A Nation Mourns Two Tragedies
By Chika Onyeani
(Snippet) "Now, all the speculation about what killed or how Stella Obasanjo died, has been removed, no thanks to a blabber-mouth of an Ambassador who figures himself to be a spokesperson for the Obasanjo family in releasing intimate details of the last days of her life. Give a small man a big job, he still behaves like a bushman: this Ambassador must never have crossed or even smelled the corridors of an diplomatic or protocol school, that it is up to the family to release the kind of information they want the public to know and not to read in the newspapers what the family is yet to know about. I say what kind of an Ambassador doesn't consult his headquarters before making himself an spokesperson about how a First Lady died? Incredible ignorance!!"
Just before I went to bed a few minutes before 2 a.m., on Sunday morning, I don't know what internet site I was on, but I think it must have been Yahoo, when the news flashed that a plane which had departed Lagos, Nigeria, enroute to the country's capital, Abuja, was missing. The news said five minutes after the plane took off, the air traffic controllers had lost contact with the flight. I went to bed thinking that by the morning, everything would be okay, and the missing plane would be found. After all, there have been two many missing things in Nigeria lately, ships, planes, and all, but somehow they always seem to re-materialise again.
Imagine my shock then, when my wife rushed upstairs at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning to shout at me whether I had read or known about the death of President Obasanjo's wife. I shouted at her, "whaaat!!" and asked whether she meant the plane that was missing. She said no, and by this time I had already jumped out of bed and followed her downstairs, and jumped on my computer and immediately accessed Yahoo, where I saw the news about the plane crash, but didn't see that of Stella Obasanjo's death. I rushed out of my room and went into the TV room where my wife had her laptop and showed me the news. I was shocked beyond belief and wondered what she was doing in Spain, of all places, at least if it was London, Paris, Rome or Berlin or New York, it would have been understandable. Normally, these are where Africa's rich and famous go to die.
I looked at my wife and hugged her, at least, I believe that is what I did. And my heart went out to President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, because this woman, the famous First Lady of Nigeria, had become the most singular esthetic part of Obasanjo's life, at least in public. As with everything Nigerian, speculation was rife as to what was the cause of her death. In fact, it seemed people were more concerned about the death of the First Lady than the fact that a plane carrying 117 people, including crew members, had been declared missing. But then, news of the two tragedies began to emerge.
First, there was a brief sigh of relief when it was erroneously reported that almost half of the passengers of the flight had survived. People had hopes that their loved ones might be some of those who had survived. But within the hour, news again flashed that the earlier report about surviving passengers had been false, that in fact, there were no survivors, not one that the Red Cross of Nigeria could verify.
Here is what is known about the flight: it was a Boeing 737 passenger airliner which is 24 years old. It had had a full technical inspection in February of 2005, which is valid for 18 months. According to the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Fidelis Onyeriri, the plane had had an additional check ten hours before departure. "The plane didn't come in radio contact when it should have reached 13,000 feet, which is the normal procedure. So we were alerted, and as there couldn't be any radio contact the plane was declared presumed missing," Onyeriri further said.
The plane had taken off during a thunderstorm, and appeared to have exploded in mid-air, according to local people near the crash site at Lissa village near Otta, which is north of Nigeria's former and current commercial capital, Lagos. Rule of thumb is to count up to 30 seconds after a plane had taken off to know whether you are safe or not, in which case you might already be dead. But in this case, the flight had already logged three minutes, in which it could have reached an acceptable altitude unless of course with the problem of the huge thunderstorm in which it flew into. So, the plane exploded in mid-air three minutes after take off, killing all the 117 passengers including crew members in the flight. From the plane's manifest, it would appear that there were some heavy-weights in personalities who were on the flight, including members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
If these 117 people are not as much mourned as Stella Obasanjo, it woulnd't be because Nigerians are not as shocked about their death as they are about Stella Obasanjo's, but let's face it, the image of these other 117 individuals maybe, except to their families, not as vivid as the First Lady who they have come to see many times with her husband, President Obasanjo, traveling all over the world with him, representing him when he is not on the road himself, and being the woman most Nigerians have come to know, maybe not individually, but as a symbol.
Now, all the speculation about what killed or how Stella Obasanjo died, has been removed, no thanks to a blabber-mouth of an Ambassador who figures himself to be a spokesperson for the Obasanjo family in releasing intimate details of the last days of her life. Give a small man a big job, he still behaves like a bushman: this Ambassador must never have crossed or even smelled the corridors of an diplomatic or protocol school, that it is up to the family to release the kind of information they want the public to know and not to read in the newspapers what the family is yet to know about. I say what kind of an Ambassador doesn't consult his headquarters before making himself an spokesperson about how a First Lady died? Incredible ignorance!!
So, according to this blabber-mouth, we now know that Stella Obasanjo left Paris on the 20th of October, 2005 and flew into Madrid, Spain, in her usual "vivacious" self. The Ambassador met her at the airport and rode with her to her hotel. The next morning, she (Stella) told him that she had a medical check-up, and he rode with her to the hospital. Unbeknown to him, she was secretly going to undergo the life-threatening lipo-suction surgery. The surgery, according to the Ambassador, went well and Stella asked him to make hotel bookings for her in Rome where she was originally scheduled to represent the President at the 40th anniversary celebration of Nigerian Cardinal Arinze, who was rumored to have been in line to be the first black Pope, but was beaten by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who became Pope Benedict XVI.
However, during the day, that is Friday, the 21st October, the hospital called the Ambassador and informed him that Stella's condition had deteriorated. How do you go from hale and hearty after the operation to a "condition had deteriorated" beats me. So, the Ambassador picks up the phone and calls the President directly. I am happy that every Ambassador has the President's personal phone number these days, and they no longer have to go through the Foreign Ministry or through their Minister. Anyway, with the almost non-existence of a foreign minister in Nigeria in the person of Prof. Olu Adeniji, who would want to go through him anyway? One real disappointment, if you ask me, from the dazzling former Foreign Ministers Nigeria had had in the recent past - Gen. Joe Garba, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, but the last two have been mediocres.
The Ambassador proceeded to call President Obasanjo, who we are told was sleeping, and after being woken up, calmly received the news that the wife's condition is deteriorating, and from all the questions he asked, would not seem to have been privy that anything was wrong with his wife, let alone her condition being deteriorated. Alright, I forgot to mention that Stella had also had severe asthmatic attack. Wow! something is really wrong here. Did the doctors who operated on her know that she was severely asthmatic?
So, Stella Obasanjo, First Lady of Nigeria, wife of President Olusegun Obasanjo, passed away on Saturday morning, the 22nd of October, 2005. She would have been 60 on the 14th of November, and she and I would have been celebrating our birthdays the same day. What a big loss, lady!! Well, as they say, God willing, I will be around to celebrate for both of us.
But here is what I don't understand, something that is bothering me. Stella was due to represent her husband at a function in Rome on the 22nd of October, the day she died. She flew from Paris to Madrid on the 20th of October. It still baffles that she thought she could have an lipo-suction surgery on Friday, wing out on Saturday to Rome, and wing back to Nigeria, looking more svelte and more beautiful to her husband. By the way, has anybody noticed that in the last year, President Obasanjo himself has been looking more emaciated than his robust self? So, was Stella trying to match her husband's new lean body? Was this some kind of competition? So, the question is what would have made a woman that many would consider beautiful, robust, not fat in the sense that we see some really fat women, decide to undergo what is now being regarded as an dangerous surgical operation? If she was merely robust, and not fat, and her husband didn't seem to complain - look at him dragging her all over the world with him, he couldn't have been ashamed of her, how could he really when you put the two of them together - it could only be one thing - vanity.
Of course, we could only speculate. Only Stella could tell us what made her do it. Unfortunately she is no more, and we must mourn her passing. I am reminded of what a minister of God once told me, that "death is an appointment that we must never fail to keep with our maker."