Re. Agbali: All too Familiar, It seems I have been here before

Last Saturday night, I woke up from bed to visit the rest room and then for some reasons, unbeknown to me, decided to check my computer for news of the day. I came across the news of the Nigerian missing plane, which already CNN had claimed had crashed with about 116 people on board. I tried to scan and browse different internet websites for variants of the news but they were all too similar. Even, as I went to bed, I was too restless. I wondered what it was that made me so restless and nervous. My mind troubled thinking about my brother, who normally utilize that route, though I knew that having had a busy professional engagement with regards to his company event the previous day, he was unlikely to have contemplated traveling, besides, it was a Sunday that except for emergencies he normally had his family day going to the Church with his young and budding family. Therefore, I knew almost surreptitiously that all things considered he would not on that plane.

But I still worried, until I went back to sleep only to be awaken by a phone call from my mother. My heart ached and my jaw instantly threw itself ajar, my lips quivered, fearing for the worst. But Mom's calm and voice allayed my fears, especially when she noted that she had been trying to reach me since the afternoon of the previous day just to check on how I was. We spoke briefly but still managed to hurriedly ask her when last she heard from my brother, Ralph who was residing in Lagos. She noted just that morning and asked why I asked. Then, I told her about the plane crash. Nonetheless, I still requested her to double check and have him call me. Just minutes later, my phone rang and he was the one on the line. My nerves then iced. Though I relaxed I still felt restless. This was abnormal, and I knew it. But it was all now, with the benefit of hindsight all too familiar. It had happened to me before. Now, it is recurring but I couldn't cap the reason for it. I then knew, I must know someone on that plane.

This restlessness kept driving me, even as I prayed for the victims of the plane crash and Shortly, afterwards I still went back to the internet trying to see what further news had emerged on the crash, then I learnt of the death of Nigeria's First Lady, Stella Obasanjo, who died Sunday morning from a surgery complication in Spain, joining the stellar domain of the departed, presumably into "Abacha's Mansion." Then I turned on the TV to CNN, the Nigerian tragedies dominated the news.

I prayed for the President and the Nigerian First family, and the entire Nigerian people and those specifically affected by the tragic events. My heart was heavy but I gave all to God, after all it was Sunday, and I was a person of faith, and that was what my faith taught me, and that is what I also try to assist people to realize, as a minister myself. Yes, it is about offering faith even in the midst of chaos, tragedy and hopelessness. Now, I have to make a mental note to be my own teacher, but it is not always that easy.
I then prepared and went to a Church; Jesus House of all Nations, St. Louis, Missouri, a religious entity of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, where worshipped and also began to explore the modes of engaging in my research on African Immigrants' religions and religiosity within the city.
Just after the praise worship, the evanescent and vivacious Pastor Fred Omotayo, announced these tragic news of the plane crash and death of the First Lady to the congregation. Noting these as affairs dealing with his home country of origin, he requested the congregation's prayer and prayed for the victims and their families, and noted that we are here because of God's mercy not because we are better than those affected. A Church member Will (pseudonym) was beckoned to give testimony. He gave a moving testimony, as to how his wife would have been on that plane but for certain circumstances, he called from here and mutually cancelled her wife's trip to Lagos to deliver an item and then follow the last plane- the ill fated Bellview 210- home to Abuja. He noted that God has not made that his portion, since he quizzed, "To go back and met a corpse, my wife's corpse!" he answered himself, "God forbid."

We were all very happy for God's wonder. Particularly, I was happy for the fact that the GSM phone had made communications also easier to reach one's folks trans-nationally. I wondered, how easy such communications would have been where it in the past, when in the "old world" of the NITEL land phones it took ages to dial through from here. My thoughts spiraled into more analytical constructs as I also identified with the spirituality of the presenter. A social scientist in the world of faith, sometimes might portend danger to him or herself, as analytic constructs can becloud hearing the words of faith- emotionally laden without rational accoutrements in all cases.

I came home from Church and while talking with a friend later that day, noted my unusual lack of comfort. I told my friend that I have an airy feeling that someone or people I know, might be on that ill fated plane. Intermittently, I tried to browse through the internet to see if the manifest has been released but there was nothing except the various and slightly modified variants of the same earlier news. I was traumatized and my restlessness grew.

Later, Sunday, evening someone sent a group email to me from London, with the names of those on the plane, after I had expressed anger with the airline and the Nigerian authorities for not been able to provide such a vital document early. As I browsed through it I saw too familiar names- Briamah, B. Mrs and Moru, J. Surprisingly, as I came to each name, I momentarily stilled and fixated my attention on these familiar names. I made my calculations, though not willing to admit that these two names represent the people I had imagined. The thought of Chief Mrs. Bridget Braimah, a Director in the Federal Ministry of Education, came to my mind, but I flagged it off instantly. I rationalized seeking solace in the fact that the name was not exactly the same, and it might just be someone else. But again, I noted the other details, "B," "Mrs," and the fact that they reside in Abuja. At this point, I had become nostalgic and tried to repress all feelings that the same person I knew would be involved. But now I simply know better than that, not to play the mental game of illusion and delusion.

For me the coincidence was much but I still hated to admit that this lovely woman, the wife of Chief Moses Braimah, the Ochai Amana Attah, and former Federal Director- General (Permanent Secretary) of the Federal Ministry of Works could die just like that. No, not at all, I quipped. I had to recast memories to hold onto to discard the reality and to confront the reality. Thus, my mind raced back to my priestly ordination in July 1994, when I was ordained the First Catholic Priest to hail from my ancient town of Idah. She and her husband, also a Papal Knight of St. Gregory and renowned Pianist, played a diligent and pivotal role in organizing my First mass reception. Then I found her to be a very amible, full of life and faith. Though a classy woman, she was down-to-earth and humble. I had also gone to school with two of the Braimahs- Victor and Tony who was my class mate at the Federal Government College, Ugwolawo, where I attended briefly in 1982-83.

I also thought of John Moru, a good friend of mine, and whom I lost contact with since 1996, after he left Ss. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan. I had met John through a mutual friend of mine, Fr. Victor Darlington, a priest of Benin diocese, then a Secretary to Archbishop Patrick Ekpu, and assigned Pastor of the budding St. Maria Goretti Parish, also in Benin, during a visit. At the time, he too was visiting too. An elegant, self-effacing, and intellectual person, we struck an immediate friendship. When I was ordained to the transitional deaconate on January 2nd, 1994, on the feast of the Epiphany, he came that morning all the way from Auchi. We had a nice time together. He came again for my priestly ordination, and then again paid me a surprise visit in August 1995 shortly after I became a Pastor of St. Matin De Porres Parish, Ejule in Idah diocese.

We had a fun filled time together. Shortly, after that he left the seminary, and did not keep contact again. Nonetheless, I followed with his progress as he went back for (post) graduate degrees at the University of Benin. Just recently, I started seeing his writings on the African dialogue. During a recent visit to the US by Fr. Darlington, now a Seminary Professor of Sacred Scriptures at the All Saints Seminary, Ekpoma, Edo State, he told me how John was now married to a pretty wife, and was now a proud father of a lovely daughter. He was also very proud of his work with Action Aid International and his efforts to complete his PhD program at the University of Benin City. Fr. Darlington had promised to give him my email but till he died I have not heard again from him to catch up on lost time. My friend died never for me here on earth to glimpse his endearing smiles, affable presence, and vigorous analytical insights.

This morning I called Nigeria, where it was confirmed that Chief Mrs. Bridget C. Braimah is no more. I was caught in the misty rein and rain of tears for a while. As I was told, Mrs. Braimah was returning from the UNESCO general assembly in Paris, France, when she met her death. Another, Nigerian, Mr. Adegoke was also with her and together they were at the same event representing Nigeria. He was a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Thus, though Will's wife was saved from that tragedy giving vent of joy to the congregation, even the Redeemed Christian Church of God has its fair share of loss, pains, and grief. As I called Abuja, I noted to a mutual friend and colleague, the Cathedral Rector (Administrator), Fr. Sebastian Musa, about the name Moru that I saw, and he noted he too had called his line without response. I kept checking on the Nigerian news online to find a correlation, until a thought emerged that I checked the website of his organization, and there I found out to my chagrin that I had lost a dear friend.

Now, I know the reason why I couldn't rest. Both Chief Mrs. Braimah and John Moru were committing to me in unique and subtle ways, wanting me to know what had happened to them- that was why I was so fixated ontheir names though I did not know that they were on the plane. It is now a familiar process with my friends in the face of tragedy. I have noted a pattern of subtle communication between those I know that die, especially given the divide of the Atlantic. This happened to me in January 2000, when my mentor, friend, and Professor of African Traditional Religion, Edmund Ikenga- Metuh, also died in the Kenyan Airways Flight KQ 431. I felt the same when I was looking at the manifest, without knowing he was on the plane, and with a misspelled name, I found myself stopping by his name and intuitively praying for the victims. Though quite uncertain, while still nursing some restlessness and sense of a certain fatality, the message came clearly across to me one chilly night in cold Detroit while driving home from school when at a stop light, my car just died on me. I called AAA but then realized the problem was greater than just the battery. After long waiting and eventual towing of my car to the dealer shop early that morning I returned home to found a message that confirmed my friend, Fr. Metuh was among the dead. I have had the same feeling, even here in the US with a patient I worked with in a Texas hospital, with Lupus who latter died. That morning, for no reasons I was impelled to buy the day's paper on my way to work, and turning the pages found her picture, and I knew that was her way of telling me she was gone, when I had no way of knowing from anyone.

Now, as I think a little more clearly, I begin to sense some rationale in the practices of the slaves who when one of them died placed a piece of clothing, jewelries, and any familiar items on that person, with the hope of sending messages to their folks back home on the African continent thousand nautical miles away that they are well and thinking of them. Now, I know that even the dead on the other side transverse this side with messages enveloped in our consciousness and through material means (internets, telephone calls, newspapers), engaging us in certain forms- in their own ways- of communications letting us know their fate in ways that can be subtle but powerful to our busy consciousness.

Many of us are speechless in the face of this tragedy. There is even some latent and manifest anger regarding the situation. However, the reality is that our friends and beloved ones are no more. Tonight, there is a wife without a husband, a husband without a wife, children with either or both parents, a grieving sibling. The magnitude of the grief is enormous. But one thing is certain, while we cannot replace them nor pretend to be them in their individualities and peculiarities, we shall remember their lives, we shall celebrate them, we shall re-live their memories, and uphold their visions for a better world. They shall not be deemed to have died in vain, they shall live on, so much in our minds and thoughts, as we too live.