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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Tribute: A crushing blow on Boxing Day, by Femi Adesina

It’s a day in British tradition dedicated to opening boxes of gifts received at Christmas, and that is why it’s called Boxing Day.

Femi Adesina
Femi Adesina

But what the Adesina family got this last December 26 was a crushing blow, the type Mike Tyson, in his heyday, handed out to his opponents in the ring. It was a blow to the solar plexus: painful, sad, traumatic, leaving an impact that not even time heals. Such pain lasts forever.

President Muhammadu Buhari, whom I am privileged to serve as Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, had told me at a private meeting before Christmas that since I was a Christian, I could take some days off during the Yuletide season to be with my family. That was why Boxing Day found me in Lagos, and at about 4 p.m, I left the house to attend a special church programme billed for 5 p.m. The day was bright and beautiful.

At 4.30 p.m, a few meters to my destination, my phone rang. It was my immediate elder brother, Tayo, a Professor of History at the University of Ibadan. The news he gave fouled up the hitherto cheery atmosphere, and even the sun seemed to have fled from the sky.

An official of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) had called him to say our sister, Foluke, a Professor of Dramatic Arts, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, had been involved in an accident along the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. Of the four people in the car, two were certified dead.

The next half an hour was probably the longest I’d ever spent in my life. I made a detour for the house, and continued to communicate with the FRSC official, whose number I had collected from my brother. Later, I contacted Mr Bisi Kazeem, spokesman of the commission and a long time friend, asking him to help with precise information. It came almost at the speed of light. Two people were truly dead, and they were my sister, and her brother-in-law, who was visiting from America. It was him that was being taken to Lagos from Ibadan, to catch a flight back to the U.S that night.

Now, he had boarded a last flight to eternity. Very sad! Tragic!

For the seven Adesina brothers and sisters, this was trauma in the true sense of the word. Five brothers and two sisters, and now, one of the sisters was gone. Like George Orwell wrote in his work, ‘A Hanging,’ “We were a party of men walking together, seeing, feeling, understanding the same world. But with a sudden snap, one of us was gone. One mind less, one world less.”

From Lagos to London, Ibadan to Abeokuta, where the Adesinas are based, it was a festival of tears.

Raindrops fell endlessly from our eyes. Was it not just a little over two years earlier that we buried our mother? Don’t we still miss her keenly, though she died at 75? Yes, she could have lived to be 80, and even more.

Foluke became the automatic mother, keeping everyone under her wings. From her base in University of Botswana, where she was a visiting professor, on sabbatical from OAU, Ife, she was the rallying point for everybody. She was merely home for Christmas, and was to return to Botswana on January 22. Now she was dead, at just 53 years old, a latest victim of famished Nigerian roads.

A lifetime of study and research, gone. All the knowledge, wasted. There are only 10 female professors of Dramatic Arts in Nigeria. Now, one of them was gone, consumed by rapacious Nigerian roads. One mind less, one world less.

The Adesina family of Ipetumodu, in Ife North Local Government Area of Osun State had a patriarch in John Oyebade Adesina, an educationist, who was the first African principal of St Charles Grammar School, Osogbo, in the 1960s. The school was easily the best in the then Western Region, producing students who shone like stars in the West African School Certificate of Education.

From there, the dyed-in-the-wool educationist was transferred to Notre Dame College, Usi-Ekiti. He retired from there to his Ipetumodu homestead in 1971, where his seven children were brought up under what was akin to a ‘military regime.’ He ran the home just exactly as he ran the school.

All of us grew up together, and became quite close, finding succour in one another, and in our mother, whenever our father whipped us till we saw stars. The patriarch passed on in 1985 (we had come to appreciate the discipline imbued in us by then), the matriarch followed in 2013, but the children remained inseparable.

At any given time, you could have three or four Adesina siblings in different parts of the world, pursuing one professional thing or the other. Only Yewande, my immediate younger sister, lives in the U.K permanently, with her family. But we were always in touch. Foluke had created an email group of all seven of us, and we communicated at the touch of a button. There was no separating us. Till the blow of Boxing Day. Now, it is one mind less, one world less.

In 1982, Foluke (by the way, all seven of us are on first name basis, because we were brought up that way, and it is convenient for us) had gone to serve at NTA Minna, in Niger State, after graduating from the then University of Ife. She came back the following year, a completely changed person. We were a religious family, of the Roman Catholic stock, but in Minna, Foluke had met with the Pentecostals, and had become born again.

She has become an S.U, we screamed in mortification!

What are you doing in the midst of people who cry when they pray, who wear long faces, and go about gently? Are you the one that killed Jesus? Our questions were endless. Such people were called S.U, meaning members of the Scripture Union. They believed in patterning their lives scrupulously after the words of the Holy Bible, and were considered rather stuffy by other kind of Christians.

We needled Foluke endlessly, and did all we could to test the quality of her conversion. She held on to her newfound faith, through master’s degree, marriage, Ph.D, professorship, and all the days of her life. No looking back. She had just left the annual retreat of the Deeper Life Bible Church, a day before she met her death. She had spoken with me on getting home, with me not knowing it was valedictory.

But what happened to all her scoffing brothers and sisters over the 32-year period in which Foluke was a born again Christian?

Hear our youngest brother, Dr Olubiyi Adesina, a consultant endocrinologist, in a tribute paid to our sister at her burial in Ibadan last weekend: “I remember the early 80s when my older siblings used to make fun of your newfound S.U status. To me as a young boy, S.Us must have been goblins. To now imagine that all that laughed then are now all S.Us. You started the revolution in the family. Thank you for being a good example.”

Foluke faithfully served the Lord she loved dearly for 32 years, using her skills as a dramatist for evangelism. Even as an academic, she took part in many stage plays, films and concerts, all to expand the Kingdom of God on earth. She was also Fellow of many associations in Nigeria and abroad. She became a professor in 2011, a position backdated by five years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream, has borne her daughter away. But she would not fly forgotten as a dream, which dies at the opening of day. Foluke will always be remembered by her siblings: Wunmi, Tayo, Femi, Yewande, Yemi, and Biyi. Her son, Oluwaseun, her husband, Engineer Segun Ogunleye, and scores of others on whose lives she made great impact, will never forget her.

It is said that as mere mortals, we must never ask God questions. Yes, God is sovereign, but one would not stop wondering why Heaven was so much in a hurry, as to take Foluke now. If Heaven had waited for 20 or 30 years more, would she not have come home one day? Heaven, you needn’t be in such haste, for we shall all come. But let it be in due times and seasons.

I grieved deeply for my sister. I still ache and mourn. As the funeral service held at the Deeper Life Bible Church in Ibadan last weekend, it was as if the service should never end. The fact that her corpse was in the casket inside the church still gave some sort of cold comfort. But the service must inevitably end. And ended it did.

As the casket was borne out, and knowing that interment was only few minutes away, I broke down completely. I wept. Yes, didn’t Jesus also weep? I broke down, and when Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, former Head of Department of Dramatic Arts in Ife, and Foluke’s former teacher, came to console me, he had a hard job of getting me to stop crying. He ushered me into a vehicle, and that was where eminent virologist, and former oil minister, Prof Tam David-West came to pay his condolence.

The man too was weeping, and I conveniently joined him. It was simply a festival of tears, as many sympathizers could not hold their emotions in check. When Foluke and Tayo had been named professors within a week of each other, I had hosted them to a reception in Ibadan. Prof David-West had been chairman of the event, he gave the professorial charge, so he knew my sister well.

A week before the burial, journalist, pastor and activist, Richard Akinnola, had given me a book written by Ukraine-based Pastor Sunday Adelaja. The book is titled “Myles Munroe: Finding Answers To Why Good People Die Tragic And Early Deaths.” I read the 192-page book, and I must confess that it gave me a lot of relief.

Myles Munroe, a great Christian preacher had died in tragic circumstances in 2014, and the author used him, supported by Scripture, to show that death is really gain. The manner of death, he submitted, does not matter. What matters, according to him, was to fulfill our purpose in life, “and die empty.”

But Foluke still had a lot to give to the academia, to scholarship, to society, to her family, even to Christendom. Can one say she died empty? Well, questions abound. We do not understand it all. The things that are revealed are for men, while the ones that are hidden are for God. We will understand it better by and by.

Messages of condolence came from all corners of the land, and even beyond, to the Adesina family. President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former presidents, clerics, illustrious Nigerians, and people from all walks of life, sympathized with us.

I thank you all.

The Good Book says it is through much afflictions and trials that we will enter into the Kingdom of God. But this one was sure too hard on us. It would be hard on anybody.

“We were a party of men (and women) walking together, seeing, feeling, understanding the same world. But with a sudden snap, one of us was gone. One mind less, one world less.” Seven has now become six. Very sad.

At times, while crying at the loss of my sister, I remember our parents, particularly my mother. She left just two years and five months ago. And I then understand why God took her when He did. If my mother had been around to witness the death of any of her children, it would have been too hard on her. She had died happy in 2013, knowing that all her children were accounted for.

When I wept, therefore, it was partly in thankfulness that Mama was gone without her eyes seeing evil. God knew what was to happen on December 26, 2015, and so took her ahead of time. But then, couldn’t God have stopped the crushing blow of Boxing Day? He could. So, why didn’t He? I stop, before I land in a theological labyrinth, from which I can’t extricate myself.

Foluke, sleep well. I am sure our father’s clock, which used to rouse all of us at 4.45 a.m, would not chime in Heaven. Sleep all you want, till the day of resurrection. The old educationist wouldn’t be whipping you out of bed, like in those days of yore, for refusing to respond to the alarm bell at the height of harmattan.

  • Adesina is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari.

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