By Lekan Sote
The vicissitudes of life, some of which this writer has experienced in the past few years, and even recently, have caused some deep thinking and reflections about this dog or drag of a life that sages have concluded is ungovernable.
Some personal scars from this harsh life include job losses, collapse of businesses, failing health, and, unfortunately, the loss of dear friends, like Henry Boyo, The PUNCH columnist, and then the very uncomfortable recent experience of the loss of a dear wife, Adetoun Sote.
Who feels it, knows it: If you lost your father to a car crash on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, lost your mother to a heart attack, and also lost a wife to a death that you always hoped would never come, then, you’d understand those who say life is a drag.
And if life has handed you raw deals, like a physical, or even mental, handicap, cause you to be born into poverty and wretchedness that can only take a miracle to overcome, be a victim of the law when you have not committed any crime, or just plain be on the wrong side of everything, you’ll understand what it means to be handed the short end of the stick.
Martin Charnin wrote the lyrics of a song, “It’s a hard-knock life for us,” for the eponymous movie, “Annie,” and it was put into a song by Charles Strouse. The song that talks about life in an orphanage, regrets that instead of treats, kisses, kindness, woollen blankets for warmth, and a full stomach, orphans rather get hard knocks out of life.
The lines of the song betray a thought that suggests that maybe it’s better to throw in the towel, and not put up a fight, instead of forever experiencing what looks like continuously howling winds, and enduring a life where there is always darkness and no light.
For the orphans, it’s always going to be a dog’s life full of hard knocks, without let. You probably remember the cook, who “stood in stupefied astonishment… and aimed a blow at Oliver (Twist’s head) with the ladle; (and) pinioned him in his arm,” for saying, “Please sir, I want some more,” of the lean gruel, onion, and bread rolls served at the orphanage.
The hard life that Annie, Oliver Twist and the other orphans always have to endure is the same for a lot of people who, perforce, must live life under the hard shades of life. As you probably know, when the reading on the thermometer is below zero, “it’s going to be freaking cold.” And to many in this life, it’s like heads they lose, and tails they lose also, at the toss of any coin.
Worse still is that those who strut their stuff on the high streets of life, are soon forgotten, and it would appear like they never held court anywhere. Like the scriptures say, it’s like a snake that leaves nary a mark on the rocks. Another scripture says it’s here today and, gone tomorrow.
Economist John Maynard Keynes remarked that in the long run, we are all dead. And if you think through his words, you would have noticed that kings, noblemen, plebeans, and even knaves die, are buried, and most times, are soon forgotten.
Never believe anyone who promises that you will be remembered forever. It’s iffy if those who make such promises will always remember you during their lifetime, which may not last longer than two generations of 40 years each — before they themselves expire.
A teacher of journalism in a Nigerian university laments that his students stun him to utter disbelief when they sincerely confess to him that they know not who were Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria; Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of Western Nigeria; and Ahmadu Bello, first Premier of Northern Nigeria.
Some teachers even say that they have a hard time explaining who MKO Abiola, the man who won the freest and fairest presidential election in Nigeria, was, to some youngsters who even consider themselves to be politically aware. It just sounded unthinkable.
Far worse is the story told by a friend, who said it sounded like, “Jimmy Who?” when he tried to introduce his young son to Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, who is very much alive, to his son, who practises law in America, by the way.
Today’s millenials should not be expected to remember Herbert Heelas Macaulay, foremost Nigerian nationalist, anti-colonialist, and great grandfather of Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh, the Amazon, who gave her life to wrestle a patient who would have spread Ebola in Nigeria if she had allowed him to bolt away from her hospital. Macaulay was also grandson of Samuel Ajayi Crowder, the first African to be ordained a bishop of the Anglican Communion.
That should explain to you the extent of the damage done to the corporate culture of Nigeria, by those who thought they should discontinue the teaching of history in Nigerian schools. The situation is already bad even without having to discontinue the teaching of history.
Indeed, there are no guarantees of anything in life. There is a list of companies that were “The Companies” of the 20th Century: These were manufacturing companies, Minnesota, Manufacturing and Mining (or 3M), and energy companies, Shell, ExxonMobil, Texaco, and Total.
These days, it’s the ICT firms, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and telecommunications companies, Orange, Vodacom, and Swift, that rule what has been described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Wall Street is really no more than a street these days. The bulk of investment and even banking transactions are done on online platforms. People do these things from their android telephones, and really have no need to physically be inside the banking halls.
In fact, Information and Communications Technology is promising to create further upsets in the world of commerce. The New Economy essentially runs the Internet superhighway, that is even just virtual “matter.” This, incidentally, has positively enhanced the era of globalisation.
.But back to the point. There are so many who labour in the dark alleys of life, and never get noticed. And those who get noticed soon are forgotten. A sage once told the story of Everyman, or Eda, to the Yoruba, and his mother, Luck.
According to the storyteller, Luck, who has only one eye, like Cyclops of Greek mythology, is perennially doing a pendantic routine: looking for Eda, her lost son, picking whomever her hand reaches, raising the child up, and dropping the child instantly, when she realises that the one she picked was not her child.
That explains some people becoming prominent only for a season, then going out of reckoning, yielding the space of prominence to those regarded as the new kid on the block. The Hausa put it in a somewhat different way; “Sarkin goma, zamani goma,” or 10 kings, 10 reigns.
But really, ways to remain relevant, and be remembered after death could include setting slaves free, like American President Abraham Lincoln; writing seminal books, like William Shakespeare, discovering electricity, like Thomas Edison, being an evangelist, like John Wesley, or even being a clown, Charlie Chaplin.
One way to put it is that everyone should intentionally live to impact the lives of others. It’s not about you, really.
I wish all my readers Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!