The Obadiah I knew

As the sunset welcomed the twilight of December 24, 1956, my mother told me she began to feel signs of movement and labour pain in the left side of her womb. This child that was born would later be christened Obadiah as the first child of the family of the first wedded couple in the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ (ERCC) Randa, Sanga local government area of Kaduna state.

Before Obadiah was born, my father told me that he had saved from his meagre income of nine pounds a month to buy all the books the then young Obadiah would need to complete his primary education. He also told me that he was his private teacher, and by the age of five Obadiah could recite and memorise some bible verses. 

Young Obadiah then was used as a “wonder child” during bible sessions in church congregations to recite different bible verses offhand and to entertain guests at Christian gatherings or ceremonies.  Dad also told me that because of Obadiah’s increasing popularity and the need for expansion of his family and the increasing need to carter for his family education, he engaged his white employer on need for salary increase to 16 pounds per month.  When negotiation failed, he decided to quit the job to re-settle in Sabon Kwara village in Obi local government area of Nasarawa state for farming.

 After a year, his white employer came after him and told him he had agreed for the salary increase but he declined, insisting that he could only accept the job for 24 pounds. When I asked, Dad! Why were you too greedy? He said: I want a better future for my family. I want all my children to attain the same school and same level of education as the white man’s child.”  

As I write this tribute, I am the sixth in the genomic lineage of nine children, with Obadiah as the first born.  In fact, we are siblings from the same parents on the genogram. Obadiah, who died at the age of 64, was the first, followed by the late Iliya, a chartered surveyor and administrator who passed on over a decade ago at the age of 49.    

Out of dad’s nine children, we have lost our two most seniors, Obadiah and Iliya, to the cold hands of death.  I studied veterinary medicine and public health and rose to become a orofessor of microbiology and molecular epidemiology.  As a young growing child at primary school age in the late 1970s, I observed that Obadiah’s thirst for reading and love for education was unprecedented.   

He read voraciously. He went to toilet with books and slept with books. Obadiah was a true mentor to our family and someone we the younger siblings looked up to. He was always neatly dressed and hated noise or trouble. He sometimes reported us to dad or mum, and we received lashes of our lives. 

I never saw our dad or mum abusing him.  All I know about him was that he was our family’s celebrity, our mentor, a symbol of happiness and source of pride and joy to the family.

 While I was in primary school in the early 1980s, Obadiah had completed his NYSC and got his first appointment at Government Secondary School, Giwa, Zaria.  He requested live with him. He was then young bachelor and had his house rules that must not be contravened. The rules: “No loud music, no noise, no hanky-panky, no fight, but always reading and praying”. 

I cherished the then big secondary school books and novels of those days that he bought for me while attending primary school.  Some of the books included, ‘The Burning Grass’ by Cyprian Ekwensi; ‘Weep not child’ by Ngugi Wa Thiongo; ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe, etc.  He forced me to read one novel per week.  His hard-handed training on me made it easier for me to embrace the reading culture. 

To attest the academic prowess of Obadiah, anytime I visited his library, he would request me to pick any book of my choice.  When I did, he would ask me to read out the topics. Upon reading the titles, he would recite portions of the book again and again. I was greatly impressed by his demonstration of academic excellence. 

He was a consummate academic, banker, public servant, political scientist, development economist, theologian, historian, a literary expert, columnist, commentator, among others.  I know he had a lot of fans who cherished his versatility of knowledge as one former minister told me, while mourning at his home in Abuja. He said, “Nigerians have lost a gem, as we cannot produce up  to 10  Nigerians at present that will be knowledgeable,  well read and versatile like late Dr. Obadiah.”

His last words to me on the Friday morning (11:36 am) of September 17, 2021, less than 48 hours before his death was: “My brother, the devil comes to steal, kill and to destroy. But Jesus comes to give life and he gives it abundantly.  Choose your life and live”. 

What baffled me that day was why he was sending me such a message. I knew he meant well for our family and well-wishers.  One marvels why such a rather quiet personality of international repute could dabble in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. Our government should know it bluntly that he nurtured no hidden divisive agenda against his country.  What he wanted was a country free of incessant killings, kidnappings and other murderous activities across various Nigeria. 

 He wanted to see Nigeria as a country that gives equal opportunities to all her citizens regardless of tribe, religion or social class. He wanted a total turnaround in the Nigerian economy, with zero tolerance to corruption. He always told me that Nigeria has a great future and could be the greatest economy in Africa and one of the greatest economies globally.

Obadiah’s simple demands borrowed its script from most Nigerian patriots and founding fathers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Let me plead with the federal government to devise new modalities to end killings, kidnappings and other murderous activities occurring in all sections of Nigeria. If the government redoubles its efforts in ending these vices in Nigeria, my brother’s death would not be in vain.

Mailafia, a professor of microbiology and molecular epidemiology, writes via 080322922883;

[email protected]

Related content you may like