Friends, it is a warm and bright day today and we ought to take full advantage of this fair weather, therefore I will not bore you with a long speech.
Our late friend, Ayo Sogunro, whom we have come here to bury, is widely known for his repartee and witticisms, and he would frown to see us waste a day with winding speeches; useless to both the living and the dead. Nevertheless, we ought to do justice upon the passing of so great a person as he was.
I am aware that a number of you here do not know Ayo Sogunro well, and have merely converged here out of curiosity or by invitation. This ignorance is excusable; in fact, it is not your fault. That so remarkable a person like Ayo Sogunro should not be recognised by his society is the real tragedy of this funeral service.
What makes Ayo Sogunro a great man, you may wonder. Well, greatness does not consist of public accolade or tribute, but is reflected in being aware of one’s purpose—one’s genius—and striving hard to achieve this, in spite of all odds. Take time to review the history books, and you will see that this idea, with or without public acknowledgment, is what has distinguished the life of great men.
And Ayo Sogunro was such a great man, and the world would have marveled at his genius if death had not cut his progress short at such a young age. What was his genius? You may wonder again. What accomplishments has he attained? What machines has he invented? What lives has he improved, and what legacy has he left?
To answer your curiosity properly, permit me to trouble you with some of the history of the deceased. After hearing his history, you will be astonished that you have never heard of him before today, or that you thought him to be an ordinary citizen; and you will gladly celebrate him, as he deserves.
Ayo Sogunro was born in a little known hospital in a little known town. He was not privileged with a fancy hospital in Paddington or elsewhere, and his birth was utterly unremarkable. No newspapers announced the arrival of the baby, no social enthusiasm was generated and no public curiosity was stirred by the event. Right from the start, it seemed as if is society had conspired to make his existence a non-issue.
His parents were of ordinary stock, and they survived on their civil service salaries, raising a house with three children and several relatives, until his father lost his job and had to resort to ingenious businesses to keep the family from starving. We are all witnesses to the brutal economic history of the period. The lesson to be picked here is that Ayo Sogunro’s childhood was no fairy tale fantasy. Let us, therefore skip this part and proceed with our history.
Ayo grew up nevertheless, and attended a public secondary school at the commencement of the decline of these, once respectable, institutions. The classrooms had few functional windows, and fewer functional teachers; and the students were more manual labourers than scholars. No sooner had his education begun than the schoolteachers went on strike for a full term. It seemed the Fates had a personal animosity towards the education of our young boy. In any case, the military government was not favourably disposed to teachers of any kind, and the educators were whipped back into classrooms without any change in their circumstances.
With the scarce lessons and scarcer textbooks, Ayo Sogunro’s resourcefulness was put to full test, and like a hundred thousand boys and girls of his day, he managed to scale through public secondary school, somehow passing his WAEC, ill-taught and little educated. The fundamental essence of his entire education was confined to several topics in Mathematics and the English language, and scraps retained from other subjects. His proper knowledge came from dilapidated books in the even more dilapidated school library, and the occasional private lessons grudgingly paid for from the insufficient household budget.
The travails of his public university days were even gorier. Ayo managed to secure himself an admission to study law, finishing in almost seven years a course meant for almost five. This was not due to laziness or failure. Instead, the civilian governments that had replaced the military treated lecturers no better than their predecessors, and strikes became as fundamental to university education as matriculation numbers. Shall we talk about the quality of the education? Reading by candlelight in unlighted hostels? Making photocopies from textbooks or simply borrowing same? Juggling academics while “hustling” via small-scale businesses to support the meagre allowances from home? Let us not dwell on these unhappy thoughts.
Ayo grew to be a worker; earning a medium wage from a job he won solely by merit, without patronage or “connection”. Despite his impecunious and unenviable background, he managed to achieve a good income and he paid his taxes and deposited sums for his pension. He never aspired for more than a fair opportunity to improve himself and contribute to his society. He sought no material riches and he did not covet his neighbours’ property. Instead he sought to enlighten his peers, and he gained some notoriety for his criticisms of society, government and religion. His writings were fair and balanced; his admiration of life and humanity was unabashed.
We will never know with any certainty what really killed Ayo Sogunro. Was it the endless traffic he faced on the roads of Lagos, toiling to and from work to earn a living? Was it the headaches he suffered from the noise of the electricity generators that surrounded his accommodation? Did he suffer stress from having to seek bathing water every morning before heading to work? Could it have been anxiety over potential bomb attacks by terrorists? Was he in constant despair about the irresponsibility of the government? Sadly, a number of things could have been responsible for the death of this worthy individual.
But we can point fingers at the agents of his murder: the British who left a legacy of corruption; the independence leaders who strengthened the legacy of the British; the military dictators that raped the people they purported to emancipate; the civilians that succeeded the military without any obvious change in mentality; and, of course, the majority of the people, who happily allowed the atrocities of government to continue unchecked; either from having resigned themselves to apathetic acceptance, or misguidedly trusting spiritual intervention to change the circumstances. They all contributed to the death of this fine fellow, as surely as an assassin pulling a trigger.
And now, Ayo Sogunro is dead, and his country is poorer for it.
For as some of you may know, Ayo Sogunro was a man of letters, who aspired to great contributions to the arts. But the society he found himself in has little use for literature. A hungry man does not care about a finely crafted phrase. And so, Ayo wrote articles but was read only by a few; he engaged in public discourse, but he was little noted. This is not surprising, what hope does a literary inclined person have in Nigeria?
Two profound examples of literary talent indicate that such ambitions ultimately end in futility: the internationally celebrated Achebe died in another country, virtually a stranger to Nigeria; Wole Soyinka, an internationally acclaimed intellectual, is still treated with scorn by his own countrymen. Who then was Ayo Sogunro, this great unknown, to aspire to literature? We can only imagine the despair that must have suffused him at this pessimistic situation. Worse, this futility does not apply to literature alone: in the social and physical sciences, in engineering, in philosophy, and in other disciplines that require abstract thought, Nigeria has successfully murdered its greatest prophets—and the little upstarts can be plucked off without trouble.
And so, today, we have come to bury Ayo Sogunro and all that he represents: the determined struggle to stay sane and productive in an insane environment. Here is a country where certificates are valued more than abilities, and where geographical origin is more regarded than personal merit. Here is an environment where the legislature makes crazy laws, a president’s wife fights people publicly; and a dying president “governs” from a foreign hospital bed. The average American or European cannot comprehend this kind of environment, and the mental effort and discipline required to function as a proper person within it.
And here are the greatest accomplishments of Ayo Sogunro: developing an insightful mind despite the poverty in the educational sector; passionately producing his writings and opinions despite the expense of the telecommunications sector; stimulating and engaging with the written word in spite of the challenges of the literary world. In short, staying sane and productive despite the insane and unproductive governments of his day. Who knows what greater things he would have accomplished had he not been cut short? You are forgiven if you think Ayo’s life was an ordinary one because he won no elections, led no destructive battles and stockpiled no millions of dollars. It is ignorance that leads a child to mistake herbal medicine for edible vegetables.
But, at least, today, we will sing of the great accomplishments of Ayo Sogunro. Let nobody deceive us that these accomplishments are not worthy of celebration. For in a country where every succeeding government contributes practically nothing to the improvement of each citizen, and in fact, seem to actively repress any agenda for the progress of the people, it is remarkable that anyone can make anything of himself or herself at all.
The life of Ayo Sogunro reflects the best in us, Nigerians. His life shows our can-do attitude, our unwillingness to succumb to the rot, our ability to rise again and again in this Forest of a Thousand Daemons. Therefore, let us stand fast and reject those vain parasites feeding fat on the rest of us—whether they are found in society, in the religious houses or in the government. Let us not make heroes of our own oppressors; let us make heroes, instead, of ourselves. We, the everyday Nigerians, sane survivors in this uncontrolled jungle. May Ayo Sogunro rest in peace, and may his legacy rest in us.
You could have engaged with @ayosogunro on twitter, while he was still alive