The country’s first family buried one of its own in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, last weekend. It was final farewell to Chief Meni Innocent Jonathan, younger brother to President Goodluck Jonathan, who had died on November 20. Joy has a slender body, which breaks easily, goes a popular saying.
The Jonathan family was rejoicing on November 20, as it was the day the president turned 55. It was supposed to be a day of merriment, of bonhomie, a day to clink wine glasses and pop champagne. Birthdays are not for dying. Or rather, birthdays should not be for dying, so a visit from the Grim Reaper was not what the Jonathan family expected on such an auspicious day. But the Grim Reaper stole in, and harvested a rather unripe soul. Meni Innocent Jonathan died at the State House Clinic in Abuja, aged 47. This is how Jonathan recounted his brother’s last days at the burial: “What worries me is that he died suddenly. He came to my house.
Nobody carried him. We discussed but he was a bit frail. I asked him to follow us so that he could do medical check-up. He drove down to Yenagoa to board the chopper to Abuja. He got to Abuja that Saturday and he was admitted in the hospital. “The following Monday, his breathing changed. I decided to make an arrangement to let him get treatment outside. Unfortunately, he had a cardiac arrest at the State house Clinic.
We were making arrangements to move him to the National Hospital. It is a very sad thing. He had been covering that home front for us. He was a very humble person…” Now, those who believe in numerology would ask why Meni died on his brother’s birthday. They would seek to interrogate the place of number 20 in President Jonathan’s life.
Why was he born on November 20? Why did his brother die on November 20? What other significant things have happened on the 20th day of the month in Jonathan’s life? And so on, and so forth. Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia describes numerology as the study of the purported divine, mystical or other special relationship between a number and some coinciding observed (or perceived) events.
Numerology was popular among early mathematicians like Pythagoras, bus it is no longer considered part of mathematics. It is now seen as pseudo-mathematics or pseudo-science, associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts. But there are millions of people across the world, who still wittingly or unwittingly believe in numerology. Two days ago, it was the 12th day of the 12th month of year 2012. Thus, it was written as 12/12/12. And some people made heavy weather of it.
They sent out messages on Blackberry, telling people to pray, as the world would never witness such a date again till the next century (who wants to be around for another century anyway?). I even read an advertorial by a state branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), asking people to pause and pray at exactly 12 noon of 12/12/12. If you ask me, was that day, hour and minute different from any other? I’ll say no. Just like other days before and after, 12/12/12 was for me a day the Lord had made, and I simply rejoiced, and was glad in it.
Which reminds me of an ordeal I was subjected to on July 7, 2007. The date was 7/7/7. I had travelled to my homestead in Osun State, and was returning to Lagos. But some unwitting numerologists, who also subscribe to Christianity, chose that day to have special prayers. The Lagos/Ibadan Expressway was blocked completely, as the numerologists dug it out in prayer on their campground for hours.
Thousands of stranded travellers spent the night in the traffic gridlock. What was special about 7/7/7, if you ask me? Nothing. Unique date no doubt, but not more spiritually significant than other days. I was too young to recall 6/6/66. By 7/7/77, I was in secondary school, and we were playing volleyball on that day. On 8/8/88, I was a Current Affairs Officer in Radio Lagos. On 9/9/99, I was in Concord Press, and I remember that one American preacher had caused quite a stir by predicting that the world would end that day. I had a good laugh as some people went into a panic, because I know the world would not end on a day that any man knows.
For those who believe in numerology, they are entitled to their opinions. My friend, Abdullahi Tunau Ribe, has written a book on America’s Barack Obama, showing how some dates and events influenced his fortunes. He has another book in the works on President Jonathan, titled Revealing Nigeria’s 14th President. Of course, numbers and dates, and their influence on the president’s life and fortunes are there a-plenty.
Well, good luck to all those who believe in numerology. For me, without being a fatalist, I simply agree with Mahatma Gandhi: “Providence has its appointed hour for everything. We cannot command results, we can only strive.”
But wait a minute! Isn’t this piece supposed to be about the Jonathan family? So, let’s return to them. Death in any family is something sombre, doleful, and dismal. As the first family filed out in Otuoke last weekend, in their dark attires, my heart went out to them. By the way, why do people always wear black at such events? When I die (at whatsoever time as the good Lord pleases), I want people to wear white dresses. No black. Why? Because I’ll be in a place of indescribable light, where there is neither night nor day. “And there shall be no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light.” (But see me, I’m digressing again. The topic is the Jonathan family, isn’t it?).
So, the Jonathans filed out in dolorous black. I looked at the immediate family of the departed, and a sob almost escaped. He had two wives and 12 children, all of them very young. If the dead was just 47 years old, it means the wives are maybe younger, and the children very young. It’s a sad, bad time to lose a husband and a father. Even if they had plenty money (as they would likely have) it still does not replace the love, warmth and affection the man should give. And then, the finality of it all! They would never see Chief Meni again, after his earthly remains were committed to mother Earth. Oh, cruel Death. One day, you too will die. And Mama Eunice Jonathan.
How I felt for her. Losing a child at any time is not palatable, not to talk of a 47-year-old. She has lost a husband, now a son, though she has another son who is president. What a mixed concoction from life, an admixture of joy and sadness.
She was at the funeral ceremony. If it was in Yoruba land, and in some other parts of the country, it would have been taboo. They say you don’t attend the burial of a younger person, particularly when you have such ties of consanguinity with the dead. It was Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti that I recall broke the rule, when he attended the burial of his younger brother, Fela, the Afro-beat legend. Indeed, the Ransome-Kuti family produced a lot of non-conformists. President Jonathan explained what seemed like breach of tradition, when he said: “In some traditions, I’m not supposed to be in the church. There is a tradition that you don’t bury your younger ones. Luckily for this community, we don’t have too many of these cultural and traditional things.” Well, Mama Eunice, may the Lord comfort and console you. May yours eyes never see evil again. May the rest of your days be filled with the joy and comfort of the Lord. Your name, Eunice, means ‘Good victory, joyous victory.’
May you have that type of victory for the rest of your life. Amen. But the late Jonathan was quite prolific. Twelve children, and at only 47!
Who guides those young ones through life now? Even if money would not be a problem (it won’t, you can be sure), the frown, the rebuke, the love, the guidance of a father are essential. May these young ones have another father figure, who will play the role their biological father can’t play again. Amen. The eternal lesson I learnt from it all once again is simple. In this life, nothing is permanent, not even life itself. Thankfully, the late Jonathan was a quiet man.
We didn’t hear much of him, at least not in the way it could have been. To be a president’s biological brother? That’s a big deal in Nigeria. Unfettered access to patronage, to power, to wine, to women. Even to the national treasury. We did not hear that of Chief Meni Innocent Jonathan, but if he did it unobtrusively, it is now over. Death has no respect for anybody. Not even for the brother of a president.
Right was English dramatist, James Shirley, when he wrote in The Contentions of Ajax and Ulysses: “Death lays its icy hands on kings, sceptre and crown must tumble down, and in the dust be equally made, with the poor crooked scythe and spade.”
If Meni had played the role of ‘brother of the president’ to the hilt, drawing the wine of life to the full, now, it would still have been over. Nothing lasts forever. Not even life. That is one realisation we should always have before us. Nobody is Anikulapo (he that has death in his pouch).
Even, if you carry death in your pouch, that death would sneak out one day and kill you. Ask Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, if you can see him. Death, I say again, you will die one day. But for the first family, I commend them to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” My condolences to the Jonathan family. Affliction will not arise a second time. Join me to say amen.