Depending on the context, death and illness are two occurrences, which are often difficult to write and talk about. This broad challenge is made more complicated in a contemporary African context-in this case Nigerian context- that is disposed to irrationality. The belief is: Do Not Speak Ill of The Dead and The Ill.
While there is some deep ethical meaning to the thought that we should not speak ill of the ill and the dead, our irrational context driven by sentiments and ethnic politics will often make us lose the high moral implication of such thought. The high ground of ethics and spirituality enjoin us not to speak ill of the dead and the ill not because the moral status or otherwise of the ill and the dead when they were alive, hale and hearty. On the contrary, we are enjoined not to speak ill because they may not have the mortal space and time like us-who is yet to answer the final call- to defend themselves.
And given our irrational and ethnic driven Nigerian context we often fail to draw the distinction between laying out the fact of the case for the benefit of today and history and “speaking ill”. These are two different things we deliberately muddle sometimes for purely ethnic reasons.
For example, when the Ooni of Ife answered the final call in a foreign land, it was palpable how commentators cautiously avoided centering the oddity that a prominent Nigerian and Yoruba Oba died in a foreign land in foreign hands. If we believe the Ooni occupies the same monarchical status as the Queen of England, the point is: whether we can imagine the Queen answering the final call in Nigeria or in a foreign land?
The absurdity and unnecessary mystification in the circumstance of the Ooni’s final call was compounded when it was said that females couldn’t see his dead body. The critical question, which this mystification dubiously avoided, is that the Ooni could have as well answered the final call in the hands of competent female foreign doctors. This is hypothetical. But supposed that was true, what then is the basis of a so-called tradition that says females cannot see the dead body of the Ooni?
I guess my point in all these is that any race or group of people who want to defend their “tradition” and “culture” must put their resources where their “culture” is. As hypocritical and self serving as this irrational feudal tradition is, but supposed you want to defend it, then if you do not want females to see the dead body of our Obas, and if we want our Obas to die dignified death, then do the right thing: build great health centers in Nigeria. This way our Obas and elites will not go and die in foreign land and in the case of our Obas, we can then guarantee the patriarchal “purity” of our “culture”-a patriarchal purity which is as irrational as it is indefensible then and now in the 21st century!
The illness and public trial of the alleged crime of Nigeria’s former petroleum Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and the attempt by her lawyer Mr. Oscar Onwudiwe to use her illness to muddle her alleged crime falls within this irrational context. Against the background of a major investigation and trial of her alleged crime, her family lawyer-Oscar M. Onwudiwe after disputing some of the reports on Mrs. Diezani Alison-Maduke, then appealed to pity when he was reported in the newspapers to have informed Nigerians and the world that she is ill and that she needs our prayers!
Mr. Onwudiwe as the family’s lawyer has rights and professional duty to dispute reports on Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke. However, he crossed the moral public line when he appealed to pity by informing us that she is undergoing treatment and that we should pray for her. What the Nigerian public expects from a lawyer defending a person like Diezani Alison-Madueke is to encourage her to go and defend herself in court on the serious allegation of crime against her. Mr. Oscar Onwudiwe’s appeal to pity in Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke’s case is irrelevant and unhelpful.
From this moment on, Nigerians want to know what those who are put in public position of trust did and do with that trust. If Diezani Alison-Madueke is proved to have betrayed that public trust she must face the consequences of the law in the court after she heals. That is the minimum- the civilized and ethical thing to do. Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke’s illness is private, and she should deal with that like other individuals-Nigerians and non-Nigerians- deal with their private challenges.
Finally, that brings us to death of the former governor of Bayelsa state, Mr. Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha. No one should be happy at anyone’s death. But it is significant that like the late Ooni of Ife, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Alamieyeseigha are all members of the Nigerian ruling elites –a class that lacks basic decency to recognize what is called enlightened self-interest. Just as Diezani Alison –Madueke is said to be receiving treatment in a foreign land, Mr. Diepreye Solomon Alamieyeseigha went to Dubai for treatment and allegedly died of hypertension few days after the government of the United Kingdom requested that he should be extradited to face the court for his alleged crime and betrayal of public trust.
Having been allegedly caught dressed like a woman to escape prosecution for a major crime and betrayal of public trust, the coincidence of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s death allegedly as a result of hypertension and the UK government’s extradition request, and the trial of Mrs. Diezani Alison –Madueke for her alleged crime and Onwudiwe’s hurried appeal to illness and pity in Diezani Alison-Madueke’s case are too close for comfort.
While acknowledging and reiterating the limitation of our common human mortality that we all will and must answer the final call at one point in our earthly journey, however we should allow the moral and the rational to meet and unite in a common warm embrace for our common public good and for the sake of the Nigerian society. Diezani Alison –Madueke is on trial in a decent and civilized society where the rule of law is supreme. So if she is ill the law will wait for her to heal in order to face trial and prosecution and defend herself. In this regard, Mr. Oscar Onwudiwe’s counsel is irrelevant. He should keep it to himself and let law take its course.
The betrayal of public trust is a major crime and a mortal sin. Betrayal of public trust is sickening and unacceptable under any mortal or immortal circumstance. So for the sake of our –Nigerian-dignity and honor it is important that we separate the trial of those who have allegedly betrayed public trust such as Diezani Alison-Madueke, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and their private challenges. This is a moral minimum in a decent, civilized modern democracy. Nigeria ought to aspire to be one.
Adeolu Ademoyo firstname.lastname@example.org Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
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