Our paths never crossed before; though his has traversed the world in-between the two seas. I did not know him personally though I have been privileged to know some of those who are close to him. He is a friend to the high and the mighty. He is a confidant to the emperor, the only idol that bestrides the political landscape of Nigeria. The octogenarian who is of interest to us in our sermon today is a close friend to the first letter-writer-in-chief, in “United States” of Nigeria. He is equally a bosom friend to the legal icon and luminary, the former chief justice of Nigeria, the veteran of the world court in Hague, Prince Bola Ajibola.
Brethren, destiny took to me to the event; to the birthday ceremony. Before that day, I have always held an extremely unpopular opinion of birthdays. Unpopular because I see birthdays as death days. I see birthdays as days which remind me of the reduction in the number of days left for me to live on earth. I ponder my birthdays as solemn days in which I should undertake some self-probations and some self-inquisitions. If I have been destined to live up to ninety years on earth, of what value would my merriment be on my fortieth birthday since I have fifty years left on earth? To what use have I put those passages: the passage of time, of age, of life? Such has and still is my posture in regard to birthdays before I arrived at the venue of the event.
In my usual style, I entered the hall of the event incognito, unobtrusively. I always prefer to remain like a dot in the diagram, a face in the crowd. Not long thereafter the birthday celebrant was ushered into the venue in company of hundreds of well-wishers. There was no way I could still identify him in the multitude. Soon the event got underway. Soon the celebrant was asked to rise up and dance to the music being played in his honour. The hall rose in adoration when the celebrant began to dance as if he was still in his twenties. It was at that moment that the first motivation for this essay was birthed- to dance at eighty and energetically too is to be in full control of one’s psychomotor, to feel strong at heart. Then I remembered many others of the same age bracket who have become completely senile. I remember many others of that age bracket and even less who have become burdens on life simply because their body has no use for life anymore. I was seized by the fact that there are some people out there who would continue to enjoy divine providence until their “account” on earth is fully exhausted. I remembered that no soul would be given its ‘boarding pass” to heaven unless and until its account on terrestrial earth is completely empty.
But the question became urgent-what is the secret behind this old man’s healthy life? I asked myself: “How can I also become an octogenarian and still have the vigour to “kick” and ‘suck’ life the way this man does?”
Eventually, I was asked to come over to the centre of the hall. Eventually we met face to face. Eventually, the young met the old; the octogenarian came face to face with the subject at the middle-road of life. There I saw a face with no wrinkles. I beheld a physique which suffered no bent or diminution.
Then I remembered those days; days when people of his age would tie new nuptial knots; days when our forefathers usually find new use for ‘the engine’ of life. I therefore contemplated Alhaji’s mien more closely.
I wanted to chance upon figure ‘eighty’ but could not find it. What I found was a personality that appeared to have succeeded in getting all the equations right. In line with the Quran, he appeared to have refrained from upsetting the scale of life in line with the injunction in Surah al-Rahman.(Quran55: 8)
Not done with teasing lessons of life from his fountain of wisdom, I asked him about the secret of his healthy living. His response was highly instructive. He bid alcoholic consumption by over four decades ago in obeisance to the will of the Almighty. His food regimen is equally one to emulate. He is in the habit of taking oats or pap in the morning, something ‘solid’ in the afternoon and only fruits in the evening. His pleasure lies in making people happy; in extending hands of succour to those in dire situations. If indeed you desire to know just how many people would miss you on your death day, watch out for those who turn up at your birthday.
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Afis Ayinde Oladosu is a professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Nigeria