Peter Adewale Ademuyiwa

July 25, 2009

On 24 April 2007, I wrote something called “Challenging Perceptions: Celebrating the Ordinary … and the special!” I’ve just checked it again. I wrote of a great friend of mine, Wale Ademuyiwa, of how I’d known him since we were at primary school, of how good he was at adding up. He even made the television in the 70s, when people would give him random 3 digit numbers to add up and he’d come up with the answer before you could blink an eye.

On 8 April 2009, I was just reading my emails when I saw one entitled “Wale Peter Ademuyiwa, RIP”. I couldn’t believe it, still can’t.

The day before was one of the most miserable days I’d ever had, I’d just made a telephone call that I hated to make, I was already feeling miserable. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t write anything about my dear friend.

I’d known he’d been ill for a while. Like most blind folk in Nigeria, he’d looked for work. He’d eventually found one in the Federal ministry of transport. I know that most of that ministry had moved to Abuja, but he was in Lagos. What did he do there? Well, as far as I know, nothing. Then, he’d had an accident. That was several years ago. I kept getting the news that he wasn’t better. He’d been to Igbobi orthopaedic hospital and they couldn’t sort him out. He’d been to the Lagos University teaching hospital. What was the problem, nobody could tell me. I spoke to him too, and he didn’t seem to know. We didn’t think it would kill him though. We knew he couldn’t walk properly, in fact I heard he had no balance and might just fall. He’d stopped going to work, though as far as I know, he still had his government house and got his government salary. That didn’t trouble me much. I’d been to Nigeria once, (I think in 1999, while he was still well) and visited him at home while he was supposed to be at work.

I managed to call some people who told me that some doctor had recommended some steroids. Then, he’d felt very unwell, but thought they were just side effects. In any case, he didn’t have an appointment and apparently didn’t feel he could go to this guy without one. The night I was making the call, (probably about the same time) it was more than he could bear, his mouth was dry, etc. So, he got into a taxi. He was dead before he got to the hospital.

No longer can I say that Wale was famous for appearing on television. Very few would remember anyway. He didn’t do maths, he couldn’t because there were no real facilities to teach a blind person maths. He eventually studied politics at Calabar University. I’ve already written about his efforts to get a job.

But we remember him as such a generous soul. If you wanted straight talking down-to-earth advice, delivered with a laugh, Wale was your man. He had a high pitch voice, and his laughter was never ending. He could laugh if you said the sky was blue. One day, he came over to visit me at the University of Lagos. In Nigeria, we have roommates, even squatters. A two person room could easily house 4 or 5. Actually, I hear that these days, there are no 2 person rooms, but that’s another story, I lived in one in my days. My roommate, stayed with me throughout my studies. He was then a very clever electrical engineering student named Yemi. That day, he was reading late into the night, an assignment or something. When an old friend visits you, you talk late into the night, so I was doing the natural thing. But Wale’s laughter was unnatural. We’d say something and he’d laugh … and laugh … and laugh. Sometimes, I’d hear Yemi’s quiet but angry growl and tell Wale to cool it. He’d apologise immediately, (even between bouts of laughter), but give him another minute and he’d be off again.

A few weeks later, Yemi had the grace to laugh about the experience. In fact, we all did, but this time, it was daylight and there were no pressing assignments.

I know it’s taken me this long to write this. It wasn’t because I didn’t miss him, it wasn’t because I didn’t care. Some of it was because I couldn’t face the prospects of having lost such a guy, not with the other things that were happening at that time. In our lives, we have both the public and private characters. The public might remember the guy who could add up. Those who saw him on the streets wouldn’t know that, but they’d remember the blind guy who walked, got on the bus, or whatever. I remember Wale, from Ondo state, I met his sister once, I heard him laugh, we talked stories, even secrets. We were best friends in primary school, and when I went to KC, he was in Gregs, only a few bus stops away. In fact, the boarding facilities had been closed under the second civilian administration, but the blind students were allowed to stay in the school. So, I’d visit him on some of those outing days we got in KC, and he’d visit us whenever he could. I remember him in Unical, while I was in unilag. I remember the struggle to get work, the fights to get recognition for disabled people, the joys, questions, but most of all, the immensely loud laugh that would punctuate any conversation. Boy, I do miss you, even if we hadn’t really talked in a while.

Intruding into a family’s grief

July 7, 2009

I’ve just spent this evening in a bonding session with my niece. We made the stew together, made some rice and sat down to watch Michael Jackson’s memorial. Just an uncle and her niece.

And again, I was struck that although everyone idolised him, MJ was just a man after all. A great man, but a man.

I listened to his music and remembered that he didn’t just sing about boy meets girl. OK, he sang ‘she’s out of my life’ but he also did ‘thriller’, ‘bad’, and many more. His great hits include ‘black or white’,’heal the world’ and ‘man in the mirror’.

But this was a time to focus on the person, the stories we heard less of, the Michael Jackson when he wasn’t singing or dancing. One superstar after another recounted stories of Michael, dealing with everyday human problems on a Jacksonesque scale. We learned from a fellow superstar, who’d been living the life since 11 months that at 5, Michael was a late starter. Today, we heard about the Michael who just loved to have fun, to laugh, even if that was after sneaking into Liz Taylor’s room to take a peek at her wedding dress and finding her sleeping in the room.

But we also found that his favourite song was ‘smile’, not even written by him, but by Charlie Chaplain. I think it’s on the History album as well, isn’t it? And his brother Jermaine sang it with tears. This same brother had ritten the song ‘word to the bad’. You see, even superstar families quarrel; when they do, it can be so public that we forget that like families all over the world, they still love each other.

There was this black congresswoman telling us why she’d moved a motion in the federal house that MJ should be declared a national hero. MJ had been to the hospitals to see American casualties of the Iraq war. He’d talked to world leaders about HIV, helped struggling charities, hospitals, etc. In one sense, he’s probably America’s answer to Princess Diana (I’m sure some others have made the comparison, I don’t read too many newspapers these days).

Now I’m sure many would have spoken to an old woman a few weeks before her death and assured her you were praying for her, but who has the distinction of speaking to Mrs Luther King, wife of the legendary Martin, and an activist in her own right. And did you make that special call, taking time out of a musical tour as far away as the Middle East? Bernice, daughter of the Luther Kings, told us about the call, and how it brought a smile to her mother, who at that time could hardly speak, the effect of a stroke.

My niece was brilliant, describing things to me, so that I heard the music and ‘saw’ what was happening. I’d been enjoying her visit so much, but I’d begun to feel I was finally getting old. She’d ask me about a singer I’d never heard about. I thought I was still up there, but she has Facebook, U-Tube, all sorts of other places, and I’m now struggling to keep up. Gone are the days when I could hold my own in any record quiz. But K girl knows Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie, by music and by sight. When I was growing up, I too knew music two decades before I was born. I’ll have to try her on Frank Sinatra.

Well, I’m not so old as not to know Usher, and was moved by his rendition of one of my favourite Michael songs, ‘gone too soon’. It’s on the Dangerous album, was never released as a single, and was written in memory of Ryan White, a young boy who died of AIDS. It was appropriate for MJ, and K described how Usher walked up to the casket. Then, there was We are the world. I remember thinking in my own cynical way, when Michael and Lionel wrote the song that they were just cashing in on crisis. I bought the record of course and liked it too, including so many other songs on the album that nobody else played. Then, he spoiled my illusion by writing songs like ‘heal the world’ and ‘gone too soon’ and I started to think of him as someone who actually cared.

You know what that preacher and activist said? I won’t write down his name for fear of wrecking the spelling. He said “some of you came to say goodbye, I came to say thank you”. He said something else, a reference to the child abuse allegations, but I can’t exactly remember. I’ll probably edit this post after visiting U-tube.

Marlon Jackson told of the story of walking into a store and seeing a man looking old and dishevelled, picking CDs. He walked over to the man and said “Michael, what are you doing here” and Michael said “how did you know it was me”? For most of the time, I wished I could change the channel, but first, there was no other channel, and second, I couldn’t tear myself away. And as Paris, firstborn of Michael interrupted Marlon’s speech to say her two sentences, delivered in floods of tears, I heard the CNN reporters say how brave she was. What do you expect? She’s just a 12 year old missing her dad, any other 12 year old would probably do the same, but this time, she had CNN and MTV and so many people watching her. In the end, I and K girl were just one family out of millions, looking into another family’s grief.

Happy birthday Akinola

July 5, 2009

My kid brother is 40 years today. It’s wonderful. As usual, when I rang to wish him happy birthday, he asked how it must feel for me knowing I’m that much older than he is. My answer this year is that I’ve no problem with that, as Moses lived 120 years.

I think he felt like I did when I turned 40, a mixture of joy, expectation and a little sadness at what he had not yet achieved. But I suppose it’s the same for everyone. I remember trying to hide, not wanting to celebrate, but when the surprise birthday was organised, I felt very proud and grateful that I was so loved.

That’s how you should feel too Akinola. Happy birthday. And I pray you do have another 80 years to get on with catching up on your achievements.

Half the year already!

July 2, 2009

You know how you get all those messages on the first of July wishing you a great second half of the year? I’ve got some of course. I was thinking a few days ago that the first is not really half the year. 31 days in January, 28 in February, 31 in March, 30 in April, 31 in May, 30 in June makes 181 days, and half of 365 is 182 and a half. Today, there are exactly 182 days to the end of the year, and 182 days preceding. So thanks to all those who have sent an early wish for a great second half of the year. I expect them to start rolling in from midday today. Now you wouldn’t know I failed my maths would you?

I wrote down my prayer requests for this year. To tell the truth, looking through human eyes, I’m pretty far from achieving them. Last year was one of the best years I’ve ever had, but this year has been really challenging, to put it mildly. I thought things were supposed to get better and better.

Thank God, I still trust and believe in Him. Too many times, I’ve read of how things didn’t look good, but God’s power shone through, made an impossible situation totally unrecognizable. So many have said how tough times are meant to help you grow; even Jesus said, when He looked at what would happen to Him, “if only this didn’t have to happen … but not My will Lord, Yours be done.” So, if I’m supposed to grow, what have I learned?

I’ve learned that what you see depends on what you’re looking for. I’ve watch two premier league managers give two conflicting interpretations of the same facts. Well, if you look for God in anything, He’s sure to be there. My mobile phone tells me that at 3.28 PM on 6 January, I received a text which began, “this is the word of the Lord for you Ifeolu Akintunde”. What the sender didn’t know was that I was sitting down, feeling really miserable when he sent it. It didn’t look like any of those forwarded texts, so I rang him and asked why he’d sent it. He said he was just praying over things in his life and the Lord asked him to send me a text. It was such an apt text too, so I poured my heart out to him, then prayed (and still do) that God would give him the reward of a faithful messenger.

If you have nobody to turn to, turn to God. Sometimes, I’ve found myself clinging to Him because my whole life and sanity depended on it. At the beginning, I read through Genesis. I was struck by how things began, and by how many principles come out there.

Take this one. When God has said something, even your actions can’t affect His word. Someone has said that Joseph was foolish in telling his brothers about his dreams, the ones where they would all bow down and serve him. But did that affect anything? The brothers sold him into slavery, then came bowing when he’d become prime minister of Egypt. Before him, Abraham had a promise. When he and his wife had waited and waited, she came and showed him her beautiful maid and said “you know what? I’m too old to have children, maybe God’s word will be fulfilled if you have children through my maid.” Well, Abraham did just that, but did that affect Sarah’s childbearing? It affected other things, but God’s word that Abraham and Sarah would have a child stood till she was 90 and he was 100, then it happened.

I’ve learned to be careful what I listen to. I’ve been through so many experiences that when people shared their own sorrows, my immediate response was “I understand what you’re going through”. But this year, I learned that “I understand” may sometimes be the precursor to giving human counsel, “this is what I did when it happened to me, do the same and it’ll work”. I finally understood that I hadn’t been through everything, and that there might be people who hadn’t felt the individual things I’d felt. So, what I want to hear now is not just “I understand” but also “this is what the Holy Spirit is saying in this situation”.

If you’re not a Christian, it’s fine to tell me your standpoint, but then, I’ll take it as your standpoint and give it the respect I give you. I have some great nonchristian friends whom I respect and love, and trust to be very honest with me. Some have talked wisely, and sometimes even confirmed what the Holy Spirit said. I too pray I’ll be the person who knows what the Holy Spirit is saying in any situation I’m confronted with, whether it’s mine or another’s.

I’ve also learned that IOA Consults is a one man show. When the one man isn’t running the show, the show isn’t running. If you thought I was a little slower than usual, I apologise sincerely.

And, even as we come to the end of the first half of the year, I’m praying for a tremendous turnaround in the second half, for myself, and for you all. A second half that is marked by God’s presence, demonstrated in the way only He can. And I pray that each Christian may be able to walk on water, do the things they would normally consider impossible, just because they heard the call of the Lord.