some of them are here.”
We Nigerians, whom both the old pope and the new pope have christened their “brothers and sisters”, have no problem sharing our grief with our British fellow mourners. All we are required to do is to remind them of the “house-keeping rules” which had been agreed with both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis I, namely: No noise (absolute silence must prevail at all times); no litter; no smoking; no alcohol.
By a strange coincidence, both the Nigerians and the British find ourselves mourning Peter Alexander Ashikiwe Adione-Egom who died on March 3, 2013 at the age of 70. He and his buddy Stanley Macebuh came into the sixth form of King’s College, Lagos in 1961 from the Eastern Region. Straightaway they became superstars. Alex Egom was both an athlete and a scholar. He went on to Downing College, Cambridge University, where he won a full Cambridge Blue in recognition of his athletic prowess (100-yards). He graduated in 1966 with First Class Honours degree in Social Anthropology.
We Nigerians are also mourning the wife of the late Bola Ige, Elizabeth Omoborike Atinuke Ige, who died on April 10, 2003 at the age of 72. It was indeed a sad day for the matriarch of the Ige family to have died even as the trial of 11 accused persons charged with the assassination of her husband was in progress at an Ibadan High Court.
Just before we departed St Peter’s Square, the “Seventy Senior Elders” from Nigeria learnt of the passing away of Deacon Oluwole Awolowo (son of the late sage Obafemi Awolowo). We prayed for him and the rest of the Awolowo family. For most of his life, Wole swam against the tide. For him to have survived till he was 70 years old was an uncommon feat. May his soul rest in peace.
At the insistence, we stayed on at St Peter’s Square. The doors of the Basilica were still open. We proceeded to say a silent prayer for the soul of a great Nigerian – Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi, who died exactly a year ago at the age of 95. Sadly, we all agreed we shall never see the likes of him again. He deserves his peace.
Randle is a former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the chairman, JK Randle Professional Services.
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