As I watched the mourning faces at the graveside watching while the remains of Comrade Chuks Ehirim was lowered into the neatly dug six feet grave, only few eyes were soaked in tears.
It was so, perhaps because they have had enough of it since the immediate past chairman, NUJ FCT Council died on June 16, exactly his birthday, in an Abuja hospital. Not even the reality of interment could wet some eyes again.
The tears dried up perhaps because the mourners may have internalized the preaching and prophetic utterances from the aggressive youthful Pastor that late Comrade Chuks Ehirim had really gone to rest eternally.
“My uncle Chuks had gone to a place he won’t hustle again to survive, a place of permanent rest, a place of everlasting comfort, a place landlords or landladies will never demand for rent from him or would he, Chuks request rent from his tenants. How ready are those of us, the living, how prepared are we when the death alarm bell tolls?” the Pastor, who commanded heaven to hold rain with partial success, quipped.
One after the other, messages of condolence, promises of a secured future for his weeping and wailing wife, his four kid children and his aged mother, came from his uncles, brothers, sisters and friends.
From the DG VON, Mr Osita Okechukwu, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari, to the Imo State Commissioner for Information who represented his Governor, the NUJ national president and his entourage, the NUJ Abuja Council with forest of its members, it was an assemblage of friends and genuinely concerned persons that came from far and near to bid the departed Comrade final goodbye.
Expectedly, there were debates, complimentary and uncomplimentary remarks among the pockets of gathered mourners, centring essentially on what late Comrade Ehirim ought to have done in the village or what he did not do.
Many that expected to see his body lying in state inside his country home mansion as the immediate past Chairman of NUJ FCT Council were disappointed. They ought to be, especially in a country where many have exploited positions of authority to fraudulently enrich themselves.
However, sleeping comfortably inside the casket, he never cared what anybody felt about his material disposition and position. He fought for politicians but never cared if they rewarded him with same measure. He fought for democracy but never cared whether the major actors abandoned him.
Erosion threatens the major entrance to his village, yet he could not attract any help or attention from the politicians he helped achieve their lifetime ambitions. However, inside the casket, he seemed to have been saying, ‘regardless of what anybody feels, having played my own part, only history can remember me’.
But, wait a minute, people were smiling and weeping, there were expressions of sadness and smiles of joy for the good reputation late Ehirim lived, yet not even the music could lighten up the graveyard situation the several hours his burial ceremony lasted.
At a time village men like me were wondering whether there were no drunk jesters in the village to take up the responsibility, the first ‘madman’ had arrived. Confining himself to a corner for some hours, the arrival of his playmate, another madman, had jolted him to his feet. The two provided the needed comic relief the mourners desperately needed.
From requesting for food and drinks to sitting together at strategic positions eating and taking snuff endlessly, their presence provided the side attraction that softened the palpable sad mood, providing some real cheers and smiles.
Wondering if he is actually mad especially as he persistently demanded for the microphone from the MC of the occasion, I had, on departure, offered one of them my drink. He did not only jump at it but also demanded for money from me. ‘Ofodulu ego, nyelum ego kanji zuo ihe’ meaning; ‘it remains money, give me money to buy something’ eh, madman!
Divided between generosity and fetish superstition, it took the intervention of my good friend, Ezeocha Nze of Authority Newspaper who parted with some cash for me to also give him mine. We advised him to go home and take his bath to look clean not like a madman he perhaps pretends to be.
As for the other one in the same kingdom and spiritual realm with him, I had heard him speak perfect English, warning against anybody victimizing him, as he endless kept enjoying his snuff from his small snuffbox and drink his beer.
The mad may not be inside the casket, but many may wrongly or rightly categories him among the dead since he does not bother himself about ‘President Buhari factor which inflicted hardship on Nigerians. As more Nigerians join the mad in scavenging to eat and survive, the unanswered question is whether the mad is among the living or the dead?
As we depart the Imo village where indigenes are superstitiously at perfect peace with Python, I could not but wonder what become of late Ehirim’s widow and the battle against the village hawks, his children and his aged mother. Will the widow be subjected to any village harmful widowhood practice? Those thoughts battled fiercely with the instructive rhetoric question from the pastor, ‘Chuks is gone, who is next,’ a reminder of an imminent eternity.
As I drop these lines, one of the takeaways was the popular Igbo music song, ‘meremu obi ebere, meaning help me Lord, comfort me Lord, which kept reminding me to live my life as if it will be my turn tomorrow.
May it not be our portion to die in our youths, may we live long to see our grandchildren, may God continue to remind us that we came from the village and must return or retire to our villages life or dead.
Chair, as I fondly called you, may your soul continue to rest in peace. Amen