It’s impossible not to linger on the picture of the man in the casket. He was dressed in white. His face was familiar. He was the self-crowned ‘’Governor General of the Ijaw nation.’’ He was due for interment.
To be sure, reality dictated the use of the past sense. The subject had expired. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was dead. He now belongs to history.
The burial was a long overdue. Alams died in October 2015. Six months ago. That was close to the high stakes governorship election in his home state of Bayelsa. All Progressives Congress and its candidate, former Governor Timipre Sylva, were mounting a serious challenge to Governor Seriaki Dickson’s second term. It was the season of swooning politics. The burial of Alams, the first civilian governor of the state, had to wait.
That deferment could not last forever. The election was won and lost in December. The resolution of the polls lifted the question of the burial above relegation.
This teaches a lesson: No matter what a man’s prior station is, the intervention of death renders him useless. Makes him a mass of waste. A piece of refuse in need of disposal!
Surely, a reflective person approaches the death of another with sobriety and a teachable heart. He seizes the occasion to examine his own ways, rethink his priorities, and ponder his preparedness for his own inevitable end.
The picture of Alams in the casket is not a spectacle to escape from. It’s one to confront, one to study, one to remember.
Alams in the casket is an exclamation mark on human mortality. It screams that all men are perishable. They have an inexorable appointment with death. They cannot delay their expiry date like a Nigerian court trial!
Alams in the casket affirms that the default condition of man is poverty. He is born naked. He must die dispossessed, empty and alone.
Alams in the casket illustrates the inescapability of forced containment. The ‘larger than life’ person gets shoehorned into a grudged space. He is not given an extra room to occupy. He is fitted into such calculated dimensions as may suit his corporeal frame.
Alams in the casket speaks to man’s ultimate destiny of surrender. The powerful and the non-powerful will certainly be subjected to permanent prostration. They will slip into an endless sleep. They will lose the power to hear the cry of their loved ones or the cockcrow. They will lose the ability to wake up.
Alams in the casket validates Solomon’s nugget: Vanity upon vanity, all is vanity. Man departs the earth as naked as he came. He exits with stiff, bare hands.
Alams in the casket furnishes a rebuke to human arrogance. It says you have no reason to boast. You are not the totality of your possessions. You own nothing. Your very breath is leased.
Alams in the casket suggests, in a barely audible small voice, thoughts of a richer, fuller, and more enjoyable alternate life. One governed by contentment and integrity, meekness and mercy, diligence and love for country.
Alams in the casket proves the exhaustibility of the opportunity for redemption. A man may try to overwrite his slate of his record of wrongdoings. He can attempt to remedy his past with contrition, penance, and a sincere devotion to virtue. But death closes that chance. A man cannot reverse the course of his life after he is dead. He is doomed to be remembered by the sum of his deeds.
Alams’ friends, associates and admirers jockeyed to beatify him upon the announcement of his demise. They painted an airbrushed portrait of a man bereft of flaws, of foibles and failures. They said he was nicer than the caricature of him the public was fed. The blemishes attributed to his public persona were extraneous to his character. He was a child in innocence. His very powerful adversaries (read Olusegun Obasanjo and his minion, Nuhu Ribadu, then chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) projected vices onto him in order to establish a tenable reason to rubbish him.
Alams’ most notorious contemporary, James Ibori, a thief serving time in a London jail for robbing the people of Delta state, wrote his friend a tribute that best encapsulates the basis of their bromance and the similarity of their ordeals. In the revisionist rendition, Ibori spoke of their ‘resource control’ fight and Alams’ modest effort to do right by Bayelsa people.
Ibori’s claim on their putative ‘resource control’ cause is laughable. Their parallel paths to the prison and their common trouble with the British law easily prove that there was a dichotomy between their selfish definition of ‘resource control’ and the outsider interpretation of the meaning of that rallying cry. The properties confiscated from the two thieves exposed their ‘resource control’ agitation as a scam. They did not pursue ‘resource control’ as a formula for accelerated development of the grassroots. They played it as a trump card to secure more petrodollars…to steal!
It’s instructive that, for all the concerted reconstruction of Alams a Niger Delta messiah, incumbent Niger Delta governors shunned his burial. Save Dickson, who was compulsorily present as the host governor, others stayed away even though Alams was their partyman and political elder and a presumptive regional folk hero. That’s foot voting!
Ibori recalled that, ‘’ Your people’s love was displayed on your return from London in November 2005. The entire state was agog with joy not because every Bayelsan agreed with your politics but because they believed that your travails were triggered by your commitment to their cause.’’
The truth contradicts Ibori’s false memory. Alams did not ‘’return’’: He jumped bail. He beat the British justice system that was trying him for money laundering and fraud. And he is believed to have pulled off that stunt by costuming as a woman.
But he never truly escaped. The specter of the British law, in the form of Alams’ own fears, haunted him till death. His blood pressure shot up and provoked a fatal crisis when he heard the rumor that Buhari was set to extradite him to London.
That’s a life story bookended by a conviction at home and a criminal prosecution abroad.
His protege, Goodluck Jonathan, exercised the presidential power of pardon in reward the man who drafted him into politics. That brought Alams minimal relief. Not salvation. It did not make him a new creature.
Jonathan mused in an oration that his former boss was an epitome of responsible leadership. Alams built Niger Delta University. He stood an Ivory Tower on Bayelsa waters!
But Alams transcended what little good he managed to do with his daredevil looting, inebriated prodigality and debauched politics. His ‘feats’ were pretensions to governance meant to mask his core mission of plunder. He enacted those special effects distractions in order to be left alone to continue his business of pillage.
Alams was buried in a gold-plated casket. That seems less the choice of the funeral planners and more of some deference to the man’s taste. He couldn’t have been compatible with modesty. He couldn’t have been made to descend the afterlife in unvarnished wood. He had to go in an ostentatiously shiny vehicle. He was Alamieyeseigha!
Yet, the real marvel of his funeral was that he was buried in a six foot deep hideaway he had prepared himself. This could possibly mean that he was not always unmoored from a sense of mortality. He had his sane moments. He sometimes permitted the dark room of his mind to develop a negative of his own finiteness.
Or the advance grave could represent the capstone of all his material acquisitions. It had to be the only thing he needed to gift himself to earn the satisfaction that he lacked nothing.
Again, the grave may have been an excrescence of the man’s pride. He probably loathed the prospect of other people choosing the design of his final resting place. He may have decided he would abide only the specifications of his own preference!
Alams in the casket is a mockery of the bankruptcy that sooner catches up with a nihilistic existence.
Nigeria is a gold rush stampede. A lucre crazy society. A place where the popular philosophy is that life has meaning only to the degree that it used to amass money.
The Nigerian church worships the prosperity Mammon. The Nigerian mosque is auctioned. The Nigerian civil service is a den of thieves. The Nigerian media prostitute their influence. The Nigerian judiciary sells verdicts. Nigerian politics boasts the highest concentration of crooks in the world!
This is a country where treasury looters steal dirty and save dirtier. This is a place where ‘leaders’ bank in sewage pits!
The thieves radiate invincibility. They parade more lawyers than they need. They move with a supporters’ club. They walk with a Lucifer pomposity that vaults over order.
Alams in the casket guarantees they won’t escape divestment. They will someday lie quiet and wretched, oblivious of their loot –in Panama and elsewhere!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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