My dear Friend, Big Brother, Angbian & Compatriot,
When I got the message yesterday that you had left us, my first thought was: “My friend Mailafia will outlive Nigeria. We all will.” Perhaps because I was in the thick of studying through one of my favourite books in the Bible, Revelation of John of Patmos, and was pondering Revelation 20:11-13. This scripture tells us that in due time, all of the earth (including our beloved Nigeria and all other nations) and all the sky will flee from the presence of the One seated on the great white throne and then all who have died will stand before Him to be judged by what was recorded that they had done.
I guess that was also my first thought because I knew how much you loved this beautiful, blessed and troubled country God had seen fit to birth you in and you died loving her still. As I went about my business today in sober reflection about your life and your courage, I kept remembering our Lord’s admonition which you obeyed fully:
“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell… whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:27-31)
You spoke in the daylight what he told you in the dark. What was whispered in your ear, you proclaimed from the roofs. You were not afraid of body killers in Nigeria and you owned your Master with your full chest!
Ah! Our loss is God’s gain. I know you loved Him deeply. It shone through in your love for people, for truth and your incredible courage. Your truly Jesus-like humility. You were so brilliant, and so accomplished yet you stooped to extend a hand of fellowship, friendship and encouragement to me when I reached out to you after reading some of your articles. I know you did so for many others who became your mentees and younger siblings.
Educated in some of the best schools in Nigeria, France and England, you possessed a truly awe-inspiring intellect and a fine mind, tempered by great faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Every encounter with you was a true joy. I remember our first conversation where you spoke a few words of Tiv to me and then told me a Tiv woman (your uncle’s wife) had been like a mother to you and you considered yourself a Tiv man. I was therefore your little Tiv sister.
I remember you teaching me how to greet in your language. You would patiently correct my rather atrocious French anytime I tried to practice on you – after all you spoke it fluently! You could hold your own and teach on any subject whether literature, economics, politics, history or theology. A true polymath! You told me about your ongoing friendship with the South African missionary who had translated the Gospel of Mark into the Tiv language in 1962! Mind-blowing!! You were always learning something new and every conversation with you left me googling a scholar or article or book you had referred to during our conversation. Ah! Nigeria, as we know it today, was not worthy of you.
I am sorry I did not get to visit with you and your beloved family or send you that carrot cake I had promised you last Christmas – you told me to save it for when we next meet and laughingly referred to yourself as a displaced person as you were in a remote location far from home. I am glad I got to tell you that you were in righteous company for speaking up when you did last year. I am doubly glad we spent some good time catching up on the phone the last time we spoke some weeks ago.
As I say au revoir, I remember C. S. Lewis’s words in his ‘Weight of Glory’:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
Thank you for taking this Lewisian duty seriously and helping many of us towards that everlasting splendid condition which, by God’s good grace, you have now attained.
Adieu mon cher Docteur Obadiah Mailafia. It has been a great honour and privilege to call you Brother and Friend. See you on the other side by His loving grace.
- Ier Jonathan is the Executive Director of Sesor Empowerment Foundation, a non-profit organisation providing relief and rehabilitation services to internally displaced persons in central and southwest Nigeria.