REFLECTIONS AT 70!
This is the day! Today the 15th of September 2011 I will turn eventy years of age! Truth be told when I was half this age I never imagined I would achieve it.
At that time I drank heavily and indulged in several other activities that I thought would enhance my enjoyment of life, and that were later to threaten my health. About twenty years ago when I became involved in fighting for the restoration of peace in Liberia I told myself that I might not survive the conflict. It did not bother me.
All I wanted was to serve the cause of justice even if it meant the loss of my life. I had not considered the attainment of old age a priority. Instead up to that time (and even now) it was (and is) the quality of one's contribution to the interests of others that I considered to be the true purpose of life. If those who knew me well during the period when I served Nigeria to the best of my abilities during the civil war read this I believe most of them (people like Jimmy 'Okoro' Johnson) will confirm that we operated as if every day was the last. I had never really thought about it but now that I have attained the age of reflection I realise that I genuinely thought at that time that I would never see old age.
I can remember a time in my early twenties when I lived in London, Frankfurt, Paris, and Tangier and, for a while in Tunisia and Libya, when I genuinely lived in a whirl of such oblivion that it appeared unlikely that I would ever witness my thirtieth birthday. For this reason I wrote at that time like one possessed and I still believe my work of that period represents the high points of my creative output. Everything that has come since then I regard as being virtually reprises of my youthful inspiration. My journalistic efforts are another matter. While the poetry and fiction that came later tends to be more cautious and formal than the fiction and poetry of my youth, in my journalistic output I seem to have become increasingly attached to formal reportage.
I accepted the inevitability of old age only after it was clear to me that I had escaped the natural consequences of the prolific debauchery of my youth a few years ago. When I turned 65 and found myself in robust health when compared to the state of my health in my mid-forties I knew something had changed. For those who believe in the divine purpose of man's existence it might appear that the Good Lord has laid a hand on me.
I personally don't believe that. Instead I believe that my commitment to contributing my quota to the simple task of encouraging those younger than me to live honestly and to build their capacity and talent for the good of others has helped me achieve a balance of moral order in my life. I have not had to regret too much in my life. Oh yes I have remained totally without wealth. I do not have a house of my own. I have one old car that keeps me chained to the mechanic.
I have several children who consider me a total failure as a father but whose own talents and virtues never fail to amaze me. Whatever I can do to support them I do but there are often times when their needs are abandoned to fate because their father cannot manage the simplest act of committed support. In my old age though I have also become closely linked to my younger children because having abandoned the wilder forays into adventure in search of truth I have become enamoured of the paternal duties that I should have undertaken in my younger days.
In a way this is a confused and topsy-turvy reality that I need to acknowledge for what it really is. I am a dysfunctional being but not a determined sinner. I am a seventy year old youth who knows that while his time might be up physically his role on earth will reverberate even after he is gone. I have reached the age of seventy years but in spirit I may never pass the age of twenty-five. Therein lay the truth of my entire life. Some people say that after seventy they consider themselves to be living on borrowed time. For me I have been living on borrowed time for more than fifty years.
It is this perception of the good fortune of my having reached this ripe age that commands my attention as people pay me tribute. Let me thank my former Editor Femi Adesina, now our Deputy Managing Director, who in his short but very enlightening mention of my approaching age on Friday last week surprised me with the sincerity of his appreciation for our friendship, More importantly the expressions of support and gratitude from several younger people in Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and elsewhere have served to assure me that these were not wasted years. Now I am hearing that I touched so many lives with my simple message that we should be always be considerate of each other.
The truth is that if you live your life in concert with the principle of 'Do unto others as you would them do unto you', you can hardly go wrong. I believe that you do not have to be Christian or a Muslim or the adherent of any formal religion to treat your fellow man with compassion, honesty and concern. I also believe that you cannot expect to be rewarded for all the good deeds you perform in your daily existence so you should not seek such reward before serving mankind. You must however expect to be compensated for your work according to the quality of your performance.
In that light everything you set out to do you must do well so that reward when it comes will be well-deserved. I do not know any other way to explain the good fortune I have had having lived in West Africa as a totally independent and unchallenged free-lance journalist for the last forty five years. I have had a good run to this seventieth birthday and nothing that has happened to me so far suggests that I will not continue to have a good run for quite some time to come. I am neither praying for a longer life nor wishing for the end. I am simply hopeful that I will be able to continue to practice my craft of observation and commentary for the edification of those who bother to read me for at least another decade or a substantial part of it.
Now as I reflect on what has brought me to this point in life I must also express my gratitude to certain friends who by their own selfless support and help have inspired me with hope for the future that my children will inhabit. I know there are those who will find this list unusually weighted with names of officialdom but the way I met and knew people like Ibrahim Babangida, M.D. Yusufu and T.Y. Danjuma in my early twenties is totally at variance with the prominence that they later attained in the life of Nigeria. Without their friendship then I might never have stayed here until now, and the interesting thing is that we have remained close friends in spite of the vast difference in our stations in life.
Then there is the aforementioned great actor Jimmy 'Okoro' Johnson who guided me through some of my scariest moments in the Civil War and elsewhere, and Torch Oritsejolomi Taire (TOT) and his wife Femi for whose love and support I can never express enough gratitude. Benson Idonije the radio producer par-excellence and the late great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ola Balogun, Emmanuel Kalio, Margaret Akua Busby, Ben Asante, Sando Moore, Yaw Mallet…the list is endless and there is no space…but what I am trying to say is that life is made up of friendship. I hope all my children will remain my friends forever and I hope my present wife Asamaere will not fall victim to my former irresponsibility because at seventy my life has just begun.