Here, We Celebrate Only. The Bereaved Are Left to Mourn Their Dead!

Prince Debo Luwaji

By Prince Debo Luwaji

The death in a California helicopter crash on Friday 9 February 2024 of Nigerian billionare banker Herbert Wigwe, his wife Doreen Chizoba and son Chizy, along with the former group chairman of Nigeria’s stock exchange Abimbola Ogunbanjo is easily one of the most shattering news of the new year yet.

For Herbert, the sudden departure of such a young promising life who had made noiseless but tremendous impact within the Nigerian banking industry – a passion for excellence that he had only recently taken into private university education, left the business community in particular and indeed the nation in utter shock.

May his soul and the rest who lost their lives in that tragic accident rest in peace. Interestingly, what has been dominating the news lately, especially in the ubiquitous social media, is not the random visits by symphathisers to Wigwe’s aged parents but rather the so-called impropiety of a lavish 60th birthday party organised within a week or so of Wigwe’s death by Mrs Siji Iluyomade wife of Idowu Iluyomade the presiding pastor of City of David, one of Redeemed Christian Church of God’s most outstanding parishes.The arguments of the critics are that given the monumental contributions of late Herbert Wigwe to the church, especially in terms of his finances and the goodwill he brought into the chuch’s newly constructed impressive auditorium, add this to his singular impact in the celebrant’s annual Arise Women’s Conference programme, Mrs Iluyomade ‘s birthday celebration should have been toned down considerably or postponed altogether.

Thus, regarding the departed Wigwe, the picture is being painted of a man who must be feeling utterly betrayed by the church and the pastors he held in such esteem, albeit unworthily now in retrospect. In other words, looking down from wherever he is, he must be weeping and regretting ever putting his resouces at the disposal of the church.

Sadly, we do not and cannot have Herbert’s opinion on this matter, because he is no longer with us. But I am ready to hazzard a guess. If there’s any trace of tears in his eyes presently, it must overthe utter ignorance of most of those who have chosen to cry louder than the bereaved, painting the media space with all manner of self-serving conjectures he neither sent them nor subscribed to. It was his money afterall.So, if the critics’ arguments were valid, liberal-minded worshippers in our churches should take a cue from Wigwe’s ‘back-stabing’ experience and withold their purses.

Similarly, all drumming and dancing must stand still, at least for the moment, for all those to whom he had been an Unforgettable blessing.Incidentally true Christians dont think this way. Nor do those of other faith whose motivations for being a blessing to others are for the right reasons. I am not a member of City of David but I have no doubt there are hundreds of Wigwe, past and present, in that parish and elsewhere in our churches who do the same and much more.

There are wealthy people who silently and single handedly built impressive sactuaries and hand it over to the churches for use. Whatever late Wigwe did for the church, which by the way is not the personal enterprise of the Iluyomades, it must have been out of deep personal convictions that he was promoting a worthy cause on behalf of a benevolent God who gave him all the resources in the first place.

Perhaps it was also for such an unexpected departure such as his that he had such disposition, so that he could meet his maker fully satisfied of what he had committed his God-given resources to.Now, I bid you not rush to the conclusion that this writer didnt know how it feels to be bereaved and betrayed by the reactions of those to whom your commitment had been total and without reservations. I know how, and I would come to this shortly.

Firstly, lets examine the person of Dr. Mrs Iluyomade, the lawyer, activist and pastor. From all I have seen from afar, she is colorfully flamboyant without any apology and her occasions are always a big affair. In this wise, no one except those watching to find the right reasons to nail her, and perhaps the church by extenstion, would expect anything less than big celebration on a day she had looked forward to all her life. She is entitled to her foibles.

Ordinarily, people celebrate themselves heavily on their milestone birthdays of 40, 50 and 60 with as much pomp as their pockets would carry, openly greatful for the many of life’s battles encountered and won. Any age from 70 are celebrated with even greater funfair, but often by the children, except the celebrant have not done enough to put them on the path of success or left them with ungrateful heart. Those who talk about cancellations are either ignorant of its far reaching implications or just being plain mischievous. If you are conversant with parties, the kind that successful people organise, you would know that planning and payments are concluded several months ahead.

There’s no way you could be guaranteed your choice of date at a 5-star hotel if you didn’t book a year ahead, nor can you secure the services of a notable musician, event planner as well other quality vendors whose diaries are often congested all year-round without a long standing commitment.

Indeed, what looked like a carnival in this particular case may have actually cost far less than our visual estimate because of early planning.In any case, with all due respects, that is not the kind of party you stop suddenly except there’s a global pandemic-related shutdown. As for toning down a celebration, is there a generally acceptable definition?

Trust me, except the celebrant was seen in mourning clothes with people consoling her on a day she should be celebrated, nothing else would have assuaged the expectations of most of those commentators on social media.I lost my wife of 45years recently, a most precious gift who had been my closest friend since we met at the University.

Being a woman of means even by her own account, she had impacted her local church and our various family connections in a manner adjudged by all as deep, selfless and Unforgettable. Her painful departure occured at a period of weddings and other events to which our extended family members had arrived Nigeria from across the world. The celebrations didn’t stop, nor were they toned down even if we never doubted that the hearts of all friends and families were severely grieved.

She would not have wished it otherwise. Barely two weeks after her demise, seizing on the opportunity of all of our families who were in the country in any case, we gave her a final burial rites that was modest in our reckoning but which many. especially those least affected by our fortine, might consider outlandish!As for the responses of others to our monumental loss, that is another story altogether. A few were prompt in their visits and constant in their calls of commiseration. Some accompanied theirs with generous gifts as part of identifying with the finances of the burial. They will not be forgotten.

There were very close friends and families who didnt immediately call or come thereafter, perhaps too benumbled to admit to the reality of such shattering news. Incidentally, in such instances, the more you prevaricated the more it became difficult For a family that has hosted big time events in 2000 capacity hall, often filled to the brim, the immediate disparity between those who celebrated with us in our days of joy and those who heartily identified with us in our mourning was striking.

Yet you cant take these things to heart, otherwise you would compound your sorrow. It is not personal, its simply the way the world rolls. In these parts, we celebrate only. If the deseased is very old, it is still considered a big celebration of sort and the family will most likely still enjoy the usual overflowing crowd in colourful Aso-ebi at the burial reception.

The truth however is that the death of a loved one, at whatever age, is always deeply hurtful and a test of faith. You wondered why God didn’t allow them stay longer. You may be mouthing “Amen” to the prayers of symphathisers but a barage of questions are flooding your mind simultaneously. You look at the faith and prayerful disposition of the deceased and wondered why an all-knowing God didnt stop the unfortunate tragic happening. In the Wigwes case, there were a coupe of aides who missed that flight by the whiskers. Would you call them insensitive if they mounted the alter for thanksgiving and throw a party in appreciation of God, the same God, for their last-minute escape.? These are the complexities of faith. Our pastors and religious leaders never prepared us for bereavement.

The side of God knowlege they imparted to us week after week is the benevolent God from whom all blessings flow. If their messsges were to be filled with the melancholy of the eventuality of death, most churches would be empty on Sundays. But why listen only to your pastor when the bible is a surer guide?

Ecclesiastics 7:2 says it is better to visit the house of mourning than the house of feasting. This passage is not to despise celebrations but merely admonishes us to remain conscious of the reality of death.No man’s death stills the drumming nor stops the dancing, except in his own house and within his own family. That one particular family celebrates grandiously in the midst of the deepest sorrow of another is nothing personal. It is a reality of life that we must all prepare ourselves for. The earlier we accept this truism, the easier it is to bear the pains of bereavement.

Prince Debo Luwaji ia an Entrepreneur and media practitioner.

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