Obadiah Mailafia: Tribute to a Renaissance Man

I had known Dr. Obadiah Mailafia,who passed on to eternal glory Sunday September 19, 2021, by reputation as the Deputy Governor of the CBN before we eventually got to meet in person. We first met at a meeting of the Daily Trust Editorial Board in the premises of the newspaper empire in Utako, Abuja sometime in the year 2006 or thereabout.

Mailafia was one of a few brainy men and women across the country that Mallam Kabiru Yusuf had carefully assembled as columnists and or members of the Editorial Board to help build the most successful newspaper to date across the other side of the River Niger. I am filled with immense pleasure that a small me is numbered among the luminaries, including Mailafia, Yusuf had so meticulously selected. They were men and women such as Mohammed Haruna, Mannir Dan Ali, a part-owner of the Media Trust who later became the CEO of the company,the late Dr.Sanusi Abubakar, an intelligent, thoughtful Kano man who could speak Yoruba without an accent, Mahmud Jega, Kabir Mato, Professor of Professors Okello Oculi. AdamuAdamu, Yusuf’s own wife, Aisha Yusuf, Zainab Okino, Mohammed Kudu Ibrahim also known as Al-Gazaly, Ishaq ModdiboKawu,Dr. Bala Mohammed, Jibrin Ibrahim and a host of other public intellectuals. At one point, Aisha and I were the Mullah and Mullama of the non-Talibantic Editorial Board.

I cannot now recall what the topics for discussion for the first day were but Mailafia’s contribution to each of them was scholarly, patriotic and well- reasoned. I was impressed by him. There is one fault I have: I am easily drawn or attracted to brainy persons, irrespective of race, religion or gender. That was how Obadiah and I became friends at first meeting. Our friendship, which started on an intellectual note,later blossomed to include family members on both sides. This ensured that I got to know in persons almost all his brothers and sisters including the baby of the family, Hajara, who works in Jos. I also got to know and relate very well with his late father, a great apostle who lived up to 100 years and died in 2014 in Murya, the sleepy  Mission village outskirts of Lafia and his mother who died at about 80 five years after the home-call of her husband.

I also cannot remember what topic was assigned to him that first day to do a draft on before it is made ready for publication but I can remember that unlike some other members of the Board who were notorious for delaying the writing of their assigned topics for days, some forgetting to turn in anything at all until it is declared a bad debt, Mailafia retired to his private office somewhere in town and dashed off the piece in a few minutes.

Apparently, he had been reading me over time and thought positively of my abilities which obviously explained why he did me the favour of sending his draft first to me for my comments and observations before he will feel confident enough to send it to the Chairman of the Editorial Board. I read the draft and admired the speed of its accomplishment, the logic, the language and everything contained in it. I told him so. That is how our friendship began.

He did not stay long on the Trust Board because shortly after, he took up the job of Chief of Staff to the Secretary –General of African, Caribbean and the Pacific Countries (ACP), a group of Non-Aligned developing countries based in Brussels, Belgium. In 2011, I was privileged by him to be his guest in his home in Brussels when I was in that country for an assignment.

There are four key things I know about Mailafia which turned him from a friend to a brother. One, he was who you could describe as a Renaissance gentleman. Renaissance men emerged and flourished in the 16th century after the Dark Ages and their impact on humanity can be felt even till date. They were intellectuals who were at home in Physics, astronomy, science, the humanities and almost all fields of thought and that man was the centre of creation and that the problems of society in all sectors can be solved by the application of knowledge and wisdom. Galileo, the inventor of the telescope was one of them.

Obadiah was undoubtedly one of such men. He was at home in economics, history, anthropology, governance, philosophy, literature and political activism. Jesus, that man loved books and spent about a quarter of his earnings on books! I can recall that one of his saddest days on earth was when his shiploads of book he had brought home from Europe and kept somewhere in Surulere, Lagos was flooded as a result of leaks from a faulty plumber’s pipes. On top of his worldly knowledge, the Holy Spirit of the Living God dwelt in him. What more could any man so richly endowed ask of if not to lay the benefits of his rich endowment at the service of his country and God?

Two, I admired and faintly envied Obadiah’s Ajala life. He was a much traveled man. He traveled to and lived in over 100 countries of the modern world. He lived in Europe, Asia, North America, West and North Africa in the cause of his glorious career as a servant of humanity. He met and made friends with some of the most notable personalities you read about in serious newspapers and magazines and watch on TV. He speaks about some of these persons in an off-hand manner that shows he has known them at very personal level. My prayer is that in my next coming, I should live such a colourful life and not the one of an empire builder I am living now in which you have to start life from the scratch, building everything and not having much time to enjoy some fun. This provoked a Nicodemus admirer and follower from a distance to approach me and ask: ‘’Sir, you don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you don’t womanise, you don’t party. How on earth do you enjoy?’’. I pitied the guy. He does not know that the Holy Spirit indwells me and fills me with all the joy I need to live a positive life!

Three, the Renaissance man that he was, Obadiah was a cultured and cultivated man. He could speak and write competently in many different languages. He was a beauty to watch in Brussels during the conduct of ACP meetings as he could switch comfortably from English to French and back for the benefit of folks like some of us who are stuck to English. As he had a cultivated tongue, so also did he have a cultivated taste—for wine and classical music, notably that of Mozart.

Because of the Holy Spirit which I said earlier lived in him, I have never known a man who loved fine wines and the likes of Mozart like Obadiah did, who did not also partake in the love of women. Those seem to go together. When I made ready to leave for Brussels and Obadiah told me I could stay with him because he was living in his house alone as his adorable wife, Margaret, was here at home, I just instinctively knew that he was not engaged in illicit dalliances with the opposite sex there or anywhere else.

Four, Obadiah was a great friend-maker and a lover of country and humanity. You can only have friends if you are yourself a very friendly person and can cultivate and consolidate on friendship. In a country riven by many areas of hate, Obadiah had trailer-loads of friends from across the country. And as a man of the world, he had train-loads of friends from the seven continents of the world. Many, especially from the northern part of our country in politics and administration today who think Obadiah was against the Fulani, will not believe that some of his closest friends are Fulani!

Because of my close relationship with him, I grew to believe that one day he will be president of Nigeria and I told him so. So until his passing, I used to call him ‘’Your Excellency’’. He in turn, used to call me ‘’My Governor’’. That is because I had also shared with him my dream to one day become governor of my own state, CRS and be known as the ‘’Man Who Pulls the Trigger’’. Prophets have prophesied that Nigeria has been destined to lead Africa’s renaissance and that this Africa’s Rising was going to be orchestrated by a man sitting in Government House in Calabar. I see myself in that prophesy and believe and accept that verdict.

Unfortunately, Obadiah did not live to fulfil his high calling, succumbing to the Grim Ripper at only age 64. Perhaps, I am very wrong in thinking that he died without fulfilling destiny. Perhaps, God wanted Obadiah to reign and not rule for in reality, he became president of Nigeria for only a brief while for no one else captured the imagination of patriotic Nigerians like Obadiah did in the past two years when he struck a chord in many Nigerians as an intelligent, patriotic and sensitive man of great candour who spoke truth to power at a time all Nigerians of conscience felt benumbed by a powerful evil force that had enveloped and silenced the country.

But whether I am right or wrong, all Obadiah’s intellectual exploits, how he took a Second Class Upper in ABU, how he did a similar exploits in Oxford and some of the best universities in the world and how he served humanity with his intellect and other endowments, are they not written in the books of the first rate  intellectuals of the world? Rest on, dear friend, brother and compatriot. You surely added flavour to mankind whom you were born to serve.Alibi writes from Abuja