KUNLE AJIBADE: A PROFILE IN COURAGE
A voice as keen as when a calm wind kneaded leaves, a conviction that burns with the ardour of the midday sun and a dream that sits precariously upon the quicksand of a futile hope, if this were a saner clime, Mr. Kunle Ajibade ought to matter more.
But this is Nigeria, a dream fast morphing into a cry to be shared.
Yet, Mr Ajibade didn't earn my esteem just because he survived the horror that was Abacha's gulag but because even though he came a short crawl away from losing both life and limb, he maintains such equanimity about life that might have been surreal if this isn't about a great man.
Perhaps I read his prison account “Jailed for Life”, a little too early, or more in a hurry such that its essence did not fully resonate with me at the time but when I met him in person on June 26, at the 5th series of the monthly Bookjam, hosted by Igoni Barret and the Silverbird lifestyle stores, my admiration for him took on an even tone. How does a man come to the nadir of despair and yet speak as though he wakes each morning from a bed of roses?
After reading excerpts of his work, “Jailed for Life”, the questions poured in from an eager audience and he answered them all, drawing a valiant breath here, pausing for effect there and all the while I fought to bale a flood of tears.
No, this man was not asking for pity. He seemed to hold a patent on courage.
Born on 28th of May, 1958, Mr Ajibade was educated the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, where he obtained his first degree in English Studies. Shortly afterwards, he earned a Masters degree in Literature-In-English in the same institution. He had held positions as Senior Correspondent, The African Concord; Assistant Editor, The African Guardian; he is Executive Editor, The NEWS and P.M. News. He was jailed for life in 1995 by a Special Military Tribunal set up by General Sani Abacha. Following an International outcry, Abacha reduced the prison term to 15 years.
Predictably, he was the subject of intense inquiry at the Bookjam, for a young generation of writers who lived in a country that seemed to hold a copyright on corruption, in a land where life is as unpredictable as a roll of dice, where people will gladly kill for some green bills with pictures of dead presidents and where your worth is essentially defined by your bank balance, the story of a man who went to jail on account of his principles is listened to with intense introspection.
When the Punch writer, Abimbola Adelakun asked about his relationship with his former jailers, I noticed a faint smile caress his sylphlike face. It was like a brief interlude of bitter bliss, a blush of stormy serenity all ensconced in a case of uncommon amity.
“I hold no grudge against them... they worked under a system where they might have even killed their own mothers had they been ordered to. They were much a victim as I was.”
I was speechless. It was for times like this I requested for a tinted glass. To hide tears stubborn enough to spill over the embankment of a heavy eye. Emotions though, don't obey such simulated boundaries; it crosses them to prove their irrelevance.
Everyday I think about these words, trying to appreciate their essence, to relieve their strength to draw courage from the power of the convictions that gave birth to them. I have also wondered at the sleuth of fate; Mr Ajibade would have been released in 2010 if fate hadn't been stern on the dark-goggled tyrant.
Fifteen years later, after a coup that occurred only in the feverish imagination of a tyrant, after his jailers such as Patrick Aziza had been awarded traditional stools that is putrid from shame for their roles in advancing a lie, and after the principles Mr Ajibade willed to die for are in advance stages of atrophy, after some of those who went to jail with him had jumped the ship of moral fortitude, Mr Ajibade remains convinced in the validity of the values that earned him three years in some of Nigeria's prisons that is humiliating even for an animal bred for slaughter.
This is a man that has transcended the plains of hate, whose rage has long atrophy, indeed a man who has rein in bitterness and laughs at the things that drove a knife through the sleep of his jailers.
“Indeed, if Abacha had a daughter who is willing and agrees to marry me, why not, I will marry her...” Mr Ajibade declared.
If Abacha were alive, I would have told him to eat his heart out. But Sani Abacha is very dead.
I end this piece, not because I have run out of steam – I could go on, the length of a life-time- but the courage of Kunle Ajibade is one that cries for action rather than a litany of platitudes. It is the story that motivates you to give your dream a chance.
If this isn't what courage is about, then those who wrote the dictionary are slow.
- Isaac Anyaogu writes movie scripts