Monday, May 24, 2010

Man of Contrasts

(Fiction based on fact)

I was with him at the installation of the Omo L’oju Oba of Ijebuland. A very remarkable Ijebu Prince; cast in the original majestic mould of his Nubian ancestry in Wadai, Old Sudan, from whence the Ijebus emigrated. Carrying within him the spiritual and material DNA of the Biblical Canaan, Grandson of Noah. Totally and immeasurably dignified by the very essence of his size. Such was the mesmerism which he caused that one might feel that even the earth was content merely to carry his immense weight. And when I watched him recently deliver a poignant exposition of Black African heritage at the Constituency For Africa Town Meeting in Detroit, Michigan in the United States, my own mesmerism was complete.

The Prince stood at just under six feet tall and dark as ebony. His chest as big and round as a garbage can, while his head, as large as a pumpkin, is crowned with bounteous, shiny black and thick curly hair. He weighs twice an average sack of rice and walks with a slight limp, exaggerated to impress of his Civil War hero’s wounds. But in reality, not a single piece of his endomorphic mass is missing. His large brown eyes mounted on a grim face, sparkled intermittently over his ruddy cheeks and sculptured pink lips. The Prince has palms so wide and fingers so delicately long that the contrast with his generally rugged size, and his size ten feet almost makes him look like the Nutty Professor, all size, all softness.

Prince Jagunmolu, descendant of the Gbelebuwa Royal Family of Ijebuland. Industrialist, renowned humanist, social rights advocate and a man of many diverse achievements, is a true African man of timbre and calibre – a man of contrasts. He likes to project this image with fastidious determination. His trademark black double-breasted jacket, blue, almost black, satin shirt, black silk bow tie, and black pair of trousers that would because of their sheer size most certainly do for a parachute. The Prince adorns his phalanges with the most exquisite choice of solid gold ornaments, platinum Cartier wristwatches, gold coin rings engraved with the royal crest of his family, and sometimes long gold chains which he wore around the neck and would be seen riding over his thick, silky beards.

Enhancing the protoplasmic properties of this man is the fact that he proves to be a man almost without equal in expressing his gift of the gab. A persuasive man with systematic grace in expression one would be forced to believe he never was meant for telling lies. The Prince perpetually looks cool and calm; but this apparent casualness is on inspection seen to be under strict mental discipline. When he speaks it is with a serious, deeply felt theme of facial expression, which seems to contrast with the fire of his words and sets up tension which is classically brilliant. His hands empathise with his speech in passive rhythm and instinctive grace. The Prince is virile, yet mannerly; as sweet of temper as he is quick to anger. His wary eyes dart from friend to foe with the swiftness of thought; and every now and then he adopts a solemn, oratorical tone which is underlined by the superficially uplifting nature of his words.

At the CFA Town Meeting, I listened to the Prince re-invent African history and culture with his Oxford-acquired accent. I was very proud of his mystique. This mystique was a cause for two thousand attendees to stay glued to their seats in amazing silence for over sixty minutes as my fellow Nigerian visited the mythical Utopia in Africa, re-connecting the homeland with the young World. The Mayor of Detroit sat next to me. His ochre-brown mixed-race facade turning white as he held his breath, so as not to miss a single beat of the jungle drums of an authentic African Prince. And when Prince Jagunmolu punctuated his speech with the “Golden Silence”, the electric effect created almost levitated us from our seats. If that had been a Presidential campaign for the White House, and the power was in the hands of the two thousand people there seated, my proud Prince would be the Man.

It mattered little that he wore a classic British country squire attire, or that his accents and affectations were of upper- crust English, which contrasted with his heritage and crown in Ijebuland. As for his pronouncements about pride in all things African, it mattered little that he married a white American woman and had his children at boarding school in Zurich. Nor did it matter that more than two thirds of his life had been spent studying, living and working in European and American societies. My Prince was more conversant about our cultures than many who had never left the shores of Africa. He was the perfect man for the job. The contrasting effects of his being, background and pretensions were precisely what fitted him to the job of African Ambassador-at-large, for the African Union.

And now, recently honoured after his amazing presentations, and happy to fill me, his recently discovered cousin, in about his ideals for Nigerian statehood, he started on the final part of his lecture on the vision for the twenty first century. I write what he said so eloquently, and which taught me a new meaning of our future as a nation, and our part in the unfolding drama of its creation.

"... and in this pursuit it is imperative to mobilise my physical self, inspired by the evolution of great men the world over. Experiment with the ideals of and crafts of men like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela; their philosophies of life, of leadership and statecraft. Then to expand the substance of these principles and integrate them into a universal form that is all encompassing. A principle propagating unity, peace and progress for Mankind – that is my dream.”

Only once before in my lifetime have I had the same sense of effervescent inspiration created by the words and charisma of an individual. Almost ten years earlier, I sat and listened to the most moving speech by an equally engaging character as my Prince. It was from Nelson Mandela. Perhaps, I often thought, Prince Jagunmolu was destined to become the ‘Madiba’ of our own generation. At that time, ten years ago, fresh from twenty seven years of solitary confinement, Mandela had shown the lucidity in speech of someone who had been touched by the hand of God. Mandela told us about the virtues of service, love and selflessness. About courage, faith and perseverance. He became an icon for a world lacking in true heroes, representing the best of African heritage. Side by side, my Prince lacked only the paramount sacrifice of political confinement, and the martyrdom that entrains. Nonetheless, the contrasts in the life experiences of these two men, born a full generation apart, was indicative of the nature of the ebbing colonial times which must give way to the new age, new men and new processes. Prince Jagunmolu never commanded a military force nor did he suffer confinement for his action compelling words. But he had a subtle penetrating power in his words, mannerisms and actions that compel and motivate many to positive activities.

So highly cultured is the Prince’s great soul, and so divinely nurtured is his wisdom that he very easily overcomes resistance and antagonism to his ideas. The poor and rich alike find solace in his Golden Path, the path of prayer and love. Inspired by this wiser and older cousin of mine I had to write down my own vision for the future, and my part in the actualisation of this vision.

‘A philosopher is said to always chase perfection, though he realises that he may never attain it, for perfect understanding will often extinguish pleasure. But we must endeavour to change the world. It is imperative to hear the still, inner voice of God, and remain pure, untouched, uncontaminated, by activities that destroy collective human progression. The path to the fulfilment of this destiny, is the Golden Path. It is the way which God has laid in my heart, and which I am compelled to follow’

Prince Jagunmolu had put a seed within me, even if in my dreams. Every epoch has many men whose irons are in the fire, and whose role it is to be born different from the path that they eventually follow: like Moses, Like Mother Teresa, like Mandela. I have chosen a path, which my visions have inspired; well trodden by the founding of our civilisation. And for the many mistakes which I must make along the path, they would be aberrations on the script, slipped in by the thieves of the night, whose paths are akin to that of the devil, and who we must all conquer.

Irons In The Fire - George H. Ashiru

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