I am pained.
This was not the plan. This was not the dream.
This was not how it was supposed to end.
I don’t even know what to say about my country anymore. We keep paying a high, damn too high a price for the inefficiencies, inadequacies, bigotry, corruption, ethnic bias and religious ignorance in our country Nigeria. And the most painful part is that it doesn’t look like ending.
If there ever was a best cousin to have, Uncle Bayo it was. He in essence was my mum’s real first son – i am just the first biological son. Having grown up in our home before i was born, i grew to meet a loving, caring, always encouraging cousin who we all called “uncle Bayo” because of the age difference. I can’t even believe i am using the past tense for him. Geez.. I can’t remember ever crying this hard in my life. I had to cry really hard really quickly because i became concerned for his mum, my mother – she was too inconsolable and i was miles away trying to get her calm.
Uncle Bayo joined the Nigerian military years ago without telling my mum. For all she knew, he was in technical school and working at furthering is education but he went and enlisted in the military. When he came in uniform, my mother flipped. Like, why did you go and do this? After while, mummy came to the realization that this was done and Uncle Bayo had chosen his path. It is with this same conviction and strength of belief that he led his life. As a born again Christian, he would tell me stories about leading fellowships among soldiers, about guarding coup plotters during the military regime and how they loved and confided in him, his experiences in peacekeeping missions, how he lost his toe in combat, how they quell crises, how they deal with very bad criminal elements.
Uncle Bayo was a thorough-bred professional soldier with a heart, and he loved us. Oh how he loved my mother’s children. I remember in my teenage years being a very stubborn child, i went really wild but every time my mother complained, Uncle Bayo always told her “a child of many prayers is never lost”; i never forgot that statement. He assured her that i’d come through. The last time i remember him also saying it to my mum was many years ago at the burial of my grandmother “a child of many prayers is never lost” he told her. In time, at the age of 18, no one spoke or preached to me. I got born-again just sitting with myself and deciding it was time to make my life count – a child of many prayers is never truly lost.
About five years ago, he was deployed to the north of Nigeria. My mum was worried, everyone showed concern but faith in God that he will come back in one piece. The worse part for me was in the heady days of President Jonathan’s handling of the Boko haram crisis, i prayed that the inefficiency wouldn’t affect him. He would consistently call my mum to tell her he is fine, many times he barely escaped terrorist attacks that took out those around him, many times he was at border towns calling us to calm everyone at home – that was Uncle Bayo for you. When he had some little break and came to Lagos, he said to me “the government of Nigeria and the US know what is going on”, “the government is being corrupt with the insurgency, they have people inside”, “we don’t have good weapons, the terrorists are more equipped than us”, “the only way the terrorists are getting supplies of food and weapons is because there is complicity in the government”. This hurt me really bad, for him and for the many Nigerians sacrificing their family members for the greed of a few. This further informed my deep desire to ensure that President Jonathan never made it back to Aso rock.
In the midst of the battle he was daily faced with for almost five years up north, Uncle Bayo reached out to me more than i reached out to him. He was constantly, consistently, communicating with me, he kept encouraging me via facebook messages. He kept assuring me and my siblings that he was fine and was coming back home. I slept in peace at home in Lagos, but Uncle Bayo was more concerned about my growth and progress and reached out to me often. He once came to my house from Maiduguri when i was out of town and my mother was around. That was the first and only time he was able to visit my place in Lagos Shortly after, i got a message from him telling me how proud he was of my success and how i had moved up in life. It took me back to a few years earlier when i came into Lagos squatting with friends and i went to see him – he kept encouraging and sharing with me how life will get better, how he liked that i was consistently venturing. He showed me some of the business he did on the side to support his wife and three boys. When i got that message from him, i remembered how far i had come and a cousin who loved me like i was his own son.
There is so much to say about Uncle Bayo. I got to learn that most people around him, including his colleagues called him “Uncle Bayo”. The more i think, the more i write, the more i cry, i remember how much of a great person he was. I am pained he is not here anymore, i am pained that he survived the fighting in the forest and suddenly fell sick in the city on his way back home. I am pained he couldn’t get the best medical attention in a military hospital in the country he gave his life fighting for. I am pained that we lost him few days to him coming back home finally from his assignment up north. I am pained to see his wife and three kids without their father who they had hardly seen in the last five years. I am pained that this country has me paying this kind of price in this way. But i celebrate his life through my tears. I celebrate his love through my heart break. I celebrate his sacrifice for me and my siblings, to get us going in life. I celebrate the things he pioneered among his peers and comrades who have nothing but amazing stuff to say about him. I celebrate his heart for God and how much he used his time on earth for the kingdom of God.
Fare thee well Uncle Bayo. God took my Uncle Bayo back to himself.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory, forever and ever, amen.