SON OF INDEPENDENCE
Rejoice with those who are rejoicing, the book of Romans says. On this Sunday evening, I have come here to wine, dine and rejoice with my engineer friend, a perfect gentleman by name Mike Okolo, who is celebrating his 50th life on earth this August.
Friends from past and present had come along to join in the celebration which he did not know was taking place behind him. He had been dragged into the celebration hall on false pretense, thanks to a birthday coup plotted by his wife and his bosom friend. As Okolo was ushered into the hall by the wife holding him by the hand, the lights were switched off. There was utter darkness. After the brief interlude of darkness came light.
Ah, the power of light which overcomes darkness. This is what we have been praying for and hoping for in this country, for light to overpower darkness, both physically and spiritually in our beloved Nigeria.
Suddenly, there was light and our friend, Okolo was simply dazed, amazed and fazed. Everywhere he looked, he saw familiar faces from the past. Faces, he had not seen for a very long, long time, but which he was seeing now. Emotion took over him.
He was staring but paradoxically, he was staring into the emptiness of a crowded room. His stares were the stares of a man who could not believe his eyes. It was as if he was in a trance. He was speechless. His mouth was agape. He wanted to say something, but the words won't come.
For a moment, his heart stopped beating. Nostalgia overwhelmed him. There were too many people to embrace. Who would he embrace first? How many people would he embrace? One after the other, he embraced.
'Ooooooh Mike, so you came?' he said, as he locked me in an emotional wrestle of embrace. 'Thank you for coming. I truly appreciate this.'
Every good thing starts with prayers. Prayers inviting the Holy Spirit to the occasion. Prayers thanking God for the life of the celebrant. Prayers asking God to bless the celebrant and his family. Prayers asking for divine protection and a spirit of renewal for the celebrant. Prayers said in Jesus' blessed name.
The man saying the prayers was Rev. Canon Kelvin Tope-Tapere, former Chaplain to Bishop of Lagos West (Anglican Communion) and now Vicar of St. Paul's Anglican Church, Ojodu-Abiodun, Lagos. After prayers, it was dancing time. The music on the turntable was the music from the archives, music from the past, music from the good old days—what they call Old School music.
Beloved, I threw my shyness out of the window and hit the dancing floor. You needed to see me. I was the old James Brown in a new wineskin, bobbing, gyrating and feeling good on the dance floor. Here was the music of the good, old Kool and the Gang, asking us to 'Celebrate good times, come on…'
Wow, this is what the French call joie de vivre—the joy of living. We thank God for life and the joy of living.
After Kool and the Gang, came another song saying: 'Last night a Deejay saved my life…'
I remember very well that song by a group called INDEEP. Those were the good old days when the music was good. Every generation tells you that their music was better than the other generation. Music, like wine, tastes better with age. Old school music is like a signpost which takes you back in time. You hear an old tune and you feel nostalgic and ask: Where had the good old days gone? You hear an old sound and you wonder: How old were you and where were you then when the music was reigning? Were you in primary school or secondary school or the university?
Last night a Deejay saved my life? No way! These days, I would rather sing: Last night, Lord Jesus saved my life. That sounds better to me in my renewed faith.
But this column is not about me per se. It is about Eng. Mike Okolo, one of those men who are busy, quietly doing their best in the anonymity of corporate Nigeria, but would never be heard, would never be celebrated, would never be written about, because they are not politicians, they are not noisemakers, they are not newsmakers, they are not controversial. The like of Eng. Okolo, like me, would never win national honours, because nobody would submit our names for honours. But tonight, I say, you are honoured, in Jesus' name. Tonight, your name will be heard. Tonight, I will put your story on the hill, in the papers, on Internet, so that men would read and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Tonight, I celebrate all the hard working servants of Nigeria, putting in their best to make this country called Nigeria become a better country. Your labour would not be in vain. Even though, the Nigerian stock market has brought you calamity and swept away all that you saved for the rainy day, the Lord is your strength.
In the case of Okolo, I call him the 'Son of Independence' because he is one of those born in the year of Nigeria's independence. That makes him the son of independence. Just this year, he was promoted Executive Director in First Aluminium, the company where he works. Ironically, the company itself is 50 years old this year. And on the spiritual side, Okolo was knighted this year in the Anglican Church, where he is a devout servant of the Most High.
The only child of his parents, Okolo immersed himself deeply in education, seeing education as the key to his future prosperity. His brilliance won him a government scholarship that saw him through University of Benin, where he passed out in Second Class Upper in Engineering. At the First Aluminium, in Port Harcourt, where he worked as an engineer, he had been sent to Lagos to temporarily replace an engineer who was going on leave, but he distinguished himself to the point where the headquarters found it difficult to allow him go back to Port Harcourt. It nearly caused a rift between Port Harcourt and the Lagos arm of the company. And that was how Okolo ended up in Lagos from where he worked hard and rose to become General Manager and Executive Director and now a member of the board of the company.
Everybody who attested to Okolo's character rather than night portrayed him as a man of great humility, a kind man, a hard working man, a good manager of men and material, and above all, a man who fears God and gives his time for the service of God. Rev. Canon Kelvin Tope-Tapere testifies that in the crowded, busy lives of managing directors and top executives, Okolo is one man who still finds the time regularly to attend prayer meetings and church activities. The man of God told the gathering that greatness lies in humility, that a rich man is even greater when he has humility.
In my tribute, I reminded the gathering of the day armed robbers stormed Eng. Okolo's house and nearly shot him, but he survived by the grace of God.
'The point in all this,' I said, 'is for us to appreciate God and his hands of protection over us in this crime-infested country called Nigeria. Fifty years alive in Nigeria is something to thank God for. I rejoice with Mike Okolo.'
At 50, I advised him to look after his body and to regularly exercise. At 50, I asked him to get ready for a second life. Cause life begins again at 50—even for our beloved Nigeria that is about to clock 50.